Fairbanks's Robin Hood (1922)

A still from the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks version of Robin Hood, showing the awe-inspiring castle set.

Robin Hood's Larder

Above is a postcard from about 1910 of Robin Hood’s Larder in Sherwood Forest. The ancient oak tree was partly burnt in 1913 by picnicking schoolgirls trying to boil a kettle inside it; sadly although supported with iron braces, the rest of the great oak was blown down during the gales of 1962. It originally stood on land once owned by the Duke of Portland, where the ways of the old forest divided, a mile and a half west of the Major Oak, in Birklands, near the village of Edwinstowe. Local tradition states that Robin Hood and his men used to conceal venison and game birds inside the shell of its hollow trunk. It was originally known by the locals as the Shambles Oak or Butchers Oak and was said, at one time, to contain iron meat hooks inside its 24 ft. round base.

Variety Review

The Story of Robin Hood
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (UK)

By Variety Staff
Walt Disney/RKO. Director Ken Annakin; Producer Perce Pearce; Screenplay Lawrence E. Watkin; Camera Guy Green; Editor Gordon Pilkington; Music Clifton Parker; Art Director Carmen Dillon, Arthur Lawson.

Richard Todd, Joan Rice, Peter Finch, James Hayter, James Robertson Justice, Martita Hunt.

For his second British live-action production, Walt Disney took the legend of Robin Hood and translated it to the screen as a superb piece of entertainment, with all the action of a western and the romance and intrigue of a historical drama.
Despite his modest stature, Richard Todd proves to be a first-rate Robin Hood, alert, dashing and forceful, equally convincing when leading his outlaws against Prince John as he is in winning the admiration of Maid Marian. Although a comparative newcomer to the screen, Joan Rice acts with charm and intelligence.

James Hayter as Friar Tuck, Martita Hunt as the queen, Peter Finch as the sheriff, James Robertson Justice as Little John, Bill Owen as the poacher, and Elton Hayes as the minstrel are in the front rank.

Tuesday January 1 1952

21: Good Hunting

Robin reached for his hunting horn and blew a loud blast, then urged his horse towards the opposite bank. He quickly jumped down and began to fight his way up the steep wet slope. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of Lincoln Green.

“Scarlet,” he thought, “and Little John, just in time!”

Several foresters plunged into the stream as the arrows began to fly. Scathelok crawled to Robin’s side with a spare bow. But the foresters had started to retreat. The Sheriff picked up a bow and arrow and fired it blindly towards the outlaws then rushed towards a horse.

Meanwhile Friar Tuck was sitting up wondering what had caused the egg-like bump on his head. Then he let out a piercing whistle and a great mastiff bounded after the escaping Sheriff. Quickly the hound leapt at De Lacy and brought him down.

“Call off your dog friar!” said Robin as he reached the side of the priest. “He has shown the Sheriff enough sport. Now it’s our turn to do his lordship honour.”

Stutely, stripped to the waist, looked in disbelief as the outlaws brought the Sheriff of Nottingham into the camp.

“They’ve brought in the big buck himself,” he chuckled, “must have given them a massive appetite.”

He lifted a hunk of venison out of the fire and went to greet the returning men.
“You had good hunting, Master Robin?” He asked.
“Aye,” said Robin. “A lordly guest has condescended to grace our table.”

Little John smiled all over his bearded face as he led Sheriff De Lacy, blindfolded over to the rough table loaded with roast game, huge flagons of ale, black bread and cheese.

Robin helped himself to a healthy chunk of meat and sat down. Scarlet and little John helped the blindfolded prisoner to a seat at the foot of the table and whipped the bandage from his eyes. De Lacy blinked and stared around the angry faces.

(To read earlier sections of the story, please click on the label "Story" in the right hand column.)

Douglas Fairbanks's 'Robin Hood' Lobby Card

Above is an absolutely stunning lobby card from the Douglas Fairbanks silent classic Robin Hood, the first feature –length movie about the outlaw.

It was on New Year’s Day 1922 that Fairbanks rapped the boardroom table, in dramatic fashion and announced to his staff that Robin Hood would be the most monumental film he would ever make. He intended to buy the old Goldwyn Studio at Santa Monica and Formosa and construct massive medieval sets, including a grand jousting tournament. The Fairbanks brothers eventually purchased the studio for $150,000. Unfortunately his backers were not persuaded to fund his Robin Hood movie, so Fairbanks went on alone at an estimated production cost of $1.5 million.

Using 500 construction workers, Fairbanks had a 90 ft castle constructed on the Goldwyn lot made out of chicken wire, plaster and old rocks. When Doug’s brother John asked him about the cost, he replied “These things have to be done properly, or not at all.” The drawbridge was powered by a gasoline engine!

The Riddle Of Robin Hood #1

Below is the script for the beginning of Walt Disney’s short promotional film ‘The Riddle of Robin Hood.’ Possibly read by Hans Conried (later the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan). I am indebted to Neil Vessey for sending me information on this extremely rare piece of cinematic history. What it emphasises is the amount of groundwork and research Disney and his staff carried out before a single frame of his lavish Technicolor movie was shot. Walt Disney was also brave enough to tackle a mystery that has caused ceaseless controversy amongst distinguished scholars and antiquaries for well over seven hundred years-who was Robin Hood?

His fact-finding expedition to Nottingham and Sherwood paid off. The end product was without doubt one of the best-if not the best-Robin Hood movie ever made. It certainly sparked an interest in the legend in me, that has lasted a lifetime. Thank you Mr Disney.

"Who was Robin Hood? Was he a man or a legend? Did such a person roam the glades of Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich and giving to the poor? Or was he simply a fable invented by strolling minstrels? If he did exist, was he an ordinary rogue whose concern was fattening his own purse, or was he a champion of mankind whose deeds help to light the first torch of freedom back in the dark ages?

Could there have been a real Robin Hood, or someone very like him who inspired the knights of England to force the Magna Carta, that first great document of human rights and law, from the tyrannical Prince John?

Would the outlaw story ever be known? The legendry challenge, the hope of untangling a trail of mystery that led back through the centuries was not lost on Walt Disney. With his producer Perce Pearce and his screen playwright, Lawrence Watkin, they stuck to the job of sifting through endless books, ballads, papers, public and private libraries, the scraps of song and traces of legend that have accumulated over the passing years.

Famous writers, back through the ages, Tennyson, Spencer, Chaucer, were fascinated by the Robin Hood story and referred to the outlaw frequently.

In Act 1 of 'As You Like It', Shakespeare too makes special mention of Robin. Still despite all the literary and historical clues, as the Sheriff of Nottingham discovered long ago. The capture of the elusive mocking spirit, known as Robin Hood, was not an easy one. Obviously if he was to be caught at all, it would not be in the sylvan glades of Hollywood. The Disney force headed for England to take up the quest of Robin on his own grounds".

Gold Key: Walt Disney's Robin Hood

This is a Gold Key comic based on the Disney live-action film and was published in 1965 (originally printed as Dell 4 Color in 1952) by K.K. Publications, Inc., Poughkeepsie, New York, in cooperation with Golden Press, Inc. It was designed, produced and printed in the U.S.A. by Western Printing and Lithographing Company. I own the third printing 10163-506. The illustrations are good and the comic does mainly follow the original screen play, although Alan a Dale, (pictured on the back cover)and Little John, (illustrated on the front cover) do not appear in the comic strip.

The cover has a full colour picture of Richard Todd as Robin Hood and on the inside cover are some small, black and white photos of Joan Rice as Maid Marian, Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham, James Robertson Justice as Little John, Hubert Gregg as Prince John and Patrick Barr as Richard the Lionheart.

Also on the inside cover is an introduction to the story:

During the reign of Richard the Lionheart a great crusade was fought in the Holy Land. While Richard strove against the Saracens, his brother, Prince John, ruled in his place.
Prince John had neither the kindliness or the fighting spirit with which Richard ruled the land. The usurper trampled on the rights of the simple people. Ever jealous of his great brother, grasping after gold and power, Prince John ruled with a mailed fist…….always plotting against his brother’s hoped for return to England and the Throne.
But when his tax collectors and game wardens entered Sherwood Forest, they encountered the Merry Men and their famous leader, Robin Hood. Then, as never before, did Prince John begin to doubt he would ever be the King.

The comic consists of 32 pages in colour. The inside back cover has a good quality film still of Maid Marian (Joan Rice) being rescued from the dungeon with the Sheriff (Peter Finch) being led at knife point by Robin (Richard Todd) . On the back is a full cover still of Allan-a Dale (Elton Hayes) with Little John (James Robertson Justice) and Scathelok (Michael Hordern).

The comic script is by Gaylord Du Bois and Morris Gollub. Pencils by Jon Small and Morris Gollub. Inks by Jon Small.

Denham Studios

Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men’ was the last major film production at Denham Studios. The massive film making complex, covering 165 acres and seven sound stages was built in Buckinghamshire by the Hungarian impresario Sir Alexander Korda. It was finally demolished in the 1970’s.

Richard Todd describes his final days at Denham Studios filming 'Robin Hood' in his autobiography ‘Caught in the Act’:

“The last few days on a happy picture are always a bit scrappy and nostalgic, as one by one the members of the cast and unit come to say goodbye, and 'Robin Hood' was no exception. But my last day at Denham Studios was a particular sad time. Ours was the last film to be made there, ever, as the Rank Organisation who owned it had decided to close film operations there, and had let it go to be used as a supply depot for the US Army. Walking about in the empty corridors and echoing sound stages was a lonely experience, indicative, perhaps, of the decline of film making in England. Much of the cinematic activity in Britain had been kept going by American productions using up frozen sterling earnings, and for that bridging operation many of our actors and technicians had reason to be grateful.

I was at Denham on that final day to film in the afternoon the Associated British trailer for the forthcoming annual Royal Film Performance, and Perce Pearce had arranged a splendid luncheon party for me and the few remaining people still there.

It really was a celebratory farewell ‘do’, as he had just seen a rough-cut of the whole film and was delighted with it.”

For more of the history of Denham Studios, including a map of the complex, click on the label Denham Studios in the right hand column of the website.

Joan Rice

It has been my main purpose on this web site, to raise awareness of the largely forgotten film ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ and its wonderful array of talented actors and actresses. Joan Rice is a prime example. In most cinema biographies, Joan Rice is rarely credited with little more than a few lines of text. Normally they basically state that she was a ‘pert British actress who enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity in the 1950’s’. But in my opinion and that of a growing amount of experts, she was the most innovative Maid Marian of all time and deserves far more credit. So after various visits to local libraries and the help of her friend Maria Steyn I began, about a year ago to try to piece together the life of this largely forgotten English rose.

In July 2007 I posted what I had managed to accumulate. It wasn’t a great deal, but what I hoped it would do, would lead to some more information and raise interest in her and of course the role that had catapulted her to stardom-Maid Marian.

This blog is read by people from all over the globe and as my visitors began to grow in those early days, so did my hope of some positive feedback. I was in luck and gradually over time, some more details of Joan’s life began to appear. So this is an update on information that I have gratefully received over the past year, although I must stress it is unofficial.

Dorothy Joan Rice was born at the City Hospital, Derby on 3rd February 1930. She was one of the four daughters of Hilda and Harold Rice. But life in 314 Abbey Street, Derby, became filled with trauma for Joan, Barbara, Roma and Gill, when their father was later imprisoned for child abuse. It was then that young Joan was sent to an orphanage in Nottingham, where it is said she used to play as ‘Maid Marian’ in Sherwood Forest.

As a teenager Joan moved to London where she started work as a Lyon’s tea House ‘Nippy.’ In 1949 she won the ‘Miss Lyons’ beauty competition and this led to her meeting the actor and producer Harold Huth and a screen test for the Rank Corporation. She secured a seven year film contract with them and in her early days went on to appear in ‘Blackmailed’ (pictured above in 1951) alongside Dirk Bogarde.

It was Walt Disney himself, who was keen for Joan to play the part of Maid Marian, in his second real-life adventure film in England. Although there was some reservations. Joan did not let him down. Her portrayal as the lively and independent-minded girl friend of Robin Hood, is now recognised by many film critics, as an innovative step away from the past celluloid Marians, who tended to be little more than a ‘beautiful plot device’.

So after her success as Lady Marian, in Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’ (1952) Joan was offered many film roles. But apart from a major part as the dusky Polynesian, Dalabo aki Dali, alongside Burt Lancaster, in the lavish ‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ (1954), a long notable film career eluded her.

In 1953 Joan married the writer and producer David Greene (1921-2003) but they divorced ten years later and she moved to Cookham in Berkshire. Sadly, according to Joan’s niece, their son Michael, recently committed suicide.

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Joan’s movie career faded, so she turned to working in repertory theatre and television, including appearing in series such as ‘Zero One’, ‘The New Adventures of Charlie Chan’ and ‘Ivanhoe’ with Roger Moore.

It was about this time that Maureen Bell met Joan Rice. She writes:

“I met Joan when I lived in Windsor. It was 1962/3 if my memory serves me well. Joan lived in the flat next door to mine. At that time she worked at the Tax office in Slough. I think it was Slough. We had many talks and I found her to be a wonderfully warm person. She kept stills of the films she had made, plus a guitar which she played. I accompanied her to Maidenhead one day. I recall it was a mini. We were travelling flat out on the Maidenhead bye pass. I had never travelled so fast in a car before, I was petrified. But not Joan, who handled the car like a professional.”

Joan Rice’s final appearance on the silver screen, was as a grave robbers wife in the 1970 Hammer film ‘The Horror of Frankenstein.’ She then set up her own property and letting agency in Maidenhead, known as the Joan Rice Bureau.

Joan’s friend Maria Steyn writes:

“Joan and I met during 1978 when I rented an apartment through her property office, the Joan Rice Bureau, in Maidenhead.I was immediately fascinated by her person, not knowing anything of her film career at the time. We befriended and I met her several times in her Maidenhead apartment. She kept a lovely dog Jessy, a golden retriever who sadly died, as did her mother, during 1979.

Being a very extravert and lively person, she mentioned many of her lovers and an ex-husband, a Mr. David (?) Green(e) ?, who was taking care of her financially. Also she mentioned a son named Jim (?) Green(e), at the time playing in a band called Jam. I never met the son nor ex-husband.After moving from Maidenhead Joan and I kept in touch and I remember seeing her once a year during the mid-eighties.At the time she was living with a gentleman Mr Ken(neth) McKenzie from Stornoway, Isle of Lewis . They had acquired various properties which they let and lived in Cookham (nr. Maidenhead) at the time.

Ken was in advertising sales [also a former journalist with the Daily Sketch] and, being optimistic and energetic, kept Joan going. Joan since 1981 or so had become rather depressed and given to drinking and heavy smoking. She looked rather pale and unhealthy by 1986 and had repeated, severe and extended coughing fits. Later, around the late eighties, it became increasingly difficult to communicate with her and we lost touch.It was by checking IMDB I found out she had died January 1st, 1997.I then tried to trace Ken McKenzie but to no avail. The Cookham address did not respond, nor did other links I had. From the Norman Wisdom movie in which Joan played, I keep some good original still photos. I do have the 'The Story of Robin Hood ' on VHS, which I cherish.”

This was recently posted by Joan’s niece:

“It was nice to find something on the internet about my Aunt Joan. I miss her a lot. There is some incorrect facts such as her son's name was Michael Green whom she had with her union with David Green. Sadly Michael committed suicide several years ago. She and I wrote each other up until her death and I still have her letters. My Mum and I went to see her grave shortly after she died... it was a sad trip. Of the four sisters Joan, Roma, Barbara (my Mum) and Gill, only Gill is still alive and living in England.”

I would like to send out a very big thank you to Maureen Bell, Maria Steyn and Joan’s niece for getting in touch. It makes working on this web site so worthwhile. Please, if anyone has any more information on Joan Rice, ever met her, or have any anecdotes they would like to share, please post a message on the blog or email me at disneysrobin@googlemail.com.

(To read more about Joan Rice please click on the label 'Joan Rice' either in the panel opposite or below.)