Friday, February 27, 2009

Memories of Old Dad: Loving the Dad of Today

We, as humans, are so much inclined to judge a person by how he looks, that we spend most of our lives misjudging the people we meet. This is probably in our DNA: we meet to mate, to fight, and to hunt as our ancestors did, long before Freud explained to us the inner meaning of all our curious behaviors.

My father is so very handsome, I'm sure he spent most of his life surprising people by not being at all what they expected him to be: that is, if they expected him to be suave, charming, sophisticated and as elegant as he looked.

Look at that picture of him with his Jaguar XKE. He looks like an ad from Country Living or Gentleman's Quarterly. And I think I've explained that he wasn't like that at all. He was a serious nerd, in the nicest meaning of that word.

Now, with his disease, there is so much of his life he does not remember and the nerd part of him has kind of faded away. But he still remembers that Jaguar! Not because it was elegant, or exclusive, or expensive-looking (naturally he bought it from a guy for just a few thousand dollars and restored it himself) but because of its engine. That is after all, the root of the word of his profession: engineer.

"That car was really hard to drive and I had to work on it all the time to keep it running," he told me the other day, remembering the Jag as if he'd just let go of it recently. "But when you took it out on the freeway, I had to work hard to keep myself from getting a ticket. That car was really fast." And he smiled, remembering it.

I told him about the bumper sticker I had seen on an old Jag that read: All of the parts falling off this car are of the finest English craftsmanship. He laughed and said, "That was the Jag. But she really could go."

Cars, airplanes, trucks--anything with an engine--always interested my Dad. He actually liked working on them himself, even though he always could have afforded having someone else do it for him. Once, he was working on a Ford Thunderbird we owned and he seriously cut two of his fingers. Thoughtful and kind as he was, he held his fingers together with his other hand and went to a neighbor and asked to be driven to the hospital. He didn't want to frighten my mother. When he was settled at the Emergency Room, the neighbor then came over and told my mother. When Mom arrived at the ER to check on him, her face was so white they almost admitted her instead of my Dad.

We were at the doctor recently for my Dad's three-month checkup and after the doctor had told him how healthy he was--blood pressure, blood oxygenation, weight, all the rest--he asked the doctor if it might be okay for him to drive again. My mother and I looked at each other with seriously raised eyebrows.

"No driving," his doctor wrote on a pad for my now-totally deaf, Alzheimer's afflicted father.

"Well, I knew you were going to say that," said my Dad, "but I thought I should at least ask."

When I told the story recently about having the firemen take my father upstairs to my apartment, and the confusion that resulted, my sister said it made her sad, because the Old Dad is gone.

Well, she's only right in part, I think. And anyway: some things about the Old Dad were somewhat challenging. I remember very distinctly how the Old Dad once gave one of my boyfriends a tour of the City of Palo Alto Sewage Treatment Plant, primary, secondary and tertiary systems included, and how I wanted to disappear into San Francisco Bay as he discussed how the effluent was treated, in colorful detail. That was the Old Dad, all right.

And the one we have now hasn't left that guy behind entirely. He still remembers the engine power of his old Jaguar XKE, and how it felt when you shifted it into fourth gear and it leaped ahead on the freeway.

And dementia or not, he still wants that feeling again and still wants to drive a car, God forbid. Fortunately he never mentions the sewage treatment plant, which he helped design and where he spent the last part of his career. But he still remembers he loves us, something the Old Dad was much more reticent about than he was about sewage. I didn't make it over to see him yesterday, because a friend of mine is very ill, and today Mom called to say Dad wanted to know if I was okay and wanted me to come over as soon as possible.

For every time in life there are compensations. I miss the Old Dad too. But I'm learning to love the New Dad just as much for whatever time we have left to love him.

I had a new camera one Christmas and got Dad to pose for these pictures. He looked so happy--not always a look you saw on Dad's face.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Firemen to the Rescue: or Dad Goes Upstairs and Robin Learns a Lesson

Dad sits quietly, drinking his decaf, on a visit to Robin's new digs.

I must have put too much sugar in my coffee.

But it was raining and I knew my Dad would be stuck indoors most of the day. So, I had this idea for a rainy day activity. I've just moved to California and Dad hasn't seen my place. I thought it might help him understand that I was going to stay here if he could see where I lived and see that I had the Chapman family clock he gave me, right up on my mantel.

However, I live on the second floor and there isn't an elevator. How to get Dad up the stairs? How about asking a fireman?

During my years in news I learned two things about firemen: most of them are really nice (much nicer than policemen for some reason); and, they spend a lot of time sitting around in between responding to emergencies. This is especially true in a small town like Los Altos, California.

So, on this rainy Sunday, I stopped by the local fire station and talked with Mike the fireman and explained my dilemma. He excused himself and spoke with his captain, Matt, and they asked me when I wanted to get my father up my stairs.

"Would this morning be okay," I asked?

"How about fifteen minutes?" said Captain Matt. I suggested thirty, as nothing can be done with older people on fifteen minutes' notice. I gave them my address and off I went to the folks' house on Echo Drive.

Dad was taking his morning walk during a break in the rain. I wrote down my plan and let Dad read it while I ran in and explained it all to Mom. "Can I go too?" she asked, much to my surprise. She hadn't even expressed an interest in seeing it thus far. "And what is this about the firemen?" When I explained she had her lipstick and her coat on in record time.

Explanations made, coats buttoned, windshield wipers abuzz, we traversed the nine-tenths of a mile to my new place. The only concern was the expression on Dad's face. He looked worried.

"Are the firemen meeting us here?" he asked several times.

Los Altos Fire Department Engine Fifteen pulled up right on schedule.

"What? No lights and siren?" asked Dad. He was smiling now.

Dad meets Mike the fireman as Dad's caregiver Lynn looks on. The fire truck is in the background.

The firemen looked at the stairway and conferred for a minute and decided on a two-man carry. One held Dad's lower half and one held his upper half and, whoosh! Off they went.

Mike and his fellow LAFD fireman reach down to pick up my father to take him upstairs to my apartment.

I ran behind them and got this shot directly from the back. All you can see of Dad is his hat.

After that they were just moving too fast. For Dad and for my camera it was all a blur.

Ah, safe at last. Dad with fireman Mike.

One thing I hadn't taken enough time to consider, in my enthusiasm: how hard it is for Alzheimer's patients to grasp a new concept, a new place, even (as I'll talk about in a later blog) a new pair of shoes. New is hard for them.

He sat down and was very quiet. I served him a cup of coffee and a cookie, and when the Chapman clock struck the hour, I pointed it out to him, since he can't hear it anymore. He smiled but didn't say much and was looking worried again. He indicated a building outside and across the street.

"Is that the hospital?" he asked more than once. I couldn't figure out what was bothering him.

Mom, on the other hand was having a ball. Stunned that her daughter had such pretty things, thrilled to be able to peek into closets and bathrooms and cupboards and boxes from India on the coffee table, she got out a magnifying glass and looked at every last thing in the place.

"Is that the hospital?" my father asked again, pointing to the two-story house out my window. I shook my head, again.

Finally, after we'd all had enough I asked Dad's caregiver to help me get him down the stairs. I had sent the firemen on their way, knowing Dad could now hold the railing and get down the stairs, though coming up might have taken him hours, if he could have made it on his own at all.

So Lynn and I helped Dad descend and Mom held the umbrella when needed and we got Dad back out to the car. But now, oddly enough, he was really mad.

And the strangest thing of all was that he was mad at the firemen.

"Why did those sons of guns leave us like that," he said. "Who do they think they are snubbing us like that." "If they said they'd do a job, they should have done it." "I'm not going to accept their apology." "I'm going to call the city manager about those fellas. I guess they think I'm not good enough for them." "They should have helped me. I'm a war hero!" It went on and on like that all through lunch and finally I excused myself and went to drive around in the rain and run some errands, hoping if I got out of the house he would take a nap and forget about it.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out why he was mad. To my father, firemen mean going to the hospital. He thought the firemen were supposed to take him to the hospital and thus, when they just brought him up to my apartment and left him there and didn't come back he felt they had abandoned him and forgotten to finish the job.

Well, he's gone to the hospital twice in the past year and each time those big EMT/firemen guys show up at the house and pick him up like a piece of firewood and put him gently onto a gurney and what to they do? They take him to the hospital! So what else was he to think?

St. Robin learned a lesson. When dealing with an Alzheimer's patient, you should never do anything as precipitously as I did. I should have talked about it to him for several days. Driven to the apartment with him several times. Explained it again and again.

And then called the firemen.

As it was, my Dad got over it and was happy by suppertime. But he still hadn't forgiven the firemen. "You have a much better temper than your father young lady," he said to me over dessert. "I'm going to punch those guys out if I see them again," but he was smiling now and happy. My mother rolled her eyes. She had had a wonderful time seeing her daughter's little nest.

"Let me explain it to him later," she said. And she will try. My Dad trusts her and her explanation will help. But I'm not quite sure he'll ever feel quite the same about firemen.

Anyway, it was a good idea.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Opals, Romance, and the Movies: the Story of Silent Screen Star Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish, about 1914.

Do you know the name Lillian Gish? It wouldn't be surprising if you did not. She was a movie star long, long ago: one of the early stars of silent films in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Film buffs know her because she was one of the great ones. But it has been ninety-four years since her breakthrough role in BIRTH OF A NATION, and that's a long time for anyone to remain a popular culture star.

I've been thinking about her lately because I happened to pick up her book The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (1969, Prentice-Hall) and have been re-reading it as a way of winding down in the evening. It is from my own library and I came upon it when I was unpacking.

It brought to mind an interview I did with Miss Gish in Washington, D.C., in the nineteen eighties. In 1984, she was the recipient of the American Film Institutes's Life Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center, but I believe I interviewed her in 1987 when she was making THE WHALES OF AUGUST and was part of the evening lecture series at the Smithsonian Institution.

She was born in 1893 so she was 94 years old when we met. I noticed how tiny she was. She wore an ancient, but beautifully made, velvet suit with a collar of real French lace, probably by one of the old Paris designers--Worth, Chanel, or Lanvin--and she had on a little velvet and lace cloche hat that matched.

I was working with camerawoman Nina Falvello that day and we both cracked up when the first thing Miss Gish said to us, as we were setting up was: "Now I want a high camera there, young lady, and a low light. High camera: low light. That's how I look best." Well okay, we said, thinking how funny it was that a 94-year-old lady would be that vain. We were very young and stupid back then.

La Gish in her 30s.

But since I am a lover of jewelry, I must tell you what I remember best about Miss Gish: her gorgeous opals. She had a huge choker of them around her neck, a matching bracelet with several strands of opals on each wrist, matching earrings, a large opal ring, and a pin of opals on her hat.

"Oh yes, my dear," she said when I asked her about them. "Mr. Griffith gave them to me you know."

Mr. Griffith was D.W. Griffith, probably the greatest of the directors of silent films. They worked together from 1912 until about 1920 when she moved on to work for other companies, joining the MGM of Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg in 1925. There were always rumors that Gish and Griffith were more than friends, and I asked her about that, but she was pretty deaf and only heard the word "Griffith" and began telling me what a great director he was. She had an elderly gentleman with her who was a press agent or manager who knew her well and when she couldn't hear my question, he would repeat it to her and she was able to understand his voice better than my own.

Miss Gish in her eighties. She still had two more decades of acting ahead.

Miss Gish never married and from the things I've read about her I have wondered from time to time if she ever really liked men. But, those aren't the kinds of things one finds out in an interview with an ancient star at the Smithsonian. Nor about anything much besides her professional life.

Her mentor, D.W. Griffith, did not do well as silent films grew more sophisticated and as they then moved into the era of sound. He planned comebacks, drank too much and died of a stroke in 1948.

Little Miss Gish was made of sterner stuff. After her career as an ingenue began to fade, she starred on Broadway and continued to move back and forth between the stage and character parts in films. You may have seen her in her wonderful supporting role in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, with Robert Mitchum in 1955, or in her one hundredth film, Robert Altman's A WEDDING in 1978, or in THE WHALES OF AUGUST, made the year of my interview with her.

It was a delight to meet her and she signed the copy of her book I'm reading today in her neat hand: "For Robin--With every fond wish/Lillian Gish."

She died in 1993, just eight months short of her one hundredth birthday. I read in the New York Times that she left her suite of opals to her friend, the actress Helen Hayes. When Hayes died just a few months later I said to myself: "Oh no! The opals! I wonder who will get them now?" But Hayes has a son you may have heard of--the actor James MacArthur--and he himself has three children, so I'm figuring those opals, with their mysterious history, have very likely found a nice home.

But as to a romance with Griffith? We'll probably never know the real story. Richard Schickel, in his biography of Griffith (D.W. Griffith: An American Life--Simon and Schuster, 1984) says even Lillian's sister Dorothy told friends she could only speculate, " ... as to what, exactly, her sister and Griffith did when they walked out together." And what is it to us in any case? Gish left a body of work that speaks for her now--from BROKEN BLOSSOMS and WAY DOWN EAST in the silent era to the more modern THE COMEDIANS and SWEET LIBERTY and others.

Anyway, I think we know the truth. Do you know a man who would give that many opals to a woman ... friend?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rural California Above the Bay Area Bustle

I figured it was time to take a break from unpacking and rearranging my furniture. On Tuesday, I was out at Moffett Field, taking my parents grocery shopping at the commissary on this former Navy Base, and from the field you had a clear view southward of Mt. Hamilton, which had a nice little covering of snow. Atop Mt. Hamilton is Lick Observatory, one of the world's great astronomical observatories, now an adjunct to the University of California. Ah, said I, I feel a road trip coming on.

A photo of Lick Observatory on 2/11/09 from what it calls its Hamcam.

My father was always interested in astronomy, and once, when my sister and I were really little, the family went up to Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton after supper one evening. We must have been really young, because I think we went up the mountain in our jammies, and put on coats and shoes when we arrived. It was summer because it wasn't cold up there and we had daylight as we drove up. Later that night, I remember falling asleep in the back seat of our huge Chevrolet as it gently rocked us down the twisty road from the mountaintop to the valley and home.

Yesterday I went on the Lick Observatory Web site and learned that the building is no longer open at night to the public, except for special events in the summer. But it is open during the day to visitors, and there are tours until 5:00 p.m. I decided to start out after 9:00 a.m. to miss the South Bay commuter traffic.

Highway 130, the Mt. Hamilton Road, is at the southernmost end of the Santa Clara Valley, a few miles south of the city of San Jose. The suburbs have sprawled down historic Alum Rock Road and out to the highway turnoff. But then the world out the car window really begins to change.

There aren't too many places to snap a photo on this highway so I took advantage on any turnout I could find.

California has 38 million people and has an economy that is among the top ten in the world. It is a state that is as big and as rich as a nation. But in the foothills of Mt. Hamilton at the edge of San Francisco Bay there are no longer millions of people. There are acres and acres of land and only a handful of human beings.

A lonely farmhouse on the Mount Hamilton Road.

It is absolutely stunning to take the hairpin turns of the road built a century ago for the wagons that carried the original equipment up to the observatory. Stretched out below are the millions of people in the valley that spawned Google and Yahoo and Netscape and HP and Intel. And here, as the road winds upward is the rural California of old. At the turnoff to Highway 130 the sensor on my car's exterior said the temperature was 50 degrees (F) but as I climbed up the mountain the temperature dropped to 43(F). The top of Mt. Hamilton is only 22 miles from San Jose, but it is more than a world a way: it is also a different micro climate.

What a beautiful world so close to San Francisco.

I saw a coyote slink across the road and edge around a group of cows in a field. I saw several hand-lettered signs offering firewood for sale. And I finally relaxed on the drive after the long days of moving stress. You have to concentrate to negotiate a road like Highway 130. There are almost no turnouts and in several places it seems there is only room for one car as you go around blind curves. I noticed a restaurant halfway up the mountain that I'd like to come back to some evening. What a spectacular view it would have of the lights below.

My morning was almost perfect. But it ended in a surprise. I was within a few miles of the summit when I reached this sign:

The clouds ahead that obscured the top of Mt. Hamilton must have been producing ice and snow and the road wasn't safe ahead. The mountain is above 4,000 feet and the forecast had said there might be icy weather at those elevations. Hard to believe when it wasn't even raining where I sat just a few miles from the summit.

I turned the car around and headed back down into the valley. I wasn't really disappointed. It had been a restful morning, and I looked forward to coming back another time. And I had discovered that it was all about the journey, not the destination. Just like life.

You can glimpse the Santa Clara Valley and the Bay between the trees.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Here She's at Rest Where She Wanted to Be

My place has that certain something, don't you think? What is that something? Chaos!

Los Altos, California 7:00 a.m. My favorite image from moving day--Saturday, February 7, 2009--is of the young man the B/M movers hired (from in front of the Walmart, I'm guessing) coming up the stairs with a box marked FRAGILE, holding it about waist high, dropping it to the floor with a thud and saying to me: "Is here okay?" [The same day I wrote the above line, I found the plate at the bottom of that very box: smithereens.]

What a fun day we had.

The trouble is, though I've unpacked for two straight days, there are still so many boxes around I can't figure out where they are coming from. And worse yet, my house looks like one of those apartments owned by a little old lady who has way too many things and way too little space and the place looks overrun with knick knacks.

Wait. I am a little old lady. I do have too many knick knacks.

The only really bad part so far, except for the entire day the movers were here, and the two days since, is that I can't yet get into my office. I'm working at the kitchen table this morning, and that isn't so bad, as the coffee maker is percolating behind me and there is a fire in the fireplace to dispel the chill of the morning.

Now, if I could just find my printer.

The first two nights, the chill was a bit too nippy: it was 48 degrees (F) outside, and the gas heater hadn't been turned on nor the pilot light lit, so I was definitely roughing it. I had a fire in the fireplace then also, but it was so windy outside the smoke blew back down the chimney and all day I smelled like a Camp Fire Girl. Plus, my smoke alarm kept going off and waking the neighbors. But other than that, my first few days in the new place have been a laugh riot.

My Dad is a little confused. For the first week I stayed at my parents' home and he thought that was great. Now I'm over there for dinner, but then I leave to go "home" and he says, "But this is your home." He knows I have a place nearby but he forgets from time to time. He's told me he plans to walk over, and five years ago he could have, striding the mile's distance on his long legs in record time. But now he's using a walker and his walking is limited to a half block or so, not a mile.

After my sister and brother-in-law arrived with the Volvo, and before the horror of moving day, we found a place to buy genuine Los Altos Blenheim dried apricots (more about that later) and we drove up into the hills to buy them. It was a cold, rainy day, but the hills were covered with the soft yellow blooms of wild mustard. Just wait until the apricot trees are in blossom in a few weeks.

Moving has been difficult. But I know I am going to like being home.

P.S. I just hope we don't have an earthquake before I get all the knick knacks stuck down with Sticky Strips.

The Swedish car lived in Florida for the first four years of her life and said to me Friday: "It rains here in the winter?" Anyway, I got to test her heater for the first time.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Swede Crosses America

Robin’s note: when I decided to move from Florida to California, I had a decision to make about my car, a four-year-old Volvo V-40 wagon. I had driven across the United States once before in an Audi with my cats, and I didn’t relish doing it again, with or without feline company. Then, my sister and her husband volunteered to drive the car for me, allowing me to go on ahead by air (see my letter to Richard Branson regarding the fun I had on that trip!).

Thus it was, my Swedish car made the cross-country trip without me. With just 25,000 miles on her odometer and two relatives taking turns at the wheel, the sprightly Swede hit the road and, upon her arrival in California, she filed this report.

“You are now leaving the Florida Panhandle and headed across the Louisiana causeways. Two words: cruise control.”

“Finally stopped for a drink—hey, I get 31 MPG on the highway so I don't have to stop to refresh that often. Those African violets in the back are my owner’s idea of moving something for sentimental reasons. As if.”

“A stop at Southern Produce, east of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to purchase the usual agricultural products that will later be confiscated at the California border.”

“I had always wanted to see the mighty Mississippi. Unfortunately, excitement-wise, when you cross this particular bridge you go from Louisiana to … Louisiana. Not much to write Stockholm about.”

“Aargh. Scary topiary alligators. And we aren’t even at Disney!”

“Everything is bigger in Texas.”

"Everything except gas prices. We only paid $1.71 per gallon here in the Lone Star State.”

"From Swedish stars, Greta, and Ingrid, etc., I know of Rodeo Drive, but in Pecos, Texas?"

"I stopped in Roswell, N.M. to see if I could speed up the trip by hitching some kind of other-worldly ride. But the closest thing to strange, was that street lamp. (But now I do have a missing half day I can’t account for.)"

"Those two words again. Doze and drive."

"Then, near sunset, we had contact with this unidentified flying object. And in this part of New Mexico, the speed limit is 80 MPH, so we really were flying."

"You can’t travel the West without falling in love with it, just a little bit."

"What remains of an old Route 66 bridge, in New Mexico. I sure wish Buz and Tod had gotten their hands on my wheel."

"Whew. It was all downhill from here."

"Nice to know at least some native Americans have found a market for their traditionally made products."

"Ariziona? 911? Uh, excuse me, but I think I have a dinosaur stuck to my front window."

"Don’t go off the road here. Those mesas look like Mystery Mountain where, legends say, old prospectors go missing."

"Speaking of old prospectors: didn’t these fellas just step into my shot from TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE? Looks like Fred C. Dobbs’ has lost his burros again. (By the way, never call a very small burro a burrito. I found that out the hard way.)"

"Eureka! The Golden State at last. Except … "

"... This is what happens when you try to transport geraniums across state lines. Now how in the world did they know we planned to smoke them?"

"After three thousand miles I’m still in tune. Here’s a California bungalow near where I will be living (not my own). Take it from a Swede: you Americans have a really nice, big country, with some mighty fine roads."

Photos by Kimberly.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

We Need a Posse to Help Roy and Dale! Guest Blog by Steve Latshaw

Robin's note: in December we published a piece by screenwriter Steve Latshaw about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and the impact they've had on so many of us, from the time we were little cowboys and cowgirls. That piece put Steve in touch with the Rogers clan, and from them he learned of new trouble on the horizon for this American hero and his legacy. But I'll let him tell it, the way he told it to me ...

“Roy needs our help!”

Roy Rogers, that is. I have a dim memory of some famous Republic Pictures Movie Cowboy uttering that line in the 1945 Roy & Dale classic BELLS OF ROSARITA. In that movie, one of my all time favorites, Roy is trying to help Dale Evans save her circus from a group of nefarious villains and help keep all the circus performers and workers alive and working. All she needs is money, visitors and something for people to come see. Roy thinks he can help. At the time, he’s finishing one of his pictures, featuring an orphan boys choir singing a heartbreakingly beautiful arrangement of the title tune. But he soon finds out he can’t help Dale save the attraction alone.

Roy needs more help. So he calls his studio, Republic Pictures. One by one, the greatest Cowboy stars ever to step before movie cameras in the San Fernando Valley pop up as the call to arms spreads through the studio lot: “Roy needs our help!”

Before long, William “Wild Bill” Elliott, Bob Livingston, Sunset Carson, Allan “Rocky” Lane, and Don “Red “ Barry, join Gabby Hayes, the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy and Dale to defeat the bad guys. And in the grand climax, all that expensive movie flesh puts on a show for the locals, bringing in plenty of visitors and revenue, and Roy and Dale’s Attraction stays open.

Dear Lord, how I wish I could pick up the phone and call Republic Pictures today. Because Roy’s in trouble ... and he needs our help!

As I detailed in the last article, the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Attraction moved from Victorville, California, to Branson, Missouri in 2003 for various financial reasons. Primary on the list: tourism. Nobody visits Victorville on the way to Vegas any more. But they all travel to Branson. I figured that was the end of the story. The happy ending in the last reel of the movie. But unfortunately, we haven’t made it to the last reel yet, and Roy and Dale’s Attraction in Branson is in serious trouble. Roy Rogers, Jr., Roy’s son--“Dusty” to his friends--was as blunt as he could be when I asked him what was the worst that could happen, and how soon?

“The doors to the Museum honoring a great American couple and time period in America could be closed permanently--as soon as this year.”

So I sat down with Dusty and with Dustin, Roy’s Grandson who handles day to day operations. I wanted to know why. And I wanted to know how we could help.

We started with how they ended up in Branson.

“The move to Branson came a few years after Dad's passing. Mom & I visited Branson the year Dad passed away, 1998. We were there doing a Western cowboy festival with the Sons of the Pioneers. Mom & I were so touched by the reception of all the folks in Branson. Mom said, 'If anything ever happens to me, you kids really ought to think about bringing the Museum to Branson!'"

Roy and Dale were a terrific team.

I asked her, 'Why, Mom?' She answered, 'The folks of the Midwest still have morals and ethics and family values! The Museum needs to be there.'"

So after Dale passed away, there was a family vote. “The kids all got together and voted whether to close the museum for good or do as Mom wanted and move it to Branson. We all voted unanimously to bring the Museum to Branson. It only made sense. Branson is a family-oriented town that still promotes God and country, just the things that Roy and Dale stood for. And, the average age of Branson’s visitors falls right into the age bracket of Roy and Dales fans today.

Over a period of months, the monumental task of moving a lifetimes’ worth of memorabilia moved forward, back East, in an odd irony, retracing pioneer steps across country from Southern California to Missouri. “We brought everything to Branson from Victorville with the exception of the mounts from Roy’s hunting expeditions. Due to space restrictions, we have to rotate some of our displays each year to bring out items we still have in storage in the backroom.”

And they added to the attraction, fulfilling some dreams Roy and Dale had but were unable to accomplish in Victorville. A theater for one, as Dusty and his band perform daily, preserving the classic Western standards and hits that Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers made famous for decades. “We have an intimate 300-seat theater where “Dusty” performs a live show at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday during the season.” And a brand new addition to the show in 2008 was Dustin Roy Rogers, grandson to Roy and son to Roy Jr., singing in the tradition of his father and grandfather before him.

Roy's Grandson Dustin Roy Rogers, looking an awful lot like the original Roy at the family's Branson, Missouri attraction.

Contents of the museum section of the attraction offer a cross section of American Western and movie history, as well as a chance to revisit some old animal friends. “Not only do we have Roy & Dale’s personal collection and professional memorabilia on display, but our museum is also home to Trigger, Trigger Jr., Buttermilk, Bullet, and Pat Brady’s Jeep, Nellybelle.” And the museum admission also includes an in-depth look at Roy’s motion picture work. Film presentations include two documentaries--one featuring Roy, Dale, and the family and the other featuring Roy and his sidekicks during his long career.

But this is less a museum than it is an “attraction.” There are lots of fun things to do--interactive fun, as befits this more modern age. Upon entering the lobby, there is a great shooting gallery which attracts the kid in every visitor. This shooting gallery resembles the jail set from the 1950s Roy Rogers-Dale Evans TV series. There’s a “bad guy” behind the bars and figures of Roy, Dale and sidekick Pat Brady dressed in original costumes from the TV series. Gabby Hayes is in there, too, for sentimental reasons and because ya just can’t have too many sidekicks.

Behind all this, my favorite jeep, Nellybelle, is crashing through the jail office wall. Inside this spectacular set are 22 separate targets to fire at. Each "target hit" activates more action--some of them actually shoot water back at the visiting cowboy or cowgirl who straps on a six gun.

Wannabe cowpokes can also try their hand at roping calves. Adults can sling authentic PRCA ropes and the kids can bulldog “dummy steers”--roping steers made from horseshoes.

Younger Rough Riders can enjoy the cinematic trails, too. Kids can slip into the saddle on top of wooden horses, slap on a complimentary cowboy hat and ride the pretend horseflesh with their cowboy hero while watching continuous running cartoons featuring the likes of such legendary western characters as Pecos Bill. Dustin continues: “We also have an area where kids can rub and sketch pictures of Roy, Dale, Trigger, and Bullet. There’s a table of Lincoln logs where they can play. And older kids love Roy’s rock collection, gun collection, and vehicles on display.”

As for adult visitors, they just love every inch of the museum as they are reminded of a time when life was so much simpler and the good guys always won. The ladies love viewing Dale’s book display and recalling what an inspiration she has been in their life, and, among other things, the men enjoy the sports memorabilia collection. And for me, it always goes back to the movies. Watching the documentaries brings Roy and Dale back on the screen once again--and sends me hightailing it to the gift shop to buy Roy and Dale’s action and song-packed movies on digitally restored DVDs.

Ah, but I’m a fan, you say. It’s 2009, Steve. It’s been almost 20 years since Roy’s last album (Tribute, 1990, featuring the likes of Clint Black and Randy Travis) and TV shows (“Happy Trails Theater” one of the Nashville Network’s highest rated series). And it’s been over thirty years since Roy rode the big screen range in MACKINTOSH AND T.J. I know, you’re dying to ask. Does Roy Rogers still matter?

Well, I’ve got some questions for you. Does John Wayne still matter? Elvis Presley?

Do your own memories still matter? What about watching that 4th of July parade with Dad? You were sitting on his shoulder, one hand on your heart, the other hand on Dad’s cheek, feeling the wet tears of pride on his skin as the drill team marched past carrying the Stars and Stripes. That’s a memory burned into your heart and soul. Does that still matter?

What about America? The America that’s still standing after you clear away the noise and political nonsense and the teen idols and the plain old gibberish, the America that means something, the people that keep trying to do their best and wind up doing even better, no matter how hard it is for them. The people and the land we love. Does America still matter?

Here it is, from Dusty: “Today, more than ever, America’s youth needs heroes they can look up to who define right from wrong and set forth an example of how to live your life and treat others. Roy and Dale were exemplary. It is our mission to carry on this legacy to today’s generation.”

Our mission, indeed. Roy Rogers is America. He was a simple man, growing up under tough conditions, trying to make it in this world and then trying to make this world better. That is who we are, as Americans. And that’s who Roy and Dale were, and are. Their charity work was endless: the family has supported numerous children’s charities over the years such as The Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs, Christian Action Ministries, Mental Retardation Foundation, Robin’s Place, Rotary, and the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District.

There’s a reason the very mention of their names brings a smile to faces all over the world. “Roy and Dale were part of almost every child’s life who grew up in the forties and fifties. The youth who spent their Saturdays at the movies watching their heroes on the silver screen cherish that innocent time growing up in America. Roy and Dale never let those kids down. Who the kids saw on screen was the same Roy and Dale they met at the rodeos and guest appearances across the country. This couple never hid their faith, and they encouraged their fans as they grew into adulthood to do the same.”

And you see it every time a visitor shows up. “Grown men often stop by the Box Office and admit to shedding tears reliving precious memories of their childhood while strolling through the Museum. We’ve been told that we should have tissue boxes mounted permanently by the Trigger window as the sight of this beloved horse brings a flood of emotion. We’ve had both men and women who walk in saying they only came to the Museum because of their spouse. But upon leaving they stop by and tell us they were so happy they came and how wonderful the tour made them feel."

"I guess that’s because we so often hear that the museum isn’t really like most cold feeling museums. Our museum is really a personal visit with an American couple who greatly influenced the youth who grew up in the l940s and 1950s. For those who attend the live show, they almost always say our show is the best show they’ve seen in Branson, and these folks indicate they’ve been coming to Branson shows for years. The folks are delighted Dusty is keeping Roy & Dale’s legacy alive by keeping the Museum open and by his performance in the live show in the theater. The folks are delighted to see Dustin added to the show. They always remark how much he resembles the young Roy they used to see on the silver screen, and they are so glad that a younger family member is continuing the legacy."

"Most often we hear; 'Roy Rogers was my hero!' 'I’m probably Roy’s biggest fan.'

And more than anything else, 'I am who I am today because of Roy Rogers.'”

Well, pardners, I am who am I today because of Roy Rogers. And I get excited thinking about this legacy. Truth is, there are plans afoot for new film and television projects that get my heart beating faster than when I was a front row kid and Roy and Trigger started a chase scene, running wild, fast and free through the boulders and trails in Chatsworth, California, across the silver screen and into the TV in my living room.

But as I said earlier: we haven’t reached the last reel yet, the happy ending. And there is big time trouble afoot. I asked Dusty what was the first step to turning things around. His answer surprised me: “Bodies in the seats. The two things people say to us after they tour the attraction are ‘thank you for doing this' and 'I didn’t know you were here.'”

“I didn’t know you were here.” Wow. America needs Roy Rogers more than ever and the majority of his fans don’t know he’s still here. His spirit is alive and well in the very heartland of America, Branson, Missouri. So we need to get the word out. Roy’s in Branson. He needs our help. Go see him.

Some financial facts from Dusty. “We have been losing money, and we are barely holding on as of this interview. The museum is struggling to stay open. We have $32,000 a month due in rent alone. We desperately need to purchase the building through donations. The building housing the Museum & Theater is up for sale. We would love to be able to purchase the building, but the price is $2,995,000. We do not have the money, nor do we have the money for a down payment which would considerably lower our monthly lease payment.”

We talked some about the economy in general and Branson in particular. “It’s no secret the economy’s downturn has affected our attendance at the Museum. When times are tough, entertainment is definitely not on the list of priorities for individuals when there is little enough money for food, housing expenses, and gasoline.“

And Branson is having its own problems. Dustin nods. “We thought 2007 was a down year in Branson, but 2008 was worse. Of course the state of the economy is the main reason for low attendance. Fans tell us they would love to come but they are afraid to take any trips right now because of economic uncertainty. When the economy is healthy, folks tell us how much they enjoy Branson and they love to visit several times a year.”

But that may just be a problem of perception. Typically, particularly in America’s Heartland, one would think far off destinations would be the first items crossed off America’s vacation wish list. You’d think a place closer to home, like Branson, might do better. Dustin agrees, “Even in down times folks still need to do something for entertainment. For two-thirds of America’s population, Branson is just a one-day car trip away.”

So this screenwriter, yours truly, immediately begins thinking about tag lines, promo lines: “America’s West is now in your own backyard! Come and visit the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum: We’re closer than you think!” Positive stuff like that. Because that’s how we can help. We have to spread the word and get bodies in the seats. We have to keep this legacy alive.

I’ll close with Roy’s own Prayer, words than never fail to bring a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat, especially when I hear them in his voice:

“Lord, I reckon I'm not much just by myself,
I fail to do a lot of things I ought to do.
But Lord, when trails are steep and passes high,
Help me ride it straight the whole way through.

And when in the falling dusk I get that final call,
I do not care how many flowers they send,
Above all else, the happiest trail would be
For YOU to say to me, "Let's ride, My Friend"

Happy Trails from Hollywood.
Steve Latshaw

Roy's son Dusty and grandson Dustin are part of a terrific show in Branson, Missouri.

To Contact the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Museum & Attraction for Donations, large and small or to join the ROY ROGERS RIDERS CLUB, please contact:

(Available Tuesday through Saturday, 9am-5pm Central Standard Time)
417-339-1900, ext. #222
or feel free to email at

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