Actors who performed roles in classic westerns recall their experiences. As imagined by me.
FROM THE CHAPTER ENTITLED: SPECIAL TALENTS
THE MAN WHO SWUNG THE ROPE OVER THE LIMB OF THE TREE
(The typical western hanging scene would begin with a rope being swung over the limb of a sturdy tree. I wondered about who did that. And how he got so proficient.)
“It’s just somethin’ I was good at. It’s kind of funny, y’know? I can’t twirl a rope, or do fancy tricks – Figure Eights, jump in the loop, jump back out. But show me a tree limb, and I’ll sling ‘er over ninety-nine times out of a hundred. It’s kind of this freak talent. It’s the only one I have.”
“The producers had faith in me, ‘cause I always came through. How important was I? Well, I hate to blow my own horn, but you asked me. Listen to this:
“One day, they were shootin’ the hangin’ scene, and through some kind of mix-up, my wife, Louella, had taken the car. I couldn’t get out there, which put the production in quite a pickle.
“They really needed me, you know? It wasn’t like, ‘We’ll get someone else to swing the rope.’ I was the specialist.
“You know what they did? God’s honest truth. They sent a limousine to pick me up and bring me to the set. A big, black Cadillac. With fins.
“I’ll never forget it the looks on their faces. Limo’s drivin’ up and they’re thinkin’, ‘Here’s some big muckymuck comin’ onto the set.’ The door opens, and it’s me. My pals got a big laugh outta that one. The ‘rope slinger’ in a limo.
“It was the greatest day of my life.”
“There was a lotta tension around those hangin’ scenes. I mean, cripes, you’re stringin’ somebody up. Not for real, of course, but the feelin’s not that different. I imagine. I never been to an actual hangin’.
“Mess-ups? Always possible. It’s no easy thing, you know? And there’s all that pressure besides. What can happen? Well, the big moment comes, and you fling the rope in the air. And you don’t fling it high enough. Or it gets snagged up in some branches. Or the rope jerks out of your hand, goes flyin’ over the tree limb and ends up on the ground on the other side.
“You miss a coupla times, and pretty soon, you’re doubtin’ yourself. And doubtin’ yourself makes you miss more. Of course, the more you miss, the funnier it gets. You look around, and the whole lynch mob’s got the giggles. There goes your ‘gloomy atmosphere’ right there.
“You can’t have a funny hangin’.
“Meanwhile, we’re eatin’ up valuable time. The Assistant Director’s lookin’ at his watch, the cameraman’s goin’, ‘We’re losing the light’, the director’s sayin’, ‘Can we get it right this time? Please?’
“And that poor fella, y’know, he just keeps tossin’ the rope.”
“You can pick it up on the screen. I mean, you’re lookin’ at, ‘Take…Sixty-Two’, or somethin’ – the one where he finally gets it right – and the folks ‘round the ‘Hangin’ Tree’ are bitin’ their lips to keep from crackin’ up. Even the fella they’re hangin’ can’t keep a straight face. He’s chokin’ but he’s laughin’.
“The only one not laughin’ is the poor lunkhead who’s been throwin’ the rope.”
“Nothin’ of that nature ever happened to me, of course. It’s just somethin’ I heard about.”