Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Imaginary Wild West -- "Adam Cartwright" RIP

 The Bonanza cafe at the train station in Lodz, Poland, 2005. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The actor Pernell Roberts has died at the age of 81. Though he chafed at the role -- and quit at the height of his popularity, he was  best known to millions of fans around the world  as Adam Cartwright, one of the three sons of patriarch Ben Cartwright on the seminal and wildly popular TV western, Bonanza - which first went on the air in 1959. He was the last of the four Cartwrights to pass on.

I am including a link here to Roberts' obituary as it appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian,
as the popularity of Bonanza spanned the globe. I vividly recall hearing the theme song -- sung in Czech -- playing at the Colorado Hotel on my first visit to the Sikluv Mlyn Wild West theme park in the Czech Republic.
There are certain actors who are forever defined by one role, some to their pleasure and others to their displeasure. Pernell Roberts, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 81, was definitely of the latter ilk. Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright in Bonanza for 202 episodes from 1959 until 1965, thought himself capable of far greater things, and left the television horse opera at the height of his, and the show's, popularity.

With complete but refreshing disregard for his multitude of loyal fans, Roberts explained why he left the show "I had six seasons of playing the eldest son on that show. Six seasons of feeling like a damned idiot, going around like a middle-aged teenager saying, 'Yes, Pa' 'No, Pa' on cue. It was downright disgusting – such dialogue for a grown man. I felt I wasn't being taken seriously as an actor, and that's like death to one's talent. Stuck as Adam Cartwright, I was only able to use about one-tenth of my ability."

Despite his extremely negative views of Bonanza [...] and of the character of Adam Cartwright, Roberts's dependable demeanour – tall, dark and handsome features and deep baritone voice – brought much-needed gravitas to the enjoyable and lively familial adventures on the Ponderosa ranch.

          Read full obit here

 Bonanza in fact was popular all over the world, wherever the flickering TV screen lit up livingrooms and served as an alternative family hearth.

"Whenever you are puzzled about why boys  today no longer read books,  the actor Pernell Roberts should come to mind," read his obituary in Germany's Die Welt. "For the book-reading, cool, always dressed in black Adam, whom he played for six years in the legendary Western television series Bonanza, embodied a role model for many boys in the 1960s."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Czech Bulgarian Townes Van Zandt...

Continuing from my previous post, here's a video of Jakub Racek, from Czech Republic, and Lilly Drumeva, from Bulgaria, singing Townes Van Zandt's wonderful song, "If I Needed You."

(My favorite version of this song remains that by Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bulgaria/Czech Republic -- Lilly Drumeva's new country CD

 Lilly Drumeva performing in Prague, March 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Lilly Drumeva, a passionate champion of country music and bluegrass in her native Bulgaria, has a new CD out. Called “Lovin’ you” it joins Lilly and her band, Lilly of the West, with some of the top Czech country and bluegrass musicians -- namely, the guys from the award-winning Czech band Monogram: Jakub Racek, Zdenek Hajodo, Jarda Jahoda and Pavel Lzicar, with guest Pepa Malina. Lilly has been collaborating with Monogram for more than a year -- I hear them in concert in Prague last March.

The CD was produced by Jakub Racek and recorded in both Bulgaria and the CZ.  Tracks include bluegrass, swing, and country (including a cover of one of my favorite songs, Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You") and even a couple of Bulgaria folk tunes.

You can hear samples at Lilly's  web site.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Off Topic, but still involving cowboys of the (intoxicated) Imagination...

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Iowa City Press-Citizen runs a story that pushes a lot of buttons. The headline says it all:
Police: Drunk cowboy breaks into house, threatens to kill dog
An intoxicated Iowa City man dressed like a cowboy [identified as Derrick Thomas Alger, 24] allegedly broke into a house and threatened to kill the residents' dog early Thursday morning, according to Iowa City police reports.
My favorite line in the piece may be:
Through the series of events, Alger apparently lost his black cowboy hat, but the hat was located on Rocky Shore Drive, according to police.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Europe -- Links to Cowboy Action Shooting Clubs (SASS)

 At a Cowboy Action shooting match in Italy, October 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The web site for the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) has a page with links to affiliated Cowboy Action Shooting clubs all over Europe -- France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, etc. Some of the links may be out of date, though.

You can find it by clicking HERE

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heads Up for American Indian Exhibition in London

Warriors of the Plains

 Photo from British Museum web site: Returning the Gaze. Assiniboine dancer Kevin Hawaye with face paint. © Jeff Thomas.

The venerable British Museum in London will be hosting a major exhibit on American Indian honor and ritual. Called Warriors of the Plains, it opens Jan. 7 and runs til April 5. Admission is free!

The museum's web site describes it as "A rare opportunity to explore the fascinating world of Native North American warfare and ritual."
The exhibition focuses on the material culture of Native North American Indians of the Plains between 1800 and the present, and the importance of the objects in a social and ceremonial context.
Men of these tribes were expected to join a ‘warrior society’ – a social, political and ritual group that engaged in warfare and organised ceremonial life.
The societies played a prominent role in battles, offering members the opportunity to gain honours through individual acts of bravery such stealing horses, capturing women, and taking scalps during war raids. These societies, however, had a rich ritual life that was marked by a strong sense of spirituality. In their ceremonies society members made use of objects such as pipes, rattles and headdresses, as these were significant to their shared ideas of ritual and honour.
The exhibition explores the world of the Plains Indians through exceptional examples of feather headdresses, shields, moccasins, painted hides, scalps, pipes, tomahawks, and traditional and contemporary costumes. Although many of these items may seem initially familiar from popular culture, the exhibition uncovers the deeper ritual significance of these iconic objects.
A selection of photographs shows past and present contexts of the objects used in these societies. The legacy of the warrior societies is also examined, revealing how crucial they are in the maintenance of tribal identity among Plains Indians today.

Changing Wild West Attire

The Associated Press has a nice article by Dan Elliott pegged to the Denver Stock Show about how western attire has changed over the decades.
Western wear today doesn't look much like what the legendary young cowhands wore from the 1870s through the 1890s, designers and historians say. The clothing has adapted to meet changing styles, just as cattle have been bred to meet evolving tastes.
Read Full story

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New U.S. Stamps to Honor Western Movie Heroes

 By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The U.S. Postal Service has announced its upcoming roster of commemorative stamps -- including the happy news that four of them will honor western movie heroes Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, William S. Hart and Tom Mix. (Other honorees range from Katherine Hepburn to Bill Mauldin to Mother Teresa). They are not the first western film heroes to be so honored -- John Wayne was given a stamp several years ago.

All four of the honorees had an enthusiastic following outside the US as well as at home.

Hart and Mix were before my time. But Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were childhood favorites of mine, and I still love their movies, which I now watch on DVD --  and I've got Gene's CDs on my IPod. Autry of course went on to become a fabulously successful businessman. In 2004, I had a visiting scholar fellowship to the Autry National Center/Institute for the Study of the American West, a wonderful institution in LA that Autry was instrumental in founding.

Here's the Postal Department's press release:

With the issuance of the “Cowboys of the Silver Screen” stamps, the U.S. Postal Service honors four extraordinary performers who helped make the American Western a popular form of entertainment. Film stars from the silent era through the singing era are featured on the stamps: William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. The stamps go on sale April 17.

William S. Hart (1864-1946) brought a powerful presence and serious approach to early Westerns. Tall and trim, with acting skills honed by years of experience on the New York stage and in productions across the country, Hart became one of the most popular leading men of the silent film era. In his movies, the actor insisted on authentic depictions of the Old West and its people, from their clothes to their lifestyles and complex personalities. He frequently played the stalwart, tough-as-nails cowboy, and his favorite horse was a brown and white pinto named Fritz.

The stamp art is by freelance illustrator Robert Rodriguez, whose work has been featured on more than a dozen previous stamps. Rodriguez based his portrait of William S. Hart on a likeness of the actor that appeared on a poster for the epic film Tumbleweeds (1925).

Tom Mix (1880-1940) was one of the most celebrated Western film stars of the 1920s. He wowed movie crowds and live audiences alike with his daredevil riding, expert rope handling, unerring marksmanship, and rugged good looks. He also served as a role model for a generation of schoolchildren, maintaining a wholesome screen persona that involved “no cussin’ and no drinkin’” by his characters. A legend in his own time, Mix wore oversize Stetsons, fancy suits, and handmade Texas boots with engraved silver spurs. He rode “Tony, the wonder horse,” who also became an audience favorite.
The stamp art is by freelance illustrator Robert Rodriguez, whose work has been featured on more than a dozen previous stamps. Rodriguez based his portrait of Tom Mix on a likeness of the actor that appeared on the Cupid’s Round Up (1918) movie poster.

For more than two decades, Gene Autry (1907-1998) entertained movie audiences and won the hearts of millions of fans with his distinctive singing style and easygoing personality. His sorrel-colored horse, Champion, often played a major role in his films, as did frequent sidekicks Smiley Burnette and Pat Buttram. Aside from being one of the most admired cowboys to ever appear on the silver screen, Autry left behind a legacy that includes many hit records, a long-running radio show, and a successful television series.
The stamp art is by freelance illustrator Robert Rodriguez, whose work has been featured on more than a dozen previous stamps. Rodriguez based his portrait of Gene Autry on a likeness of the actor that appeared on a poster for the film Gold Mine in the Sky (1938).

Roy Rogers (1911-1998) was a silver screen cowboy who sang his way to stardom. He always played the Western hero, with a warm smile, good character, and strong values. Although he found great success in show business—beginning with his first starring role, in a 1938 film—his modest roots kept him a down-to-earth country boy that Americans couldn’t help but admire. For decades, children across the country aspired to be like him and tried to live by the Roy Rogers code of conduct, which stated that boys and girls should “be neat and clean” and “always obey their parents.”
The stamp art is by freelance illustrator Robert Rodriguez, whose work has been featured on more than a dozen previous stamps. Rodriguez based his portrait of Roy Rogers on a selection of vintage Rogers materials.