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The Reel Cowboys of Hollywood

In Memory of the Founder of the Reel Cowboys, Jack 'J.C.' Iversen
In Memory
of the Founder

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Western Legends Roundup
Cowboys & Indians Magazine
IN THE NEWS
Recreated from the original article at Henry's Western Roundup
15th Annual Silver Spurs Sparkle
The Color Guard at the 2015 Silver Spur Award Show
 
They pulled it off! It was touch and go there for a while – I'd talked to Robert Lanthier, President of the non-profit REEL COWBOYS, a few times during the previous week, and he told me that ticket sales were so slow that they'd have to cancel the event if things didn't pick up. “We have 166 tickets left to sell. This is for charity, for quadriplegic veterans, for families of veterans.” Every year the REEL COWBOYS chooses a different charity to support with their banquet, and this year it was the MVAT Foundation.

The Silent Auction at the 2015 Silver Spur Award Show
Robert Lanthier with a 101 year-old WWII Veteran
Robert Lanthier with a
101 year-old WWII Veteran

 

The Silent Auction at the 2015 Silver Spur Award ShowWhen I arrived at The Sportsmen's Lodge on Saturday night, there wasn't an empty seat in the entire Empire Ballroom. I perused the silent auction offerings, noting western jewelry and art, sports memorabilia, several items related to honoree Rex Allen, and my particular favorite, a braided hairpiece worn by Iron Eyes Cody, complete with feathers. I put a bid for CHAMPIONSHIP RODEO, a board game created by rodeo star and costume designer Nikki Pelley, and the evening's festivities got off to a fast start. Erwin Jackson and The Canyon Riders performed.
Guests at the 2015 Silver Spur Award ShowBoyd Magers, author of many books on the western film, spoke about Republic's last great singing cowboy, Rex Allen; how he'd been thwarted in his performing career until he could save up $75 to have a surgeon correct his one crossed eye. Rex not only had a successful movie career, but starred on TV as FRONTIER DOCTOR, and had probably his greatest success narrating more than a hundred documentaries and TV episodes for Walt Disney. Boyd then introduced Rex Allen Jr., who took the stage, singing and MC-ing the program. Rex Jr. talked about recording his hit, LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS with his dad, and with Roy Rogers. As they were listening to the playback, Roy started laughing, and Rex Sr. asked him why. “The older I get, the more I sound like Gabby Hayes.”
Bo Hopkins and Robert Loggia
Bo Hopkins and Robert Loggia
Next to take the stage was Bo Hopkins who made his first film appearance, indelibly, as Crazy Lee in THE WILD BUNCH. Born William Hopkins, his first big stage success was in a production of Inge's BUS STOP, and he took the name ‘Bo' from his character. He was there to honor Robert Loggia, known to younger audiences from SCARFACE and THE SOPRANOS, and who I'm proud to say starred in the first film I wrote, SPEEDTRAP. But he made his first big impression on audiences in Disney's NINE LIVES OF ELFEGO BACA, playing the real-life gunman and lawyer, one of the first Hispanic characters to be the lead on American television. (If you, like me, haven't seen this character in quite a while, you can see a ten minute clip from the first episode HERE.) Loggia said, “It's great to be part of the gathering. The brethren; and the ladies.” To the crowd's surprise and delight, he sang beautifully in Italian.
Anne Jeffreys with a 101 year-old WWII Vet
Anne Jeffreys with a 101 year-old WWII Vet
Terry Moore, best remembered as the gal-pal of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, and particularly busy in westerns, big-screen and small, in the 1960s, took the stage next, to honor Anne Jeffreys. “I am so happy to be here among you, to introduce who I think is the most beautiful woman in the world. She's been in show business forever because she started as a teenager. She was a Powers Model, and she studied opera. She's sung Tosca. She's a great actress and a great singer.” Terry went on to say that Anne had been in a musical review when she was spotted by Nelson Eddie and Jeanette MacDonald, and appeared with them in I MARRIED AN ANGEL. Then she was signed by Republic, did FLYING TIGERS with John Wayne, and her contract was bought by R.K.O. “While she was doing KISS ME KATE at the Schubert, there was this gorgeous actor, Robert Sterling, playing in the theatre next door. They met, fell in love, and six months later, they were married.”

They starred together in the wonderful TOPPER series, and frequently worked together in other shows. They were married for 54 years, until his death, and it is astounding to look at this beautiful woman and realize that she is not only still acting, but she will turn ninety in January. They ran a clip of her singing in a western, and rather than waiting for her introduction, she came out on stage. “I was backstage, and I couldn't see what they were running. But I died in both of them, didn't I? I never got the man; he either ran off with somebody else, or was killed, and killed me at the same time. It's such an honor to be honored. The era of the cowboys, it will come back. It has to. It's history. It's wonderful history, too. I think I did twelve westerns; eight of them at Republic, a couple at R.K.O. One with the swimmer; what was his name? He was blond and very handsome.”

Other voices shouted ‘Johnny Weissmuller!' I shouted, ‘Buster Crabbe!' (Okay, so I'm a show-off. BILLY THE KID TRAPPED, PRC,1942.)

“Buster Crabbe! Anyway, I feel very closely connected to Western films. I grew up, really cut my eye-teeth doing a series at Republic with Gabby Hayes and Wild Bill Elliot. I learned a lot of things from doing those westerns. First of all, the girl was never important at all. My back was always to the camera while the fellows were frolicking or shooting or whatever they were doing. I learned to wiggle my hair-ribbon in the back to get attention. It was a school, really a wonderful school. And young people don't have that today. It's a different world.

“Gabby Hayes, if you didn't know him, was very different from the characters he played. He was a dude. He'd wear a tailored black suit with striped pants, beard shaved off, and he had shoes on instead of boots, and he had his teeth in, so you wouldn't know him. He was a wonderful man, and it was a great pleasure to work with him. I also worked with him when I went to RKO on TRAIL STREET and RETURN OF THE BAD MEN. Same cast; same horses; same script, just about.

“I was going to tell you a story about making one of the movies at Republic, I think it was WAGON TRACKS WEST. I'm not sure; I did eight of them. I was playing an Indian girl; my name was Moon Hush. With my blonde hair – of course I had a wig on. I entered the commissary with my headband on and my fringe and everything, sat down at the counter for lunch. My agent came in and sat down beside me, and had no idea who I was at all. He said, ‘Would you pass me the sugar please?' I said, ‘If you pass-um me salt.' Then I laughed, and he laughed, and he knew who I was.

“I was out there in the hot sun at the back lot at Republic. And I had on my Indian outfit, with the headband and the fringes. It was not too comfortable – it was a dusty, dusty place. I was sitting there, reading my script. And a cowboy sneaked up behind me, and tied my fringe onto the chair. So I hear, “Okay, you're on!” And I'm tied to the chair! And as I ran across the set, I had powder in my moccasins because it was so hot. And as I ran, white puffs came out of my shoes. They called me White Cloud after that, instead of Moon Hush.

“I got back at them. It was so hot that day, and the prop man, he had fires going, and fish hanging on things. So I took one of the fish, the smoked herring – pretty smelly – and I wrapped it, and I hid it in the prop box. For three days they were looking for that fish. ‘I can smell it -- where is it?' ‘Where is it?' ‘Hah-hah-hah! You tie my fringe, I get even with you!' They were wonderful days; wonderful times. I hope that they will do more westerns again, and soon. And all of you will be here to work (on them). I'm delighted to see all my cowboys looking so shiny, bright, young and happy. I'm so delighted to have this. I had a Golden Boot, and now I've got a Silver Spur to go with it!”

(If you'd like to see Anne in a western, click HERE to see her and Robert Sterling in the JULIE GAGE STORY episode of WAGON TRAIN.

The next presenter was Wilford Brimley, who prior to his acting career had been a wrangler, blacksmith, and a bodyguard for Howard Hughes. Rex Allen Jr. revealed that Brimley came to film and TV shoeing horses, and as a riding extra. “We were doing a charity rodeo in Abilene, Texas. And I was sitting on horseback, next to him; we were doing the grand entry. I'd been in Abilene for about three days, and I hadn't seen him at the hotel. So I said, ‘Mr. Brimley, are you staying at the hotel?' ‘No. I'm staying in the horse trailer.' ‘In the horse trailer?' ‘Yuh. I just move the horse outside, put in some new straw and stay in the horse trailer. I don't want to stay in a hotel.' He is a wonderful, wonderful man, a credit to western films and to the film industry. He is an all-American cowboy. He is a good man.”

Wilford Brimley
Wilford Brimley
Brimley took the mike and commented, “If b&llsh*t was honey, this place would be swarming with bees. They tell stuff about you, and you don't even recognize yourself. There's a kid out here, going to get a prize for being a stuntman. Now (Rex Allen Jr.) said I used to be a stuntman – let me get that straight. I never was a stuntman. I was an extra, a gilley. I worked every day for twenty-two dollars and five cents, and went up from there. This kid is and was and always will be a stuntman. They tried every way they can to kill him. This kid is one of my kids, and I've got ‘em spread all over. But I don't love any of them any more than I love Clifford Happy. Come out here, son.”

Clifford started by thanking Wilford Brimley, who had braved storms in Wyoming to be there. And he paid tribute to his parents, who are both Rodeo Hall-of-famers. His father had started as a rodeo pick-up man, “…pick-up buck horses, take the cowboys off them after they'd had their eight-second ride.” He went on to supply horses to the movies. “I was proud to watch my mother, father and sisters trick-ride. Because of (my mother's) athletic ability, and nerves of steel, she worked many westerns back in the day, as well. I grew up watching westerns faithfully, every Saturday, with Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Hopalong Cassidy. After watching all my cowboy shows, out the door I'd go, catch my own mare, Sadie, ride her down through the dust, chasing every gangster around, with my Red Ryder BB-gun. Hard to believe that some twenty years later I'd meet the girl of my dreams, marry her, and raise two little cowboys. Sean and Ryan are third generation stuntmen. They've both just worked on LONE RANGER, DJANGO, as well as COWBOYS & ALIENS. So yes, they're still making westerns.” Happy was working around movie sets to support his family, and raise rodeo entrance fees, when a stuntman he was visiting broke a leg doubling for Andrew Prine. That stuntman recommended Happy to take over, and that was the start of his career.

He went on to do stunts in THE LONG RIDERS (the famous horse-crashing through the windows scene), SILVERADO, NORTH AND SOUTH, THREE AMIGOS, GERONIMO, and many more. “It's not all sunglasses and autographs, as you know. We are not daredevils. We calculate all our stunts so we can get up and do it again, and again.” He was doubling Tommy Lee Jones on LONESOME DOVE, and Tommy Lee began asking for him. “I've been very blessed by Tommy's generosity, requesting me on twenty or twenty-five shows. Without the many stunt-coordinators that put their faith in me, I would not have had the many opportunities that I have been given. They've helped me to make my career successful and satisfying. I've literally lived my Saturday daydreams, playing cowboys and Indians, bank-robbers and rustlers for thirty-five years now. I am humbled by this Silver Spur Award, and I want to thank y'all. With hundreds of channels to choose from, I find myself looking back to my faithful Western Channel. For you see, cowboys truly are my heroes.”

Tombstone Tony
Tombstone Tony
For a change of pace, next onstage was Tombstone Tony Redburn performing a remarkable gun-spinning and dancing routine, to Will Smith's WILD WILD WEST which must be seen to be appreciated, which is why I'm including a link to a previous performance HERE.

Next onstage was Ben Murphy, who shot to fame in 1971, playing opposite Peter Duel in the delightful ALIAS SMITH AND JONES series. If you haven't seen it in a while, you can see the pilot HERE.

Having not seen Murphy in quite some time, I was delighted to see the seventy-year-old actor looking just as he did in the 1970s, except for an elegant head of white hair. Murphy recounted that when he and Duel were doing the series, they would save the blanks for the takes, and just say ‘Bang!' for the run-throughs. But sometimes they would rehearse so much that they'd forget, and say ‘Bang!' for the takes.

Delores Taylor, Ben Murphy, & Tom Laughlin
Delores Taylor, Ben Murphy, & Tom Laughlin

Murphy was there to honor the writer, director and star of the BILLY JACK movies, Tom Laughlin, who was there with his costar and wife of 58 years, Delores Taylor. “When I was a young actor, Tom Laughlin used to invite me to his home to play tennis, which he did for a lot of us. And after a day of tennis we would watch films in his home; he was very gracious that way. And he seems to me to represent that great mythic western cowboy. The man who comes into town, quiet, but if you push him into a corner, he will fight. And he will protect those weaker than himself. Part of that western lore. And Tom mentally created that in his role as Billy Jack, but as a filmmaker he was an inspiration to a lot of us because he did it his way. He bucked the system. He made the picture with his money, his way, and he proved them wrong. He got it done. It is my honor: Tom Laughlin.”

Delores Taylor, Tom Laughlin, & Louis Gossett Jr.
Delores Taylor, Tom Laughlin, & Louis Gossett Jr.
He received a tremendous standing ovation. Having not been on the screen in more than three decades, it is startling to see Laughlin as an eighty-year-old man. But though he appeared frail, and his voice was soft, he had plenty to say. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really want to, first of all, begin my gratitude by quoting Abraham Lincoln. ‘All I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.' I was a very precocious chick, reading in the second grade 6th and 7th grade books. I read a biography of Lincoln in 7th grade. And I'm quoting that first line eighty years later. The reason is, all I've ever done, all the luck I've had, success I've had, I owe to my own dear wife and life partner standing here. We recently celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary. And never, in that time for one second did we think of divorce. Murder, yes, but never divorce.

“I want to thank my good friend Ben for that wonderful, wonderful introduction. My gratitude to all of you in this society for honoring; but it wasn't me, it was us. We have been an unbelievable joined-at-the-hip partnership in everything. Every movie, every script, every acting (role).” Delores took the microphone for a few moments and echoed those sentiments.

Bo Svenson
Bo Svenson
For the final tribute of the evening, Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. took the stage to honor Bo Svenson. Speaking of great actors of the past, Gossett noted, “…there's a pride in working with the Jack Palances, the Sidney Poitiers, George C. Scotts, the Paul Newmans, the James Deans – they all had one thing in common. That they wanted to do what they did to perfection. They were never satisfied. They work constantly, trying to hone their scenes on a daily basis. I just witnessed that experience a few weeks ago in Canada, with a young Swedish hockey player, who came to America and (worked on) stage and western film, and captured my attention and respect. He applies himself on a daily basis. He asked me to give him this award. And I agreed, because of his life, because of his art, and because he's taller than me. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bo Svenson.”
Dick Jones
Dick Jones

Mr. Svenson took the stage. “I didn't know what to expect from this evening. As a kid, I always had a dream. I wanted to come to America. And here I am. I spent six years in the Marine Corps. I've been married to Lise since 1966. I attribute the longevity of that to the fact that I'm absent a lot, and that she has a very poor memory. So thank you all very much for a, for me, very worthwhile evening.”


Strolling around the ballroom I spotted a number of actors who were there not to perform but to enjoy the evening: Martin Kove, Dan Haggerty, RANGE RIDER and BUFFALO BILL JR. star Dick Jones, Johnny Whitaker, Cliff Emmich, weapons expert Anthony DeLongis, DEADWOOD regular Ralph Richeson.

Anthony DeLongis and Martin Kove
Anthony DeLongis and Martin Kove
Back Row: Clifford Happy, Wilford Brimley, Anne Jeffries, Delores Taylor, Bo Svenson, Louis Gossett Jr. | Front Row: Rom Laughlin, Ben Murphy
Back Row: Clifford Happy, Wilford Brimley,
Anne Jeffries, Delores Taylor, Bo Svenson,
& Louis Gossett Jr.
Front Row: Rom Laughlin, & Ben Murphy

One of my personal favorites, Tom Cook, who played Little Beaver to Don Barry's Red Ryder in the Republic serial, directed the event from start to finish. It was a great evening, and Red Ryder would have been proud.

Tommy Cook signed my RED RYDER box!
Tommy Cook signed my
RED RYDER box!


 

 
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