is high desert. This means it is very, very dry. This also
means it is dusty. In the Spring the "Dust Devils" can knock you
off your feet, fill your eyes and mouth with grit, make eating outside
impossible, and spook your horse.
It also means it is a perfect place to shoot a Western! That’s
why I was there for three months. I was going to work with Harry
Belafonte in "Buck and the Preacher." I'd eat sand any day
for that opportunity! It was Sidney's debut as a director and he
was also playing Buck. You guessed it – Harry was the Preacher.
Cameron Mitchell was the main heavy and I played his nephew, a stupid
bundle of angry nerves. One of Jeff Foxworthy's definitions describes
the role I played. "If you whistle through your tooth when you talk,
you just might be a Red-Neck."
My character's goal was to get Buck's wagon train of slaves to turn
back to the plantations. Having been declared FREE, their goal was
to settle farmland out West and live as free people.
I had already done one hundred and ten episodes of the television series
“Wagon Train.” You would expect me to be a handy horseman.
You would be wrong. Even with all those hours on a horse, people
could still read a newspaper between my butt and the saddle. When
it came to horsemanship, I was a misplaced basketball player, bouncing
all over the place.
The first shot in “Buck and the Preacher” was a long shot of the bad
guys riding into town. About fifteen of us gathered about a half
a mile away from the camera. Sidney yelled, “Come on!” and we were
off. Cameron had the fastest horse and for him it became a race.
The rest of the guys were stunt men and real cowboys. Among them
was my Double, Walter Scott. Walter made a good living riding broncos
on the rodeo circuit.
In this scene, I was also riding with the group. I was in last
place before we ever got started. When Cameron got to the camera,
I was still about fifty yards back. Everyone was there by the time
I rode up, demonstrating one of my patented stops. When I finally
got my nag to stop, my right foot was hooked around the pommel, my right
arm was wrapped around the horse’s neck, the horse’s nose was in my left
armpit, and I was looking down the horse's left ear. Sidney pretended not
to notice my lack of equestrian skills and suggested we do it again, at
a little slower pace.
Cameron didn’t take direction sometimes and it took three takes and
some prodding from a couple of stunt men for the group to arrive as a group.
After that shoot, Walter Scott was my Double and for the next twelve weeks
he rode all over the high desert and made me look great on a horse!
I have been lucky to work with fine directors. Each has his or
her own style of getting what they want from a scene and the actors.
Sidney created an atmosphere of relaxed calm so the actor had the courage
to go for it... "IT" being to let their character come to life in the telling
of the story they are working in. They can go out on a limb and know
the director will catch them if they fall, or if they go too far or not
On top of a windy, bleak mountain, we were rehearsing a scene between
the Sheriff and I. We got into an argument and I ended up slitting
the sheriff’s throat. After a couple of times, Sidney motioned for
me to follow him and we walked off away from the cast and crew. He
turned to me and took one step closer so our eyes were less than a foot
apart. Not taking his eyes from mine, he whispered, “I just don’t
believe you hate us n*****s enough.” He smiled and walked back
to the set.
There it was. In his first job as a Director, he knew, as the
Director, he was my safety net. He was saying, you can go bananas
in this scene, go as far as you want and I will catch you if you go too
far. We rehearsed the scene one more time and I added a large dose
of hate. Then we shot the scene in one take. When we finished,
I looked at Sidney and he nodded. That made me feel great.
My character, in this film, died in a way that left no doubt that I
was dead and woudn’t be returning.
Harry played a very unusual Preacher. His Bible was a handy place
to hide a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun. His “good book” was
really a holster. So, when he took up a collection, he really TOOK a collection!
When I peeked over a rock, to get a good shot at the Preacher, Harry
blasted me with that shotgun. Before the scene, the special effects crew
showed me their special air-compressed blowgun. I watched them load
its inch-wide barrel with a Max Factor blood containing hundreds of little
pieces of sponge in it. It was a close shot. So, when the blast from
Harry’s shotgun came, WHOOSH goes the air gun and my face was instant raw
hamburger. Ugly? Very!
There was an immediate hustle and bustle of hands with towels, hands
with a folding chair for me to sit in, so they could clean me up and inquiring
minds wanted to know if I was alright. I was aware of more hands,
with what seemed like gallons of Murine. Lots of blinking.
I’m okay. Well, I was okay until I heard the camera operator tell
Sidney that I blinked too soon and that we would have to do it again.
“The show must go on!” I could kill whoever came up with that
slogan! Of course, we did the scene again. This time I didn’t
blink too soon, it worked and it took a double dose of Murine. For
the next couple of days, I looked like I had cried and cried. But
I lived to die another day, or two, or three.