Howdy! Know what’s wrong with the world? No background music. Except in our house. As I reminisce in ink, cowboy songs fill the air and our hearts. Songs by Les Gilliam, the Oklahoma Balladeer. His music’s the food of love, and we all had seconds.
Babs and I were introduced to the wonders of western flick fests 24 years ago. But gettin’ there was no fun. Our flight was buckier than an electric bull ride. Babs and I sported 20 white knuckles. All we saw was fog. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claustrophobia. I felt like Cagney in “Ceiling Zero”. When I fly I never go to the bathroom. No seat belts. ‘Twasn’t always like this. Years ago I flew to Edwards Air Force Base in a twin-seater jet. Pilot asked me if I’d like to experience a few loop-de-loops. Why, sure! Yeehawwww! Plum thrilling! Pilot told me that once he flew Al ‘Captain Video’ Hodge to an airfield jam-packed with waiting fans. Al ok’d a few loop-de-loops of his own. They landed before an audience of hundreds of screaming kiddies. Captain Video got out onto the wing and gave the crowd his famous greeting—with a loud ZOOM! He shot out his right arm, and proceeded to upchuck all over his G-suit.
Driving nowadaze is even hairier, each mile down the road fraught with peril. I envision the day when America is criss-crossed by giant vacuum tubes. Get in, and you’re compressed to wherever you want to go.
One year when I was at the Memphis Film Festival Elisha Cook Jr. arrived sloshed, stayed sloshed, and flew home sloshed. Yet, he lived past 90. The happy sauce killed all the germs. Huntz Hall paid a visit to the gift shop. That’s all he paid. He removed $1,000 worth of merchandise and charged it to the festival. After that, the little store was dubbed the Huntz Hall Memorial Gift Shop.
I love the south. The beauty of the land, the houses, the cookin’, Elvis. Folks are finer than frog hair. They belong to the 4-H club—Happy Howdies, Handshakes ‘n Horsepitality—and kissylips galore from the gals. None of those neck-wrenchin’ air kisses. And they love westerns and WESTERN CLIPPINGS.
What wild yarns were spun at the panel discussions at A Gathering of Guns in ‘09, some even true. Sweet Anne Helm fondly remembered Elvis as an angel. Anne, you’re an angel. Wish we coulda takin’ in all the screenings. A warm bunch showed up for a Sweet Toes episode, “Hideout” with Pete Brown, Paul Fix and my all-time favorite leading lady, Anita Gordon. Alas, she passed on thru a while back.
The Big Banquet was a Hoo Haw and a half. Jeff Conners, Chuck’s son, showed his pluck on the git fiddle. Jennings Barnett turned into Red Skelton before our very eyes. He honored my request to mime Red’s Chinese poison dart-blower routine. Gary Yoggy directed a wild and wooly radio re-creation of “Have Gun will Travel” starring Ty Hardin as an unforgettable Paladin. He’s the only actor I’ve ever seen ad lib with a script in hand. Slapdash surrealism. Who laffed louder, the audience of us performers? One for the books. Boyd Magers was Hey Boy with a stiff—neck. Yoggy and Jim Kocher were cussin’ crows. Donna Magers was a proper crow-sitter. Jan Merlin was an ornery gunslinger. Sharon Willing, Foy’s widow, was a chirpy Miss Wong, sort of a Hey Girl. My bride Babs played a town biddy a la Margaret Hamilton. When she exited I shouted, “Now git! And that goes for your little dog ToTo, too!” I played an old gold prospector. Johnny Washbrook provided the glue that kept our show from falling apart. All of us cowpokes and cowpokesses were awarded certificates of honor, beautifully framed by Dottie and Alex McCollum. (Wait til my dentist gets a load of this plaque!) Accompanied by Les Gilliam, Babs, Donna, Boyd, Mike Patrick, Caroline Hardin, Bonnie Boyd and Carla Borelli-May sang the themesongs to the Warner Bros. TV westerns. Fittingly, a tonal-Ty said, “I’d like to speak to you about being off-key.” Boyd said, “Ty, I’d like to speak to you about being on the right page.” Denny Miller said, “Never judge a man, unless you walk a mile in his shoes—then you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have his shoes!” Great grub, great grog, great gab, great group, by gar, featuring those rollicking rascals Don Collier, Henry Darrow, Jim Drury, Bob Fuller and Donald May. How jolly! You really had to be there that year!