Mack Houston, “Trail Boss” of The Tennessee Western Film Club, is proud of his group’s recent accomplishment – celebrating its 34thanniversary on Feb. 16, 2007.
Mack said the recent meeting was devoted to deceased members: Howard Ferguson, Carl Oliver, Chester Hand, Richard Arrowood, Ray Hall and Clyde Livingston. “Clyde and Carl were original members of the club. We are appreciative of the efforts of Joe Fair during his presidency. Joe furnished 16mm films for many years from his own collection or borrowed from collectors.”
The meeting featured a lively agenda: 7:00 – Marshal of Reno (Republic, 1944) with Wild Bill Elliott (Red Ryder) and Bobby Blake (Little Beaver), 7:45 – Intermission and snack break, 8:45 – The News Parade of the Year – 1942 and 9:00 – The Ivory-Handled Gun (Universal, 1935) with Buck Jones. The club developed a top ten list of its favorite B-western flicks of all time:
1. The Rider of Death Valley (Tom Mix, 1932), 2. Bells of San Angelo (Roy Rogers, 1947), 3. The Sundown Rider (Buck Jones, 1933), 4. Sante Fe Saddlemates (Sunset Carson, 1945), 5. The Marshall of Mesa City (George O’Brien, 1939), 6. Hop-A-Long Cassidy (William “Hoppy” Boyd, 1935), 7. Overland Mail Robbery (Bill Elliott, 1949), 8. End of the Trail (Tim McCoy, 1932), 9. The Strawberry Roan (Gene Autry, 1948) and 10. My Pal Trigger (Roy Rogers, 1946).
The club was formed in Mack’s Elizabethton home on Feb. 8, 1973. After initially meeting at the Senior Citizen Center and the Emergency Rescue Squad Building, it eventually moved to Mountain Home Theatre in Johnson City. In 1991, Mack invited the group to gather at his Piney Flats residence, where the organization remains to this day. The films have utilized three formats over the years – 16mm, VHS and DVD.
Since its inception, the club has supported B-western film festivals in Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, Atlanta, Knoxville, Asheville and Williamsburg. A large number of B-western stars were regular attendees including: Bob Steele, Charles Starrett, Ray Corrigan, Kirby Grant (Sky King), George O’Brien, Fred Scott, Ray Whitley, Lash LaRue, Sunset Carson, Bob Allen, Rex Allen, Smith Ballew, Don Barry, Rod Cameron, Harry Carey, Jr., Michael Chapin, Buster Crabbe, Eddie Dean, Jimmy Ellison, Dick Foran, Monte Hale, Russell Hayden, John Kimbrough, Robert Livingston, Jock Mahoney, George Montgomery, Max Terhune, Tex Ritter, Reb Russell, Jimmy Wakely and James Warren.
Other special guests were leading ladies, villains and stuntmen. Over time, television western stars began to be attracted to the annual events. Sadly, Monte Hale is the only B-western hero living today. (Update: Hale died on March 29, 2009).
Mack recalled attending four B-western films in Feb. 1936 at Johnson City’s Liberty Theatre: Gallant Defender (Charles Starrett), The Ivory-Handled Gun (Buck Jones), Bulldog Courage (Tim McCoy) and Western Courage (Ken Maynard). The group’s attendance dwindled from 150 members in 1972 to fewer than a dozen in 2007, one explanation being that some fans acquired their own collections.
Mack concluded by saying, “We are not sure how long the club will continue; our members are getting older. Most of our western heroes are long gone, but we still thrill at the sight of seeing them ride across the screen. We travel back to the days of childhood when we attended the local theatres and watched our heroes ride their horses and catch the bad guys. They were the “'good old days.'”