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Decades into a successful film and TV writing and producing career, Andrew “A.J.” Fenady has by his own estimation a million Hollywood stories to share.
Tales of how he broke into the business. Of working with celebrities like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Angela Lansbury. About giving early career boosts to TV actors such as Nick Adams in The Rebel and Chuck Connors in Branded.
When profiled by The Blade in 2006, the native Toledoan said he planned to relate these and many other anecdotes in an autobiography, tentatively titled Big Enough for John Wayne ... and Me.
Seven years later, he’s still considering writing that book.
“I should get around to it because there are things that happened not just to me, but because of people like Ray Milan and Broderick Crawford and John Wayne ... that are really part of the history of Hollywood,” he said while in Toledo with his wife for a few days to visit friends. “They are inside stories that nobody really knows.”
In the meantime, Fenady has been busy writing other stories — the fictional kind.
His novel Destiny Made Them Brothers (Pinnacle, $6.99) — a “partially fictionalized historical account” about a pre-presidential Ulysses S. Grant and pre-Little Big Horn George Custer, along with the Johnny Yuma from The Rebel, and how their lives intersected at various points for more than a decade during and after the Civil War — was just published.
He also recently completed another Western, The Range Wolf, a landlocked version of Jack London’s 1904 novel The Sea-Wolf, with the same essential characters, but instead of being set on a schooner on its way to Japan, the crew are on a Texas cattle drive to Kansas. The novel is due next year.
The 84-year-old is reflective of his life and career — especially when it comes to Wayne. Fenady wrote and produced the 1970 Western Chisum starring the legendary actor.
“When he was a young man, he was a strapping, good-looking son of a gun. He would have knocked them dead,” today, Fenady said. “But when he got old and older he became more like Wallace Beery. As a matter of fact, he told me, ‘When I did True Grit I did Wallace Beery for the first three days,’ and then he said, ‘I forgot about it.’ And toward the end — and he knew it — his pictures didn’t do as well as they used to, but he was one of the first to get a million dollars for a picture. For Chisum ... we made the whole picture for three and a half million dollars and he got a million, so we made the picture for less than two and a half million.
“He was a very intelligent man and honest. His word was money in the bank. There was never anybody like him and there never will be.”
Fenady grew up in North Toledo and graduated from Woodward High School. He earned a degree in economics in 1950 from the University of Toledo, where he also studied drama, speech, and literature.
His breakthrough in Hollywood was a low-budget film, Stake Out on Dope Street, produced at a cost of just $21,000 that was bought by Warner Bros. and released in 1958.
Since then, he wrote and produced several TV series, including The Rebel, staring Adams, and Branded, starring Connors. His made-for-TV movies include Terror in the Wax Museum, Sky Heist, Mayday at 40,000 Feet, and Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. He’s also written more than a dozen novels.
He’s been married for 57 years to Mary Frances, 82, also of Toledo, and the couple still live in the same Los Angeles home where they raised their six children.
They acknowledge a great life together, though the subject of death — specifically burial arrangements — is a remaining source of disagreement.
Fenady wants them to share a mausoleum in a Hollywood cemetery, he said. She would be rather be permanently laid to rest in the ground.
The sensitive topic is brought up during this interview in their downtown Park Inn by Radisson hotel suite.
“Say you’ll do it,” he asks. “Can we build that mausoleum or not?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I’ll be underneath admiring it.”
“Oh, no, side by side. Side by side, sister.”
No final burial decisions were made in that conversation. But it doesn’t matter; Fenady isn’t stopping anytime soon.
“I’ve had five hip replacements, three on the right, two on the left, five stents in the old ticker, open-heart surgery, so I have to slow down a little bit,” he said. “But I still get up early in the morning, I get up before 5 o’clock, go downstairs and watch the news, go to the gym and hit the bag, lift weights, swim and feel like I’m getting in good shape again, and go to the office and light up a very good cigar. So yeah, I’m going to keep on going for a while.”
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.