From the time I strapped on my first double holster set and twirled my pearl-handled cap pistols, I always wanted to be a cowboy. Not just any cowboy, but the best cowboy in the whole wide world. I remember drinking milk out of my Roy Rogers mug as a young boy and feeling very special. For Christmas one year I got a real Stetson hat just my size in a special round box. Alone before a mirror I would practice my fast draw for hours and got to be pretty good. In my young yet powerful imagination I gunned down many a villain and they all wore black hats.
In those days you could go the Saturday matinee for 50¢. It was 25¢ to get it, 10¢ for popcorn, 10¢ for a Coke, and 5¢ for a Hershey bar. The theatre would show several cartoons and a serial before the main movie. And the main movie was always Roy Rogers (my personal favorite), Gene Autrey, or Hopalong Cassidy. The Saturday matinee was the event to look forward to all week, but only if I was “a good little boy”. I still enjoyed westerns more than anything as I grew older, and even to this day.
In 1956 I went to see a movie that would greatly impact my life. It was “The Fastest Gun Alive” starring Glenn Ford. Glen starred as George Temple, a quiet store owner trying to separate himself from his past as a gunslinger. George and his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain) have been forced to move from town to town as gunfighters seek him out to prove that they are faster than him. Finally they are living peacefully and happily in Cross Creek for four years until the arrival of Vinnie Harold, played by Broderick Crawford. George refuses to fight with Vinnie, who won’t take no for an answer. Vinnie continues to taunt George as the town gathers in the church to decide what to do after Vinnie threatens to burn the entire town to the ground if George won’t fight him. Finally George agrees in spite of pleas from his wife Dora. He goes home, grabs his holster and heads for the street to face Vinnie. It was the moment of truth for both men, and only one would walk away.
The next scene shows Vinnie’s fresh grave and beside it another one is being dug. The headstone reads “George Temple-The Fastest Gun Alive”. At this moment my heart sank until I realized that George was alive. Next I saw him tossing his gun belt into the coffin as it was being covered by dirt. It’s like George and Dora realized that as long as he was alive he would never be free from his legacy. So with the complete backing of the entire town it would be told that the two men had faced off and killed one another simultaneously. Everyone swore to the story and to never say otherwise. The town knew this was the only way they would find peace. I will always remember this movie. How must it feel to be the very best there is and not be able to tell a soul? How much character would that require? Could I do that if it meant peace for me and my family? This to me is a true hero.
Many years passed and I kept busy raising a family and pursuing a career. One Christmas, much like any other Christmas, my family gathered around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve as was our custom. We enjoyed Christmas music and enjoyed opening our gifts. When I though we were all done, my twin daughters exclaimed that there was one more special gift under the tree. They handed me a small package and I opened it slowly, having no idea what was inside. When I realized what it was, my eyes began to tear and I was afraid to raise my head in case they might see. It was “The Fastest Gun Alive” starring Glen Ford on VHS. I’m not sure how they knew how special this movie had been for me in my youth. Perhaps I mentioned at some time in my life how I thought it was the greatest western I had ever seen. Who knows? But the fact that they knew and the fact that they were able to find it meant so very much to me. Suddenly I didn’t care if they saw me cry, and I looked up and thanked them and hugged them both. That was a very special Christmas in my life.
On August 30, 2006, Glen Ford died of complications from multiple strokes at the age of 90. This strong, silent hero of so many memorable films will be missed by his many fans. His career spanned seven decades and he stared in over 100 films, including such classics as 3:10 to Yuma, Blackboard Jungle, Teahouse of the August Moon, Gilda, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, any many, many more. Over half of his movies were westerns, but he also starred in comedies, dramas, and military sagas, proving his depth and range as an astute actor. His quiet, brooding intellect connected with audiences of all ages. He never won an Oscar, but in 1958 he was voted Hollywood’s number one box office attraction. To me, he truly was “the fastest gun alive”. So long Glen, we’ll miss you…