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Seriously, is there anything more gloriously American than the singing cowboy? A white hat-wearing, square-jawed male specimen equipped with a sharp aim, a stout heart and a dramatic tenor, the performance of which would cause even a tone deaf villain to tip his hat?
We seem to have the singing cowboy on our minds here in Oklahoma – Roy and Dale were actually married in Davis, and Ol’ Gene has an entire town that bears his moniker – the only such in America named for a movie star.
But today it is not of the first team we speak – no, our long legged guitar pickin’ men also enjoyed “B” picture status and played for teams bearing names such as Monogram. We speak today of Oklahoma born Jimmy Wakely, whose cinematic exploits have recently been released in wonderful box sets from Warner Archive.
My friends and I used to play drinking games based on lines from the immortal Blazing Saddles and, usually, as we were about to be thrown out of one of the lesser establishments, my pal John Beebe, in his cups after about 12 screwdrivers, would stop all proceedings and yell, “I’ll now be reading from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and… Duck!”
I mention this now, because of a specific reaction to a long held statement that I’ll make anywhere, anytime.
I believe that one Gary Busey, admittedly a friend of mine, is a wonderful raconteur, an Oscar nominated actor of great skill… and an all around good guy.
I see now, somewhere in that great beyond, a randy, bewigged Maude Frickert chasing after a younger farm hand of hers with salacious activities on her mind, or Elwood P. Suggins screaming to his wife regarding the landing of a flying saucer “Don’t run, Martha, that’s what they want you to do!” or spoiled brat Chester Honehyhugger crying to his parents that “sissy has Spotty the dog, so I want a kitty,” or the Hollywood stuntman who had his head “completely turned around on his shoulders 13 times,” or the country songwriter who just penned a song for Pat Boone entitled “I’m On a Chartered Bus Going Nowhere” or any one of thousands of regular Americans whose personalities and extreme behaviors all came from the mind of, in my humble opinion, the greatest humorist of my time – Jonathan Winters.
I have taught college composition courses my whole life and it is not uncommon for the curriculum to ask the student to write a true story from their individual pasts. When they collectively start bellyaching that their lives are boring and that they have no well from which to draw any autobiographical tales, I tell them one thing – everyone has stories.
A few weeks ago, the AP wire and even Entertainment Weekly made the simple announcement that Dale Robertson, age 89, had died in southern California. And while the world had lost their western hero Jim Hardie and the state of Oklahoma, where he was born and would always remain faithful, had lost a favorite son, I lost a dear mentor, friend and brother.