Howdy! Listen, my children, and you’ll be aware of our airplane ride from here to there—The Memphest! A Gathering of Guns 2 back in 2010. Hearty Huzzahs, Ray Nielsen and Boyd Magers! You did it again. You were never better. A helluva job! Babs and I agree, ‘twas our favorite jaunt down the nostalgia trail, ever! The turnout was so immense that the neighboring hotel absorbed the overflow of guests.
At A Gathering of Gums for breakfast, we love Southern cookin’—smacka my lips—hot cornbread, black-eyed peas, baked ribs, candied yams, sugar-cured Virginia hams, berried jams, turnip greens, ham hocks, butter beans, you, me, New Orleans, and that’s what I like about the South!
In the vast wheeler dealer’s room our table stood ‘twixt Ty and Caroline Hardin’s and Clint and Susan Walker’s. The Hardins and the Hutchins schmoozed, smooched, signed, smiled for the shutterbugs. Walker and Co. was a money machine, featuring a never-ending line from hall to table, reminiscent of the procession of clowns emerging from a VW Beetle. We were in a world apart, a wonderland of Southern horsepitality, awash in a sea of love.
The extravert’s extravert Jocko Mahoney introduced us to our first Western flick festival, Memphest ‘85. We didn’t know the S.O.P. We didn’t bring 8x10 glossies. We contented ourselves by scurrying from viewing room to viewing room, catching as many serials as we could, cheering childhood idols Hoot, Hoppy, Smiley, Andy, Gabby, Tex, Roy, Gene, Johnny Mack, Don ‘Red’. Jawin’ into the wee hours.
This year we tabled our energies. Drat! Sure missed watching Dirk London in blushing colorization in “Zombies of the Stratosphere.” We managed a visit to the Bristol room and took a gander at “Duel at Judas Basin” with Cheyenne, Bronco, and Sugarfoot, the three Must-get-theirs. Next, a segment from “Good Morning, America” ‘86. ABC flew us three compadres to NYC for an interview with David Hartman. His co-host Joan Lundin (nee Blundin) failed to saunter over for howdies. Rather, she announced next day’s guests from “F Troop”, adding, “Now, this show I know.” Hmmmm… During the screening the projectionist took a header off his chair—crunch! He probably fell asleep.
Whispering Woods hotel was fraught with peril. I saw 4½ ker-plunks. First, the projectionist. Then, in the dining room, Ty, Pat Devon, and Donna Magers had to do their own stuntwork, tuckin’ and rollin’, after trippin’ on hard-to-see steps. And as we rehearsed a radio re-creation of “The Cisco Kid”, leading lady Jan Shepard almost fell off our platform. And they were all sober!
In the radio recreation I played the Ceesco Keed. “Babs, did I sound like Duncan Renaldo?” “More like Bela Lugosi,” said she. Ty Hardin and Darby Hinton were the bad guys. Dick Jones drew heavy mitts and huge guffaws as the weird Sheriff. Versatile Mike Nevins invoked his tenor and his baritone, etching two characterizations. Boyd Magers was a Pancho for the ages. “Pancho, where’s your badge?” “Badge! We don’ need no stinkin’ badges!” We had but one rehearsal, and I suspect some of us read the script beforehand. Amusin’ but confusin’. Sometimes, audiences get a kick out of mistakes. Their laffs spurred us on—so did Bart Curtis’ loud sound effects, especially his constant fusillade of gunshots into a garbage can. Jovial director Gary Yoggy gave us a loose rein. Always fun working on a Gary Yoggy Show.
Boyd moderated a panel with Clint, Ty and me. Much to Clint’s surprise, we heard up the aisle “Happy Birthday, dear Clint!” And a mighty tasty cake was marched down. (In May) Jo Ann, the lady who cuts my hair, baked me a birthday cake. She molded the icing to look like Sugarfoot atop his hoss Penny. I felt like an egotistical cannibal, devouring myself.
On a sweeping stairway, we guns gathered for our group photo, courtesy of ace photog Steve St. John, world-renowned for his “Wisdom of Sugarfoot” in WESTERN CLIPPINGS. Big Clint led us all in a rendition of “Mississippi”, new to us all. He confessed that he sang that ditty at rodeos around the country. If he was in Alabama, the song became “Alabama!” Ditto “Montana”, “Wyoming”, “North Dakota” etc. etc.
Aye dogies, if we didn’t have the snazziest farewell banquet I ever did see. Ray Nielsen and Boyd handed us each an award, a beautiful inscribed heavy glass object d’art in an elegant gift box. Jan Shepard told us how she met Elvis, cute. Her slacks matched his jacket. Elvis said, “I’ll give you my coat, if you’ll give me your pants.” Her hubby Dirk London stirred us with his eloquent delivery of the poem “Cowboy Up!” Mitch Vogel touched Bab’s heart with his sincere acceptance speech. Jennings Barnett was Red Skelton. John Buttram was Pat Buttram. Lou Elias and I reminisced about working on Wild Bill Wellman’s “Lafayette Escadrille”. Hugh O’Brian and I reminisced about working on “Mr. Roberts” with Vince Gardenia in summer tent theatres in ‘63. Hugh recalled our biggest laff. One of our cast members made a spectacular entrance. The goat peed on stage! Hugh praised Bab’s cowgal outfit. She was all a-twitter. She kissed his hand and shook his lips. Johnny Western and Les Gilliam strummed and sang medleys of cowboy songs. Babs used to pick-out all her favorite TV Western themes on the piano with one finger. Then she took lessons and picked ‘em out with two fingers. All except the “Sugarfoot” theme. That only got a finger. Bill Smith gave us a signed copy of his book of poetry. Included are Muscle Beach pics of Bill. James Stacy and Bob Fuller drew Hi-Decibel squeals from a horde of Lancer Ladies and Laramie Lassies. My International Fan Club, The Sweet Toes Sweeties, will hold their annual meeting in September at Penn Station in a phone booth. Anthony W. Joynt bid three G’s on a Gibson gitfiddle, and won. A swooning Lancer Lady forked out $285 for a kiss from James Stacy. She got her money’s worth! I got two eighty for a hearty handclasp. Two dollars and eighty cents. The bar was dark, but the Lancer Ladies lit it up with a wingding. Jeff Connors quietly crooned soulful songs. Hugh O’Brian got a gaggle o’gals gigglin’ with close-up magic. Babs told a couple of Aussie women that I worked for three years in Australia to watch my career go down the toilet, counter-clockwise. We were all in high spirits. Or were we high on spirits? I posed for a pic with a pert miss. She patted my cheek. My right cheek. My lower right cheek. These good people sure made it tough to say adios. On a scale of 1 to 10, Babs and I rate “A Gathering of Guns 2” ELEVEN! Some of the wives formed a group. I suggested “WOWS” —Wives of Western Stars! Babs said, “Almost. We’re WOOWS —Wives of Old Western Stars!”