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Our topic today was prompted by a conversation I had after my dear friend Bill Thrash’s funeral a couple of weeks ago. His surviving sister told me that when my pal, about whom I thought I knew everything, was 16, around 1954, in the small southeastern Oklahoma town of Ada, he commandeered a shitload of dimes and tried, to the very best of his ability, to call his hero, Frank Sinatra.
I started thinking then about how many of us have attempted to be in touch with our favorite movie star, director, producer, writer, composer or author? I used to do that very thing a lot when I was single and bored.
Here are two stories that are so personal that I’ve never written about them before... [...]
The Only Game In Town
Here’s the first time I ever stumbled upon a film set – my family and my eight year old bad self had driven from Purcell, Oklahoma to San Antonio, Texas to attend the HemisFair ’68, a wing ding of a World’s Fair (do those still exist?) which featured H.R. Pufnstuf as its mascot and the Tower of the Americas as its symbol of both American and Texas ingenuity and, as I remember, a heck of a place to eat while slowly spinning above the earth.
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.