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Giddy up, heeyah and let’s ride!


Six veterans of the western movies of yesterday moseyed into the Marshfield Assembly of God April 25,for a panel discussion entitled “Remembering the Westerns and Cowboys of Yesteryear” on the first day of the Marshfield Cherry Blossom Festival.

Beverly Washburn, Karolyn Grimes, Mimi Gibson, Cynthia Pepper, Stanley Livingston and Charlotte Stewart answered questions and shared memories of their work in westerns.

Washburn was the little girl in “Old Yeller,” filmed in 1950, “Shane,” from 1953, a few episodes of “Wagon Train,” 1957-1965, “The Texan,” 1958-1960, the feature film version of “The Lone Ranger,” from 1956 and “The Tobias Jones Story,” in 1958 with Lou Costello in his only dramatic role without comedy partner Bud Abbott.

Karolyn Grimes, although better known for her role as Zuzu Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” from 1946, also starred in “Rio Grande” in 1950 with John Wayne when she was 10 where she encountered several firsts for her, including her first stage coach ride and her first snake.

“It was dreadful. I’ll never forget that. It left me scarred for life,” Grimes said.

She spent three weeks in Moab, Utah, with Wayne’s sons Patrick and Michael.

“We had a really good time,” Grimes said.

She remembered Maureen O’Hara as having an impressive command of the English language, especially the off-color variety.

“She really could let them rip, and when she got mad at (Director) John Ford, oh boy!” Grimes said.

She said western roles brought their own unique opportunities.

“Being in westerns was a whole different caliber of acting. It was fun riding in stage coaches, Indians chasing you on horses going by. It was really cool. It was better than an amusement park,” she said.

Her fondest memory of John Wayne was his purchasing a trove of fireworks for lighting off on her birthday during filming.

“He was kind, and I really liked him. He was a good man,” she said.

Mimi Gibson starred with some of the same big names as Grimes in non-westerns like Cary Grant and John Wayne and was in “Rebel in Town,” 1956, “At Gunpoint,” 1955, and other B-movie westerns.

Besides John Wayne, she starred with John Payne and recalled a scene that required Payne to chop firewood.

The director soon discovered that Payne could not chop wood and said, “Forget it.”

“It was hilarious. We were all standing upstage going ‘Oh, oh okay,’ and laughing,” Gibson said.

Cynthia Pepper fondly remembers her time on an episode of “Wagon Train” in 1963 with Robert Fuller and Rhonda Fleming. Fleming and Pepper’s characters pursued Fuller’s.

One scene called for Fleming to slap Pepper.

It went fine in rehearsals, but Pepper thought the initial slap on film was too light, one that didn’t give her anything to which she could react.

“I said, ‘Miss Fleming, would you just hit me a little harder?’ She said, ‘Okay.’ So they came to do it, and I thought here it comes, and she just almost knocked me off my feet. I said, ‘Thank you so much,’” Pepper said.

She starred with Elvis Presley in 1964’s “Kissing Cousins,” a slightly western movie.

“He’s not a bad kisser either,” Pepper said.

She said her experience with Presley gave her something more.

“I feel like I’m a part of history, not just me, but anyone who knew him,” Pepper said.

Stanley Livingston said his own history would be forever linked to his role as Chip on “My Three Sons” that originally ran from 1960 to 1972.

He was first seen in a TV western role away from the big studios thanks to the previous occupants of the house his parents rented. They left a tubeless TV console in the backyard.

Livingston made his debut behind it.

“I used to get in back of the TV, put my cowboy hat on, I had my cap gun and I’d bring all my friends over and I would perform for them. I had this vision of not only would I be on TV, but I was in TV,” Livingston said.

He prepared by learning how to ride.

He and his friends, like Johnny Crawford and his brother Bobby Crawford, tried out for various western roles. The Crawfords were successful with their shows “The Rifleman” and “Laramie,” but Livingston landed non-western roles on shows like”Ozzie and Harriet.”

Finally, he won a western part in 1962’s “How the West Was Won.”

“I was very excited to get that role,” Livingston said.

However, it was “My Three Sons” that gave him an additional family member in William Frawley of “I Love Lucy” fame.

“I never knew any of my grandfathers on either side. When the show started, we just kind of bonded, so I went to lunch with Bill Frawley every day for four years. We just hung out together. We went to ball games together and whenever we went to lunch, he’d buy me a drink, an alcoholic drink even though I was just 10 years old,” Livingston said.

He said he would pour out the drink when Frawley was not looking.

“At some point, I think it was the second year, I said to Bill, ‘Bill, I want you to be my real grandfather, and he was like, ‘Okay, kid, I’d be happy to be your grandfather,’ so he became my grandfather after that,” Livingston said.

Charlotte Stewart, known best for her role as Miss Beadle on “Little House on the Prairie,” recalled she was in 1970’s “The Cheyenne Social Club” with James Stewart and Henry Fonda.

“I could hardly speak I was so overwhelmed,” Stewart said.

She revealed something about James Arness who played Marshall Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” where she appeared in four episodes.

“He couldn’t wear those cowboy boots. They would hurt his feet too much. You would see him in them in a shot that was across the street or something, but if you were in a scene with him, he had tennis shoes on. I thought that was very funny,” Stewart said.

The westerns left their brand on the memories of all these western stars.


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