THE GLITTER REPORT, News from Tribe Hollywood



by Natalie Noel

Hollywood, California (NFIC)

"As a screenwriter, John Fusco has accomplished that rare thing: telling a truthful, insightful story and managing to see it get made into a big American studio movie. Although this is not the first time that he has managed to get a thought-provoking story onto the screen, HIDALGO has the potential to do more, in terms of correcting historical misinformation - particularly with regards to Lakota people - more than anything filmed in recent memory. For that reason alone, it ought to be worth seeing.

"To John, we say 'bleheciapo' (take courage) and 'pilamaya' (thank you)!!!'"

Viggo Mortensen, who stars in John Fusco's HIDALGO.

NATALIE NOEL: "John, you are one of today's most influential, respected and prolific screenplay writers. How did you do it, what is the magic recipe?"

JOHN FUSCO: "When the writing is coming from a true place and there is passion and conviction behind it, it's going to get attention. It's going to draw the right people to it and a wave starts to build and relationships start to build. You stay with them and it keeps moving forward. It's all about staying with the true material. Like this one, like HIDALGO.

"I never thought I could feel so strongly about anything again after THUNDERHEART, but this one is just as powerful for me."

NN: "In Hollywood, writers are constantly embroiled in a battle for acknowledgement and many are not allowed on the set of their own films, this is a ongoing controversy. But you usually position yourself as a producer on your movies."

JF: "With YOUNG GUNS, I wouldn't sell the script without coming along as an executive producer, so I attached myself. And if the studio didn't allow me to come along as a producer, there was no deal, no script."

NN: "But they must not have been happy about that, in 1988 you were a young, punk kid."

JF: "Right, right. But, there was no script without me coming along. I started doing it with YOUNG GUNS. I just wanted to be on the set; I wanted to be involved. My first experience (CROSSROADS, 1986) I wasn't a producer and it really got away from me.

"So, that was something I was adamant about….And it worked out…I was able to work well with the director, in both capacities as a writer and producer, involved in casting, music and other creative decisions.

"That started the pattern. I started producing just about everything I wrote. I produced YOUNG GUNS, YOUNG GUNS II, THUNDERHEART and others.

"The directors who tend to be drawn to the material realize that it comes from a deep place with me, I've done research. It becomes about the relationship with the directors, they tend to want me there, whether I'm producing or not.

"In the beginning I attached myself as a producer to make sure that I was there, so I could be close to the material. I'm not producing HIDALGO, but Joe (Johnston, the Director) asked me to be there. We work closely together and he knows that I know the material better than anyone and he uses me as a resource."


After John wrapped YOUNG GUNS, he and his wife, Richela Renkun, journeyed to South Dakota. He met Chief Frank Fools Crow and began the odyssey that would greatly influence his life and his work. That first meeting, facilitated by Buddy Redbow, took place in 1987 "at Grandpa's home in Kyle on the Pine Ridge rez."

During the next several years, John traveled frequently to Pine Ridge and grew ever closer to Fools Crow, Sonny Richards, Old Man Horn Cloud, Chief Oliver Red Cloud, Eddie Two Bulls and Matthew Two Bulls.

SONNY RICHARDS (Lakota Ceremonial Advisor on HIDALGO, DREAMKEEPER and THUNDERHEART) : "Throughout the years he would come see us and he always visited Grandpa (Chief Frank) Fools Crow, Steve Redbow, Old Man Horn Cloud, all these elderly gentlemen on the rez, and they always told him the legends. He took these legends to heart. This is where DREAMKEEPER came from." DREAMKEEPER is interwoven with numerous legends from all over Indian Country, including Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, Mohawk and the Multninomah tribe from the Pacific Northwest (Chinook). In this ABC mini-series (due to air in May - check local listings for dates and times), John has written approximately 105 speaking roles for Native American people!

In 1988 John was adopted and made a relative of the Oglala-Lakota Nation.

JF: "Regarding the Tiospaye (extended family): Grandpa was the patriarch. In a Hunkyapi ceremony (Making of Relatives) in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was adopted into the Redbow family as a son of Stephen and Maisy Redbow and given the name Wakinyan Ca'nte' which means Thunderheart. I was named for the title of the screenplay I was working on, as many on the rez had read it, knew about it, and wanted to honor me for the work."

The screenplay that John had been writing for years on the rez became a film in 1992. That film was THUNDERHEART.

"My ate' (father) Stephen Redbow named my farm (in Northern Vermont), RED ROAD FARM, during my son's naming ceremony in 1995. Stephen, Maisy, my sister Annie, and goddaughter, Wakiyela, spent summers in a farmhouse on my land.

"In the tiospaye my relations are: the Redbows, the Hornclouds, the Lone Hills and the Two Bulls."

While staying with his Pine Ridge relations, John began to admire the Indian Ponies that roamed the rez. They were small, graceful and could gallop across the plains for days. His interest was peaked and the research began.

John located an old Irish cowboy named Bob Brislawn. At the turn of the century, when the Indian Pony (aka Spanish Mustang or Original American Indian Horse) was believed extinct, Brislawn found some of these reservation beauties and rallied to rescue the breed. He spent the rest of his life heroically striving to save the pretty ponies and established the Horse of the Americas Registry. But, all fell into disrepair when old Brislawn passed away.

Enter John Fusco.

LINDA GASPARINI, Spanish Mustang Conservator: "John rescued Geronimo (a strawberry roan, pure Spanish Mustang of long Brislawn lineage) as well as the Horse of the Americas (HOA) registry, from extinction, when he purchased the stallion, three of his mares and the registry from their previous owner."

He tracked down Indian Ponies in Texas and California, purchased the remaining pure horses that were scattered across the continent and shipped them all safely home to his Red Road Farm in Vermont. John was impassioned. His love for these little horses would lead directly to SPIRIT, STALLION OF THE CIMARRON and HIDALGO.

SONNY RICHARDS: "He started to get involved in buying wild mustangs and saving the horse and he found out there was such a character as Frank Hopkins. Then he started to do research and the end result of that research is this film, HIDALGO."

JF: "The Indian ponies have hearts that are 50 percent larger than other breeds of comparable size meaning that they are "blood-packed." General Crook (who Frank Hopkins once bought a string of Indian Ponies away from to save them from a US government slaughter program) once said, "if you don't catch an Indian Pony in the first two miles, give up the chase. They can go 100 miles and be fresh to go the next morning."

"This is why Hidalgo was an endurance champ."

The Equine Research Center in Toronto recently presented John with a 'Hero of the Horse Award' for SPIRIT, STALLION OF THE CIMARRON. But he is quick to demur that he saved the Indian Ponies.

JF: "Speaking of 'Hero of the Horse,' I have to stress that I did NOT save the Indian ponies. What I did was locate lost horses from the Brislawn herd (Robert Brislawn is the true hero) and rescue his HOA registry from mothballs and apathy to put it back on its feet and hand it over to more qualified conservators. I make no claims to have saved this rare breed. I have merely used my resources and energy to help augment the bigger effort to preserve and promote the Indian Pony."

I wonder, brothers and sisters, without John Fusco what would have happened to Geronimo and his mares? Where would they be?

How many people truly care about Indian Ponies? And even when people do care, like the kind officers of the HOA, we all know that without financing there is no freedom. Well meaning folks can care until the cows come home, but without monetary support and passion, all the caring in the world won't get you very far!

LINDA GASPARINI: "In this world, it takes a big man to appreciate a small horse..."

The Indian Pony herd, currently munching hay in the safe soft snows of Red Road Farm, now numbers 22.

John Fusco is a modest man, a champion of Indian People, Indian Ponies and the well-told tale. He is also kind, unassuming and generous with his time.

Thank you, John, for your help with these articles. It has been a long, winding path. And lovely.

In the words of CASEY SILVER, Producer of HIDALGO:

"I hope to work with John as many times as I can because he's a wildly talented man, a man of character and a great partner. And those combinations are rare to find."

Click here for more great Fusco photos

Photo: Fusco and his tiospaye brother, Buddy Redbow, on the set of YOUNG GUNS II.
Photo by: Richela Renkun

THE GLITTER REPORT EXCLUSIVE with JOHN FUSCO, Part 2 by Natalie Noel Copyright, Natalie Noel, 2002. All rights reserved.