"Ramblin'" Page 3
Articles: "Red Sovine," "Isn't It Curious," "Ray's Jobs,"
"Funnies from Campi" and "FORGET THE ALAMO"
Graduating from high school is an important transition in every person's life for it presents the
challenge of determining one's future career and employment. Having had an interest in, and some
knowledge of country music I thought that possibly I could be a successful singer, musician,
songwriter and entertainer.
My experience in this field had been stimulated during my last years of schooling at Austin's St.
Edward's High School when myself with my schoolmate band "Ramblin' Ray and the Ramblers" performed
twice weekly on two different radio programs. KNOW in Austin provided air time on Saturdays at noon
and on Sundays we broadcasted on KTAE in Taylor, Texas at 3:00 in the afternoon. Most musicians are
dreamers and I was no exception as I envisioned being famous, touring the country and recording hit
"Coming to Buckholtz Hall next Saturday will be Louisiana Hayride star and MGM recording artist Red
Sovine" blared the promotional spots on KTAE. Red's music was getting popular and my older cousin
Harold Layman acquainted me with Red's songs when he brought home a 78 copy of Groovy Boy and
The Intoxicated Rat which I soon learned and began singing with my band on bookings. I remarked to
Harold, "I think I'll drive over to Buckholtz next week and take in Red's show." I had been a
weekly fan of Shreveport, Louisiana's Hayride radio show on KWKH which featured country stars like
Webb Pierce, Johnny Horton, Slim Whitman, Johnny and Jack, Kitty Wells, Jimmy Lee, Johnny Mathis,
David Houston, Faron Young and Charlie Authur to name a few who all had their music careers take off
resulting in major label record deals and stardom.
"I might be able to get a spot on the Hayride
myself someday if I keep trying," I said to Harold, who thought I was "silly" hoping to be accepted
on such a "big time" weekly radio program, and he told me so. Being naive though, I wasn't
discouraged and I resolved to try. "Maybe Red Sovine will have some advice for me," I thought. "I'm
going to meet him, do you want to go with me?" I asked Harold, who declined as it was a long drive
from Austin and his delivery job at the Coca Cola plant got him tired out by the weekend. Workday
mornings arrived early.
Buckholtz, Texas was a small German town, on U.S. Highway 190 between Temple and Cameron, which I had
been introduced to by bandleader Chris Locklin, cousin of successful country singer Hank Locklin.
His wife had relatives there and they would all come out, dollar bills in-hand, whenever he put on a
dance. Chris would rent a school or church auditorium and assemble a band which sometimes included
me as the lead guitarist. I worked with Chris a couple of times and enjoyed the history eminating
from this old relic of a once thriving farm towm.
A few miles out on the highway was a rustic building used as a meeting hall often by the town called
"Buckholtz Hall." It had been leased at this time (1952) by Cecil "Butterball" Harris who played
steel guitar with Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters band from Taylor. The place had an adequate
stage and could hold a couple of hundred people. In later years he recalled to me, "Monday's were
usually free and many music acts would work the larger towns on weekends when they toured. I
figured I could add in another date for them by booking them in the hall on Mondays. The Buckholtz
folks didn't get much entertainment up there and I could be guaranteed a good crowd. That's why my
dad and I took a lease on the old building." Cecil was always an active businessman and besides
music writing and playing he speculated in buying land, became a partner with Jimmy Heap in home
building around Taylor and Austin, and also dabbled in the restaurant business in years to come.
Upon arriving at the hall I quickly realized that Butterball's business sense was keen. Cars were
parked on the sides of the narrow highway in front of the place which had no spaces left in the
parking area. I had to leave my Buick a few blocks away and walk to the line of country folk who
were slowly edging their way forward and handing dollar bills to a man at the door. Soon I was in.
I heard a voice announce, "And here he is folks, MGM recording artist, Red Sovine!" The man himself,
Woodrow Wilson Sovine, stepped forward, dressed in a brightly decorated western suit, as tall as a
flagpole, and he immediately broke into "I know a young man down in the deep South".... Yes, it was
the opening line of his popular record of Groovy Boy. His four piece group, The Syrup Soppers,
played the arrangements with emphasis on the boogie guitar just like the record I had played over and
By the time the show was over I'd been treated to groove for groove renditions of Red's popular record
like The Intoxicated Rat, When I Get Rich, It Would Surprise You and Barking Up The Wrong
Tree. "I'll be happy to meet with you-all personally," Red announced from the stage as he moved
forward to mingle with his ardent fans. This comment eased my nervousness a bit and soon I found
myself at the front of a line of autograph seekers.
"I'm Ray Campi, I really like your records and music Red. I do some picking myself," I volunteered.
"Tell me more about yourself," was Red's reply. "I've had a band for a couple of years and we play
around central Texas a bit. We have a couple of radio shows on the weekends in Austin and in Taylor,
Texas." "That's quite an accomplishment for a young fellow. How do you keep up with your school
work?" Red asked. "I do O.K., I recently graduated from high school and would like to try my luck
in Shreveport." "On the Hayride?" he asked. "Yes, it's one of my favorite shows on radio. I grew
up with it."
The Louisiana Hayride was a popular Saturday night live broadcast a station KWKH and was responsible
for developing the music careers of great country artists like Webb Pierce, Patsy Montana, The Maddox
Brothers and Rose, Johnny and Jack, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Hank
Williams and others. Hank was to return to its airways in the last year of his life after he had
lost favor with WSM's Grand Ole Opry Show. I vividly remember listening to his bittersweet broadcast
as he mounted the stage at the Municipal Auditorium once more hoping to recoup his fame and fortune
for the second time. I also have pleasant memories of Elvis on the program giving the live audience
more than its money's worth in 1954.
Upon arriving to the downtown district I located the building housing the radio station offices and
quickly parked and found a pay phone nearby. I dropped in some dimes and waited expectantly for a
friendly voice .... I found one. "Yes, this is Red Sovine speaking." I explained to him who I was
and that I was accepting his offer of guidance in arranging a KWKH audition. "Let me make a call and
then wait for me in front of the building and I'll go up with you to Frank Page's office." Within a
short time Red arrived and we entered the building together, found an empty elevator and before I
knew it I was meeting the station manager personally. "This is Ray, the fellow I called you about,"
Red informed his friend. "He'd like to sing a few songs he's written for you." With that my
benefactor politely excused himself and left me the task of making a favorable musical
Frank patiently waited for me to unpack my guitar, check the tuning, and begin singing my best song
*Toe Tappin' Rhythm, I did a couple more originals and then went into my best Lefty Frizzell and
Hank Snow impersonations ("That big eight wheeler...") I think Ernest Tubb entered the picture also.
"We don't have any spots on the show at this time but I'll keep you in mind," was
My 30 minute meeting ended on a pleasant note and I left the office with a little hope but no positive
results. As I drove back to Austin I was reminded of, and thankful for the kindness of the big man
with the red hair whom I was to meet again many years later in a completely different setting.
In September of 1959 I moved to Los Angeles and had been teaching English for a few years. Also, I
had re-started my music and recording career with Rockin' Ronny Weiser and his newly formed Rollin'
"I've heard that Red Sovine is playing tonight in Glendale at the Forge Club," Ron revealed. "I've
got to see him again. I owe him a thanks from years back." I had been audio taping interviews with
music and film people for a few years and Red was on my list.
That evening I entered the club just as Red and his guitar player from Nashville were ascending the
stage. Red looked much the same but I noticed his glasses contained very thick lenses.
Red finished his show to steady applause and I then made my move to introduce myself to him for the
third time. "I wonder if I could interview you tonight," I asked. He agreed and I then drove to his
motel room he shared with his lead guitar player. After I got the tape rolling on my Nagra I
revealed, "We've met before, in Shreveport, and in Buckholtz, Texas in 1952." He was surprised. He
told me on tape about his music career and his close friendship with so many Louisiana Hayride stars,
and his fond association with Webb Pierce who really took an interest in his career ("Why Baby Why").
At this time the trucker's song craze was taking over country music and Red was on the forefront of
it. His hits like, Giddy-Up-Go and Teddy Bear were on all the country charts in recent years and
in years to come as the trucker's songs became more popular. In the dawning hours I left this
pleasant man to get his rest and I headed home happy and pleased that I had gotten a wonderful
interview with him and that I was able to see him on stage again and renew our acquaintance.
Some years later I read that Red Sovine had been killed in an auto crash, possibly due to his failing
eyesight. It was a loss to the country music world and to me personally as I liked and respected
this helpful man who shared my ambitions and dreams and who went out of his way to assist me in
making them come into realization. Red Sovine; so fine and not forgotten.
*Toe Tappin' Rhythm and 5 more of Ray's 1951 recording can be found in the CD "Road
to Rockabilly" ENVIKEN records #CD 118 Sweden 2003.
Hayride photos courtesy of Allan Clark.
Isn't It Curious?
Recently I became aware that a television musical special and a compact disc were produced to honor
the long career of Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley's original guitarist who created the rockabilly guitar
style featured on the Sun and later RCA records that sparked the singer's career upward. Scotty also
took over the task of being the trio's booker and provided his own car as the band vehicle to get
the group to bookings in the early days of the group.
His style of picking is still copied by young bands today and Scotty Moore deserves recognition from
all in the music world. There's no doubt about this. As a visitor for a week on the G.I. Blues
movie set in 1961 I had the opportunity to meet the man and watch him rehearse with Elvis many of the
songs to be recorded for the fun score.
IT'S NOT SURPRISING... that many famous musicians were given the opportunity to appear on this
special and record on a compact disc as many were guitarists who claim to admire the style created by
ISN'T IT CURIOUS... that most of these so-called "super?"-stars that appear on these "tributes" are
rarely contemporaries of the honoree but most of the time are 1960's drug culture, hippy types whose
lifestyles and music is the exact antithesis of that of the person being spotlighted. The 1960's and
70's guitar style with its reliance on being overly loud, was often tasteless as the sustainer and
fuzz tone droned on in endless solos, boring....boring...boring!
This guitar music heard on thousands of records of this period have nothing in common with the
tasteful playing of the likes of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Hank Garland, George Barnes and
ISN'T IT CURIOUS?... that in the case of honoring Scotty Moore that great 1950's rockabilly artists
were not present or invited. Many Sun Records artists like Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess, Eddie
Bond and Rudy Grayzell were absent. Where were other greats of Scotty's era like Mac Curtis, Sleepy
LaBeef and Glen Glen? Examine the huge list of Rockabilly Hall of Fame members on this website, all
in alphabetical order, for a list of candidates who could have participated. These true pioneers are
rarely given a chance to appear on national T.V. or to be present on a CD that can be found in more
that 50 record stores. Wouldn't it have been more fitting for them to have been present on an event
of this type, with some of the new generation authentic rockabilly talent, rather than the long
haired, 1960's cocaine crowd who during their seconds and hours of success did everything possible to
undermine the music, family structure, morales and culture of American life of the late 1950's and 60's.
It's not surprising also that many who appeared on this special were not American.... they were from
Isn't It Curious?
Recently I looked back and reviewed the various jobs, to earn money, I'd been engaged in over the
years. I was surprised by the results.
1942 - On street auto security provider
1943 - Christmas tree cutter and seller
1945 - Shoe shine boy
1946 - Restaurant counter man
1947 - Pin boy in bowling alley
1948 - Theater usher
1948 - Theater candy stand operator
1948 - Motion picture projectionist
1948 - Carnival ride operator
1949 - Gas station discount coupon salesman
1949 - Football program salesman
1949 - Floor covering mechanic
1951 - Country music band leader
1951 - Country music radio entertainer
1952 - Telephone equipment installer
1953 - Parking lot attendant
1955 - Shirt shop salesman
1957 - Songwriter for music publisher
1957 - Power plant instrumentation technician
1959 - Music publishing executive
1959 - Theater assistant manager
1960 - Theater janitor
1961 - Restaurant waiter
1963 - Western film set entertainer
1963 - Record company owner and manager
1963 - Department store clothing salesman
1964 - Motion picture food caterer
1965 - Commercial truck driver
1967 - Secondary school teacher
1982 - Boutique owner and operator
1999 - Substitute school teacher
2004 - Auto parts deliverer
If I'm lucky one of these days I'll find the time to pursue my music career.
Ray Campi (11-19-03)
FUNNIES FROM CAMPI
"My bar tab is growing faster than my options."
"I never drink liquor on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays--Happy Hours excepted!"
"If I had children of my own, suicide would be a remote possibility. Hopefully!"
"Hide your politics...expose your stupidity."
"I used to be an altar boy, now I'm in rehab."
"When a man at the bar says, 'I'll buy you a drink, buddy,' ask to see his wife's marriage certificate."
"I came here to forget my troubles...now I'm remembering everyone else's."
"The women look better at closing time...I look like hell!"
"I met a woman who said to me, 'I love you.' Then they got her into her straight jacket."
"Words that rhyme that the world needs: 'humor,' 'amour.' Pick two."
"What's lower than a halfback? A quarterback. What's lower than a quarterback? A back stabber!"
"If I could meet a good woman I'd marry her, but not before she cooked breakfast."
"My bartender has a mustache. So does my girlfriend."
"Do you enjoy teaching school? Sure, during recess."
"Why do I hang out in a restaurant? It's more comfortable than a rope."
"Don't talk politics unless you can whisper."
"Do you know what Obama reminds me of? Irish jelly."
Football teams have tight ends...great music has no ends."
"My bartender's a prince...of darkness."
"What does China's former ruler have in common with a rodent? Mousy tongue."
"Most people went to high school. I went to a natzohighschool. What's that? Only one floor."
Forget The Alamo
New Installments Added Frequently
by Ray Campi / 2003
DISCLAIMER: All incidents in this story that were witnessed by me are true.
All incidents in this story told to me by my friends I worked with at Alamo Village may or may not be true. (Some of them have been known to be "fibbers.") Take everything you read here with a grain of EPSOM SALTS.
-Ray Campi, 2003
Part 1 (Posted June, 2003)
Ken Maynard, Eddie Dean, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and Monte Hale were a few of the singing western film stars who influenced many young fellows in the 1940's and 50's, especially me, having found a second home in Texas. Horses, six guns and Stetsons were desired by every buckaroo boy who ever patronized a movie theater on a Saturday morning watching Johnny Mack Brown with Ray Hatton, Hopalong, Lash Larue and Gabby Hayes all saved the American West through knockabout brawls, bloodless gunfights and songs.
"If I could just have those black and red Acme cowboy boots with the white bucking horse on the sides I'd be a happy boy, I would daydream as I admired them from the sidewalk; peering into the window of the Army and Navy surplus store on West 6th Street.
My favorite comic strip was Fred Harman's Red Ryder and when the Daisy Air Rifle Company's ad on the back page of one of these books offered for sale a Red Ryder model of a B.B. gun I made up my mind to get one. After a few odd jobs and much scrimping I finally bought one which I still have.
One of the features of the Red Ryder daily comic strip was called "The Corral of Western Lingo". Fred Harman was a real cowboy who worked on his own ranch in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His knowledge of cowboy life was firsthand and "real" cowboys ranched with and for him. This column appeared in the Sunday color edition of the comics and was very beautiful. "Lingo" was a slang term for "language" in the cowboy world and Harman's creation featured the word, a drawing illustrating the term "in action", and below the picture a definition of the word. My schoolmate, Louis and I got into a contest to see how many of these strips we could cut out and save, pasting them into a scrapbook and then on the opposite page, our own copy drawing of the Harman drawing.
I even went to the Austin Public Library and checked out piles of Sunday Austin Statesmans, looked through them for an hour, only to discover that the comics part of the paper were not preserved by the library.
I filled two books of these artistic histories of the West's language and my crowning achievement was when I visited a taxidermist who sold me a remnant of horse hide which I glued as a cover for my favorite scrapbook.
My interest in this subject was so keen at age twelve I wrote the great cartoonist a letter asking to visit his ranch someday as some boys were lucky enough to do, but I lost my nerve and didn't have the courage to mail it.
Years later during the 1970's my relationship with the artist developed when I interviewed him by phone on audio tape about his career. He soon sent me a package of some of his recent creations and press materials which I possess with pride today.
These reminiscences have a direction and purpose as they reveal that in my formative years, being now a Texan by choice, I was filled with a love of cowboy and ranch life. Little did I realize that not too many years later I would live that lifestyle for a few months anyway in the world of the "real" cowboy. It was a revelation I've never forgotten.
Part 2 (Posted July, 2003)
"There's been a couple of movies made in this area over the years; and if I have my way, there'll be a lot more. In fact, there is one being filmed right now. Let's drive over to the set and have a look."
These words were spoken to me by James Tully "Happy" Shahan the current mayor of Brackettville, Texas in the Spring of 1958. The flamboyant rancher was explaining to me the benefits of this rugged country and 19th century towns as a film making location as I rode in his white 1957 Imperial through Brackettville's historic downtown area with its predominately unpaved streets lined with deteriorating Spanish style adobe buildings. Taco Bell revival architecture had not yet made its mark on this society; these buildings were falling down.
GONZALES STORE (gone but not forgotten)
This was my first meeting with the cattleman promoter (Black Angus was his specialty then) who a few years later was to become my employer and career advisor. I was, at the time of our meeting, working as an instrumentation expert (HA!) at Austin's Municipal Power Plant using my degree in theater arts as a bookmark and having read in a newspaper about the flamboyant mayor's efforts to bring movie making to the region. I called him for a get-together.
He greeted me in Brackettville that spring morning with a personable invitation; "Let's drive over to Fort Clark. That's where they're filming today, down on the "creek." (My Rollin' Rock 45 "Back It Up to Brackettville" documents this place.) Happy revealed that the "Fort" had been in existence as a military cavalry post since after the American Civil War and that it was commanded over the years by many famous generals; Pershing, Wainwright, Patton; and several existing buildings bore their names in remembrance. It was a self contained town with its own power and water facilities, firehouse, theater, machine shop, garages, air strip, stables, offices, a restaurant and dining rooms. "It's barracks once housed hundreds of cavalrymen." Shahan boasted, "this fort is home of the largest natural spring-fed swimming pool in Texas. It's just the spot needed to bring motion picture companies to southwest Texas and I'm the guy to do it. Jim Ross is here now with a cast and crew, I think today they're shooting by the creek," Happy rambled on; "The film is called Five Bold Women and stars Irish McCalla." I remembered this powerful sex symbol as the actress who played the comic book character "Sheena of the Jungle," in an early television series.
As we approached an oak lined clearing near the water I spied two large trailers with the letters "J.R." Productions painted on them. "This must be a big operator," I thought, "I'm in good company." We departed the Imperial and Happy walked with me trailing off to a group of film people and immediately initiated "Texas talk." It was break time and there was much for this Texan to talk about.
I moseyed in my own direction looking over the equipment and crew. This continued during my visit until shooting began. One actor I immediately recognized, known to every western movie fan was dressed in a cowboy hat, a long fringed buckskin coat, and high boots. He was Guinn "Big Boy" Williams who had appeared in scores of films since the early 1930's. He was a Hollywood Legend who played polo regularly with Will Rogers and his friends at Will's California ranch, and he had been close to John Barrymore, and Erroll Flynn and often participated in their outrageous drinking sprees and wild antics. When I asked Happy about "Big Boy" he informed; "He's bought a small ranch out here, wants to get away from the Hollywood rat race. That's the beauty of Southwest Texas; people love its simplicity, and stark natural beauty. "Big Boy" says he's never going to leave here, Shahan was right. Brackettville was a walk through Texas history, as so little had changed since the late 1800's.
COWBOYS STAR I GREW UP WITH
Tom Tyler - Ray Crash Corrigan - Allen Lane - Monte Hale - George Cheeseboro - Kermit Maynard
Tom Keene - Roy Rogers - Alan Hale, Sr.
"BIG BOY" WILLIAMS
"You see," Happy ranted, "You've seen all the facilities at the fort to house hundreds of movie people; the horse stables, eating and sleeping quarters; Del Rio is only 35 miles west, San Antonio 70 miles east, we can get food and supplies quickly, and for man power we've got Old Mexico; Piedras Negras, and Via Acuna with plenty of construction help and extras by the hundreds." Happy's enthusiasm exploded. "This is the perfect spot for film production and I can make it happen; it's starting already. Let me show you my plan, already in action, let's take a ride back to my place." "My place" turned out to be thousands of acres of West Texas sage and sand owned for generations by the Virginia Webb family; the Webbs being one of the pioneer settlers of the area.
We boarded the Imperial and soon the Hemi was purring North, on 674. After approximately 7 miles we turned right, bumped over the metal rollers of the cattle guard and after a dusty 3 minute drive we approached the old Webb family ranch house, another 19th Century relic, wood and white all over. Shahan informed, "this is where we all work and live. We'll have a good steak dinner tonight and play some music; I'm kind of a musician myself." I was to learn that besides cattle and sheep raising, his real love was the music and entertainment business. In his college years he was a top basketball player and he still had the figure to prove it.
"I've got me a project going on here, that will make it all happen. We bounced past the family residence and continued to ride for about a quarter of a mile, passing curiously staring sheep and Angus. When the car slowed and the dust began to settle, I spied an open area bordered by partially completed adobe buildings. "Shahan pointed out, "there'll be the Alamo compound. We're building a high wall around this area. How do you like the church? It looks like the original doesn't it? Wayne sent to Spain to find drawings and plans of the original structure that was built in San Antonio, today the famous Alamo. They were the plans for the one you see before you. It's the real thing you might say. I'm overseeing all of the construction of this compound and the re-creation of the town of San Antonio of 1835. This was when I learned first-hand that John Wayne had contracted with Happy Shahan to build the movie set on his immense ranch for the actor's epic film on Texas history, The Alamo and filming was to begin in the fall of 1959. "Where do I fit in all of this I thought?" This was the question on my mind that moment on that day, with no immediate answer on the blistering West Texas horizon.
Part 3 (Posted August, 2003)
I spent that interesting day in Brackettville, Texas on the set; the surrounding countryside of Fort Clarke, of the movie Five Bold Women and watched the filming on the shores of the beautiful stream flowing through the property, which was now a vacation hotel. Leading lady Irish McCalla was a wonderous sight to behold, especially in the scene where she entered and emerged from the waters of the creek.
"It's getting close to dinner time," Shahan informed me, "let's get out to the ranch and see what Virginia has planned for supper." I was eager to reply, "good idea." My curiosity about "the ranch" and my growing appetite were in control by this time.
I had left my car at the Gateway gas station and hotel, the only game in town where I had booked a room and was Happy's co-pilot most of the day. We hopped into the white '57 Imperial, the number one luxury American car of the time, and we flew up and down the two lane for about 7 miles. As recounted in my last report (Forget the Alamo Part 2) Shahan gave me a thorough trip through the partly completed movie set on his ranch, explaining in detail how it was being constructed and his important role as John Wayne's liaison.
"I'm ready for dinner, how about you?" The west Texas sun was dwindling and we drove through the dusty front street of what was to become the tourist attraction Alamo Village the Imperial jogged up to the ancient ranch house situated next to a building under construction. "That's going to be our new home just as soon as the set is completed. Right now we don't have time to work on both places," Happy informed.
I met his family, two girls and a boy, and friendly wife Virginia, and dug into the massive plates of food Texas style with the biggest glasses of ice tea I've ever attempted to gulp down.
Friendly conversation continued throughout the meal when Shahan invited, "let's go into our music room" We all entered an area of the old house where I saw a drum set ready to go, as well as an acoustic, Spanish guitar, and a couple of microphones on stands. Another mike was situated next to the snare drum. They were plugged into a small p.a. system. "This is my fun spot, Happy proclaimed as he situated himself behind the drums. I grabbed the guitar and began singing some well worn country standards known to all; White Lightning, Sleeping At the Foot of the Bed, Window Up Above, A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, as Shahan, the aspiring drummer, beat the snare with some brushes behind me. He even sang a few also. Years later, he promoted himself with Mary Reeves in Nashville and secured some 45 releases on London and Musicor Records. At that time the later company had been sold by Aaron Schroeder to Art Talmadge and Harold "Pappy" Daily who I was to record for in 1959 (D 1047). The Ballad of Donna & Peggy Sue b/w The Man I Met.
As the night grew deeper, and fatigue set in, I bid this personable family goodnight, thanked the rancher for his great hospitality and hit the road, 7 miles back, to my reserved room at the famous Gateway gas station, cafe and sparsely furnished upstairs hotel.
A few years later when I was back in town for a night, I tried to re-book a bed at this facility, but learned that Tom Rosell was no longer renting out the upstairs rooms which was a blessing. Ft. Clarke filled the bill much more adequately.
In the early morning I left Brackettville for my home in Austin with a promise from Shahan to be considered for an extra job in John Wayne's The Alamo when it began filming in the fall of '59 "Keep in touch Ray, you'll know when filming will begin, it will be in all of the Texas papers, I'll see to it."
"I'll do it," was my reply although I didn't do it. Little did I imagine that in August of that year, completely bored with my power plant "do nothing" job, and a hopeless looking music career, that I'd be pushing my '54 Kaiser, loaded with one trunk of all of my worldly possessions to Hollywood, California to more adventures in music and obscurity.
Part 4 (Posted September, 2003)
A few years had passed since my initial meeting with Happy Shahan, impressive in his tailored Western cut suits, Tony Llama cowboy boots and multiple diamond rings on several fingers. The Alamo had been well received by theater audiences and a minor hit for "The Duke" although a money loser. The set he built for the epic film cost millions and now belonged to Happy Shahan and christened "Alamo Village". Signs on Texas highways proclaimed its importance as "Vacationland" and although no alcohol could be bought at this fun spot, business was terrific that first season following the releases of the film by Wayne and John Ford's Two Rode Together and in the spring of 1963 the promoter was looking for a singer-guitarist to entertain tourists in the Cantina with cowboy humor and song. I still remembered hillbilly classics like, Ole Mountain Dew, White Lightin' and Galvanized Washing Tub and thought I could fill the bill.
"Happy, I'm calling from New York. I've been here since '61, trying to get a record deal, but nothing is working out. I'm tired of waiting on tables," I complained, "I need a new job, can you use me?" "Get here by May 1st." The pay is $1.25 an hour and there'll be lots of them", was his reply. It was as simple as that. On May 1st of 1963, I was once again on the Shahan spread sitting in his office; its walls decked with celebrity photos, cattle horns, guns, spurs and a floor covered with horse hide throw rugs. This was only one section of the new home that had been completed with some of the money earned from the filming of The Alamo."
This was Happy Shahan's private world and museum where his accomplishments in cattle raising, promotion, and Texas-type public relations were displayed for all who would believe, and lots of us did as well as the many aspiring actors, singers, and musicians that were to come along after me (Johnny Rodriguez was one who made it big in country music). All believed in this man and what he could accomplish for them. I would soon learn that all of this window dressing would not always indicate that great things were waiting on the horizon. Was he all "do" or all "do do?" Happy was not quite as "happy" as he would like the world to believe. By the spring of 1963 the movie set that he had constructed and preserved as his personal tourist magnet had lost some of its pull.
The cowboy attired "actors" I was to work with and befriend informed me that upon the opening of the "village" following the completion of John Ford's Two Rode Together, tourist business was terrific. Women especially, and children, grabbed at these one or no line movie stars they imagined had appeared in The Alamo (didn't everybody?) and who strutted the dirt front street of the set, practicing their quick draw abilities, and their John Wayne swagger. The western comedy skits written by Ron Gast (John Cody) and Jack Spahn, remnants of the film's extra bunch, only helped to expand the crowd's interest and affection.
Somehow, pretending to get shot and rolling around in the dirt was a prelude to attracting some lonely star struck mother on vacation, the husband was either estranged, at home, looking the other way or nursing a hangover in Via Acuna. "Cody" who was to later become my bunkhouse partner in town when we shared a house off the ranch, had a Clark Gable face and mustache, and capped teeth in front straight from "Cuna's" red light district ("Boy's town") and his one line with Frankie Avalon and three second close-up worked wonders with the Houston, Austin and Dallas housemothers. "Yeah Ray, we had great times here that first year." My buddy-to-be Robert Harris fresh from the army recalled.
NEW BOY IN TOWN
"You should have been here, it was wonderful!" Harris who is still one of my closest friends is a legend in the history of "location bums" and his story could fill up novels. He enjoyed the attention he received after The Alamo so much that he spent the rest of his "adult" (if you can call it that) life chasing movies and women in Texas and has participated in practically all films made there either as an actor, extra, stunt man, set dresser, teamster or caterer. He has drank with, gambled with and tripped over, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford, Linda Crystal, Chill Wills, Richard Widmark, Glen Campbell, Chuck Robeson and Dean Martin. A very few of these people learned to love him like myself although most were astute enough to avoid him for the sake of their own good and much protected reputations.<
To summarize, I was arriving at Alamo Village at a bad time, business was not good and Shahan was no longer "happy" and being in control it was natural for him to take charge of practically every aspect of the lives of his employees who were almost constantly in his sight, both on the set and in his home where "the crew" was given lodging.
The grip was tight and times was tough. "I would prefer if you didn't associate with those people," he remarked to me after a few visits I made checking over downtown Brackettville, downing Lone Stars with his ranch foreman Aaron, a real Marlborough man type. This was done on my time and on my day off. I asked innocently, "What do you mean by that?" I was soon to realize that "those people" were several of the town who had some kind of grudge against him over broken promises, or boasts he did not have the power to fulfill (my case was a perfect example).
Happy was very upset when I developed a friendship with Rudy Robbins. Rudy had the job of providing horses for the trail rides at Ft. Clarke and had been given a few choice recurring scenes with dialogue in The Alamo. His father owned the Alamo Cafe on the highway and had had business disagreements with Shahan. Rudy also sang, played guitar and fronted a cowboy band. He was very good at this and one Saturday night at a local dancehall called The Hilltop Rudy hired me to play lead guitar for him. Shahan learned that on my own time, after leaving the village. I played in Rudy's band and although he was friendly with Rudy, he was upset that I had performed for "those people" who to him were mostly beer drinking (Shahan didn't) uncouth enemies who didn't appreciate his efforts to make Brackettville a film capitol. "Happy," I protested," you recall that when you hired me you promised to help me make some extra money with bookings like this, and you haven't yet. I needed the extra $15.00 Rudy paid me. What's the problem?" "I'm your manager," he asserted, "and I must approve any outside music jobs you do, even if I don't get any. You can't be one of "my people" and theirs' too. "Remember that", I knew that after this rebuke the job at Alamo Village was going to be more fun than I had anticipated.
I CAN ACT TOO
MOTHER AND FATHER VISIT THEIR SON
AT WORK AND WONDER!
Part 5 (Posted October, 2003)
"O.K. Campi," Happy had just toured me through the completed Alamo Village and I'd set up my guitar and arranged a microphone on the cantina stage, "when you hear me call you over the P.A., you've got tourists to entertain and we've got to try to keep them here long enough to buy some cantina food from Bill Kegans and to check out Nakai's Indian store to see if we can sell some souvenirs," every sale counts. We'll also need you to act out the gun show skits, I'll teach you what top do."
"OK Happy. I'm ready to pick, sing and act when needed, I never imagined I'd be doing anything else I replied. "And by the way, hook up with Gast and Harris, they're in that building past the "livery stable with a bunch of tools. I want you guys to build an authentic looking museum of some kind. I bought some display cases and they've got to be filled with all the stuff I picked up from that old general store in Hondo that closed in 1910; there's lots of photos to be framed and mounted on the walls. Then there's a big rock that Essau Nelson found. Clean it up and mount some kind of light over it". (The story goes that in the 1930's, rancher Essau Nelson found this stone in dried river bed and carved on it were figures and writing similar to Biblical languages, thought to be thousands of years old by archeologists). "OK Happy, I'll find the guys, we'll start on it," I replied. "It will take a while to get the museum finished, but when its done the cemetery needs lots of repair. "The Cemetery?" I asked. "Yes, our own Boot Hill, we built a few years ago, you know, piles of dirt, a few boots sticking up and wooden tombstone imitations with funny captions written on them, the lettering is wearing off and needs to be repainted," Shahan informed.
This was Ron Gast's idea of fun having been the original creator of this and most of the captions reflected his poetic, and dry humor.
A sample was something like, "here lies Ortho, whose life was suddenly tooken, when one time too often, he complained about his wife's cookin'". This spot was a hit with the visitors and it took about 30 minutes to see it all. During the summer Cody, Robert and I would often hide behind a wall, and listen to the laughter of the tourists as they paused and read each grave marker. Shahan impressed me with the importance of the cemetery tour, "We've got to get these tombstones readable as they help to keep people here as long as possible; remember, we've got food, drinks, and Indian key chains to sell."
As I assumed, it was time to get to work and started off towards the museum Shahan stopped me again with more pertinent information. "We also have a weed problem, but I'll tell you more about that when the museum is underway."
Thanks, I replied, and trudged off down front street where I would meet Robert Harris and Ron "John Cody" Gast for the first time; two great guys who would be a part of my life for decades.
Work on the museum was progressing well during the week when one morning, Shahan found me and called me aside. "I need you to work on the bushes and weeds today. He passed me some heavy shears and a hoe and rake. "Start on these bushes over there by the Marshals office, but keep in mind that when you her me calling you over the P.A. (there was a speaker in the church bell tower) come running to the cantina; put down any tools you have, and get into entertaining, there'll be tourists, having lunch hopefully waiting for a show from you."
ME AND THE "BOSS"
This was my introduction to show business and stardom at Alamo Village (the only stars I saw were the ones we painted on the toilet stall doors of the men's outhouse. We assigned commodes to Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Trigger. I personally liked Dale's the best; the other two had a strange smell.
ENTERTAINING THE KIDS
One blistering afternoon, I was cutting weeds in the 110 degree sun, sweaty and dirty when I heard Happy's voice on the P.A. calling, "Ray Campi, come to the cantina!"
I didn't come as he demanded, so he came looking for me. I yelled at him; "Hey man, here I am, cutting your bushes, full of sweat and dirt and you want me to drop everything and play Roy Rogers for 6 tourists. He noticed the pitiful sight I was and strangely enough he backed down. "OK", we'll pass on this one, just keep cutting those bushes." I followed his instructions and worked diligently until about 3:00 that afternoon when I started to feel quite dizzy, and passed out. I woke up in Shahan's bedroom up at the house with many people crowding over me. Someone yelled "put some hot towels on him," which was done. This didn't help as I was still delirious and I remember Virginia Shahan telling some one, "get those towels off of him, he's hot enough already, he needs ice which she applied to my forehead. Thanks Virginia, because of you I'm alive today.
Forget the Alamo: the case of caricatures or The West As It Never Was. It would be in order to provide some description of the folks I worked with that summer at Alamo Village and why I'll never forget them (I really didn't try too hard.)
James T. "Happy" Shahan: little more can be said about him, I think you've gotten the picture; outgoing, focused, dedicated to his cause, one who got results; friendly (but not all of the time). Virginia Shahan: a great wife, mother, lady and business person who eventually operated the gift shop and ran most of the village stores. She worked constantly and is still a great friend.
"SHOW TIME, COME TO THE CANTINA!"
GETTING INTO CHARACTER FOR THE
NEXT BIG WESTERN
DRAMA AT THE SHOPPING CENTER
Part 6 (Posted March, 2004)
Another character I was to work with at Alamo Village was the
Bullman, who as hired mainly to drive the stage coach and act in the gun
shows. He had spent most of his young life on the ground or in hospitals.
He was very likeable and had survived financially by riding bull in rodeos.
He loved to talk about these adventures and tried to impress women with his "bull stories."
He had lots of them. You might say he was "full" on them. Although he had
never won first place honors in this field, he had done a lot of bull riding for a
young fellow and had ben injured on practically every ride.
"This one jumped out of the chute when I wasn't ready, and I got my
right leg crushed against the," he'd explain to the girls who listened
patiently. He'd then pull up his pants leg to show the ugly results. "When the
belt I was holding on to slipped, I fell under this other bull's hind legs and
he stepped on my chest." He'd then unsnap his western shirt button to
reveal his broken collarbone and some surgical scars. The women
shuddered at the sight. "I had three ribs broken on this side," and his shirt
would come completely off.
When college let out for a summer break three pretty young girls came to
live on the ranch and work as cashiers in the stores. One very attractive one
caught the Bullman's eye. "Hey man, did you see the short brunette with the
big smile that showed up at the village today? Wow, I'm on love with that
one," and he was. He moped and drooled over her every time she walked by.
Every chance he got he was checking out the new merchandise in her store.
Then he'd start in with her on all of his bull riding exploits, showing
his damaged body parts. Before long she was convinced he had fallen on
his head a few times (which he had) and she started to spend time with me
and every chance she could she found an excuse to get away from him.
I was a friend of his, but he just wasn't impressing this doll.
Oddly enough, after a few weeks my friendship with this girl started to settle in and
soon we were involved in late night love sessions, counting stars, under the moon
where we mooned over each other passionately to the rippling waters of the
cattle's water tank, slapping mosquitoes and putting our lips together repeatedly.
I felt guilty as I really liked the Bullman and I don't think he ever forgave me,
but I had my own emotions to deal with.
One of his favorite tricks was to take terrible falls when he was shot
off the stage coach in the gun shows. He thought this up himself, Shahan
was concerned he might be killed, but it looked so exciting it was kept in the show.
He really showed his bravery to the utmost when he confided to Shahan, "My shorts are all full of
blood. I think I've got hemorrhoids." Shahan came to the rescue, "I'll take you to the doctor's
office tonight after work, he'll cut them right out."
I rode with him for support and he and the boss were in the surgeon's house for about 30 minutes.
"How was it," I asked when they returned to the car. "I'm hurting," he admitted, "the doc put all
this padding in my shorts to soak up the blood." I tried to sooh him, "You'd better take it real
easy for a few days." "I will, I sure will," he assured me. The next morning I saw him riding a
horse! I never knew a braver man, not brave enough though to show his women admirers his most
Upon first glance, this tall, bold, German Texan in his seventies
had the appearance of an upside down horseshoe in cowboy boots.
Years of horse wrangling molded his legs into this "U" position.
"I'm Benny, Ray. My job is to take the tourists on horse trail rides."
This was his only job besides talking to the rides and chatting with visitors,
especially ones with small children, It didn't take long for
me to notice that Shahan didn't mind assigning me alternative jobs besides
my singing. Ron, Robert and myself were told to clean out the outhouses,
trim bushes, pull weeds, paint the cemetery signs, construct a museum,
and anything else he could think up besides acting in the gun shows.
Jesse only drove the stage and acted sometimes in the shows. The beautiful
ladies were solely store cashiers. Uncle Benny, though in late middle age,
had two very nice teen-age boys who lives in Del Rio.
He was a friends to all children he met. Next to horses, kids were his love.
One day we got talking about horses, specifically one he owned and rode.
"She's a fine, gently mare. I raised her from a colt. I've trained her to do
anything I want her to do. I'm going to use her on the trail rides
for the youngest kids. You've got to have a safe horse for the little ones."
I agreed, but a few days later Benny got the shock of his life. The Wrangler
would tie all the horses together and walk the group of riders slowly around
the ranch. He was not on his horse this time as he had assigned her to a
five year old boy. The boy's feet were tied to the stirrups and the horse was on the
rear of the group. Suddenly, for some reason, Benny's favorite bolted in fright and
tore away from the others with the child screaming. The animal started running back to the
stable which was about four blocks away. "Stop, stop." Benny called the
horse's name repeatedly to no avail. The startled man was still screaming as the mare broke
into a gallop. The kid slid to one side of the animal, hanging upside down by one tied stirrup,
screaming and crying. As the horse entered the corral's stable the frightened kid's head just
barely missed the gate post by inches. The mare stopped in the corral with Benny leaving
the other riders to assist the child. He reached him, got him upright and out of the stirrup,
and handed the boy over to his shocked parents. Later, Benny recalled how close the
youngster came to being hurt.
"Well Benny, You've taught me a good lesson; never trust a horse, especially one you've raised
Levi Garrett approached me and introduced himself. The cowboy attired
man in his late '60s had been working with horses in films and
in theaters for years. "I'm here at Alamo Village to show off my
trick horse." he informed. "Maybe you've heard of the Red Rider series
of Republic films made in the 1940's starring 'Wild' Bill Elliott?" "Yes,
I've been a fan of the comic strip as well as the movies since I was
a kid," I answered. "Well," Levi went on, "Bill use to take Thunder
which was my horse out with me on personal appearances and we
got to be great friends, I'd put the horses through his paces for Bill."
His "paces" were trick that Levi taught these creatures like dancing,
picking up hats, counting and playing dead. I really enjoyed working with
this talented man from San Angelo who lived a simple life and was such an
expert at an art that was quickly fading from the world of entertainment.
"Hi, I'm Rudy Robbins. I rent horses for trail ride at Fort Clarke
and here at the Village also. You'll be seeing me around the stables. I
also do some acting when I get a chance."
Rudy was also a great entertainer. He specialized in cowboy songs, played
guitar and sang well and often got music jobs on "dude" ranches that
catered to vacationers who wanted to ride horses and re-live the western lifestyle.
During the casting line-up for The Alamo" John Wayne spotted him and he became a
favorite. Rudy was tall and thin, had a prominent lantern jaw, and
was a natural at comedy acting. Wayne cast him several times in
scenes and made him one of Crockett's men and gave Rudy a line to repeat
several times that made him get noticed.
His outstanding moment is when one fellow fighter, collapsing near Rudy
below the compound wall, is dying and look out at the hundreds of Mexican
invaders and says for the last time to Rudy. Does this mean what I think it do?"
Rudy's sappy answer was only two words, "it do!" Theater audiences
would laugh when "It Do" appeared on the screen and blurted out these
A couple of years later when Rudy and Robert Harris arrived in Old Tucson to
seek extra work on McClintock Robert was ignored, but
Rudy was greeted by Wayne with "Hi, 'It Do,' are you ready to go to work?"
He got to act also in several other of Wayne's future pictures including
Green Berets in which he appears in several scenes with lines.
My old radio and television friend from Austin Cactus Pryor was also
featured in this one.
I became very close over the years to two people I met during my entertaining stint at Alamo Village
in 1963. Nakai Breen had married Bud and they had six children. She had extensive knowledge of authentic
Cherokee Indian folklore, religion and language and over the years she taught most of it to Bud. When I
first met her she was operating the Indian souvenir store at the Village. Years later she became an
expert at traditional healing methods and medicine and she and Bud conducted outdoor meetings where
praying and healing were practiced. They also operated a restaurant, and a museum of Bud's beautiful oil paintings of Cowboy and Indian life
in the heart of Bracketville, Texas.
"Hi, I'm Bud Breen", I heard as I turned around quickly. "I'm sort of an all around man here at the
Village, I do a little painting on the buildings, some of the gun show acting and in my spare time, I
squeeze off an oil painting or two." Before me appeared the most authentic looking cowboy type of man
I'd ever seen; he possessed a high cheekboned face and draping under his nose was a long handlebar
mustache. His shaggy brown hair draped over his shirt collar and his clothing consisted of tight black
cotton pants, a striped long sleeve shirt and a red printed bandana hung loosely around his neck. He
also wore a black leather collared vest and a battered black ten gallon hat made of heavy felt. On top of
his basic clothing he wore very high leather fringed brown boots. On top of all of this his clothing was
topped off by a well-worn pair of brown "working cowboy" chaps.
BUD BREEN - Cowboy Artist
ANOTHER BUD BREEN ORIGINAL
A BUD BREEN ORIGINAL
"If you need anything here at the Village I'll be glad to show you around," he invited. In the years to
follow this meeting I was to learn how talented this humble man was and how his art captivated all who
saw his paintings, including myself and Happy Shahan. Bud had also been an extra throughout The Alamo
production. His linear face and mustache put him in league with another actor who was quite famous in
Western films and his dry humor on film. Chewing and spitting tobacco was a trademark of Arthur Hunnicutt.
Interestingly enough he had an important part in a former Alamo film made near Brackettville in 1954
called The Last Command starring Richard Carlson as Davey Crockett. Years later when tourists, many being
Western movie fans, would meet Bud they would comment, "Mr. Breen, I've enjoyed all of your movies including
The Last Command." Being a very humble and caring person rather than embarrassing the complimentor Bud
would respond with a simple, "Thank you" and then sign an autograph "Bud Breen" for them. The Bud Breen
museum of Indian and cowboy art is an important attraction today in Brackettville, Texas and is filled with
scores of beautiful oil paintings created by Bud Breen. More of some of the interesting friends I made
at Alamo Village coming up in the next part of Forget The Alamo.
Bud and Nakai produced several children and years later adopted one. Bud was always short of money and
never got the job at the Village he relished which was to clean the coins out of the wishing well. Whoever
did this usually got the price of a hamburger for himself. Maybe that's why someone in authority always
took care of this chore to Bud's frustration.
BUD BREEN - ARTIST AT WORK
HERE'S A FEW MORE
Update: Jeri J. Kendall informed us that Bud passed away on September 1, 2005.
I met Robert Harris in that steaming adobe building which was finally furnished through our efforts as the
Alamo Village Museum and our friendship has endured all of these years. His friendly demeanor and his ability
to get a laugh out of the most stiff-lipped snobs is legendary. He has an innocence about performing
the most stupid antics, completely oblivious to some of the most ridiculous things he's done, like dying his hair blond in Robert Redford's film The Great Waldo Pepper, to double him in an open biplane, and then crashing
into a barn. Robert had no idea his "Redford doubling" was going to involve out of control flying and the
sound man had trouble figuring out what all the screaming was about that was coming through his earphones.
Robert survived this mis-adventure to go on to even more outrageous ones in his long but unspectacular career
in and mostly out of films. One can never be angry with Robert (except when he's drunk) and he's loved
by all who meet him, especially drunks and any woman who passes in front of him, married or not.
THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER
"I'LL TRADE YOU THE GLASSES FOR THE WIG"
Upon returning from a stint in the Army in Germany where he operated a film projector for Elvis, with whom
he remained on speaking terms, he settled with his parents who lived in Brackettville. His dad had farmed
land in Crystal Springs, Texas and both parents operated "The Palace (ha!) Theater" on the town's main street
where cowboy movies were the mainstay during the evenings. Years later after this operation shut down Robert moved
two projectors to some vacant lots his family owned near the Air Force base near Del Rio, set up folding chairs
under a tent and began showing X rated movies to his Airmen customers. He had to shut down after months of
criticism by local preachers who got negative stories printed in the Del Rio newspaper condemning Robert as "the
Son of the Devil."
When The Alamo began casting young Robert got into a line-up before John Wayne and was
picked the first day.
ROBERT, THE ACTOR:
Robert recalled that first day at work; "Ron Gast and I were dressed as Mexican peasants and were told to walk
down the back street. We were carrying these heavy baskets on our backs and it was hard to walk quietly. Ron
was wearing heavy boots and when we reached the area where Wayne was filming an intimate scene with Linda
Crystal, Wayne burst into a rage". 'Who the hell is making all of that 'clump, clump' noise with their boots?'
I was close to him and he immediately blamed me while Ron snuck off. Wayne looked right at me and yelled,"
'Hey kid, if you want to be movie star say this line for me and I'll put you in this scene.' Wayne
spurted some Spanish words real fast and demanded that Robert repeat them. Robert tired repeating them, and he choked
out something close to what he had heard and Wayne said, 'O.K. let's film it.' After the camera began to
roll Robert tried the line for a few times in his mind but had forgotten most of it. Finally, under
extreme pressure in front of scores of extras, Wayne and Linda Crystal, he ad-libbed, "Santi Ana's a comin."
The entire street burst into laughter including Wayne and his Hollywood crew. Wayne got his revenge. "O.K. kid"
he chided, "you're no actor, now get back into the crowd and keep those thick boots out of microphone range."
The western star had been abused for years in front of fellow film-makers by John Ford and the actor, when in the
role of a director had adopted the same practice. Yet, he did it mostly for fun and was very forgiving with
young actors. John Wayne gave Robert Harris several more chances to be a star in The Alamo which he muffed
Another blunder occurred which Harris proudly admits to in a chase scene. Many extra riders had two sets
of costumes. One uniform was that of one of Santa Ana's soldiers and the other was that of a rebel fighting
with Jim Bowie or Davy Crockett. Wayne was directing a scene in which a group of Mexican soldiers were chasing
some of Crockett's band. Robert Harris was one of the later group. He recalled "I don't know where they got all
those horses from; some were barely broken. I got this horse and he reared and wouldn't hold still; the animal
had no idea what pulling back the reins meant and when we started the chase he ran away with me. Pretty quick
he had gotten in front of the Mexican group. I pulled as hard as I could trying to hold him back but I couldn't.
The next thing I knew I was right in the middle of Crockett's boys and starting to move in front of them. Wayne
was behind the camera screaming 'Who is that Mexican rider ruining my shot?' Many of us extras had beards and
long hair and he didn't recognize me luckily, and I didn't want him to catch me again for screwing up so I rode
up the hill to Shahan's house where I had parked my car. I jumped off of this crazy horse and changed clothes
into my buckskin pants and jacket. I let the horse run away; I have no idea where he went. I then calmly walked
back in my fresh clothes to the camera crew who had stopped filming. Wayne was scanning the faces of the Mexican
soldiers trying to find the fool who couldn't control his horse. Thank God he never learned it was me. I
would have been fired that day. A few days later he did catch me goofing up, but that's another
Robert Harris had more fun with his employer on the film, in another tragic incident. Robert's version was as
follows; "I was dressed as one of Travis' fighters standing behind the Alamo compound wall. Wayne was filming
and I was firing a rifle over the wall at the Mexican soldiers. There was a long stack of freshly loaded rifles
real close to me. My rifle emptied so I turned real quick to pick up a new one and my gun butt hit the first rifle
in the stack and they all went tumbling over like a row of dominoes. Wayne stopped shooting again, walked right
up to me, looked me straight in the eye and said in that J.W. monotone, 'I think you did that on purpose!' I was
scared and didn't utter a sound, but he let me keep working. I think he liked me."
John Wayne was beginning to accept Robert Harris who was to develop into an out-of-step, unpredictable, aspiring
actor, extra, stuntman, set dresser, teamster, and movie caterer. "Duke" even had his photo taken with him as in
later years also did Dean Martin, Robert Redford (Referred as Harris would pronounce his name) and Jimmy Stewart
when their fates in filmaking brought these stars into his colorful presence.
At last he was given a big chance by Wayne to "act" in a challenging scene involving Davy Crockett and his group
which included Chill Wills who were all chest deep in a creek holding their rifles over their heads. This
scene was filmed in January and the temperature was in the 30's. Robert was playing one of several Mexican
soldiers in a camp, late at night. They were enjoying some drinking, some dancing girls, and partying around
a large campfire. Many were dozing off to sleep. Crockett and his men were attempting to steal some of their
cattle as the fighters at the Alamo were out of food. Robert was directed carefully by Wayne before the shooting
where he was to play drunk, stagger around the fire and speak a short line as he throws a tequila bottle to
the ground, this was a critical point in Harris' career because: Robert knew he could not speak the line in
Spanish believably and when the camera began rolling through nervousness he threw the bottle too hard; he only
needed to drop it, and it sailed over to the creek splashing water in Wayne's face, barely missing the camera.
"What's wrong with you boy?" Wayne screamed, and climbed out of the freezing creek to walk through Robert's
action again. "Do it right this time, please, were all freezing;" cried Chill Will s. "Yeah, get it right,"
the group chanted. Robert tried two more times to do the scene with film rolling and managed to keep the
dropped bottle in the scene, but still murdered the short dialogue. In the completed film Harris remains
throwing the bottle down as he staggers and falls, but the botched line has been cut. He still got a
Screen Actors Guild membership card for his efforts. John Wayne was a good person and enjoyed working with
actors on the way up, or on the way down. It sometimes gave him someone to provide amusement for all; Robert
Harris was expert at this.
His most stunning moments in The Alamo occurred in a scene in which the results were devastating. Although
he often acted "dim-witted" and oblivious to his surrounding at times he made friends with Cliff Lyons and
his stuntman crew. They were his heroes for their skill and bravery in action picture making. Several
caissons were used in the picture. These were horse drawn cannons mounted on four wheel carts. Two horses
pulled, guided by a "driver", riding on the back of one horse holding a bridle. This person needed experience
to control the two horses. Two soldiers were seated in the wagon and their job was to man the cannon which was
being pulled behind the wagon. Extra pay was given to any extra who would accept this job and Harris was
willing. "Plunker" Sheedy got the job of driver and Robert was one of the cannon soldiers. The stuntmen
all advised against it. The fellow cannon soldier riding next to Robert was an eager extra from Uvalde.
The scene began and the two horses and three men were off and running. As predicted, the vehicle got out of
control when it ran down a hill and began to turn over on the side of Robert's fellow cannon man. "Plunker's"
bridle had broken and he had slid underneath his pulling horse and was hanging on for his life. "Jump" the
crew shouted from the sidelines as Robert's sideman spilled to the rocky ground with his foot lodged in the
spokes of the wagon wheel spinning like a windmill, being beaten like a wet rag. The stunned on-lookers
kept yelling, "Harris, jump, jump!" He reminisced to me: "I was falling fast and looking for a soft spot
to land on and the Uvalde man looked good so I dropped on him for my own protection and my weight pulled
his leg from the spinning wheel. He got up, everyone was cheering me thinking I was a hero for saving the man."
I hit the ground and noticed that the runaway horse pulling the cannon crashed directly into a Panovision
camera smashing it to the water, destroying it (actually, the film was not damaged and this scene appears in
the edited version).
"Wayne was sick over this, but couldn't bitch at me too much because everyone rushed over to me, praising me
as a hero for pulling my partner out of the wheel. Wayne's stuntmen buddies Cliff Lyons and Red Morgan were
backslapping me and they became my friends throughout the picture. A short time later I worked with them
again on John Ford's Two Rode Together with Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark, filmed on the Alamo Village
set. A shot of me in a group scene wound up on a lobby card for the movie."
Bob Harris remained on The Alamo set through its final days of filming and years later when he arrived on
the set of True Grit in Colorado looking for work Wayne spotted him. Duke's only comment to him was, "Don't
I know you?"
STICKING HIS NOSE WHERE IT DOESN'T BELONG
ROBERT HARRIS, READY FOR ACTION
(Red words below written in blood)
"MAKE ROOM FOR HARRIS STEWART!"
READY FOR LIGHTS, CAMERA,ACTION!
CHIVA COMES WEST
DALE WITHOUT ROY
THE FAMOUS PALACE THEATER (Home of Robert Harris)
HE SLEPT IN THE BACK
Every Man's Home is His "Palace"
This conversation took place during a poker game between Robert Harris and one of his card playing buddies
during a game in the backroom of his Palace Theater in Bracketville, Texas, during the late 1960's. "O.K. Harris,
you've got to clean up this dump." The complainer was Kinney County attorney John Tobin, Robert's favorite
drinking, and card playing buddy. "The rats are running wild, scaring the children when they brush by their
feet under the seats. All that popcorn and candy you leave on the floor after the shows is growing the rat
population and they're moving in to all of your neighbors joints. The rodents are multiplying and getting out
of control." Harris had a few logical excuses; "Hey Tobin, what do you want me to do? I've got enough jobs
already trying to run this place. I've got to start every evening selling tickets in the booth, then I run
inside to make popcorn and get the concession stand in operation, then run upstairs to the projection room to
start the show; then I run back to the candy stand during the intermission selling stuff, then I'm back upstairs
running more of the show, then back downstairs to drive out the stragglers and lovers and to close up, and now
you expect me to be the janitor too! Your nuts!" Tobin was unmoved. "And I'm getting complaints from the
restaurant next door about the stink out in the alley that comes from that bathtub over there" (Robert's chair
was next to it). He was proud of how he skillfully set up this old style four legged tub in the backroom
deteriorating movie house that served it's owner as a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, storage area, and card
parlor. Since no proper plumbing existed to drain off the stagnant bathwater Harris had placed a plastic pipe from the tub drain out the side
door, flushing the soapy liquid on to the open ground. In the hot Texas sun the smell from this home made
sewer filled the air to every neighbors disdain. "Hey Tobin, you've already lost a fortune to me this month.
When you start paying me off your gambling debts then I'll have the cash to make improvements around this
place. Until then, quit bitching and start winning," Harris countered.
This backroom of the Palace Theater played a memorable part of the life of myself and one other person around
this time. In the summer of 1967 I'd been recently married and part of the honeymoon trip was a visit to
Bracketville and Alamo Village. Having practically no money, it became advisable to accept Robert's
invitation that myself and the new bride spend a couple of nights with him in the backroom of his "Palace."
There were no windows in this stinky, boiling cell, dirty laundry spread around the place, and with the
three of us packed on to mattresses thrown on the floor a night in the nearby Spofford jail would have been
more enjoyable, even though it had no roof and was falling apart. Needless to say, that first night in the
Palace honeymoon suite was a fitting prelude to a failed marriage.
P.S. Recently Robert revealed to me that one of the benefits of being a movie booker for his Palace Theater,
was he was able to retain 35mm prints for several days. This would give him time to cut out frames
from these films of scenes in which he briefly appeared that he would deliver to the overnight
film developer in Del Rio to make plublicity (that's the way he said it) photos of himself as an actor.
Sometimes he would re-edited them back into the print
and other times these cimena masterpieces were returned to the distributor with a few of the most interesting
ROBERT HARRIS ENTERTAINS THE BREENS IN THE
Ron "John Cody" Gast
RON "JOHN CODY" GAST
"I'm from Amarillo, did some acting work in The Alamo and have been spending my summers here in the dirt."
This was my introduction to "Cody" on that hot May morning at Alamo Village. Our meeting place was the
adobe building that was to become "the museum" due mostly to Ron's innovative ideas. The primary tool
of his creativity was not a hammer but a typewriter and I learned that he had a large role in writing
the western skits that were performed for the tourists several times daily. They were very funny satires
on western and cowboy life that centered around feuds between the sheepman and the cattleman. Some of
them were; The Homesteader, Don't Lose Your Temper, Even Steven and the shortage of desirable women in the West
was the topic of Mail Order Bride. Some of these 15 minute epics were performed in the cantina and others
were acted out on the main street, where "rolling in the dirt" was a requirement. These shows involved
gun play (Shahan could always guarantee that his actors would stay working the entire season if he sold
them a six gun and then deducted payments from their wages) getting your stage clothes ripped, having "whiskey"
(really tea) thrown in your face as well as being shot dead if you were the unlucky "bad guy" in a
performance. "I'll teach you a few of these shows; you'll get the hang of it," Cody re-assured.
Robert Harris took me aside after we'd been working together a few days. "Have you noticed that Ron is real
'moody'? Some days he'll walk right by me and never even say 'good morning'." I was to learn that Ron Gast
was this way at times as he enjoyed being alone, planning new plays to write. Also, he considered Robert
to be a "babbler" and didn't want to waste time with him endlessly.
One day I thought I'd play a trick on him. "Ron, how about if I play the cattleman today in Don't Lose Your
Temper and you be the sheepman?" He reluctantly agreed as we all got bored with doing these shows repeatedly
and needed diversions in which the two men who hated each other, harassed each other with the cattleman being
the aggressor trying to get the sheepman to get angry so he could shoot him. The bully, would fold and stomp
on the sheepman's hat, kick him in the seat, and the most fun bit was to throw whiskey (tea) and cigarette
ashes (flour) in his face. This would amuse the over-confident cattleman but in the end the sheepman would grab
his gun when he was not paying attention and shoot him. In this particular show I had the pleasure of throwing
the whiskey in Ron's (the sheepman) face. In this performance instead of filling the bar glass with about
2 inches of tea, I filled it completely to top. Ron who looked a mess but in character could only take the hit.
In a future show he could get even with me, which he did as he was a great "trickster."
Cody was sometimes pursued by women and in conversations about one he disliked he'd refer to her as an "old
bag of guts." This was one of his favorite expressions as well as "homebrew," words that worked their way
into the gun shows. He loved funny names like "Rowena" and "Ortho", "Juke" and the like. One day he told me
a funny story about his pets at the village. "I was living in this adobe building at the end of front street
and I'd picked up this stray German Shepherd. There were always unclaimed cats being born on the ranch so
I got one of them too, which I tamed. I wanted to keep them in my room together, but they were constantly
fighting each other, but I put a stop to that", he revealed. "How did you do it?" I asked. "I found this big
burlap bag and I stuffed both of them inside and tied the top with a rope. Then they both started screaming,
barking, fighting like Hell. The sack was jumping all over the place. It was like an earthquake." "What them?"
I asked. "I just locked them in the building and went into town. When I returned early the next morning and
opened up the place I saw an amazing sight. They were out of the bag, there was dog hair and cat fur all over
the place, the two were sitting calmly side by side like two old buddies. It was funny!"
Some other hilarious moments involving Cody took place with Bud Breen. Bud was the perennial proto-type of the
starving artist with six kids and a wife to support he rarely had a full stomach. Bill Kegans, Cantina owner
served a large hamburger placed on an ample slice of fresh lettuce. Bud who had no lunch would sit across from
Cody, eyeing his eating process, waiting for him to finish the burger. "What are you staring at Bud?" Cody
would ask. Bud's reply was, "just waiting to see." "Waiting to see what?" "Waiting to see if your gonna eat
that big piece of lettuce at the bottom!" Bud would then grab the lettuce slice, gulp it down and run out
the closest door of the cantina into the street. Shocked at Bud's slyness and speed Cody could say nothing.
Later upon seeing Bud, the contented look upon his face was a joy to behold.
As the summer season progressed Cody approached me with a suggestion. "Hey Ray, would you like to get out of
the castle on the hill and share a house with me in Bracketville?" It didn't take long for me to jump at
the opportunity. My Village working hours were 9:00am to 7:00pm but when you lived in the boss' house there
were always "chores" to be done like washing clothes and all of the bed linens, vacuuming the rooms occupied
by the family and employees, cooking dinners for the bunch, and washing dishes. "Ron, I'm never getting to sleep
before midnight; these "chores" are wearing me out and I need some private time for my own fun," I confessed.
"Well we can do it," he replied, "I know old lady Fritter and she's got this apartment behind her house for rent,
and it's cheap." We moved in that week. Shahan was again in his "unhappy" mode, but so be it.
Ron Gast and I worked together through most of the summer until he left to work in Glendale, California with
Rollie Harper whom he met and worked for on The Alamo. The cantina owner, Bill Kegans, left after the summer
and became a cook for Rollie also.
"BRAVE BILL" ATE HIS OWN COOKIN'
I wasn't to imagine that in 1964 I would also be working for Rollie (check out my story How I Learned to Hate Monkeys). Ron Gast later attended law school after giving up acting ambitions. He was a great person and
friend (he once loaned me money to record a song) and was one of the most interesting people I met at Alamo
Village in 1963. Another incident that stands out in my mind that illustrates "Cody's" humor that brought
havoc to Alamo Village had to do with a life-sized wooden Indian that welcomed visitors to Nakia Breen's
Indian store. One morning Virgina Shahan noticed it was missing. "Someone has stolen the wooden Indian,"
she cried out. "Has anyone seen it?" A day or so later it was found in and adjoining building. "Yeah,
I took it, Harris, I moved it," Ron admitted to Robert. "We got Nakai here and one wooden Indian is enough!"
was his joking comment.
After Ron and I had moved into Mrs. Fritter's bungalow Robert Harris started dropping by to invite me to party
in Old Mexico, "Cuna" as Via Acuna was called. Ron usually stayed in, working on scripts. One night that he
dropped by he asked me, "How do you like my new suit? I'm gonna knock the girls out tonight," he bragged.
After an evening of partying he and I got back to the house and Robert removed his pants and passed out on the
couch, leaving the new suit draped over a chair. Upon waking about noon I opened my eyes to screaming; "My pants,
my new pants!" Robert cried. During the night a playful puppy Ron had acquired had discovered a new toy. Robert
Harris' suit pants were now only good for an amputee; a man with one leg. All was not lost though as we had
some dish rags for quite a while.
THE DOG THAT ATE THE PANTS
LANDLADY FRITTER TO THE RESCUE
Ron was always involved in some incident or prank that riled the Shahan's, yet Happy appreciated and needed him
and tried never to upset him. After I'd been working a few weeks a "mouse colored" jacket often used in the shows
was missing. Happy was playing the role of "unhappy" this day and approached a table in the cantina where Ron, Bud,
Robert and myself were having lunch. Happy approached me directly for some reason. "Campi have you seen the grey
jacket we use in the shows?" I calmly explained in front of the assembled workers, "Yes, Happy I have seen it in
the past on the floor over in the hotel building," now used as a wagon garage. At this time I was no longer living
in Happy's home and I think he was upset with me for mingling in town with "those people." He kept pushing on me
with the obvious intent of getting me to say that I took it myself. I got angry after a bit and yelled at him,
trying to insist that I didn't know the whereabouts of this worthless costume. He kept goading me until I yelled,
"I told you, I did see this coat, but I don't have any idea where it is now. That's all I have to say about it!"
Happy called me aside in a rage and told me not to challenge him in front of the other guys. Eventually we cooled off
and were always friends after this incident, but during the argument Ron and the others said nothing. What shocked
me was a few days later I found that jacket in our apartment in Ron's closet.
Another Ron Gast story was told to me by Harris: On the first Winter of the Alamo Village opening Ron was living
in one of the unheated buildings, freezing to death. He got a hold of an old wood stove, but had no pipe to vent
it and the room was always full of smoke. He complained to Robert "I've got to find a stovepipe, I'm choking to
death." Robert advised, "I think I saw an old vent pipe in the loft of Shahan's general store; check it out."
Ron did, and he located a soot-filled rusty, dented up pipe which he confiscated without telling anyone. He attached
it to his stove, ran it outside a window and he was comfy for a few days. "Where did that stove pipe go we had
stored in the back?" Virginia Shahan asked. Happy replied, "It's around here unless someone took it." He suspected
that someone stole it and sure enough, the smoke coming from Ron's room was the tip-off. "Ron," Happy demanded,
"bring that pipe back right now!" Ron was angry, but delivered the merchandise to its rightful owner. "Here's your
damn stovepipe!" "Clunk!" He threw it down on the floor of the store projecting black soot everywhere which flew
on to the new merchandise, with more crumpled and dented corners being applied! This outburst of independence amazingly
didn't get him fired, for after this incident Ron could get away with even more unpredictable behavior. It could have
been that he was very much respected for his acting and writing skills or that Happy had to keep him employed so he could
deduct from his wages the payments for the pistol he had sold him. Who knows?
1967: AT LAST I'M IN A MOVIE!
HANK WORDEN, ALAMO ACTOR
1974: I FINALLY MEET "THE DUKE"
This ends the saga of FORGET THE ALAMO - I hope you enjoyed it.
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