Remember when Hollywood swept into New Mexico in the 1960s, ruthlessly taking over hearth and home from innocent, downtrodden natives who had carved a state out of the wilderness after moving here during the Eisenhower years?
I was a United Press foreign correspondent in Santa Fe at the time — my specialty was banana republics — and had hired an eager female reporter to do footwork while I sat at a nearby soda fountain, reading newspapers and clipping stories. One day I saw that Hollywood was shooting a movie nearby called “Nobody Likes a Drunk Indian.”
I called my reporter. “Judy, contact all the Indian leaders in the state and get reactions to that movie title.”
Properly disciplined under my expert guidance, she replied, “Who is this?”
“Spare the wit, sweetheart,” I said. “Just get on the horn.” As a tough and seasoned newsman, I often used language like that.
The movie, filmed on a nearby Indian reservation, was already half completed and starred Anthony Quinn when my story hit the wire. Quinn was a big name in those days, known for his multifaceted career in such diverse roles as Zorba the Greek, Zorba the Indian, Zorba the Mayor, Zorba the Arab and Zorba the Mobster.
Of course the Indian leaders took unprecedented umbrage to the title, as I knew they would, and raised such a fuss that filming shut down until a new title and fresh extras could be found, which took about three months. As it turned out, the movie was a flop anyway, so it didn’t really matter.
Or so I thought until I received a phone call from New York asking if I had initiated the drunken Indian story. “Why, yes,” I said, my fingers twitching to clutch a Pulitzer Prize trophy for journalistic pomposity.
“Well, you’re going to like Kansas,” New York said.
To shorten this story, one of United Press’s prestigious newspaper clients had invested earnings in the Quinn movie and lost $5 million. He blamed my story.
Since it would have created a bookkeeping hardship to withhold that much from my salary the next year, it was thought best to award me a sabbatical to a less worrisome quagmire. Have you ever been to Wichita? In the summer?
But that wasn’t the only brush I had with Hollywood. The second time I coincidentally caused John Wayne’s famous cowboy hat to disappear, never to be seen again except at wild New Year’s Eve parties.
It happened like this:
My 16-year-old son, Glen, and I volunteered to be stand-ins in a movie filmed in New Mexico called “The Cowboys.” Glen was John Wayne’s stand-in, and I was Slim Pickens’. I said, “How come I never get to be the hero? How come?”
Glen said, “That’s show biz, Dad. Nyah, nyah, nyah!”
If you’re not familiar with stand-ins, they’re the guys who sit around movie sets all day being measured, lighted and peered at in various situations, because they’re roughly the same height as some fading actor. Finally the stand-ins are shoved aside, and the stars step forth and flub their lines 40 or 50 times until they sober up.
So in a fit of boredom, Glen stole John Wayne’s famous cowboy hat, and the movie shut down for a week because the Duke, a bit peevishly I thought, refused to go on camera without his famous headgear. A clone finally was flown in from California.
Naturally I confiscated the hat to return it, and Glen whined incessantly for months afterward. “How come I never get to wear the hat? How come, huh, huh?”
And I said. “That’s show biz, Glen. Nyah, nyah, nyah!”
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales