Actors who appeared in classic westerns recall their experiences. As imagined by me.
FROM THE CHAPTER ENTITLED:FEATURED PLAYERS
THE LEADER OF THE LYNCH MOB
“I took great pride in leading the lynch mob. People ribbed me, called me a glorified 'Extra.' But I knew better. It’s an essential role. I carried the rope!”
“Leading the lynch mob is a big challenge. I mean, look at the character’s ‘journey’, as we actors call it. It’s a rollercoaster of feelings. In the course of a single scene, my character has to make the transition from ‘law abiding citizen’ to ‘String him up!’ to ‘What was I thinking?’ I’m running the emotional gamut. That takes ‘range.’
“I’m not ashamed to admit it. When they cast me as the leader of the lynch mob, I went straight to my acting coach. I needed all the help I could get.”
“Here’s the situation. I’m in town for supplies. Affable. Decent. Maybe a little short with my boy. But he had it coming. He was sneaking candy at the General Store.
The word gets out: ‘The marshal’s got Ringo locked in the calaboose!’ My first reaction:
My breath starts to quicken, primal passions rising to the fore. That first transition is key. One minute, you’re a god-fearing townsperson; the next, you’re a wild-eyed lunatic, clamoring for blood. To call up the emotion, I channeled the ‘sense memory’ of my baby sister. I loved the kid. Then she broke my yo-yo.
We march down to the jailhouse, a vengeance-driven mob, with me at the head. The fire of self-righteousness burns fiercely in my eyes. I wanted the audience thinking: ‘I’d follow that man. Even to do wrong.’
We’re in front of the marshal’s office.
‘Bring out the prisoner!’ I demand.
My adrenaline’s racing through my body. I tell you, leading a bunch of kill-crazy maniacs, there’s nothing like it.
The marshal comes out, armed and determined.
‘We want Ringo’, I say. Or in less ‘on the nose’ versions, ‘You know why we’re here.’
The marshal remains calm.
‘The law will take care of Ringo.’
I laugh derisively, ‘Ha-ha-ha-ha.’
The mob laughs too. I’m the leader. What I do, they do.
‘No more talk’, I snarl. ‘Are you handing over the prisoner? Or do we come in and take him?’
To show we mean business, we start to surge forward.
The marshal shoots in the air. We scramble back, bristling with incredulity.
‘You’d shoot your own neighbors to protect the life of a dirty, rotten killer?’
The marshal stands firm.
‘The prisoner will be brought to justice. You have my word.’
I brandish the rope. ‘We don’t want your word. We want Ringo!’
I turn to the mob.
’Let’s get him, Boys!’
We swarm ahead. The marshal fires again, sometimes wounding me in the leg to show he means business. There’s grumbling, shock and dismay. Maybe a
‘You had no call to do that, marshal.’
That’s when he makes The Speech:
‘Have you all lost your minds? I know you people. You’re decent. Hard-working. But this thirst for revenge, it’s got you thinkin’ all crazy. You can’t take the law into your own hands. That’s mob rule. Vigilante justice. Is that the kind of town you want to live in? Is that the kind of place you want to raise your kids? Call this off right now, before it’s too late. If you don’t, I promise you, you’ll regret it for the rest of your lives.’
The marshal wraps it up with, ‘Now go home. All of you.’
The speech hits home. A moment’s hesitation, a return to their senses, and the crowd begins to disperse. I try to rally them, but it’s too late. I’ve lost them.
I stand there alone, awash in confusion, followed by humiliation, shame and regret. I slowly drop the rope, and walk away. Or, if I’ve been shot in the leg, limp away.
End of scene.”
“My biggest thrill? That’s easy. I’m leading the lynch mob, and Randolph Scott’s playing the marshal. He was wonderful, wasn’t he? Anyway, the scene ends, and Randy comes up to me and says, ‘For a minute there, I wasn’t sure you were backin’ down.’
Hearing that…from the great Randolph Scott?
It was like winning the Oscar.”