Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Saddle Up! - Part Four"

(Actors who appeared in classic westerns recall their experiences. As imagined by me.)



“I don’t want to talk about it. Sidekick. Thirty years with that scraggly beard, a moth-eaten wardrobe, and every second word is, ‘Yer dern tootin’!’ That was my ‘catch phrase.’ – ‘Yer dern tootin’. I couldn’t get away from it. Wherever I went, ‘Yer dern tootin’!’, ‘Yer dern tootin’!’ I’m sitting in this upscale restaurant, I say to the waiter, ‘Excuse me. Do you have a vintage Beaujolais?’ He says, ‘Yer dern tootin’!’ It drove me up the wall!”

“I’m was a New York-trained actor, for heavens sake! I played the classics – Ibsen,
Shaw, Pirandello. Big parts, not just the butler. I come out to Hollywood, they say, ‘Can you play a western sidekick?’ I’m an actor; I can play anything. Unfortunately, I played
‘the sidekick’ so convincingly, they wouldn’t let me play anything else. Who can blame them? Would you cast me as a romantic lead after seeing me fall face-first into a ‘cow pie’?”

“How would I define a sidekick? You start with dignity, you strip away every shred of it and what’s left is the sidekick. It’s total humiliation. You fall into a horse trough, you walk into a wall, you fall asleep in a rocking chair and flip over backwards. I had terrible fights with the producers. ‘You’re taking the low road,’ I said. ‘Think: Sancho Panza. He was a sidekick, but he had innate dignity and an earthy wisdom.’ They said,

“Once, I’m coming out of the soundstage, dressed as ‘Soapy’ or ‘Succotash’, or some such nonsense, and wouldn’t you know it, I walk smack into Larry Olivier, dressed as Hamlet. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life. The man saw me in Uncle Vanya.”

“When our movies came out, we’d go out on a multi-city publicity tour, just me and 'The Good Guy'. Funny thing is, wherever we stopped, the audiences seemed more interested in me. I’d get more attention, louder applause, I’d sign more autographs. Did it piss off 'The Good Guy'?

“Yer dern tootin’!”



“I was out of my element in westerns. Foreign Legion pictures, biblical epics, that’s where I felt at home. In The Bible, I played one of the two camels Noah took on the ark. The second one. The funny part was we were both males. Nobody noticed, except the camels. We got a big laugh out of it. ‘Course, if the real Noah had made the same mistake, the camel would be extinct today.”

“‘Sword and Sand’ pictures – there, I was a natural. Then some screenwriter does some research on the West, and discovers that for a while, the U.S. cavalry experimented with camels. The call goes out – I’m out of the desert and into the cavalry. I preferred the desert. Why? The Bedouins never used spurs.”

“The horses on the western set treated me terribly. Okay, maybe that was partly my fault. Early in the picture, they asked me out for a drink, and I told them I wasn’t thirsty. I think that kind of ruffled their feathers. It wasn’t personal. I’m a camel; I drink once a week. I guess I could have tagged along, had a few peanuts. Mind you, if you’re really interested in someone, you could familiarize yourself with their habits.”

“I think, deep down, the horses were afraid of me. They saw me doing better in the desert, and suddenly it’s, ‘What’s going to happen to us?’ ‘Course, they had nothing to worry about. Camels may be superior in the desert, but the West is – and always will be – horse country. The cavalrymen felt stupid riding camels. They couldn’t control them, they’d hurt themselves on the humps, they’d make the Indians laugh. The experiment was quickly shelved. The cavalry went back to their horses, and I went back to where they kick you with sandals.”

“I don’t think there’s even one song about a cowboy and his camel.”



“I never made the money the actors made, but it was ‘no contest’ when to came to the ladies. I mean, who’s more likely to set you blood to boilin’, a man who has the guts to fall fifty feet off a roof, or a man who says, ‘Good luck’ and steps into his trailer?”

1 comment:

Sally Roll said...

I love all the Sagebrush Memories, but I think I enjoy the ones by the critters most of all. I don't know how many people in this world can say they "get" a camel, but you are obviously one of them! (At least it seems that way to me, a fellow non-camel.)