Friday, May 3, 2019

What do Tim McCoy, Charles Starrett and Roy Rogers have in common?

Bobby Copeland and his books on display.
"In my research, I found the cowboy heroes had warts and scars just like the rest of us."
-- Bobby Copeland

During the good old days when cowboys would serenade the beautiful daughter of a rancher, sidekicks were really funny and the heroes always stood up for the little man... there was always one man you could turn to... Hopalong Cassidy! No, wait. I meant Bob Baker. No, scratch that. Tom Tyler. Yeah! Tom Tyler was always there. Come to think of it, so was Johnny Mack Brown, Tim McCoy, Buck Jones, Eddie Dean, Monte Hale, Tex Ritter and any other cowboy hero.

If you love cowboy Westerns, especially the old classic ones, you'll find some of the assorted trivia of amusement.

*  Bill Elliott's middle name was Ami.
*  Ray "Crash" Corrigan still does not have a grave marker.
*  Johnny Mack Brown is in five Halls of Fame.
*  Andy Devine once weighed 348 pounds.
*  After 3 to 4 years in Hollywood, Allan "Rocky" Lane was still in good enough shape to play semi-pro football.
*  Fuzzy Knight was a cheerleader at the University of West Virginia and wrote one of the school's fight songs.
*  Despite what we were led to believe, Roy Rogers did not purchase ownership of Trigger until 1943.
*  Tex Ritter and his wife, Dorothy Fay, are buried in different states: Tex in Texas and Dorothy in Arizona.
*  Eddie Dean was the seventh son of a seventh son.
*  Monte Hale once presented Gene Autry with a walking cane made of a petrified bull's penis.

Allan "Rocky" Lane book
Okay, maybe that last trivia was a bit too much but the fact remains: reading about the cowboy heroes is sometimes more fun than watching the movies. (My favorite are the Universal Johnny Mack Brown Westerns and Hopalong Cassidy.) Many talented individuals reign supreme when it comes to researching about our favorite cowboys and a quick glance of my book shelf reveal David Godwin, Tinsley Yarborough, Boyd Magers and Gene Blottner to name a few. Perhaps the largest output comes from Bobby Copeland of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. To Bobby, Roy Rogers was more than a cowboy movie star. "To me, he was father figure, pastor, Sunday school teacher, hero -- all rolled into one," Bobby remarked. 

Bobby moved to Oak Ridge when he was 10-years-old in 1945, quickly developing a life-long interest in and love for Roy Rogers, whose movies he saw in local theaters. That interest and love never left him, as Bobby over the next 50 years read and clipped everything he could find, not only about Rogers, but about all the cowboys who rode across the silver screen, in movie theaters across America, in the 1940s and '50s.The result was a series of informative books worthy of purchasing.

Charles Starrett, a.k.a. The Durango Kid
Recalling the good old days of the Saturday matinee, when double feature cowboy Westerns included a Three Stooges film short, a cartoon and other film shorts. Armed with 10 cents, his childish imagination and his keen devotion to the film cowboys, Bobby watched Roy Rogers, Bill Elliott ("Red Ryder"), Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and others. Kids migrated to the theater in droves, starting at 11 on a Saturday morning, Bobby recalled. "The kids would start to line up at 10 for the show; there'd be long lines," Copeland reminisced. The movies cost 9 cents, which left a penny for treats. "In those days, youngsters couldn't make any money," Bobby said. "Family men cut their own grass and did their own chores.So, you had to beg for that dime to go to the movies. There were penny vending machines, and for that penny, you could get candy, gum or peanuts."

Bobby recalled that the kids would crowd to get in and get the best seats. "There was a real scramble for the front row seats," he recalled with a chuckle. "The kids had to be close to their cowboy heroes, and the front row, that's as close as you could get!"

During the early 1950s, Western heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry made the transition to television with half-hour programs. The silver screen was left with Whip Wilson, The Durango Kid and Johnny Mack Brown, mostly from Columbia Pictures and Monogram Studios. Post-war America changed and by the late fifties, Westerns were all the craze on television. A weekly dose of cowboy Westerns was now a daily offering -- sometimes six times a night!
Fuzzy Knight Rides Again!
Today, more than 50 years later, Bobby Copeland can create a resume citing more than 150 published articles on cowboys and their movies, and more than a dozen books about the subject. His house is a virtual treasure trove with filing cabinets and crates filled with clippings, Xeroxes, folders of information on every film cowboy, recording the details of his life and his films, magazines, books and pictures, reference works and autographed photographs.One of the autographed photos shows Roy and his wife Dale Evans with Bobby, who had gone to see him to show him an article he'd written about the legendary cowboy. (See photo).

Of all the cowboys, Bobby loved Rogers best. Of them all, Roy was truly the king, Bobby explained. "Roy never passed up an opportunity to do good work. He visited children's hospitals whenever he could, he gave money to lots of charities; he didn't like to talk about it though, he just did these things. He was very concerned about being a good model for kids. He liked to drink a beer now and then, but he stopped doing it, because he didn't want to set a bad example to children."

Roy Rogers book
"Cowboy movies were great because they were bearers of moral tone and the cowboys always did what was right," Bobby explained. "The good guys didn't drink, they didn't smoke, they wore white hats. A kid could get a good lesson in morality every time he went to the movies. I don't mean it was a substitute for church, but it certainly complemented church."

"The B-Westerns had simplistic and repetitive plots, ad there was never a mystery about the identity of the hero or the villain. Everyone knew that there would be a rip-roaring climax, where good would triumph over evil and that the hero would ride off into the sunset ready to fight another day," Bobby romantically described. "The cowboy hero had the fastest horse, quickest draw, fanciest clothes, sang the sweetest song, and he possessed a heart of purest gold. Even on his worst day, he could beat the daylights out of the meanest bad guy and clean up the most wicked town in the West without even getting dirty."

Tim McCoy Book
So who cares how many bullets fly out of a six-shooter? Who's counting? Or the movies where Springfield Rifles are introduced a few years before the history books report? B-Westerns rule and five annual Western film festivals in the United States prove the popularity still reigns supreme. Bobby attends a few of those festivals and it's where attendees (myself included) purchase his latest books. It seems one or two new books come out every year. The latest is Allan "Rocky" Lane and Charles Starrett. (Thanks to the latter, a future blog post will list the "lost" Durango Kid movies in the hopes that a few will turn up in the future.)

Bobby's books are not expensive. You don't have to pay $75 to McFarland Publishing or $65 to Scarecrow Press. Usually the cost is $20 for a book and they are worth every dollar. But since he passed away a few years ago his books are becoming difficult to find. If you come across any of his books, do yourself a favor and grab it.