as seen through the eyes of
We got off to a late start. I had some obligations that kept us from leaving before dawn so I knew we would miss a couple of movies—Thunder Mountain with Tim Holt and Hopalong Rides Again, to be specific. There was a golf tournament, too, but I had given up golf years ago when I realized I was agitating my blood pressure by making war against a small, white ball that was unbeatable.
We were on our way to the 13th Annual Lone Pine Film Festival, held in the tiny, California town of Lone Pine, nestled beside the Alabama Hills--those unique and very familiar rock formations that served as a backdrop for the early Hoppy movies, plus tons of other wonderful Westerns over the years.
My wife, Beth had made our motel reservations back in January, having been tipped off the previous year when we tried a month early and found nothing was available—in the entire town. This year would be different, we thought. There are only two nice motels in Lone Pine, the Dow and Best Western, but that’s where the celebrities and other big mucky-mucks are put up--nothing available there. So Beth and I ended up at The Timberline, an eight-unit hostelry with the conspicuous smack of exotic curries wafting from the small office area.
Thank God the walls were thick. Beth and I were assigned room number one--right beside the office/kitchen--where we quickly unpacked before going to the festival’s office to pick up our official badges and programs. Knowing we were already late, we raced to the high school auditorium and were just in time for Stay Tuned For Lone Pine: Three TV series episodes, all advertised as having been “filmed in Lone Pine.” First off was the Wild Bill Hickock TV Show--a segment, shot in 16 mm color in the beautiful Alabama Hills. An Annie Oakley episode that juggled scenes between Lone Pine and The Melody Ranch followed, and The Adventures of Champion—a show I really don’t recall ever watching--finalized the program, and didn’t look to me like it was shot anywhere near Lone Pine—Vasquez rocks, maybe.
Following that, we traded a non-Western festivity at the Lone Pine Museum for a quick nap. We took a fast supper at a local restaurant before heading back to the high school for what was called a concert, starring The Campfire Cowboys, a unique musical group that consisted of a cowboy poet, a guitar playing-singer, and the best gol-dern yodeler I’ve ever heard--next to Roy, of course—Sourdough Slim.
Bus tours through the Alabama Hills and other nearby movie locations were being offered every hour-on-the-hour during the entire festival, but Beth had heard they were sometimes overly long. So after a “pancake” breakfast of “ham and eggs” at the local VFW Post, we took off in our own car Saturday morning and drove out to the Alabama Hills for a visit that we rated only second to our expedition through John Ford’s Monument Valley.
After that we ran over to the Town Hall Dealers Area where the celebrities were signing autographs and vendors selling Western memorabilia. I had been told several friends of mine would be there and I wanted to catch them before the Guest Star Panel Discussion. I found Neil Summers, an old amigo of mine going all the way back to 1967 and my stint as costumer on the Dundee & the Culhane TV Show.
Neil began his illustrious career as an actor-stuntman in Arizona, following the Hollywood movie companies around the state wherever they went and working in a lot of Westerns we now call Classics. Eventually he came to Los Angeles and his career took off like gangbusters. Sergio Leone saw him in the small role he played with Paul Newman in Judge Roy Bean and took him to Spain to co-star in My Name is Nobody, with Henry Fonda and Terrence Hill.
Neil has the largest collection of Western movie stills in the world, and has written several well-known Western books utilizing the photos. He told me that all the other celebrities (including my friends) had already been hauled off to the Panel Discussion and if my wife and I wanted a seat, we’d better get movin.
The Lone Pine Film Festival Celebrity Panel Discussion was being held outside the auditorium, in what we imagined was usually the senior quad. We were early by forty-five minutes, but the place was already packed. Beth and I found some seats about a quarter-mile away and waited for the discussion to begin.
It was all worth it. The Panel consisted of old time movie and TV director, Earl Bellamy; The Lawman’s Peter Brown; the first Little Beaver, Tommy Cook; Alex Cord; Anne Francis; my friend and co-star of the High Chaparral TV Series, Bobby Hoy; actress Marsha Hunt; famed stuntman, Loren James; Western Producer, A.C. Lyles; actor, House Peters, Jr.; and Paul Picerni, late of The Untouchables TV Series, plus a few Lone Pine pictures, too, I guess. Each told a story, reminiscing about a particular incident involving them personally in the picture business.
Other personalities in the audience were introduced: B-Western Leading Lady, Peggy Stewart; another friend and co-star of a show I wrote--Kingdom of the Spiders--actress Lieux Dressler, also seen in many Gunsmoke episodes; Diamond Farnsworth, well-known Hollywood stuntman and son of the late actor-stuntman, Richard Farnsworth; more High Chaparral friends, Don Collier and Ted Markland; plus singer-actress, Ruth Terry, who starred in several Roy and Gene movies.
Afterward, I crept up behind Bobby Hoy as he signed an autograph and said, “Mr. Hoy, you’re wanted on the set.” Without looking up, Hoy replied, “I’ll be right there, I’m studying my script.” He knew it was me. We’ve been friends for well over twenty years. When he’d finished what he was doing, he turned around and threw a big hug on me. He had no idea I would be there, just as I had no idea he would be there, either.
It kind of saddened me to be missing the movies being shown at the festival that day: Showdown, with Audie Murphy and Charles Drake; Fiddlin Buckeroo, with Ken Maynard; and Panhandle, a Rod Cameron starrer that was writer/director Blake Edwards’ first film. But there were just too many other things to do; the events conflicted.
With lunch on the fly, Beth and I drove over to the Town Hall area again. This time we saw what we had seen previously at Beverly Garland’s Hotel in Studio City several months earlier when we attended the Twilight Zone Convention. All the stars in attendance at Lone Pine were signing autographs on photos depicting their favorite achievements. It was there we ran into Don Collier and Ted Markland--the other two High Chaparral cowhands--outside the main entrance. Bobby Hoy joined us for a quick picture, then went back inside to the location he had been assigned.
Following Bobby, Beth and I stopped for a second at Neil Summers’ table—he was selling his latest book, in hardcover. We memorialized our meeting on film, then Beth and I joined Ruth Terry and her husband, John Ledbetter, to watch her sign a few 8X10s. Bobby Hoy was a few chairs away--seated by Peter Brown--where we traded the latest news and family gossip before heading off to something else.
This was the first year the Lone Pine Film Festival has included Science Fiction Movies as part of their event. I guess someone figured that because so many Si Fi pictures had also been filmed in the area, and because it would draw a more diversified audience, they would include them. The afternoon offered several Si Fi Panels, so Beth and I decided to nap instead of gracing them with our presence.
The Lions Club was offering a Deep Pit BBQ in the park. Beth and I decided we would go. But California BBQs just ain’t like them good ol Southern BBQs—and they never will be. Enough said.
Each year they honor one film—always a movie shot in and around Lone Pine. This year’s show was Bad Day at Black Rock; a 1955 John Sturges film starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, and Anne Francis. Though set in 1946, right after World War II, Black Rock is every inch a Western: A stranger comes to town, this time on a streamliner instead of a horse or stagecoach. This alarms the town’s small populace because they all harbor some deep secret the stranger eventually pries out of them. I hadn’t seen this movie in years, and had forgotten the details. It was shown in Cinemascope, too.
If we had been able to stay longer, Sunday would have brought us another pancake breakfast; more autographs and trinkets; a Cowboy Church; a panel dedicated to Western Movie Star and War Hero, Audie Murphy; some short films; a Parade on Main Street, with all the celebrities; and the Official Closing Ceremonies.
But as I’ve said, we decided to start our long trek home early, before noon. We have a couple of babies at home (dogs), and miss them a whole bunch when we go away. We did put our name on a couple of local motel waiting lists for next year--ones without the curry smells. You actually have to make reservations that far in advance. The town of Lone Pine is very small and they just don’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone. There were people staying as far away as Bishop (60-plus miles), and motor homes parked illegally on the side streets. But it was all worth it. So if you ever get the chance, give Lone Pine a try. Will ya?