A lot of people were involved in filming “True Grit” in 1968 and ‘69. Now a lot of people are involved in celebrating the 50th anniversary of that occasion. Ridgway will be busting at the seams throughout this coming weekend, Oct. 11, 12 and 13.
Bob Dejulio for the past 50 years has been remembered as the artist who transformed Ridgway into an 1873 Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“That whole Main Street (South Lena), I lettered,” said DeJulio. “The biggest share of the buildings were originals with false fronts and signage. The courthouse was made especially for the production. I was working on the courthouse the day the hanging scene was being filmed. I was way up in the air in a boom truck and could look over the entire area. I could hear Henry Hathaway cussin’ over that megaphone. Oh boy! He could make a trooper blush.”
DeJulio will be on hand to tell his interesting and amusing stories this coming weekend. One of the things he will tell about is going 30 miles to the Dallas Divide area in order to paint the McAlester Store that appears in the movie.
“That building was built with the original farm,” says DeJulio. “The other two were built new.”
Originally the building had been the Howard Flats home of the Edgar Haskill family; in fact his son Ray was born there. San Juan scenery from that location is unequaled.
Many locals were recruited to play bit parts or to be in crowd scenes. Jo Devinny was Kim Darby’s stand-in; Tad Mebane was the little boy who was on the swings, then walked to the train; the late Gertrude and Jerald Perotti were heavily involved in several ways as well as Jerald playing the part of the town marshall. He is visible in the scene where Rooster Cogburn is loading prisoners into the paddy wagon.
When the movie filming was finished and clean up of the sets was taking place, the Perottis were able to salvage the steps of the hanging scene scaffolding. Those steps wound up at their home to be used in the garden and gazebo area.
Gertrude Perotti and Bob DeJulio each appear in the film “Travel the Movie Trail” with Jack Elam. The three are sitting inside the True Grit Restaurant in Ridgway, with Perotti playing a short rendition on her mouth harp, in addition to discussing interesting happenings during the original filming of “True Grit.”
Did you realize that the jail wagon was especially built for the “True Grit” movie? According to DeJulio, locals who built it were Joe English, Owen Vaughn and Paul Gibbs. It became “displaced” for a while, but when the Ridgway Community Pride and the Ridgway Lions Club were in the process of building the entrance park at the intersection of U.S. 550 and Colorado 62, it was felt that the jail wagon would be a great focal point.
Community cooperation and volunteerism put the paddy wagon back together again. It will be available during the celebration as a prop for picture-taking.
The late Sylvia Allen, who last worked at the Best Western Motel in Montrose, was so friendly and personable — a true ambassador for our city. For years she worked at Jim Beatty’s Lazy IG, later to become Country Lodge. Crews from movies, as well as the TV series “Then Came Bronson” stayed at the Lazy IG. Allen was the kind who took care of everyone and went out of the way to make sure they had whatever they needed.
“The crews often remarked, ‘We never had people treat us as good as Montrose,’” said Allen. “The Red Arrow Motel had many famous people staying there; I wish I would have taken notes. I had a great working relationship with the cast and crew of True Grit who stayed here several months. My family and I helped babysit for Kim Darby’s baby.”
“I used to tell John Wayne he should never walk along the highway between the motel and Mary’s Cafe. Cars would stop and ask if he was John Wayne and he would say, ‘No, I just look like him,’ but everyone knew it was him. It was like the Pied Piper when he would walk to Mary’s and the Red Barn, but they did leave him alone while he was eating.”
“John Wayne was a fabulous cook — made the best Mexican food you ever tasted. I have several recipes he gave me.”
One of Sylvia’s favorite John Wayne stories came from Chris Quintana who used to tell that John Wayne came into his establishment almost every day while staying here and always sat in the same place, one of the high-walled booths. One night when Wayne, Henry Hathaway and the whole bunch were there, a guy came in and started giving Quintana a hard time. He was making all kinds of threats, taunting Quintana that he wasn’t big enough to throw him out.
“Well then, I will just call on John Wayne to help me,” said Chris.
The guy scoffed, but at the same time, Wayne sauntered over to the guy, looked down at him very seriously and said, “Hey, Pilgrim, are you giving my friend Chris here, a bad time?”
“The guy looked like he had seen a ghost and got out of there as fast as he could,” laughed Sylvia.
Fast forward to next week-end. Be sure to pick up the new commemorative book “True Grit: A Fifty Year Tribute;” take a “True Grit” walk; take a tour of Mattie’s ranch; visit the railroad museum and see the visiting Galloping Goose rail cars; visit the souvenir booth; allow plenty of time to visit the Ouray County Ranch History museum; enter the John Wayne and Wild West Heroes and Villains look-alike contest; listen to the program about “Remarkable Women of the Old West” by Gale Zanett Saunders; and much, much more!
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.