The Cowboy and “The Cowboy”
Posted January 16, 2015on:
“I was born to ride…”
In 1953 Robert L. Lippert commissioned a feature film to be directed by noted film editor, Elmo Williams (Academy Award winner for “High Noon”), who is still alive at 102. It was to star Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb, Marie Windsor and Luther Adler. Lippert, always interested in getting talent to work cheap, got three of the stars at a bargain rate because they were HUAC-tainted, and needed work.
Production commenced in Deming, New Mexico, and local real-deal cowboys were retained as wranglers. Among them, L.B. “Beau” Johnson, Robert Johnson, Ross May and Darrell Hawkins.
Both Williams and his wife, Lorraine, were fascinated by the cowboys who worked on the picture, and she envisioned a full-length documentary about cowboy life featuring the same cowboys who worked in “The Tall Texan.” The estimated budget was around $50,000 (under $500,000 in 2014 dollars), low because there was no need to pay for stars, sets or sync sound. The meager budget, even by Lippert standards, may account for why the penurious producer sprung for filming in color.
Both movies turned out very well, and made money. “The Cowboy” was particularly successful in the Southwest. Later, when it was released in 16mm, it became a perennial favorite at Indian reservations.
In 2004 I purchased the Lippert film library, and envisioned a DVD release of “The Cowboy” with the usual special features VCI Entertainment and I specialize in. But, what special features could I come up with?
Later on I got a phone call from Bridget Kelly who worked with filmmakers in New Mexico, asking if the movie could be shown to an audience in Deming. Of course I said yes, and inquired if she knew what became of the cowboys. She replied that four of them were coming to the screening!
A commentary track featuring the actual cowboys looking at the movie a half-century later…yessss!
It was arranged to get them together for a recording session. My wife, Donna, and I went to Deming and awaited the cowboys. The first one, Beau Johnson, arrived with his wife in an old car that didn’t look as if it had been through a car wash in 15 years; papers all over the dash, license plate hanging on for dear life. There he was, complete with faded Wrangler’s, old boots, sweat-stained hat, and a big silver buckle, speaking authentic “cowboy,” of course. Was he ever a warm and wonderful character. His passion was race horses, and he owned them…why bother with a new car when you own championship horses? Next came Beau’s brother, Robert, Ross May and finally Darrell Hawkins, great guys all. Hawkins even gave me a lesson on trick roping.
I had prepared for the recording session with lots of notes and questions to toss out to keep the guys talking throughout, hoping they’d make comments about what was occurring on the screen without much prompting from me. We rolled tape and Ross May, who had retired as a school teacher, took the lead as moderator…he was a natural…knew just how to keep everyone going as if he’d done it a thousand times. Tossed my notes in the garbage…didn’t need ‘em.
The result was great…a group of engaging old-timers reminiscing, often humorously, and with cowboy jargon, about an era that has, for all intents and purposes, long since passed.
Donna and I recently got a call out of the blue from Beau Johnson. Hadn’t spoken with him for many years although I had thought about him. He had been in the hospital, and I guess had survived a couple of brushes with death. His brother, Robert, is fine, but Ross and Hawkins are gone. Beau, still his jovial self, told us how much our friendship meant to him, which was totally unexpected, and touched us very much. He said he even kept a ribbon from a bottle of wine Donna gave him. Beau had another reason to call…a favor…asked if we’d call Elmo Williams and wish him a happy 103rd birthday. (It isn’t until next year, but we’ll be sure to call).
When we signed off, Beau told me he was born to ride a horse, and I told him “The Cowboy” commentary was the most fun I’ve ever had producing a special feature.
Additional DVD bonus features:
“The Making of The Cowboy” by Elmo Williams
“Ghost Towns of the Old West – the Deserts” narrated by Rip Torn
Top: Beau and Robert Johnson from “The Cowboy”
DVD cover: Beau Johnson
Order DVD on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TZF2I56
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