Don’t be a critic! My favorite teacher at UCLA, Arthur Ripley, told us that many a time. Ripley wrote the silent screen comedy classic “The Strong Man” for Harry Langdon, directed Bob Mitchum in “Thunder Road” and W. C. Fields in “The Barber Shop”. Critics was a cuss word to Arthur Ripley. Ever hear a critic say “In my opinion”? Nope. They think they have a pipeline to the truth. Who doesn’t? We all have a unique truth, for no two of us see a flick the same way. A critic tells us more about himself/herself than he/she tells us about the flick. Take the TV critic for the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS—Please! I’ll not reveal his name to protect the guilty. From his picture I say he’d make a successful used car salesman. A while ago in his column he put down the hayday of TV oaters. Not one golden memory. Nada. Only discouraging words. How’s that for beating a dead horse? You’d think, at least, his soul would resound to the echo of those glorious TV western theme songs. I used his column to paper the bottom of the cage of my pet bobolink, Leonard. Sure as Schickel, this city feller watches too much TV—Danger, pal! Your brain’ll fry. Pry yourself loose from your couch. Mosey in the park. Smell the flowers. Gambol , frolic, caper. Get back in touch with your inner-child afore it withers and dies. Above all, speak for your-self, chum. Westerns TV cable network is alive and well and living in the hearts of America. Whenever Tom Selleck makes a TV western, it’s a hit! You’re all right, Mr. Big Apple. The whole world’s wrong.
Once in a February chill Babs and I flew to Iowa for our first visit. We looked down on a frozen Lake Erie—eerie! We traveled there to help inaugurate an exhibit of western movie memorabilia, “Hollywood Cowboys”, at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. First day—Marty Kelly showed us Iowa City including the University of Iowa, Jocko Mahoney’s alma mater. The streets, buildings, houses could pass a top Sergeant’s white glove inspection. The sky was bright blue and crystal clear except for a snow white cloud formation—looked not unlike a swooping hawk. Ah ha! I knew we were in for a rip snorter of a weekend in the Hawkeye state.
Our party assembled at the library. Boyd and Donna Magers—Boyd supplied 80% of the “Hollywood Cowboys” displays. Earl and Gail Bellamy—Earl directed over 1,600 flicks of all stripes, just in case you lost count. Jo and Johnny Western and his trusty git-fiddle.
Library director Timothy Walch guided us back into time, as we re-traced the life of Hoobert Heever. Er, Herbert Hoover. He was a great humanitarian, probably more revered today in Europe than in the U.S. for his untiring efforts to feed the starving. He laid the groundwork for the Marshall Plan. He was a great introvert. He checkered his life with solitude. At tour’s end you see a life-size wax figure of President Hoover. Floppy hat, waders, creel—hip-deep in a mountain stream, fly fishing—up there he was happy, real, silent. Down in Washington, DC, he had to wear a white, stiff collar and make speeches.
A replica of Duke Wayne stood in the lobby pointing the way to “Hollywood Cowboys”. Duke was born jes’ down the road apiece. The show was smash B.O. (boxoffice, that is). Beautifully envisioned and presented by the library staff and Boyd. Just about all your cowboy and cowgal favorites were well represented. Johnny Western put on a two-hour-one-man-show. He sings better than ever. Confidentially, I think he had a voice lift. And how does he do all that fancy yodelin’? He must have two cores in his Adam’s apple. ‘Course, he got a standin’ O. He always gets a standin’ O. I gotta standin’ O once, only I didn’t know it. I gave a speech at a munchkins reunion.
The mayor of Coralville gave us keys to the town in an 1876 schoolhouse—reminded me of the fourth grade where I spent three of the happiest years of my life.
We packed ‘em in at the libe’s auditorium for a symposium, “The Last Roundup”. (Hmmmmm!) Earl Bellamy told of the time he directed Sammy ‘Fast Draw’ Davis Jr. in a western. In one scene Sammy was supposed to ride his horse over a hill. “Action!” yelled Earl. Pause. “Action!” yelled Earl. Nothing. “Aw, come on, Sammy—Action!” At last, over the hill came Sammy ‘Slo Mo’ Davis Jr. on foot—dusty and rumpled he staggered to the camera and rasped, “That horse never saw a black boy before. He thinks I’m a bear!” Johnny Western sang and played the “Sugarfoot” theme. I did a pantomime to it. I felt goofy, but then, life is goofy. Later, I signed 8x10 glossies of ol’ sweet toes. A pert miss exclaimed, “Whatta hunk!” I told her, “I’m still a hunk—redistributed.” Wish I had an Indian nickel with the buffalo on back for everyone who upped to me with faraway looks to tell me what an important part TV westerns played in their childhoods—take that, Mr. Bigtown.
Well, our weekend in paradise ended, and we reluctantly wended our way back to reality. Babs and I raised glasses of sarsaparilla with a dash o’cherry in honor of Timothy, Matt, Marty, Chris, Jenny, and all the good folks at the Herbert Hoover library and museum in West Branch, Iowa—Here’s looking at you, kids!
Get away from the hurly burly and go visit Iowa. You’ll re-discover your faith in humankind. You’ll find the kindest humans on earth—Iowa’s what God had in mind when he created Eden. Remember Henry Hull in “Jesse James”? He said something like, “They oughta take all the lawyers out back and shoot ‘em!” It’s well nigh summer—critic huntin’ season.