John Wayne 'Rio Grande'
Movie UFO Solved?

By Clark Boone

Hi Jeff,
Here's some entertaining info I was able to glean while looking into the popular urban legend regarding the classic western film "Rio Grande" starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
The film was directed by John Ford one of Hollywood's most celebrated filmmakers.
Your webmaster James Neff, alerted to the scene by one "Roland A. Duby," brought up an examination of a clip from "Rio Grande" where it appeared as though a strange light was moving in the distance behind Wayne and O'Hara during a scene.
Often with UFO stories they'll drag on and on sometimes festering for decades without resolution. As explanations for the odd lights fluttered about I decided to toss my hand in and ask some of the actors who were at the scene of the incident in question.
No, not The Duke, but Ms. Maureen O'Hara and Harry Carey, Jr.
Ms. O'Hara starred in the film as John Wayne's leading lady as she did in several films with The Duke, my favorite being "The Quiet Man" with the funniest fight scene in motion picture history.
Sure enough, Ms. O'Hara, one of the few true icons of Hollywood stardom is still up and about tending to her fans worldwide. Still radiant and true to form she engages in numerous activities and even has a vibrant website where her devotees can interact with her. Her dear fan and webmistress Ms. June Beck answered me right off as did several of Ms. O'Hara's fans regarding the mysterious UFO in question. The same with Mr. Carey! His website is a true testament to the fans of the western flicks.
My primary question was whether the scene was on location or shot on a sound stage. On a sound stage, many a special effect including backdrops can be added. The special effects question came to mind while perusing the credits of 'Rio Grande' I noticed the famous Lydecker brothers, Theodore and Howard, were the special effects team. For those young folks out there, the Lydecker brothers were the ILM of cinema for close to 50 years. The Lydeckers' credits are astounding to say the least and generations have and still do thrill to them. That made me giggle as I had posted on another listserve that it might be a Lydecker thing.
In a short period of time, several explanations came forth as to the origin of the lights. I first called a long time friend who sits on the Writer's Guild of America and asked him about it. He got back to me within hours and stated that the film was predominantly shot on location in Moab, Utah and that any studio shots would have been mere close ups or dubbing.
The same data was confirmed from several references from the studio historians. As well as the State of Utah's historical guides.
That's all well and good but a first hand account is even better.
Next another cinema expert and fan of the film stated that the movie was mostly shot on location in Moab, but several scenes were shot on the Republic Studios lot including the scene in question. He states the background is a painted backdrop and theorizes that " the wandering UFO is the reflection of an arc lamp. since the scene is divided into several different camera angles, the 'wandering' coud be due to re-positioning of the lamp."
Republic Studios is legendary for the greatest action films of all time and a staple in cinema history. Just a side note for the youngin's who think they've seen it all and without a knowledge of Republic Studios films, haven't seen anything yet.
We're left with conflicting explanations and still waiting for some form of first hand account.
Finally, Ms. Beck emailed me that she'd gotten in touch with Mrs. Marilyn Carey who gave an account of the incident far more entertaining than the incident itself.
Ms. Beck said that Mrs. Carey was familiar with the story and had read an article on the event.
Sure enough Mrs. Carey was true to her word. An article from "Western Clippings" publication by Boyd Magers, multi-talented man and veteran radio professional focused on the mystery:
"UFO's in "Rio Grande?"
In a film clip provided from John Wayne's "Rio Grande" it is theorized there are actual UFOs darting around in the background to the left of Wayne's head as he talks with Maureen O'Hara.
The true explanation comes from a onetime film festival attendee, Gary Kramer, who recalls talking to actor Walter Reed in Knoxville one evening where he told the story about how Herbert J. Yates found out the Lydecker Brothers, under contract with Republic for special effects work, were being used by John Ford to do similar work on "Rio Grande."
When Yates learned the Lydeckers were going to Utah with Ford, he asked him to take along one of their miniature flying saucers that was going to be used in the Republic serial "Flying Disc Man from Mars" (in which Read starred) which was soon to begin shooting. Yates hoped to get some realistic looking shots of the flying saucer darting above the Monument Valley landscape. Actually, the miniature was not that small, about six feet around.
What you actually see in the background of the Wayne/O'Hara shot is the Lydecker's testing their remote controlled miniature flying saucer. John Ford was directing the scene and never even noticed it!
The Lydeckers were prepared to get some close-up shots the following day, bribing one of the assistant cameramen on "Rio Grande" to do the filming. In order to do this, the brothers had to get their cameraman drunk. To accomplish this, they naturally had to imbibe a little themselves. Howard Lydecker started up the flying saucer and signaled to Theodore, who was handling the remote controls, to begin circling the craft above the cameraman who was about 100 yards away.
Unfortunately, Theodore, in his inebriated condition, promptly flew the saucer into the side of one of the Monument Valley mountains and smashed it beyond repair. So, no further film footage was ever obtained and all that exists today is the one scene that made it into 'Rio Grande.' When Yates heard about what happened, he was so furious that the Lydecker brothers almost got fired."
Says Mr. Magers, "We saw the John Wayne 'Rio Grande' myth online and happened to know the truth and printed in our magazine Western Clippings. It was in issue #64 (March/April '05)."
Subscriptions to WC are $27.50 per year, 6 issues per year.
Boyd Magers
1312 Stagecoach Rd. SE, Albuquerque, NM
At first I thought they were pulling my leg, might be, but it's great they responded at all. It's not too often one can get to communicate with legends and their families and fans, as well as get a peek at great memorabilia.
Here we have conflicting stories...yet all is valuable. The predominance of data says the scene was shot on location.
My instincts tell me it was shot on a sound stage but the abundance of data says otherwise.
Some more digging will be made as schedules clear up and perhaps Ms. O'Hara will chime in or any of the living film crew.
What's most of value to me is the fun researching UFOs can be when you get the opportunity to study history. I've friends who are western maniacs. They're also country western DJs who had no idea such neat memorabilia and guests are out here.
Just getting the opportunity to chat with someone who knows Ms. O'Hara and Mr. Carey is enough to have bragging rights during a lifetime of St. Patrick's Day get togethers.
UFOlogy is full of frustration but it's also full of lots of fun as it calls upon one to be aware of the various sciences and humanities and of the greatest value to me is the chance to chat with people from around the world and especially those people who have made history.
It would benefit one to spend that time with Grandpa and Grandma and get the story from the source.
From Jack Goosey
Dear Jeff -
With all due respect to Greg Boone and his research into the ufo in the movie Rio Grande, sorry but I'm not buying it. Does the video show a remote controlled device that is technologically feasible now, 50 years later? Not that I'm aware of. Those high speed starts and stops don't look like anything I've ever seen, and if such a high-speed, highly manueverable vehicle were available--even today--I should think it would have immediate military applications. Nice try, but the mystery remains.
(We agree - JR)
From Randy Littlejohn
The first model planes emerged in the 1920's. The craft were quite heavy. Many of the early pioneers of radio controlled (RC) model planes were involved in amateur radio. Walter and Bill Good are credited with building the first RC model plane in 1937 for the Nationals RC event in Detroit. Called the 'Guff' their plane had an 8-foot wingspan and weighed 8.5 pounds. Its radio had only two frequencies, one for the rudder and the other for the elevator control. It is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Thirteen years later were movie effects guys able to build a radio controlled, wingless saucer-shaped device that could exhibit the flying characteristics we see in the background of the scene in Rio Grande? I doubt it. What would their RC saucer have used for propulsion? Fans pushing air through ducting, I would assume. What else? So, their remote control would have had to use multiple frequencies to control multiple doors in multiple ducts in order to allow for not only up and down movement, but also flight in any direction. Besides the feat of making the thing stable, they would also have had to be clever enough to design a wingless craft able to perform high performance aerobatics. Didn't the military shelve their own attempts after numerous attempts?
I'm not buying RC saucers from a sci-fi movie.
Another explanation is that for some reason there, s glass in the background of the set that we're not supposed to see. Perhaps it was there to block wind form the set - who knows?. Maybe the light is a reflection on this glass from something going on behind the camera. Another possibility is that somehow something reflected off the glass in the matt box attached to the front of the camera. A matt box is a frame mounted in front of the camera lens, which is designed to hold the camera glass mattes used in trick, or special effects, photography to add static visual stuff to a scene (like a building or mountains), as well as to hold special filters. In order to keep reflections like the one I,m talking about off the glass, matt boxes usually are combined with a sunshade, but mistakes happen. Maybe we're seeing the reflection of a flashlight held by a camera assistant.
Randy Littlejohn
From Kathleen
Dear Mr. Boone,
You know I told my husband about the UFO in Rio Grande and my husband went out and bought the DVD. We watched it several times and of course saw the UFO flying around John Wayne's head. BUT, no one has commented about the UFO closer to the end of the movie.
It's been about a month since I watched the movie but I remember there was a scene where John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara are standing watching the soldiers march by or ride by on their horses and you see them go to the three gentlemen in the film and see a UFO flying between them too. Can you explain this one, too?

(Time permitting, we will check this one out also - ed)

Leigh Hanlon
It's highly unlikely that the Lydeckers were testing a "radio controlled flying saucer" during the filming of 1950's "Rio Grande." Besides, if they had perfected such a technique, it would have been picked up by every Hollywood studio for miniature aerial effects work.
To see what a "Lydecker shot" of a flying saucer would look like, just watch 1965's "Lost In Space." Howard Lydecker used the brothers' traditional slow-motion cinematography of a large miniature sliding down a wire to create the elegant crash-landing of the Jupiter II.
Leigh Hanlon
John Wayne UFO Movie Update
Clark Boone
As you already know and can attest, UFOlogy has it's fair share of good shiggles and gits.
Such is the case of the mysterious lights in the film "Rio Grande" that some claim are UFOs or special effects or even the 'wee folk'.
I can understand their confusion if they've been watching the film on VHS or on a DVD that's not up to par.
I'd been watching it on VHS as it took a while to get hold of the collector's edition of the film.
It's a real treat to see this classic restored and the additional commentary by Maureen O'Hara and Harry 'Dobe' Carey Jr. as well as the sons of John Wayne and Mr. McLaughlin the man who went 15 rounds with legendary heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson!
From the songbird's nest you hear over and over again how the film was shot on location. Similarly to what my pal from the WGA said. Even in the disputed scene in question we hear on the DVD Ms. O'Hara state that the scene was indeed shot on location.
Ends that debate right there.
But what are those mysterious lights buzzing about John Wayne's head?
One look at the restored DVD from Artisan and you'll see the explanation as clear as the nose on your face.
It doesn't necessarily invalidate the analysis by Boyd Magers and "Western Clippings" magazine, but when thinking of the magic of the Lydecker brothers and their special effects it could well be part, and I do mean part of what we see.
In a nutshell the glowing objects darting about are nothing more than reflections of light along wires attached to the nearby tent in the scene or tree. The wires are moving either by the breeze or manual operation. You can easily see the reflections dart back and forth along the wires/filaments. Crystal clear on the DVD version.
Now we know that the Lydecker brothers were 'the' specialists in wire work for their special effects. That's a matter of historical record and legend and they were indeed on the set. If they'd been in the background working on another film and it got caught on camera by error that's a possibility but the bottom line is just that, a bottom line of line.
Oh and in regard to a supposed 'other' UFO in a scene near the films end it's no more than a bird or bug out of focus in the distance.
So the big mystery that's gone on for quite some time is easily answered.
The reward for me is getting the treasure of studying a great classic film, legendary stars and technicians and reaffirming why some creative works last the test of time, it's due to quality, courage and perseverance.
The back story to this classic western and the people who made it as well as it's look at the wild west is priceless.
Maybe they don't make folks like those anymore or maybe the studio insurance folks won't let em'.
Alton Raines
I'd certainly like to take a look at this "Artisan" DVD version, especially on Zoom command, but it seems to me these moving lights are being too easily dismissed. Especially the story of the Lydecker brothers. Take a look sometime at their handiwork -- it's rather pathetic and laughable, the stuff of cheap serials. It may have been 'state of the art' then but what we're seeing in this film is far more complex than mere light reflections across moving wires, or some 'remote control' flying saucer by a couple of drunk FX brothers out in the desert (and it's a bit of stretch to believe a genius and meticulous detail master like Ford would not have known they were out there in his shot). The strange lights, for me, remain UFOs -- unidentified flying objects.
From K Beswic
I'm in agreement with the other four people who have responded to Mr. Boone's explanation. With all due respect to his research and ability to speak directly with stars from the 1950s, I think the notion of this object being a highly-advanced remote control device is positively ludicrous.
First off, IF this were the case, the Lydecker Brothers certainly wouldn't be working in Hollywood for very long, they'd be snapped up by the US Military so quick it would make your head spin.
Secondly, as an intermediate-level RC scale hobbyist myself and proprietor of, I think I have some experience with both remotely piloted aircraft AND fictional Hollywood props and inventions. With $1,000 worth of Futuba radio equipment and a $300 gyro stabilizer, it's possible to construct an RC helicopter that can stay quite steady & stable during a hover, but the acceleration is nowhere even NEAR what is seen in that film footage. It's very easy to get quite "untidy" with ANY remote controlled vehicle when you factor in elements like wind. I'm much more apt to accept the 'reflection off of a glass backdrop' theory than anything involving RC saucers.
Nice try Mr. Boone, but no cigar...
Original Article
Did UFOs Make An Appearance In
John Wayne's 'Rio Grande'?
Clip from Roland A. Duby
by James Neff
At first, this looked a lot like a sound stage shot, as there are not many old black and white films that have convincing day-for-night scenes and few directors worth their salt ever attempted real night shooting. But it appears this footage from "Rio Grande" (John Ford/1950) is indeed in the great outdoors. Roland writes, "On the DVD I have there is a documentary called the making of RIO GRANDE and it says the film was shot entirely on location in Moabe, Utah."

'Rio Grande' just happened to be aired on American Movie Channel this afternoon and I caught it, and only spotted one or two "set" shots (one was the use of a film backdrop as a covered wagon in the foreground is speeding along -- such a shot would require some kind of a studio trick) that were likely tossed in post-production. The vast majority of night shots were expertly done day-for-night (where special darkening lenses are used during daylight shooting to imitate night). Later in color productions they would use a blue filter to achieve the same "fake night" effect. So if this is a true night shot, it's remarkably well done for its time and whatever is flying around those mountains is very brightly illuminated and making maneuvers no plan or jet could pull off, even today. It's also rather large, whatever it is. If the shot is day-for-night, we're still talking about a very large, very bright or highly reflective object. Either way, its a UFO.

In the clip provided, you'll see the UFO, which appears to be disc shaped, suddenly appear to the left of the Duke's head and brightly travel left to just behind a tree in the foreground. It then seems to bobble, lose illumination, and reappear streaking rapidly across the sky above the mountain range, leaving a tracer. Then it's not clear if the same UFO or several UFO start an up and down dance in the same general area, crossing from the sky to the area just at the top of the mountain, one swooping down very quickly.
View the 3 meg Windows Media Player file HERE
(If you have trouble downloading, try right-clicking and asking to "save target as" -- on Mac, hold down mouse and select "Save As")
Submitted: A ZOOMED Version of the area in question (Note: this WMV might not play on Mac versions of Windows Media Player). Click HERE (758k)
From Barry Coleman
Hello, Jeff -
I checked out your site and read the report about the guy who submitted the clip from the John Wayne film Rio Grande that depicts 2 ufos in the background. I work for the company that distribute the DVD VHS from Republic Pictures and someone got me a 1990 copyrght VHS colorized and it show the same ufos in the background. Wow !!
We are now attempting to get the original black & white 35mm film to run it in our screening room.
Just wanted to let you know. Keep up the good work.
My background: director/writer/film historian /journalist/ UFO buff. I've written extensively on genre film history on FX.
As a big fan of UFO sightings, it's exciting to have the Duke juxtaposed with mysterious flying lights. If anybody could sock those little buggers in the jaw and save the Earth, it was Wayne. If George Pal had had any sense at all, he would've thrown that wuss Gene Barry aside and made a REAL movie of War of the Worlds. With Maureen O'Hara as the redheaded girl. And Barry Fitzgerald as her priest father.
The wacky explanations don't hold water, as several posters point out on this site. Oh, I can just see the Lydeckers, poking around in the background of an important dialogue scene with the two principals, while mild-mannered, affable old John Ford blithely ignores everything. ("'scuse me, Pappy, but there's a buzz on the sound track. May have to take that one again." "Nah, it's those Lydecker boys back there playin' with their saucer. It's okay, we'll fix it in post." "Yes, but we can see their little model buzzin' around Duke's head like a firefly." "Nobody'll notice. Next shot!") Yeah. Right. Or the idea that the Lydeckers suddenly leaped from straightforward gravity miniatures -- which they used from the Clyde Beatty picture in the '30s thru the Irwin Allen TV shows in the '60s-- into the high-tech world of radio-controlled miniature planes, which then behaved (per the clip) in a way that would be aerodynamically impossible... [A "gravity miniature" is a large model aircraft -- or in the case of Captain Marvel or The Rocket Man, a dummy-- which glides down semi-invisible wires, propelled down by its own weight and apparently "flying." With shots in which the miniature/dummy is supposed to appear to fly upward, the miniature/dummy is repositioned backward, the shot is taken, then printed in reverse.]
... or that the Lydeckers actually shot ANY new FX footage for RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON (I'm not able to quote chapter'n'verse, but my recollection is, ALL the saucer footage is stock shot stuff from the previous serials)...
... and that Lydecker Freres. never returned to the process again again. Nope, ain't buyin' that, neither.
Contractually, studio department chiefs in the 1930s through the 1970s received credit whether they actually worked on a particular picture or not. The Lydeckers were heads of the Republic effects department.
It's pretty silly to think that Herbert Yates, a notoriously cheap old bastard, would OK a trip to Utah for the heads of his department during which they cart along a 1000-pound metal saucer model to get shots of it flying against the mountains-- when in fact every other shot they did for every other similar Republic serial was shot in the San Fernando Valley-- with rock formations and mountains that looked every bit as good, if not better, than those in Utah, and were within a half-hour's driving time from Republic Studios.
Or the first-hand recollections that the entire picture was shot on location in Moab. I'll point out that historian Tom Weaver' interviewed a cogent and precise actress named Elizabeth Russell, who remembered clearly that she refused to climb into her twin-bed coffin in a Lugosi picture called THE CORPSE VANISHES-- when in fact she's right there in the film doing exactly what she remembered NOT doing. And that Forrest Tucker distinctly recalled climbing the Alps in a picture called THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, when in fact all the scenes were done by doubles long before Mr. Tucker arrived to join the cast in a comfortable little studio in England. People's memories can be subjective.
The RIO GRANDE scene in question, to me, is obviously on a sound stage. Compare it visually to the night/desert scenes in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, also all on a stage (though some, not all, of the day/desert shots are legitimately location shots.)
As with many Ford films, it's a long take, with standard coverage. Master shot, mostly. If it were TRULY a night shot on location, the entire mountain background would be black, not a sunset silhouette with everything visible in the intermediary distance. There aren't enough lights in the whole of Utah to illuminate a desert like that.
If it were a "Day for Night" shot, the sky would "pop" more, visually. It would be brighter. It's not bright. It's a "night" sky. A neutral density filter &/or exposure tricks can make an acceptable illusion of "night," but it's an overall effect; it's impossible to make a background "night" with day-for-night tricks and keep foreground performers brightly illuminated as in this RIO GRANDE scene.
Plus, if it WERE a "magic hour" shot done on location, Ford would have to be betting his performers would nail it on the first or second take and there would not be one grip who drops a hammer or dog barking in the distance or camera jam-- since the light of near-sunset doesn't last long, and changes very quickly. This would never give you time to get enough coverage for a scene, nor let you do very many takes. That there Mister Ford fella weren't no stupid fool; he'd done a picture or two by then.
My bet -- personal memories and funny anecdotes about drunken cameramen aside-- the scene was shot in the studio. Something-- an insect, probably-- was flying silently in the background and caught reflected light. Note the pattern indicated by the arrows. Instead of whizzing in a direct "flight path" straight down (as a Lydecker miniature would have) or perhaps straight across the horizon (as we might expect with an aerodynamic object propelled by alien super-energy or something), it flits around in insane circles between the back of the Duke's head (& the prop tree branches) and the painted cyclorama, then "vanishes" from sight (having turned in flight, eliminating its reflection of the arc lights.)
Hey, look, Ma, I'm speculating. But nothing in the shot as I see it looks like anything except a studio shot.
Much as I'd love to have John Wayne and an alien craft in the same picture...
Thanks for the comments Ted. What we really need to find is a shooting schedule. Surely one exists...somewhere. It would solve the biggest question -- set or on location? - Neff



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