A NOSTALGIC RERUN: LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS

A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE)

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SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (and a little history)

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang “ring around rosie”, “London Bridge is falling down”
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, all around the town
Sweet Mamie grew up and bough herself a sweet little Alice-blue gown
All the fellas dug her, you should have heard them squark
When I escorted Mamie round the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, riding through the parks
We started swinging at Jilly’s then we split to P.J. Clark’s
On to Chuck’s Composite, then a drink at The Stork
We won’t get home until morning ’cause we’re going to take a walk
On the sidewalks of New York

Courtesy of YouTube

“The Sidewalks of New York” is a popular song about life in New York City during the 1890’s. It was created by lyricist James W. Blake (23 September 1862–24 May 1935) and vaudeville actor and composer Charles B. Lawlor in 1894. The song proved successful afterwards, and is often considered a theme for New York City.

Many artists, including Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington, Larry Groce and The Grateful Dead, have performed this song. Governor Al Smith of New York used it as a theme song for his failed presidential campaign in 1928. The song is also known under the title “East Side, West Side” from the first words of the chorus.

Boston at night

Boston at night

SIDEWALKS | DAILY POST

(Note: The responses aren’t posting today for the “sidewalk” prompt. It’s another “no go” on The Daily Post. Sorry!)

SEPTEMBER SONG – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The calendar page has changed. Again. Just a few pages remain on this year. A few brief weeks of tee-shirt, shorts, and boat shoe weather. Walter Houston is singing in my head. Raspy and bittersweet.

It’s the beginning of baseball’s stretch drive. Our Boston Red Sox are in the mix for the post season. It’s high anxiety time if you’re a die-hard fan. Will the hitters cool off? Will the starters maintain their newly discovered success? Will the bull pen purge those relievers who are serial arsonists?

Pro football is also back. If you belong to Patriots’ Nation, you have to deal with Tom Brady’s four-week suspension. The stiff penalty handed down by the fascist NFL Commissioner who is probably a staunch supporter of Orange Head’s political campaign.

Free Brady! Brady! Brady! Brady, Almighty!

Facebook is full of posts and pictures from parents crying as they send their kids off to school for the first time. There are no posts for drop-outs.

We offer requiems for our fading summer flowers. It’s difficult to watch them as they slowly die.

The late night talk shows are packed with “stars” promoting their new series which sound like old series. I particularly object to reboots of old shows that weren’t particularly good back in their first run.

Autumn september road to home

We’re glutted with new movies, reportedly more serious than the summer blockbusters which for the most part, bombed. How in the wide, wide world of sports could you top lucky Chucky Heston’s “Ben Hur”? And no, I won’t spend money on the reboot of “The Magnificent Seven.” It wouldn’t even pay for my bullets. The old man was right.

Political analysts are dizzy, trying to explain Orange Head’s bizarre and unprecedented campaign for the White House.

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Labor Day weekend offers a brief time out for memories about summers past when we were younger and our world a bit more innocent. Think “Moon Glow” and “The Theme from Picnic”.  I’m William Holden dancing with Kim Novak. Snapshot memories of faded love affairs.

It’s a brief respite.

Walter Houston is now singing louder in my head — even more bittersweet — about those once lazy days dwindling down to hurricanes, raging fires, floods, mass shootings and Orange Head tirades blurring our collective sanity.

September Song.

These precious days I’ll spend with you…….

THE SONG IS ENDED, BUT THE MELODY LINGERS ON

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on.

You and the song are gone.

But the melody lingers on.”

My mother hummed all the time. While she worked in the kitchen. While she sewed. When she was hauling a vacuum over the rugs and when she was tending the kids. I doubt she knew she was humming.

When I was studying music in college, I occasionally recorded myself, just to see how I might sound to an audience. Turns out, I was humming as I played. I had no idea I did that. Maybe it’s genetic?

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I’ve been to concerts where the pianist was humming. I’m sure they didn’t know, either (but I hope someone tells them).

Melodies get stuck in my head. They roll around and around. Sometimes, I have to think of another tune, just to change the recording. I’m sure this song is going to be playing until something replaces it.

Come to think of it, “The song has ended” has — for now — taken the place of the theme for “MidSomer Murders.” It’s a welcome, respite.

MELODY | THE DAILY POST

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Today is Flag Day for those of a certain age. But in my family, it’s Esther Armstrong’s birthday. Mom has been gone nine years now.

Gone but not forgotten.

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Esther Letticia Armstrong was a special woman. Wife of William Benfield Armstrong. Mother of Garry, Bill, and Anton Armstrong. I get top billing because I’m the oldest. Mom and Dad were married 61 years until Dad left us in 2002. They were a handsome couple!

I called my parents Mommy and Daddy for most of my life and it always seemed natural. Even when I was a veteran TV news reporter with decades of experience it seemed natural.

One evening I was preparing to do a live news report in the TV studio. It was the lead story. A big deal. Breaking news! My thoughts were interrupted by a colleague who said I had a phone call. No way. Put it on hold. Garry, it’s your MOTHER!  The newsroom grew silent.

I took the call. The story waited.

75-WEDDING-Garry's Parents

My Mom was a force of nature. I had no sisters, so I learned to do household chores early in life. Whenever I objected, Mom stopped me dead in my tracks with a strong, clear voice. Baseball and other critical things were secondary no matter how strongly I felt about my manhood.

My Mother was always supportive of learning and creativity. We always had books and records. Lots of them. I read books that I wouldn’t fully understand for years. But somehow I felt comfortable with Eric Sevareid’s So Well Remembered.

Decades later, Mr. Sevareid was impressed by my adolescent tackling of his book. The books and music fired my imagination. Mom would smile when I played big band music or vocals by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Sometimes she would sway in time with the music as if remembering a time when she was dancing.

1988

1988

I was Mom’s favorite movie date. Dad was usually tired. He often worked two jobs and just wanted to rest. So Mom and I went to the movies. Often three times a week. Yes, that’s how my love affair with movies was born and nurtured.

Mom seemed like a different person during our movie dates. She smiled and laughed. Those were the days of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly and other legends who were still in their prime on the big screen. I remember Mom giggling when we scored big on dish and glass night events at our local movie theater.

I know we tend to look back on our youth with rose-colored glasses. It’s normal. But there were lots of good times.

So, today as I remember Esther Armstrong’s birthday, I wish I could crank up my hearing aids and hear it again …

Garry, your Mother is calling you!

BATTLING CATERPILLARS WHILE REMEMBERING THE DUKE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??

Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.

books and the duke

My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.

John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.

I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.

Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”,  whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.

“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.

I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.

The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.

I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.

john wayne the duke

If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.

We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.

No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even proceeded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. They remain the network flagship stations and of course, New York’s network affiliates.

Also playing was channel 5 (Dumont) which showed lots of old movies and channel 13. Today, 13 is PBS, but then, it was stuff so bad no one else would run it. Johnny Mack Brown westerns. Movies John Wayne wished he could forget having made.

Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO-General). It was the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). But channel 9 won my heart because it had Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies are actually in color. Who knew?

My mother did not allow my brother and I to watch television on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom … and out of my mother’s hair.

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That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I saw Gone With the Wind, I practically leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme.”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity and it came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. After all these years, I can still sing along with every song, know every dance move, and each piece of dialogue. Remarkably, unlike so many other movies, it has remained black and white.

Does anyone know why the movie is in black and white? It screams for color. Just saying.