Monday, June 9, 2008

"Saddle Up! - Part Eight"

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




“It was always the same story for us. They’re ridin’ along on the prairie – ‘Rattle! Rattle!’ – and they shoot our heads off.”

“When westerns first started, they really did shoot our heads off. Then, all the rattlers got together and we formed a union. There was only one issue: ‘No shooting our heads off.’ We had the producers over a barrel. They needed us. You can’t be ridin’ along on the prairie, and you’re terrified by a bunny rabbit! So they gave in.

“After that, it was – ‘Rattle! Rattle!’ – Bang! Bang! – and we’d play dead. It was easier on everybody. On the rattlers, for sure. But also on the actors. Some of those cowboy stars were terrible shots. They’d shoot at us, they’d miss, and we’d bite ‘em. We couldn’t help it; it’s a natural response. The stars would swell up, and they’d have to close down production for a month.”

“The rattler symbolized random danger on the open range. In the daytime. At night, it was coyotes. I met some coyotes once. They’re actually very nice.”

“A rattler appearance could also deepen a relationship. ‘Rattle! Rattle!’ – Bang! Bang! – and the Leading Lady swoons into the Good Guy’s arms. Sometimes we’d bite them first, which would lead to the sucking out of the poison. Those scenes could get pretty steamy. I had to look away.”

“I’ve had my head ‘blown off’ by some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Jimmy Stewart blew my head off once. Nice fellah. He gave me a piece of his sandwich.”

“I’ve been out of the business for quite some time. Westerns are out of fashion. And those ‘Animal Rights’ people didn’t help a bit. They’d come to the set with signs: ‘Don’t shoot the rattlers!’ Know what I’d tell ‘em? ‘Mind your own business!’”



“The first thing you need to know is that cattle, by nature, do not like to stampede. There’s clouds of dust, you can get stepped on, and there’s all that running. Cattle aren’t crazy about running. We don’t even like to walk that much. Mostly, we stand around and eat grass. Once in a while, we’ll lift our heads. Not because we’re curious. We’re looking for the next place to eat grass.”

“The script says:

‘The cattle are bedded down for the night.’

That, we like. It’s quiet, it’s cool, we don’t have to walk, or, as the script more accurately puts it, be ‘driven.’ ‘Driven’s’ exactly the word for it. Walking in that heat, the cow in front of you kicking dirt in your face, you can’t see where you’re going. It’s nothing you would do voluntarily.”

“You know, it’s the craziest thing. In ‘bedding down’ scenes, they’d have a cowboy sing to us. Can you tell me where they got the idea that cattle enjoy singing? We were trying to get to sleep!”

“Okay, so it’s peaceful. The cattle are starting to unwind. Suddenly – it says in the script:

‘Reaching for a lick of sugar, Yancey accidentally rattles the pots. The cattle are spooked and they start to stampede.’

“What a bunch of baloney.”

‘‘Somebody rattles the pots?’ What do we care? One cow says, ‘What was that?’, another cow says, ‘Pots’, and we go back to bedding down for the night.”

“I’m telling you from experience. No cattle ever stampeded from pots. If it’s guns, you run. We know what happened to the buffalo. But pots? Seeing that on the screen, it’s an insult to cattle. ‘Look at the cattle. They’re afraid of pots.’ It’s outrageous!”

“That’s why were never invited to the premieres. Once, we went. The ‘pots’ scene comes on, and all the cattle in the audience went, ‘Bullsh-t, Bullsh-t…”

“They never had us back.”



“We never felt welcome in westerns.”

Sheep were the outsiders, you know? The ‘Other.’ The herd went to some watering hole after work, did they once invite us to join them? No. It was strictly ‘Cattle only.’”

“I mean, come on, it’s a movie, we’re playing a part. Okay, so we’re also sheep in real life, but, we’re all actors, aren’t we? I mean, I understand maintaining your motivation – the West was changing, the cattlemen are being forced to share the range, the sheep are tearing up the grazing land, which, by the way, we can’t help, that’s just the way we eat – but the degree of animosity was totally uncalled for. It’s like they couldn’t tell the difference between Hollywood and Wyoming.”

“You know, I’ve never mentioned this before – it’s so disgusting – but on the last day of shooting, one of them left a ‘little present’ in our water trough. Classy, huh?”

“That’s cattle.”


emma said...

Sure missed ya, Earl. Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

My father would love this so much! Some of his happiest times were when you and he 'shot it out' at the Baycrest corral!