Charles Starrett’s Last Public Appearance

June 4, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

I was fortunate enough to happen upon an old video tape that purports to be Charles Starrett’s last public appearance, which occurred at the Western Film Fair in 1984. The festival was held in Raleigh, NC in July of that year, and was organized by Ed Wyatt and Ronald Butler. The video was edited and narrated by Randy Durham.

It mostly consists of TV spots promoting the festival, and some hand-held camera stuff from the actual event.

Charley is 82 and is nearly blind. He looks great and comes off as personable and charming. He’s very gracious, asking an interviewer where he grew up, wishing Gene Autry’s Angels good luck with their season, and seemingly talking to anyone who approaches him.

During an interview, he reveals that he lives in Laguna, “right on the ocean.” He says that he had a 42 week a year contract with Columbia for 17 years, so after that expired he decided that his job was to spend time with family, friends and travel.

He makes the (dubious) claim that 20 of the Durango Kid films were never released in this country, only playing in South America and Africa, where they were a big hit because “a smile is the same in any language.”

We also see him dedicating the new B-Western Mobile Museum (which looks just like it sounds). There is a lame stunt where Charley prepares to cut the ribbon, the organizer pretends to have lost his scissors, and the Durango Kid rides up and gives Charley a pair. Charley spontaneously shouted “That’s my double! That’s Jock Mahoney there!”

In a short speech at a dinner, Charley quotes from Hamlet.

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man,

Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!

Charles Starrett died two years later at the age of 86.


2 Responses to “Charles Starrett’s Last Public Appearance”

  1. Bruce Hickey said

    I’m a guy from New Zealand who grew up watching b westerns at Saturday matinees.60 years later they still play a special place in my life.Charles Starrett has always been my favourite.
    I corresponded with him from 1969-1980 & finally met him face to face at the 1980 Memphis Film Festival.He was legally blind by then but jusr the most amazing personality.He invited me to visit him & Mary at their home at Rockledge Terrace,Laguna Beach.Four years later I,along with Colin Momber (publisher of the best b western magazine around,Wranglers Roost & Ab Breeden b western historian of L.A.).
    I’ll recount some of the article I later wrote for Wranglers Roost.
    “On ouir arrival our longtime hero greeted us at the front door & it was marvelous to find him in such great shape & so hail & hearty.Our hosts had arranged to take us out to lunch but befoerhand we sat down in their lounge for a few hours with Charles reminiscing of the past & more recent times.What stories they were too,he is sharp as a tack,with great recall of his contemporaries.We asked a few questions but were mostly content to just listen.
    Then when lunchtime arrived Mrs Starrett drove us to the country club restaurant where we spent a further two hours enthralled with more stories of the past.The restaurant was at the foot of some mountains & we suggested to Mr starrett that we could just picture him galloping down them & he replied with a laugh,that he would probably get Ted Mapes to do it for him.All to soon it was time to leave & return to the station to catch the train back to L.A..Just as the train was pulling into the station there was some time for some final Western vernaculart,”Here’s the train boys,lets head it off at the pass”& who better to have done just that with than with the Durango Kid himself.So it was with much reluctance that we bid the SStarretts farewell,but not goodbye because they were gracious to invite us back again & the three of us look forward to future times in the company of Charles Starrett & his charming wife Mary.Our special thanks to him for such a memorable day.
    Some of the people & subjects he talked about were:
    DICK CURTIS:Was a wrestler prior to becoming an actor.”Dick was apussycat,just a wonderful guy.” When they did all those fight scenes Dick was often liable not to hold back & Mr Starrett mentioned that he had to say “Hang on a minute Dick this is not for real”.
    IRIS MEREDITH:”A great gal,but smoked all the time & thats what eventually killed her.:
    SMILEY BURNETTE:(Aside,agree with you on your blog,he is the single most negative factor in every DK movie,thank God for remotes & fast forward.He’s even annoying on many one sheets where frequently he dominates them more than Charley.Autry never gave him the seemingly free licence he had with Charley.)”When he came over from Rewpublic he told me he was there to give the series a shot in the arm which was not the case at all.I’d always had my option picked up by the studio & it had been 12 years at that stage,so my pictures always did very well”.
    ROY ROGERS:”Roy is always telling people that the Pioneers came with himto Republic,but they didnt,they were with me until 1941.I dont know why he is still telling that story”.
    BOB NOLAN.”Bob should have been given his own series or at least given a brother type role with me like Hoppy had with Lucky.People have said that Bob was aloner,but he wasnt really,it’s just that when he composed those wonderful songs he liked to go off by himsel to the desert”.
    COLUMBIA PICTURES:There was no special occasion to mark his last day with the studio.
    JACK ROCKWELL:He liked him alo & said “he was great playing a sheriff because he looke like one.
    TED MAPES:He was orry to hear of his death but was pleased to hear from Colin that Ted had a Durango Kid photo alongside one of Gary Cooper & one of James Stewart in his den.Ted doubled them all.
    HARRY COHN:”He was the kind of guy you had to stand up to & I always did.He’d say to me”You never arrive on the set on time,you’re always late” & I’d always tell him my movies always came out on time.I was there 17 years so he must have been happy with me.”

    Sadly Charles died several months later,but the three of us had a day to remember for the rest of our lives.I treasure the letters,cards & stills & Posters he autographed to me.
    A special man indeed.

  2. Tim said

    Bruce, Thank you so much for sharing this! I am happy, but not surprised, to read that he was a kind and generous host. His impressions on the various actors and stuntmen are great to hear. I was especially interested in his relationship with Harry Cohn and Columbia. After 17 years, you’d think they would treat him better. Thanks alot. Tim

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