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JULY 2011

Howdy! I wake up screaming—with laughter—recollectin’ some of my bizarre goof-ups. Babs calls ‘em senior moments. The French call ‘em ‘Fox passes’. I call ‘em Fred. F’instance, take one of my toe-curlers—please! There was I in Newark, NJ, at the 26th annual Friends of Old Time Radio convention. Radio? I thought they said Rodeo! I found myself ‘midst a joyous group of seasoned pros and surrounded by boisterous audiences. We all harkened back to those halcyon days of the crystal set. One unforgettable night I was Red Ryder in a re-creation of that famed radio show of yore. Tommy Cook was a no-show—not to worry, you betchum. Veteran performer par excellence Dick Beals became Little Beaver before our very ears. Lovely Beverly Washburn snapped whip as a cattle baroness. Arthur “Let’s Pretend” Anderson was my sidekick Buckskin, chaw o’ tobacky and all. Ben Cooper wore the black hat. Whatta dastard! Stole the show. Babs was back home baby-sitting our new cats Blondie and Dagwood so my dinner companion du jour was an old chum, Jack Daniels.

Magic time! The sound effects fellers raised their coconut shell hoofbeats, and Red Ryder rode again. (Back in the ‘30s, actors provided their own hoofbeats by slapping their chests.) Gunshots, avalanches, train wrecks, stampedes, barroom brawls—and that was just the commercial. The Show was goin’ along finer than frog hair. After page 10 I flipped to page 11—una problema. I was back on page one! Dad-burned if I hadn’t left half my script back at my table with my good buddy Mr. Daniels. “Gulp!”, said I—‘Twasn’t in the script. Neither was my shakin’ chaps nor my flop sweat. I frantically ran around the stage in all directions. Ah! Buckskin’s script seemed to be in working order. I sidled up to him and read my lines over his shoulder. Very loud! Luckily, I was wearing my reading glasses (in radio you don’t have to look your best). This spur of the madcap moment rattled my trusty sidekick, and he moved to another mike. I followed in hot pursuit. He tried to shake me, moving to the third mike. I stuck to him like files in honey—what are sidekicks for? The other poor devils on stage cringed and cowered, making room for our zany choreography, strictly Marx Bros. I was Groucho chasing Margaret Dumont, Harpo chasing a blonde, Chico chasing a pigeon. The startled spectators contributed titters, chortles and guffaws. The show must go on. I missed nary a cue nor a line. Dogies, if you’d closed your eyes, you’d never have known.

After the horseplay, I slunk back to my table. Jack awaited. Some sweet smilers upped to me with cheering words—“You were never better.” “Helluva performance!” “How did you ever remember all them words?” A dear, little lady took my hand, gazed warmly into my eyes, and whispered, “Yes, yes, yes.” Our director, Anthony Tollin, slapped me on the back—“Wow! You shoulda been out front!” I like to think my favorite Red Ryder, Don Barry, woulda whooped and hollered, “Yee Haw! That was some Tom foolery, ol’ Sugar cured. You might not have red hair, but you sure have a red face!”

In ‘99 in Newark, director Tollin guided me in a re-creation of the first Lone Ranger script written by Fran Striker. We asked our audience to return with us now to that glorious Detroit day on January 30, 1933. I played the sheriff. Fittingly, John Hart played the masked man. Tonto didn’t appear on the scene til the 10th show.

In our bloody tale the Ranger loaded-up with silver bullets, but he shot to kill. Why, he wiped-out at least eight varmints. I lost count. He was only in a coupla scenes, but his spirit soared over the proceedings, swooping down onto the baddies like an avenging angel when needed, wiping ‘em out vigilante style. Pow! Right between the eyes.

George Seaton.George Seaton (right) was the first Lone Ranger. For the gig he was paid the princely, depression-era sum of $2.50. Three months later George entrained to the Hollywood dream factory and found work as a writer and/or director of such flicks as “A Day At the Races”, “Airport”, and “Miracle On 34th Street”. At show’s end George was supposed to give out a hearty signature laugh, but he was laughin’ challenged. Instead of a spirited “Ha! Ha! Ha!,” he could only muster a nambly-pambly “Heh, Heh, Heh.”

‘Twas gettin’ close to air time—there was a frenzied pow-wow. Director Jim Jewell suggested George try the polo cry of “Heigh-Ho”. A cohort said folks would think the Ranger was Rudy Vallee. “Hi-Yo!” was born.

Writer Fran Striker suggested “Covered Wagon Days” or “Beyond the Blue Horizon” as the series’ theme song, but director Jewell, ever budget-conscious, wanted royalty-free public domain music. “Maybe ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’?” No, Fran. “Flight of the Bumble Bee” doesn’t quite make it. Let’s hear that “William Tell Overture” one more time. That’s more like it! Some folks say it’s a sign of sophistication and high culture to listen to “The William Tell Overture” without thinking of a masked man atop a great white horse. I’d say it’s a sign of a misspent childhood—Ti-ye, kemosabe. Gettum up, Scout! Hi-Yo, Silver! Awayyyyy…

Director Tollin informed me the horse Olivia De Havilland rode in 1938’s “Robin Hood”, Golden Cloud, re-invented himself a few months later in the guise of Trigger. I didn’t know that.

Parley Baer as Chester Proudfoot on radio's "Gunsmoke".Back in ‘97 in Brockton, MA, I participated in yet another radio re-creation: “Gunsmoke” by gum. Parley Baer reprised his role as the original Chester Proudfoot. Proudfoot? I thought his name was Chester Goode. No, said Parley, the show was on the air one night, when Bill “Matt Dillon” Conrad dropped his script. While Bill was scampering around on the floor retrieving his pages (I well know the feeling), Parley kept up a chatter, lest the show suffer that most dreaded of all radio fates, dead air. He jus’ jabbered away until Marshal Dillon got back to his office for a warmin’ cuppa java. Parley ad libbed, “Yes, Mr. Dillon, I’m sure as shootin’ that Silas Snodgrass is the dirty snake who stole Widder MacReady’s life savin’s—why, I’m as sure o’ that as I am of my own name, Chester Wesley Proudfoot!” And thus he was during the remainder of the show’s run.

I asked Parley, “How come the TV feller was named Chester Goode?” Parley said the TV folks would have had to pay him extra money for the right to use Proudfoot. No wonder they call Hollywood “Sue City”. Henry Hull had the right idea in “Jesse James”, “They oughta take all the lawyers out back and shoot ‘em down like dogs!”

Ah! Legends of the west. Mighty interestin’—Mighty funny. I hope I got all my facts straight, Boyd. But you know what the feller said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “This is the west, sir—When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

   —Adios!