Howdy! Hey, Boyd, I have an idea for a TV series. It’s about a frontier rabbi—I call it “Western Clippings”. What do you think? Boyd? Oh, Boyd—Hmmmmmm…
Danger Will Hutchins! A coupla months ago my train was an hour late pulling into Penn Station, NY—Hustle, Hutch! Mustn’t miss the next connection to Lawn Guyland. All aboard the ‘up’ escalator! I’m haulin’ two heavy bags, I forget to remove my readin’ glasses, I’m losin’ my balance—ker-shlunk! I fall like a buffalo in “The Last Hunt”. Feet up, head down. I hear a chorus of gasps and “Are you okays?” “Don’t mind me folks,” I say, “I’ll just roll off at the top.” Someone pushes “Stop”. A lady, I think, helps me to my feet. I feel guilty for halting the wheels of progress—New Yorkers are strictly from Rushville. My wife Babs is a New Yorker. I’m well nigh a foot taller, and I can’t keep up with her. I’m an easy loper. She has seven league legs. My fellow passengers go upward and onward. I check myself. I am okay. Not a scratch. Only my pride is hurt. Ker-shlunk, indeed!
Lord knows in my time I took enough falls off horses, some intentional. I was a fall guy. When a wee lad I practiced falls—outta trees, off my bike, playin’ cops and robbers, Lou Costello prat falls. I wanted to be a stuntman. Along came “Sugarfoot”. I met some real stuntmen, Roydon Clark and Acey Hudkins. I turned the reins over to them, and they got me through unmaimed. Sometimes I got the ol’ hankerin’—I’d ride hard up to the saloon and perform a snazzy dismount—The stunt fellers and wranglers, aces in my book, would look up from their Hi Lo Jack and the Game and shout, “Nice goin’, Hoot!” Were those wads of tobacco in their cheeks or were those their tongues? Years later Richard Farnsworth told me when he stunted at Warner Bros. he was paid more than us actors. He deserved it.
In 2003 Babs and I trained into the Big McIntosh for an evening of western music at Carnegie Hall. Outside Madison Square Garden we stood in line for a cab. The rains came—make that a monsoon. Babs is street smart. She brought an umbrella. Some folks didn’t. An industrious chap in a Mackintosh scurried up and down the line peddling umbrellas at a fast fin a pop. He kept looking furtively over his shoulder. I wondered why. “I don’t want to see no Po-leese,” he said. “Oh,” said I, “A shady business, eh?”
We checked into our ho-tell—the lobby was chockablock with students in backpacks, a convention of body builders, and a sea of cowboy hats. We duded up and slo-moseyed onto Carnegie Hall. Ah, memories. Back in ‘64-‘65 I lived half a block away. I was in a play with Martha Scott, the original Emily in Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town”. Sorta sad mosey that night. Martha Scott died that week.
Borne by a giant wave of cowboy hats we found ourselves in our seats smack dab in the middle of “The Hall”. Opened on Cinco de Mayo 1891, it sure looks brand new and mighty beautiful inside. Prefect acoustics. I thought I heard my option drop. Boyd? Oh, Boyd? “The Hall” was packed bottom to top with lovers of cowboy music from all over. 500 Kansans came to town by bus—faster than a train—wagon train. I told the lady behind me I’d be glad to take off my hat for a dollar. Heh, heh…
The lights lowered. A hush. The lights went up. There stood the Sons of the San Joaquin. The Grand Ole Opry East erupted with roars, applause, stomps, whistles—and that was before they sang. They honored us with “The Great American Cowboy” as well as it’s ever been sung—maybe better—and that’s the way the evening went, one slam-dunk after another. The Prairie Rose Wranglers! Dazzling! Waddie Mitchell recited a chucklesome poem about how tricky it can be to buy your wife a bra. Dusty Rogers and niece Mindy “Rogers” Petersen warbled in front of a huge screen as we watched the King and Queen, Roy ‘n’ Dale atop Trigger and Buttermilk, in action-packed western movie clips of yore. Joni Harms rhymes with charms, and that’s just what Joni does to the Nth degree. Barry Ward the landsman is living proof that one of America’s great gifts to the world is our cowboy music.
The Buckaroo Baritone, Johnny Western, father of five gorgeous daughters, acted as songsmith and emcee. He took us down Memory Trail with a medley of TV western theme songs. Ol’ Sweet Toes’ serenade was included. Johnny stopped, signaled for the house lights, and introduced me. I stood, and I must say I got a pretty good hand. I was the only TV cowpoke there. I figure the audience was clappin’ for all of us. I know it was the thrill of a lifetime. Look, ma! Top of the world! Carnegie Hall! Home of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, and Bunkhouse Blues. The lights went low. Johnny resumed singing. The lady behind me said, “Here’s two dollars. Sit down!”
After the wingding you could find me at the party across the street shakin’, signin’, schmoozin’. Back at the ho-tell our room was so small we slept in shifts. Babs got one to four, I got four to seven.
9:00 a-yawn pow-wow in the lobby. The Wild Brunch Bunch—Boyd ‘n’ Donna Magers, Earl ‘n’ Gail Bellamy, Mike ‘n’ Evy Patrick (they drove down from Canada), Babs and Hutcher. We ambled down 57th Street to the Brooklyn Diner. Good eats you bet. Tony Bennett sat near by. When he passed our table on his way out I softly crooned, “I left my liver in the Brooklyn Diner.” Yeah, he didn’t laugh, either.
Babs and I rate our weekend Five Smiles. “The Great American Cowboy” in concert was the fastest three hours in my life. I tell you folks, ‘twas Heaven.