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Howdy! Welcome to Hutch’s poetry nook, down those rickety stairs yonder. Jes’ follow the lanterns. Kinda dusty down here, ain’t it? Here, put on my own private Hopalong Cassidy bandana. Guaranteed anti-kerchoo kerchief. Nary a computer down here, but plenty of websites—Heh, heh. Whew–eeee! Better light some incense. Ah! Passion Weed! Pull up that ottoman and sit down—no, no—that’s our laundry! Yeah, that’s it. I’ll turn on some soothing songs, my CD of “Elevator Music to Dance By.” How ‘bout a beverage, a sweet? Comfrey root tea and broccoli crumpets suit ya?

OK! I’d like to recite for you a poem by Ray Smith. Ray recited it to Jan Merlin at a flick fest in Williamsburg, VA. A wonderful ode, summoning warm feelings for Jan the man and western bad guys in general. When I was a tad I had a guilty pleasure—I rooted for the bad guys. I knew they were gonna get theirs at the end of the trail, but until then, what fun! They sure were ornery flies in the ointment, weren’t they? Ol’ Gene Autry ridin’ down the canyon atop Champion, strummin’ his git fiddle to a pretty gal. Look out below! Lane Bradford’s rollin’ a boulder down atcha! Genial Gene’s nursin’ a branch water (in a dirty glass) at the Rusty Spur Saloon. Awwww! Chuck Hayward pours red eye all over Gene’s white hat. That ain’t sawdust on the floor—that’s after-the-brawl furniture.

‘Course, our mothers wanted us kids to be just like Gene, Roy and Hoppy, but we wanted to practice tucks and rolls, like Blackie, Butch and the Sidewinder Kid, when they got shot off their hosses. Sure, the good guys rode off into the canvas backdrop sunset, but what we fondly remember are the bad guys bitin’ the dust. Don ‘Red’ Barry was a master last-gasper. A shot rings out—Don clutches his gut and twists to the sod—He rears and he pitches like a gaffed grouper. A sorta horizontal ballet. Don takes a long drag from the hand-rolled ceegareet danglin’ from the side of his mouth. With a faint wave and smile he squints off at the blurry image of the guy who plugged him. The blood-stained cig stub falls to the sand, a wisp o’smoke rising skyward. Don sighs, “It’s too beautiful a day to die—gasp…” Fade out.  

And now,   Ray Smith’s Poem “My Friend”

He came into Lone Pine under a hot California sky.
You could tell he was a killer; he had that look in his eye.
He rode with Cole Younger, robbed banks, killed men and such.
He was a smartalec kid; he wouldn’t amount to much.
One day he was a desperado, riding through the pines
Another day, a sneaky German, crawling through the lines.
I think of his dastardly deeds and I can forgive them all but one
The time he hit Audie Murphy in the face, with a big ole shotgun
That day this sorry rascal broke the Code of the West
It’s fair play to use a sixgun, not a shotgun in your quest
If he had only faced Audie and challenged him to draw,
I could’ve liked him a little, even though he was a bad outlaw.
Then he stole Audie’s horse and water, rode off with his shotgun.
Left Audie to die under that hot California sun.
I often thought of this man who acted with such disgrace,
then one day it was my pleasure to meet him face-to-face.
He had a lovely smile; his eyes twinkled like the stars above.
I knew he was no villain—he had a heart filled with love.
I saw a man who loves his country, and has compassion for the human race,
And loves the world we live in, and wants to make it a better place.
You know, one day my Lord will call me, this life will come to an end
But I’ll know that my life was a little better because Jan Merlin was my friend.

Hooray, Ray! I hoist a toast, a tribute to a badman. Here’s looking at you, Jan!

Letters, we get letters. Well, one, anyhow. Here’s a merry missive from Harvey Purdy of Ashdown, AR. Harvey writes, “Hello Will. My all-time top western is ‘My Darling Clementine’. I’ll tell you how I got hooked on this fine film. I was stationed at Ft. Sill, OK, and one night while I was at the USO they were screening ‘Clementine’. The more I watched, the more I liked. I caught the army bus every night and went back to see it four more times.” Harvey wistfully remembers a moment from those screenings that he has never seen since. “The stagecoach rumbles into Tombstone and comes to a stop. The melody ‘My Darling Clementine’ plays in the background. This is the first appearance of Clementine Carter. She opens the coach door, and before she is helped down by the young hotel clerk (one of Hutch’s favorite comics, Arthur Mad Man Walsh) she slowly looks from side-to-side and inhales a breath of fresh air, relieved to reach her destination, finally. It’s no big thing, but I have always remembered this close-up shot of Cathy Downs and my being a lonely soldier. Anyway, I have seen the picture I don’t know how many times and never tire of it.” Thanks for writing, Pard.

One night, years ago, a pal of mine and I were dinner guests at the home of Lou Edelman. He produced one of my favorite flicks, “White Heat”, starring the Cag. He was in the throes of producing the “Wyatt Earp” TV series. After supper we repaired to the family room for coffee in front of the tube. Fate plays funny tricks. What should appear on the screen before our very eyes but “My Darling Clementine”! We were a goodly gathering, and we sat in rapt silence as Earp kissed his darling Clementine farewell and rode off down a long trail beside a crooked fence. The End. All was quiet. Then, the slurp from a coffee cup, a match lighting a stogie. Lou Edelman spoke. Mostly, he found fault, pointing out gross historical inaccuracies in the legend of Earp vs. Clanton according to John Ford. Deep silence. After a respectful pause fraught with pregnancy, my pal spoke up. “All you say is most likely well and true, Mr. Edelman. All the same, Sir, Mr. Ford and company turned out a great job o’ work, simply the best western movie ever made.” Deeper silence followed by coughs and chairs scraping. The room cleared pretty fast. My pal and I were never invited back. Hi Ho and so it goes.