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Carradine, Lilley & Saxon saddle up on Walk of Western Stars

...and then there were 74

Posted: May 1, 2008 3:48 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2008 5:03 a.m.

At the Walk of Western Stars induction dinner Friday night at the Hyatt, David Carradine leaves the stage smiling after regaling the audience with behind-the-scenes stories about his career.

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Nary a tux or evening gown in sight, Stetsons, leather and turquoise jewelry made the fashion statement Friday night at the Hyatt Valencia Grand Ballroom, as around 275 Old West figures, aficionados and fans gathered for Friday's Walk of Western Stars gala induction dinner.

As they had been a few hours earlier, when their terrazzo and bronze saddle plaques were ceremoniously unveiled on Market Street in Old Town Newhall, this year's honorees - David Carradine, Jack Lilley and John Saxon - were accompanied by posses of family and friends.

Among the 71 previous Walk of Western Stars recipients on hand to cheer them on at the banquet were Herb Jeffries, Don Edwards, Phil Rawlins, Loren Janes, Bruce Boxleitner, Peter Brown and JoAnne Darcy.

Standing in for her late husband and 2005 inductee Jack Williams, famed rider, stuntman and actor who was honored with a video tribute later in the evening, was Clare Williams and a half-dozen grown kids and grandkids.

Renowned stunt double Whitey Hughes and his wife Dottie arrived from Texas. Local stunt legends Bobby Hoy and Dick Jones and wife Betty also attended. Renaud and Andre Veluzat, owners of Melody Ranch and hosts/sponsors of the annual Cowboy Festival there the next two days, brought nearly a dozen relatives and co-workers.

Representing Santa Clarita were Mayor Bob Kellar, Councilwomen Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean, City Manager Ken Pulskamp and his assistant Ken Striplin, Arts & Events Manager Phil Lantis, A&E coordinator Donna Avila, PIO Gail Ortiz, and Parks & Rec folks Laura Hauser, Duane Harte and RuthAnn Levinson, plus a semi-wild bunch of city staff and volunteers who helped produce the Walk of Western Stars shebang. Luke Claus from L.A. County Fire was on hand, too.

The Downtown Newhall Merchants' Association established the event in 1981 to honor the legends of Western film, stage, television and radio who have contributed to America's heritage since 1900, and worked at some point in the Santa Clarita Valley. The inaugural inductees were Gene Autry, William S. Hart and Tom Mix. The event took a hike after the January 1994 earthquake but rambled back in as an annual affair in 2000.

Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce now sponsor the sidewalk induction ceremony and gala banquet, and the city produces the dinner in coordination with Carousel Ranch, the Santa-Clarita based non-profit organization that provides developmental therapeutic and recreational programs for disabled and disadvantaged children through horses.

A portion of the proceeds raised and donations received through the Walk of Western Stars gala will benefit the ranch, allowing it to expand its programs and reach more children.

"Tonight, we've got three wonderful people we're honoring for all their years of service in Hollywood and all
their contributions to great Western films," Pulskamp said before the show.

"This is a genuine honor to all of our Western stars and the people who have developed the movie industry in what we know as the city of Santa Clarita," Kellar added. "I have talked to so many of the inductees over the years and this is a true privilege, and we're delighted to put this on every year...meeting David Carradine and John Saxon today was huge for me."

"I worked several times at Santa Clarita Studios, but that was 10-12 years ago, maybe more," Saxon said,
seated at his table. "My favorite Western? I was thinking about the first one I was in, 'The Unforgiven,' not to be mixed up with 'Unforgiven' which Clint Eastwood directed. Burt Lancaster's company produced it and it was directed by John Huston. I'm going to talk about that tonight."

On with the Show
From the podium onstage in the Grand Ballroom, Kellar welcomed everyone on behalf of the city, and introduced Larry Maurice, emcee for the evening.

Maurice, who's spent the past 20 years as a cowboy, horse wrangler and packer in the Eastern Sierra and Nevada, hosted a pair of TV specials on Fox and tours the country performing his one-man show, "Cowboy: The Spirit, The Lore, The Legacy," introduced the color guard from Girl Scout Troop 294, led the Pledge of Allegiance, and brought Pinto Pammy from the cowboy-swing group Cow Bop, the evening's musical entertainers, onstage to sing the National Anthem. Then he rang the dinner bell.

The Hyatt must have had a pretty fancy chuckwagon parked out back, because the plate looked right purty, what with its Southwest salad (iceberg lettuce, roasted corn, black beans, tortilla strips and cilantro ranch dressing), a hunk of pepper-corn-crusted grilled New York steak with a blackberry reduction parked next to a fancy organic chicken breast (achiote-and-orange-infused). On the side were mashed taters with sour cream and chives, green beans and rancho chili. For dessert, there was an apple-almond tart with vanilla anglaise. (I know about half what that means; don't ask me about the rest. Take my word, it all tasted mighty fine.)

After dinner, Maurice returned to the stage and told a couple tall tales, including one about a couple in their 80s, not married to each other, who regularly saw a sex therapist. The couple didn't really need help. The therapist's $50-per-session fee was cheaper than a motel room (that's about as much as I can repeat in a family newspaper).

Maurice name-checked aforementioned dignitaries and past Walk of Western Stars honorees in the udience, and sponsors Mann BioMedical Park, Melody Ranch, The Signal ("Great article in The Signal today - if you're not readin' The Signal, you're not gettin' the news!" he said), Time-Warner Cable, KCSN-FM 88.1, and AMR.

Maurice introduced Pulskamp, who emphasized the importance of the work Carousel Ranch is doing with kids, set up a video presentation detailing how the ranch works with them, and introduced the band.

Cow Bop guitarist/bandleader Bruce Forman (whose playing was featured in the Oscar-winning Clint Eastwood movie "Million Dollar Babies") and bandmates Pinto Pammy, Phil Salazar, Mike McKinley and Devin Hoffman were big hits on the Main Street stage at last year's Cowboy Festival.

This night the fivesome played jazzed-up versions of a few cowboy favorites including "Back in the Saddle Again," "Don't Fence Me in" and "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," the latter crowd-pleaser featuring drummer McKinley playing brushes and sticks on a cardboard Jack Daniels box.

"That's how we do it on the street on our tours up and down Route 66," Forman said. That way they can play on the street, pass the hat and get out of town before the cops come.

The inductions: Saxon
After Cow Bop earned a rousing round of whoops 'n' hollers, horseman Maurice underscored the value of horse therapy for kids, discussing a similar program in Reno he supports. "God's noblest creature is the horse, and they'll teach us a lot of things," he said.

Then the stage was cleared, the podium reappeared, and Maurice brought on the evening's first presenter, award-winning independent filmmaker and actor Michael Worth.

Young at 43, but with more than 30 film and TV productions and roles already to his credit, Worth most recently wrote, directed and starred in "God's Ear," a 2007 film about a boxer suffering from autism. He was nominated for a Breakout Acting Award and his costar John Saxon, who played boxing coach Lee Robinson, earned the Best Supporting Actor award at the 2008 Methodfest Film Festival.

On-screen, Saxon has appeared in more than 180 feature films and TV programs since his uncredited big-screen debut in 1954's "It Should Happen to You." After co-starring with Esther Williams in the 1956 drama "The Unguarded Moment" and as Jimmy Daley in "Rock, Pretty Baby," both in 1956, Saxon won the 1958 "Best Newcomer" Golden Globe as (along with James Garner and Patrick Wayne).

In 1973, Saxon co-starred as Roper with Bruce Lee in the cult classic "Enter the Dragon."

Saxon's Western credits are topped by "The Unforgiven" (as Johnny Portugal, 1960, with Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Audie Murphy); "The Appaloosa" (as bandito Chuy Medina, 1966, earning a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination opposite Marlon Brando); "Winchester 73" (as Dakin McAdam, 1967); "Journey to a Hanging" (as Screamer in a 1967 episode of "Cimarron Strip"); "Joe Kidd" (as Luis Chama, with Eastwood in the title role and costarring Robert Duvall, 1972); and "The Electric Horseman" (as ruthless Vegas suit Hunt Sears, with Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Valerie Perrine, 1979).
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Worth recalled he first saw Saxon all but steal "The Appaloosa" from Brando, then saw him working with Bruce Lee in "Enter the Dragon."

"'There's that cool guy again!' I thought," Worth said. "John has always had the coolest name of any character in a movie."

Taking the stage to loud applause after a reel of memorable clips had been played on big screens at stage left and right, Saxon was visibly overwhelmed for a moment or two by the accolade and attention.

"I'm shaken by seeing all these films," he said. "I had intended to speak about one picture, and one scene, and I'm really kind of bewildered and moved to see this."

He talked about one scene in "Winchester 73" where he had to shoot his Uncle Ben (Paul Fix) with the rifle from 8-10 feet away. Fortunately, Saxon pointed the barrell a little to the side.

"I pulled the trigger and a flash of gold came out," Saxon said. "I went out, the scene was over, I went back in and said, 'What the hell was THAT?' We looked and there was a hole in it the size of a golf ball. One of the bullets got lodged the wrong way in the (chamber), so when the prop man shook it to come out (after the previous take), it didn't come out. So when I put the powder behind it (for this take), a torpedo came out. He would have died!

"That's not what I came to talk about, but I just had to," Saxon said, warming up to telling a few stories.

"I was thinking about the first Western I ever did, called 'The Unforgiven,'" he began. "I was 23 years old. I played a character called Johnny Portugal, who was thought to be an Indian, and treated like an Indian so he dressed like an Indian out of spite. He was Greek, Portuguese and Irish."

The film was shot in Durango. Saxon recounted how he got into costume, got the OK on that from director John Huston, then suggested an accent for Portugal's character, which Huston also liked. "I was on a roll," Saxon said, so he asked Huston if he could throw the knife in a key scene with Audie Murphy instead of having the stunt guy do it.

Huston asked to see Saxon throw. In rehearsal, the stunt went perfectly. "I threw the knife at the buckboard (wagon) and the tip stuck in the wood - it went (makes vibrating knife sound)."

But when cameras actually rolled, Saxon couldn't stick the knife. Take after take, the blade bounced off the buckboard. "(Bing!) It falls to the ground. Took four or five hours to get it on film," he said. "I was numb by the end of the day."

Saxon recounted another scene in which he was to ride bareback pulling three other horses by their reins. Take after take, his horse would just take off running, throwing him and ruining the scene. Turned out his steed was a mare, and one of stallions in tow kept nipping at the mare's hindquarters. Hours later, they got the scene the way Huston wanted it.

"That was my first great adventure in Westerns, and I thank you for being here, and for showing all those films, because I got really truly excited about that. Thank you very, very much," Saxon said.

The inductions: Lilley
Maurice introduced Bruce Boxleitner, 1990 Walk of Western Stars honoree whose Western credits include "How the West Was Won" and the "Kenny Rogers as The Gambler" series, to induct Jack Lilley. (Boxleitner also has extensive sci-fi creds, but that's another show.) They recently worked together on a 2008 cable Western titled "Aces 'N Eights."

Lilley's first movie job was as a horseback extra on "The Durango Kid." He was all of 14. At 15, claiming he was 18, Lilley started performing stunts in Westerns, working with legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt. Lilley stunted in hundreds of features and TV series including "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza" and "High Chaparral," and doubled for Caesar Romero on Disney's "Zorro" series. He's appeared in more than 280 roles as an actor, including "Blazing Saddles." "The Mountain Men" and "One-Eyed Jacks."

More recently, Lilley founded Movin' on Livestock, and provided and wrangled critters for hundreds of films including "Young Guns I & II," "City Slickers I & II" and "Legend of Zorro" with Antonio Banderas. Based in Canyon Country with a branch in Bernalillo, N. M., the company today is run by Jack, his wife Irene and sons Clay and Clint "Burkey" Lilley.

"Jack's been around probably since sound came in," Boxleitner quipped. "He's a colorful character, to say the least." On "Aces 'N Eights," he said, "Sitting at lunch with Jack and the wranglers was a hell of a lot more fun than sitting with the directors." In a scene from "The Gambler V," with just Rogers, Boxleitner and Lilley, "Jack stole the whole damn thing."

In the evening's biggest surprise, Boxleitner, saying he knew someone who knew Jack even better, tossed the podium over to Melissa Gilbert. The audience was delighted and gave her a warm welcome.

The 2004 Walk honoree was a star of the "Little House on the Prairie" TV series for nine seasons, starting in 1974 when she was 9, she said. The series was shot on location at the Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley.

Gilbert recounted how Lilley, one of the "Little House" stunt guys who also had a recurring on-camera role as the stagecoach driver, taught her how to ride, and would take her riding on the backlot between takes and school lessons.

"I actually learned a lot from Jack, riding a horse being the least of it," Gilbert said, recalling how her real-life father had died a few years into the series, and how she relied heavily on the men in her life to get through it. Series star Michael Landon "was like a second father to me, and Jack was one of those people I consider to be a father figure. He's more like a wacky uncle (laughter), but still definitely a father figure.

"I watched him do stunts, I watched him double Victor French, which was pretty remarkable...I remember my mother, inappropriately, took me to see 'Blazing Saddles' and all of a sudden. there he was in one of the early scenes, and I turned to her and said, 'That's Jack!' And the next thing I knew he was singing. I fell out of my chair in the movie theater - I couldn't believe that was the man who had taught me to ride horses!"

Six years ago, long after Landon's death, Gilbert said she returned to Big Sky Ranch to shoot a Western pilot, and her first time back on the "Little Prairie" set was shaking her up, emotionally. She also had the flu. Trying to get herself together, Gilbert said she suddenly heard a very familiar, very loud voice yell, "'Hey, half-pint, ya ol' rat-a**!' It was Jack, and I knew I was home, that I was gonna be fine."

Gilbert said Lilley is one of the most politically incorrect people she's ever known. "I was telling Bruce, we need to kind of get over ourselves about this kind of stuff. As far as I'm concerned, Jack, you're also the most honest person I know. You say all the stuff we think."

Holding back tears as she wrapped it up, Gilbert said, "You've made us happy, entertained us and taught me so much, meant a lot to me and my family and had a big impact on my life. I know that Victor and Mike are smiling down on us now, and going, 'It's about damn time!' So enjoy these clips of the extraordinary Jack Lilley."

After his video tribute, Lilley ambled onto the stage and acknowledged Gilbert, who was shedding a few tears as she stood aside with Boxleitner.

"There's my baby girl," Lilley said. "It's so great so see you. Now, stop cryin'!"

Lilley looked around the roomful of peers. Not entirely comfortable in the spotlight, he shared it. "A lot of people I've worked with, the great stuntmen, are here. I see Gene Labelle, Loren Janes...Bob, Mike, Whitey...stand up, you guys. I can't see everyone 'cause I'm half-assed blind...but it's great that you're all here."

He recounted how he got started in Westerns. "(Horse trainer) Ralph McCutcheon said to me one day, 'Hey, kid, ya wanna be an extra in this?' - and it was 'The Durango Kid,'" Lilley said. "I got a check for $15.85 and said, 'I'm not gonna have another poor day in my life!'

"I've had more fun in this business," Lilley reflected. "I loved Michael Landon and Victor French, and it's such an honor to be among all these people here." He started to choke up a bit himself. "May God bless each and every one of you," he said, and ambled off the stage to rejoin his family.

The inductions: Carradine
Larry Maurice returned to introduce Robert Carradine, who made his movie debut with John Wayne in 1972's "The Cowboys" and eight years later co-starred with brothers David and Keith Carradine in "The Long Riders," directed by Walter Hill. (Robert's filmography also includes the four "Nerds" comedies and he plays Hilary Duff's dad on Disney's "Lizzie McGuire.")

"It's hard to come up with something that hasn't already been said about David," Robert said, thanking the city for choosing his brother as a Western Walk honoree. "The man is an icon, and he really does deserve this award because in the truest sense of the word, he is a Westerner. He's spiritually independent. I think it's safe to say they broke the mold, Dave, when they came up with you."

Now patriarch of the acting family that also includes brother Michael Bowen, daughter Kansas Carradine and nieces Ever Carradine and Martha Plimpton, David Carradine is the eldest son of renowned character actor John Carradine.

David's career now spans more than 100 feature films, a couple dozen television movies, and a wide range of theater on and off Broadway, not to mention the iconic "Kung Fu" Western series which earned him worldwide fame during its three-year run from 1972-1975.

Before acting, he had served a two-year stint in the Army, then found work in New York as a commercial artist. Before long, Carradine earned a name on Broadway in "The Deputy" and "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" opposite Christopher Plummer. With that experience, he returned to Hollywood, landing the title role of the short-lived Western series "Shane" in 1966.

Carradine starred opposite Barbara Hershey in Martin Scorsese's first Hollywood film, "Boxcar Bertha," in 1972, and later in the year debuted as Kwan Chang Caine in "Kung Fu," which followed the journey of his Asian martial arts-trained character through the Old West. "Kung Fu" received seven Emmy nominations its first season.

After "Kung Fu," Carradine received the Best Actor Award from the National Board of Film Review as well as a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" (1976), and won critical acclaim as Cole Younger in "The Long Riders." He earned the People's Prize at the Cannes Film Festival's Director's Fortnight for his work on "Americana" in 1983, and a second Golden Globe nomination for his supporting role in the 1985 Civil War miniseries "North and South."

Carradine starred in the TV series "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" in 1995-1996, and returned to the big screen in what many critics and fans consider his greatest performance to date, playing the title role in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" (2004), earning a fourth Golden Globe nomination.

Robert recalled an early encounter with his brother, circa 1970, when David was living in Laurel Canyon, and had the Colt .45 revolver he'd used in the "Shane" series on the mantle above the fireplace. "He showed me how to do fast-draw, and I practiced a lot," Robert said.

He remembered auditioning for "The Cowboys," which launched his film career in '72. "I didn't want to go in for the interview, but David said, 'Bobby, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.' Truer words have never been said, Dave.

"Later we went to a screening of 'The Long Riders' and as we were talking out, I said, 'Man that was an amazing performance - you stole the show.' And he said, 'No, I didn't, Bobby - I took it, fair and square!'" (laughter).

"If you've watched my brother ride a horse, he sits a horse pretty good, and I don't think he's been trained - he just knows how to ride a horse," Robert continued. "When you watch him handle a Winchester or a Colt single-action, there's a sense of absolute reality when he handles those weapons. David is a Westerner. And even though he was a Chinese Westerner in the incredible television series 'Kung Fu,' he never let you forget that he was an individual, and that's what in my opinion describes a true Westerner."

Robert introduced the evening's video tribute to his eldest brother, featuring clips from Westerns including "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys" (as Waco, gang leader, 1969); "The Long Riders"; "The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw" (as Caine, 1991); "Last Stand at Saber River" (Duane Kidston, 1997); and "Brothers in Arms" (Driscoll, 2005).

David Carradine stood behind the podium and thanked his brother. Looking out into the audience, he remarked how bright the lights were, then said, "That was almost embarassing." (laughter) "That was a strange bunch of clips they showed - I probably would have picked some others. (more laughter)

"About 'The Cowboys' - my manager came up to me and said this guy Mark Rydell wants you to play this character named Longhair in a film called 'The Cowboys' with The Duke," Carradine recalled. "I read the script and told him I didn't wanna do it. He said, 'You gotta be crazy! This is a big picture!' This was before 'Kung Fu' and all that - I could have used the job. 'Well, I don't wanna be the guy who kills John Wayne, and that's all there is to it!' (laughter and applause).

"And I don't regret that - I got nothin' against Bruce Dern," Carradine continued. (laughter) "Actually, Bruce is a really good guy. I made a picture with him a year or so ago. I always sorta thought I wouldn't like him because of the parts he plays, but it turns out he's not like that at all - a philosopher, and he tells stories I can't even tell here."

Carradine paused. "But God, you know, it's been almost 50 years I've been doing this stuff, and an awful lot of it has been Westerns. Actually when I got to (Hollywood), 40 per cent of the work was in Westerns in movies and television, and I did a lot of that.

"My first movie was 'Taggart' (1964), which was a Louis L'Amour story - it was an awful movie, by the way," he said. "We shot it in 10 days, I had three days on it, and I remember there was this guy who was kind of my acting teacher, 'cause I got killed in it, and he said, 'Listen, you gotta remember something - when you get shot, don't fall down and back, fall up and in. That way, you get a little more film time' (laughter).

Carradine had a receptive audience and was clearly enjoying himself. "That movie was so cheap, we had three stuntmen on it, playing both the Cavalry and the Apaches. And there is actually a sequence where this cavalry guy shoots an Apache, who is him (laughter), and then he comes and drags the body away (more laughter).

"I've done a lot of stuff like that, and also some just dynamite, wonderful, wonderful movies. 'The Long Riders' is probably one of the best Westerns ever made (applause). I've heard people say it's one of the 10 best. I don't know how it could be that, because you gotta compete with all the John Ford pictures and Harold Hawks pictures - some great, great pictures.

"We don't make as many of them as we used to," he observed. "One of the things about Westerns these days is whenever they make a Western they try to make it a really, really good one. Back then, we just knocked 'em off. (laughter)

"As far as the horse thing goes, my dad put me on a horse when I was 4 years old and I've pretty much never got off of one. I made every effort all through my youth when I was in grammar school and junior high school and high school to always find a way to ride a horse."

Carradine recounted the story of buying his first horse. "I was doing as picture in Kansas and we were driving back from Kansas in our own cars in kind of a caravan, and I knew someone who lived outside Santa Fe and stopped by to say hello. It turned out this girl was living with a guy whose name was Eagle - I don't  know what his real name was but that's what he called himself. He was a Viet Nam vet, totally crazy, and they were living in a hogan right beside the Pecos River.

"Eagle had purchased this horse that had been wandering wild in the Pecos wilderness, along with a wild mule," Carradine continued. "The two of them were buddies. They weren't part of a herd or anything. And somebody caught them and turned them in to the 4-H thing and this guy wanted to sell both for $250. This guy Eagle wasn't that dumb. He said, 'Look, I'll give you $250 but you can keep the damn mule.' A tame mule is bad enough. Nobody wants a wild mule.

"So we had this filly and I got on her and she took me on the wildest ride I ever had in my life and I said, 'I gotta have this horse.' I bought it from (Eagle). I gave him $250, and we put the horse in a pickup truck with hay bales all around her so she wouldn't fall out of the bed. She ate her way to California (laughter). I've had that horse for 26 years, and she's the best piece of horseflesh I've even seen."

Carradine also spoke about his "picture" horse. "I used him on 'The Long Riders' and a few others. The great thing about him was you couldn't fall off him. A couple of times I did almost fall off. One time I was hanging on to a Winchester with this hand out here like this, and we were galloping, a full gallop, and all of a sudden I said, 'Oh, damn, I'm falling off this horse,' and all he did was this (Carradine stomps his foot), and threw me back into the saddle (laughter). I love that guy.

"Anyway, this is a great thing, to be honored for this ancient practice of making Western movies, and hanging out with horseflesh," Carradine said. "I think it was Fat Jones who told me that there's nothing wrong with the inside of a man that the outside of a horse can't cure, and I think there's some truth in that. I think he's also the guy that told me that showoffs get broken backs (laughter).

"Yeah, I can sit a horse really good. I consider it just faking it. But I think I can teach anybody to look like they can ride in about five minutes. Actually learning how to ride is a different thing. I think that pretty much takes a lifetime, and I guess I'm one of those guys who's actually done that.

"There aren't a lot of us left, that took the horse stuff and the gun stuff and all that seriously, but I'm one of the remainders. I'm 71 years old, and a young 71 years old (applause). I can still do all the stuff and I got most of my hair (laughter). And I am just so happy to be here. I could stand here and talk forever, but it's been a long night, and I think probably I should let you all go home. But hey, call me anytime. I'm available - as long as there's a horse involved!" (laughter)

Tribute to Williams
Larry Maurice returned to the stage to set up a tribute to Jack Williams, the stunt ace and actor who was a well-known, much-loved character in the SCV since the early '60s.

"One of our great (Walk of Western Stars) honorees three years ago was a gentleman who darn sure could ride a horse, and could darn sure look good gettin' on 'em, gettin' off 'em, gettin' underneath 'em or whatever it was. Jack (Lilley) mentioned him also and a lot of the stunt guys in here that were very very happy when the city decided to honor this gentleman. We're gonna do a little tribute tonight to our good friend Jack Williams, who sadly passed away last year (April 10, 2007). His wife Clare is in the audience and we thank her so much for being here tonight (applause)."

"Jack followed his father George Williams in a career as a movie stuntman, learning his father's famous cue, where a horse would fall on command, uninjured," Maurice began.

Jack's mother, Paris, was also a champion trick rider and pioneering movie stuntwoman. Williams performed his first stunt on a horse at age four, being tossed from a horse to a stagecoach in "The
Flaming Forest," a 1926 silent. A decade later, at 15, he rode in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" starring Errol Flynn.

Starting as an 18-year-old freshman at USC, where he soon became a varsity polo star, Williams worked his way through college stunting for movies. He earned up to $225 a day taking spills from horses, bull-dogging steers, and standing on and jumping two horses over a car at the same time, Roman-style.

Williams performed stunts in "Dodge City" and had a bit part as a hot-headed soldier in "Gone with the Wind," both released in 1939, while he was still in school. After three years in the Coast Guard during World War II, Williams got back in the stunt saddle on Howard Hawks' epic "Red River," released in 1948.

Williams' work was featured in more than 80 films, among them "The Alamo," "The Last Outpost," "Bugles in the Afternoon," "Bend of the River," "The Far Country," "Yellowstone Kelly," "How the West Was Won," "A Man Called Horse," "Cat Ballou," "The Professionals," "Major Dundee," "Alvarez Kelly," "Cheyenne Autumn," "The Sons of Katie Elder," "Rio Bravo," "Rio Lobo," "The War Wagon" and many more. Williams' last picture was 1999's "Wild Wild West," when he was 78. Most are still seen on cable, video and DVD.

Along with Flynn, Williams doubled for or worked with many other Western icons in his six-decades-plus career, including John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Fess Parker, Richard Widmark, Robert Taylor, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Brian Keith, Glenn Ford, Ray Milland, Joel McCrea, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, William Holden and Kirk Douglas.

Williams even doubled for actresses including Olivia de Havilland, Julie Adams, Greer Garson, Sophia Loren, Lucille Ball, Claudia Cardinale and Angie Dickinson.

On the small screen, Williams was the go-to guy for many '50s and '60s Western series, including Roy Rogers' and Dale Evans' long-running television show. Through the '50s, '60s and '70s, he had acting roles in series such as "Bonanza," "The High Chaparral," "The Monroes," "Rawhide," "Daniel Boone," "Laredo" and "Maverick." In 2002, Williams was prominently featured in the TNT cable channel's "Behind the Action: Stuntmen in the Movies" documentary.

One of the few stuntmen to also be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Williams was a founder of the Stuntman's Association of Motion Pictures, and in the Stuntman's Hall of Fame. He was also a proud recipient of the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Golden Boot award. The video tribute seen at Friday's gala was the same one shown at his Boot induction in 1999.

"In 2005 he received his plaque on the Walk of Western Stars, and I don't think there was anyone more proud to have that," Maurice said. "We had good times when we went and visited Jack at his house. And he said, 'It's great that people recognize, after a long career, what we've done,' but he also said, 'It's not good in our business to be recognized. Our job is to make the actors look good, and we take our recognition and our praise from each other.' No false modesty, he was a very humble man, but boy, could he do it. Let's watch some of what Jack could do."

"I couldn't see the screen through my tears," Clare Williams, Jack's devoted wife and companion for more than three decades, said later. "But it was so well put together, and Jack was beautifully honored, and I enjoyed it."

She said she had fallen a few days before and busted her upper lip, and almost didn't make it to the dinner.

"Jack played an ape in 'Planet of the Apes' years ago, and spent 10 hours in makeup every time," she joked. "With my lip, I could have stood in for him without makeup!"

Fortunately, Clare looked human again by Friday night. "I wasn't thinking about myself or how I looked - I thought about how honored Jack would be, that was so important," she said. "We have such lovely friends. Jack Lilley, John Saxon, Dick and Betty Jones - as a child star he was voice of Pinocchio - and Loren (Janes) and his wife Jan all came up to me. They said I looked lovely and were glad I was there. I also honored them by going - these were Jack's friends.

"It reminded me how they all came when Jack was inducted a few years ago," she said. "He's my guardian angel looking down, and would have wanted me there, so I had to go. If I had missed it I would be a sorry woman."

After the Williams video tribute, Maurice recounted some of the Walk history, introduced a video tribute to past Walk honorees, thanked the audience for coming, and bid everyone a good night.

"Without you, there's no us," he said. "May the good Lord take a likin' to ya."

For more info, visit walkofwesternstars.com.

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