View from the Cheap Seats

The Wranglers, Remembering Ron Joy & New Classics on Disc

October 30, 2013 - 11:23 am   |   By 

This was all we needed to hear: The DUKE was coming to Oklahoma City.

It was the year of our Lord, 1972 and The National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City (now called the National Cowboy Museum and Western Heritage Center) hosted every year a grand event called the Western Heritage Awards, where they gave a trophy called “The Wrangler” to outstanding theatrical and television Westerns and the winner this particular year was a film called “The Cowboys,” starring, well, you know who.  [Read on here...]

And the rumor mill made it all the way down I-35 to our hometown of Purcell, Oklahoma and my brother and I, about 12 and 11, suggested to our father, who was a state legislator of some note, that he use his influence to get us into that ceremony, and darned if he didn’t.  And, so on a balmy April night, we got to stay in a hotel in Oklahoma City and dressed up in our fancy early 70s garb and thus intermingled with movie greatness for really the first time in our lives.

But, sadly, not the Duke. 

For some reason, actually the same one Clint Eastwood must currently have, as he won’t attend, John Wayne didn’t really come to these awards, although he won for The Alamo, The Comancheros, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Sons of Katie Elder, (by the way, did you realize that the youngest Elder, so to speak, was named “Bud” and I predated the movie by six years!), The War Wagon, True Grit and The Cowboys, which was his last win.  Maybe his not showing up was the reason The Shootist, one of his true classics, didn’t win in 1976.  You would see him at events all over the country, but never at the Western Heritage Awards.

I know John Wayne came to Oklahoma City at least once, because my dear friend Lori Hall Copeland saw him in an elevator once when she was a kid.  And I know he loved the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, as he left the museum his complete Kachina (Indian) doll collection and other memorabilia.  Who knows the real reason?  It still plagues people here.Western Heritage Awards

But enough about that… let’s talk about who WAS there.  I know as I still have the program loaded with signatures.

First there would have been Dale Robertson, who was very instrumental in the founding of the Hall of Fame, who would later become a mentor and dear friend to me.  And I think I would have known who he was then, as he was on TV a lot.  I would imagine that Oklahoma’s own Ben Johnson might have been there – but we had met him after he won his Oscar for The Last Picture Show in a hometown diner, so that would have been old news to such sports as us.

And then there were two of the stars of The Cowboys  – Slim Pickens and Roscoe Lee Browne.  We met both and they were wonderful.  Imagine, at the early age, I had yet to see Dr. Strangelove.  And Browne I later saw in My One and Only on Broadway.

There were TV stars there too… no Jim Arness, but Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis and Amanda Blake represented Gunsmoke.  All, now I know, were great character actors in “B” pictures.

Then, inducted into the Western Player’s Hall of Fame, were two giants in the film industry – one James Stewart and, Heavens to Betsy, Joel McRae.  Stewart we certainly all knew as kids – when you think about it, he really never stopped working.  We had seen a great (still) movie called Fools’ Parade and the next year, we would watch him in a short lived CBS series Hawkins.  I hadn’t then experienced The Philadelphia Story or Winchester ‘73 or maybe my all time favorite film Vertigo.  I do remember that he wore an obvious, even to my young eyes, toupee.

McRae, we didn’t know at all and I probably wouldn’t have approached him for an autograph had my dad not told me he was one of the greats.  Imagine, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, Foreign Correspondent  and, of course Ride the High Country.  Good Lord.  And I remember him being very gentle and sweet and gray haired.

Norman Rockwell's "Walter Brennon"That night also featured the unveiling of a new painting for the Hall.  Oh yes, it was rendered by Norman Rockwell and its subject was, how do I say this, Walter Brennan.  Him, we knew, because of the Over the Hill Gang movies and reruns of The Real McCoys.  He also did a series we watched called The Guns of Will Sonnett.  I didn’t know he was, at the time, the only three time Oscar winner from, gulp, Rio Bravo and My Darling Clementine and The Westerner and Blood on the Moon and many others.  The rule with him, which I for sure remember, was that he wouldn’t sign autographs while he was at dinner.  We had to wait to go to him.

There’s another component about that night that I’ll have to share.  My dear friend Bill Thrash, who we lost this summer and I didn’t know then, was in charge of the program and he, along with some cohorts, made sure that every year a Wrangler Award went to the best score in a Western film.  I know now they did this so that they could meet their heroes – Dimitri Tiomkin, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Fielding, etc.

That night, sitting next to us, was a bearded, bespeckled fellow who I had just seen win an Oscar for adapting the Fiddler on the Roof score.  He was there to accept his award and conduct an orchestra playing the theme music he had written for The Cowboys.  My dad bugged him all through dinner, after I told him who he was, telling him that his son (me) was an outstanding piano player.  This was embarrassing me at the time because somehow I knew that John Williams would go on to much bigger fame and fortune.

The Wranglers still survive, although there are few real Western stars left – the ceremony gets by with an occasional appearance by Oklahoma’s own Rex Linn (he of many TV Westerns and “CSI Miami” and a great guy).  Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott still show up and now and then there’s a good Western – the remake of True Grit, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, an overlooked Tommy Lee Jones directed feature that, along with Jones, starred my buddy Dwight Yoakam and eegads, Django Unchained, which won last year.

Somewhere the Duke is, for sure, spinning in his grave.

 

Remembering Ron Joy

Damn, I hate writing obits.  But this one is necessary.
Ron Joy and Nancy Sinatra

The first time Gray Frederickson took me to Hollywood in an attempt to attract film business into Oklahoma, he introduced me to his oldest Hollywood friend, Ron Joy.  And I was immediately smitten.  He was everything I thought a Hollywood player should be –  always dressed to the nines, with perfectly brushed white hair and a black leather jacket and scarf.  He was ribald and witty and every restaurant manager in Beverly Hills and Hollywood would make a table for him when others had reservations for a year.  And he knew everybody – one time I met him for breakfast before the University of Oklahoma played Washington State in a rare Rose Bowl appearance on New Year’s Day, and he had spent all evening at Jack Nicholson’s house.  Did I say I was smitten?

He came to Hollywood from Chicago and was, mostly, a photographer of great renown – he was the official shooter for The Beatles when they came to America.  He was also best friends with Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews and the hilarious Edwards’ film The Party with Peter Sellers was based on an idea of Ron’s.  He was a Rat Pack associate member and actually lived with Nancy Sinatra for many years.

Actually, Nancy was the first person to sign in on his obituary last week.  He had Alzheimer’s for the past five or six years and finally succumbed, with his daughter, who he raised alone and his two grandsons at his bedside.

Two quick stories.

I brought him to Oklahoma one time to help teach a film class.  And  I took him to eat the local joints, which included a fried onion burger joint in El Reno and an all you can eat catfish place in Marietta.  This to a man who ate brunch every Sunday at the Hollywood Roosevelt.  I never lived it down.

Joy & Sinatra during a London photo shoot for the Nancy in London album cover.

Although I have other stories that I best not repeat, (however, all my friends know Ron’s punch line “blacksex.com” – remember I said he was ribald) here’s my favorite. 

Gray, Ron and I were eating lunch at Café Roma, a longtime insiders’ outdoor Italian café in Beverly Hills.  Oh, and with us, whether at a quick pass through or sharing the table were George Hamilton, Mel Blanc, Jr. and the Governator (more stories about him another time).

Out in the bright California sunshine, I noticed that dapper Ron was wearing an electric blue watch, with an electric blue leather band and, although I don’t usually notice these kinds of things, I commented on how beautiful it was.

“Nancy Sinatra gave this watch to me,” he said.

Gray snapped back.

“No she didn’t – I saw you buy it off the street last week.”

To which Ron, peering over his sunglasses, said.

“Who are you going to believe?”

God Bless Ron Joy and his family.  He was wonderful to this rube from Oklahoma.

 

Blu-ray & DVD Classics

Straight from Olive Films, we have a treasure trove of delightful, beautifully rendered Blu-ray wonders.Shack Out on 101 (Blu-ray Disc)

First is Shack Out on 101 on of the lost, great indie noirs that played “B” picture houses in the 50s.  With Lee Marvin, playing a character called “Slob” and a vicious anti commie sentiment, this film demands to be seen.  Also a noir-ish classic from Olive is The Big Combo, directed by Joseph H. Lewis and starring Richard Conte.

But there’s more – after Paramount lovingly restored the Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons, many of us wondered about the sailor’s female counterpart – Betty Boop.  Well, here she is in tremendous Blu-ray in two volumes.  I’ve watched all of both and there isn’t a dud in the bunch.  Go to olivefilms.com.

Twilight Time, this month, actually sent me a movie I’ve wanted to see since I was a kid – The Other was “R” rated at a time I couldn’t attend such films and it has always escaped me.  Until now.  The Blu-ray collectible edition (meaning only 3,000 were made) is a must own.  Also this month from Twilight Time is Mindwarp a post apocalyptic horror gem that is rare beyond rare.  But boy howdy does it look great.  Go to screenarchives.com and get ‘em while you can.  Oh, and I have to tease… up on Twilight Time’s horizons are two Woody Allen pictures and, dare I say it, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, one of Clint Eastwood’s goofiest, greatest movies.

Betty Boop: Essential Collection - Volume 1 (Blu-ray Disc)Warner Archive continues to release classics upon classics – and now include titles from Paramount.  Here are two that are undeservedly lost to time.  Funeral in Berlin was the sequel to The Ipcress File and the prequel to Billion Dollar Brain as Caine played an intelligent, glasses wearing antithesis of James Bond named Harry Palmer, based on books by the still living, thank goodness Len Deighton.  Guy Hamilton, who directed this film, also did a few Bonds you may have heard of like Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.

Another Archive Paramount film is called Posses that was a mid 70s revisionist Western starring and directed by Kirk Douglas.  It’s great fun – more so than Douglas ’ comedy Western The Villain that would appear several years later.  Here’s a story on myself... I told a girl that I was dating at the time that I had written a song just for her and, knowing she would never see this picture, appropriated its theme song.  I think this is the one.  Go to warnerarchvie.com.

Until next time… see you at the flickers!

- Bud Elder

 

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