Tag Archives: Lone Ranger

Cowboy Tommy

Willie Nelson said it well with the words by Sharon Vaughn;

 

“I grew up dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy

And lovin’ the cowboy ways.

Pursuin’ the life of my high ridin’ heroes

I burned up my childhood days.”

–“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

 

Before I discovered astronauts, it was cowboys for me. I wanted to grow up to wear a mask and have an Indian sidekick.

No, wait.

I want to ride a palomino and have girlfriend named Dale, and a sidekick who drove a jeep named Nellie Bell.

No, wait.

I wanted to wear a black, beaded outfit with a floppy hat and be called; “The Robin Hood of the West”.

No…no…wait!

I wanted to be Gene Autry, play a guitar and sing while ridin’, and live by the Cowboy Code;

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Yeah, THAT was the ticket.

It still is.

I understand that “cowboy” has come to mean a few different things than it did when I was a cow “boy” and my bike was my palomino. I have great affection for the cowboys of Clint Eastwood;

  • Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide”
  • The “Man With No Name” in various spaghetti westerns
  • The revenge-driven shooter in UNFORGIVEN.

Ditto for the cowboys described in the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Ian Tyson.

Ben Johnson and Clu Gulager in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, Robert Duvall in HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, James Garner in “Maverick”, Richard Boone in “Have Gun, Will Travel”, and John Wayne in just about whatever film you’d care to name (he was pretty much always a cowboy)…all of these mean much to me.

But the cowboys that reach me most immediately have always been in the pictures of children in their cowboy outfits, with or without the itinerant photographic pony. Those pictures always trigger (pun most definitely intended) my remembered cowboy aspirations.

This week, I attended the memorial service of a friend and fellow actor.

Why should I praise him? What were my path-crossings with him that were so inspiring that I should shout hosannas?

  • He enlisted my help to fleece an innocent man in a real estate deal.
  • When I was in charge of a city, he flaunted and mocked my every effort.
  • He spit in my face every night for a month.

……on stage……pretending.

Off stage…there were nights when I wanted to strangle him over political differences…

…but he never wanted to strangle me.

I believe he forever “had my back”.

I believe he was deeply wrong about many things, and so he believed about me.

I believe he made the world better for having been in it, and suspect he believed that about me.

That’s called “civility”.

It’s also, in my mind, the cowboy way.

At the memorial service there was an array of pictures from Tom’s life. One of them was a picture of him as a child in his full cowboy regalia. Yes, it triggered my own atavistic career urges. I was un-surprised, but profoundly moved.

 

“Them that don’t know him won’t like him

And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him.

He ain’t wrong. He’s just different,

But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.”

–“Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” – Ed & Patsy Bruce.

 

I still have my yellowed copy of the Cowboy Code and still harbor hopes…hopes that may flicker a little brighter…

Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic

I’m reading a script these days that was originally performed to some acclaim as part of the Humana New Play Festival at Actors’ Theatre Louisville. It reminded me of another Humana New Play Festival experience Janie and I had years ago that was, shall we say, “differently acclaimed.”

I subscribed to Actors Theatre of Louisville for about 24 years. I love this theatre and have enjoyed a number of transcendent evenings over the years. Susan Kingsley and Ken Jenkins in “Childe Byron” was magical. Likewise, “Tobacco Road”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Sea Gull”, were wonderful, and their production of “The Tempest” was the best I’ve ever seen. There were some head-scratchers along the way (“King Lear” in burkas bewildered me), but overwhelmingly most of the shows were inspiring and entertaining.

So…why did we stop subscribing?

I was working almost every Saturday then. The only performance we could count on attending was the nine o’clock curtain on Saturday nights. I would get away from work about five, we would drive to Louisville, have dinner at the Bristol, make the curtain at nine, get out of the theatre about midnight, and drive home.

Ah, there’s the rub.

That late night drive home became increasingly burdensome. Before dogs took control of our lives and clocks, sometimes we would snuggle in after the show at the Seelbach, have a languorous brunch, and get back home sometime Sunday afternoon. Well-l-l-l, you can fergit dat, O Keepers-of-the-Kibbles!

Janie and I began to question how much pleasure we were getting out of our Louisville theatre habit. Impetuous kids that we are, we debated it for a couple of years. Then there were two productions in that last subscription season that finally convinced us to drop the commitment.

The first production was actually quite well done. It was a gospel concert nominally disguised as theatre. Now, I can enjoy gospel music (or bluegrass, or German lieder) for about fifteen minutes just as well as the next guy, but this was two hours and forty-five minutes more gospel music than the Geneva Conventions probably allow. That night’s drive home was glazed in bitterness and that is the gospel truth.

The other show…

(…shudder, squint, tears begin to flow…)

The other show…

The other show was titled “Beyond Infinity”. It was part of the Humana New Play Festival.

The play consisted of three intertwined (sorta) stories set in the same desert at three different times in history.

One story was of an ill-fated wagon train. Beyond sad. I found myself expecting Ward Bond to come out wailing “Bring out your dead!” (100 trivia points for identifying the geezer reference.)

The second story was told in a sporadic monologue in monotone by one of ATL’s regular actors whose name eludes me at the moment. He was a gaunt, Sam-Waterston-Abe-Lincoln-Harry-Dean-Stanton-looking fella. For this show he was dressed like Tonto. I don’t mean he was dressed like a Native American. I mean he was dressed like Jay Silverheels in “The Lone Ranger.” Whenever the show’s innate hilarity moaned towards out-of-control, the lights would come up on Tonto. He would gaze at a spot about ten feet over my head (looking for what?…inspiration?…his light?…his lines?…his agent?) and drone. I caught occasional words (kemo sabe, walla wah walla walla walla wah, bibbity bobbity boo) but we were never EVER in the same time zone as a coherent thought.

The third story…

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

(Imagine that having just been said by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. Go on. Go back and repeat it just that way. You’ll love the way it feels and sounds and you’ll work it into your personal dialogue tomorrow. You’ll owe me.)

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

The third story involved J. Robert Oppenheimer and his merry pranksters in the desert working on the atomic bomb. At one stretch in the second act (second act of twelve, as I recall), Oppenheimer is standing in the desert night, holding a smallish volume of the Bhagavad Gita (you can’t make this up!) and a cigarette. His assistant is standing next to him. For ten minutes Oppenheimer reads aloud, translating on the fly, from his tiny book by the light of his assistant’s Bic lighter…you can’t make this stuff up!!

Wait…someone did, didn’t they?

About this moment, Janie, who had shed her shoes and was curled up in her seat in the fetal position, tugged on my sleeve, leaned near and whispered “there are 87 lights up there.” Why not count the lights? What else was there to do?

It ended…as all things eventually must (except baseball games).

We shook the sand from our shoes and shuffled out of the theatre.

Now, one of the rituals involved with living in Lexington, two glasses of wine at dinner, and attending shows in Louisville is the obligatory pre-drive-home bathroom visit. Well, I’m there, at the urinal, “inflagrante delicto” as it were, when the bathroom door is banged open by a three-piece-suit type who angrily announced to the room; “Well, I have been to the desert on a horse with no name!”

I just about missed the urinal.