Don Castello

Ashton Dearholt, Jr.

Lee Ashton Dearholt, Jr. (1894–1942) American Actor, Producer, supervising producer, executive producer, Presenter, Writer, Director and Production Manager. Don Castello worked with Universal on a number of melodramas during the 1910s but usually worked outside the studio system, producing a series of "Pinto Pete" westerns during the 1920s in which he starred himself. He occasionally acted under the name Richard Holt.

Castello is best known to contemporary popular culture, however, through his association with author Edgar Rice Burroughs, whom he met and befriended in 1929. At that time Castello was married to Florence Gilbert, a former stand-in for Mary Pickford and occasional heroine of some of his own pictures before their marriage. Burroughs, who was having marital difficulties and self-doubts at the time, found himself attracted to Mrs. Castello at their first meeting, when Castello, accompanied by Florence, visited Burroughs at his home to discuss making films of some of Burroughs non-Tarzan novels and stories. Burroughs refused, being already thoroughly discouraged with Hollywood's treatment of his "ape-man" character, but developed a social relationship with Don and Florence.

Then in 1934, while on a business trip for RKO to Guatemala, Castello met and fell in love with a young American competitive swimmer, returned home with her to California and installed her in the Castello household. Florence Castello soon left and sought support from Burroughs, whom she eventually married after divorcing Castello. Florence took custody of her and Don's two children.

In 1935 Castello finally convinced Burroughs to allow him to make a Tarzan film. The trick was turned by Castello's offering, with two partners, to set up a single corporation under which Burroughs could subsume and personally manage his various Tarzan franchises, in exchange for allowing Castello to make a Tarzan serial, set in Guatemala, with his new love appearing in the lead female role under the screen name of Ula Holt (it's unclear if this was her real name, or a name contrived by Castello--who, as already noted, used the name Holt for himself at times and, additionally, adopted another screen name for himself, Don Costello, for use in his role as chief villain in the planned Tarzan film). It is unclear when (or if) he ever actually married Ms. Holt and, if so, how long the marriage lasted.

Contrary to popular legend, Burroughs had little actual involvement in the making of the new Tarzan picture, which he viewed as Castello's project. Castello selected Bruce Bennett--then known as Herman Brix--to play Tarzan: Burroughs only briefly met Bennett after his contract was signed, to pose for some publicity pictures. Castello commissioned a script, hired a crew and arranged transit to Guatemala. Burroughs entered the picture only briefly to co-sign a bank loan for production costs when the necessary credit was denied Castello on the basis of some of his rather unfavorable past bank experiences. The party eventually set sail for Guatemala in November of 1934 and returned in March of 1935 with the film only partly completed, due to cost overruns and numerous physical mishaps in the Guatemalan jungles under Castello's leadership. The script was almost entirely rewritten at least once: the pressbook, printed by Castello's partners back in California from the original screen treatment, barely resembles the finished film in its descriptions of the plot line. The serial was completed within two months of the party's return to California and faced release under threat from MGM to deny rentals on any of their future Tarzan pictures with Johnny Weissmuller to any theaters that played the Castello film. Although the film was fairly popular abroad, it was unable to recoup its costs and none of the cast--including the star--or crew were ever paid their salaries. Within a year, Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises went bankrupt and Castello never made or appeared in another motion picture. However, he and Burroughs remained close friends until his (Castello's) sudden death in 1942.

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