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Western Film Fair saddles up for another round-up in Winston-Salem

by Mark Burger

The 36 th annual Western Film Fair rides again, opening Thursday, July 11 and running through Saturday, July 13 at the Hawthorne Inn in Winston- Salem.

The event is presented by the Western Film Preservation Society, Inc., which is “dedicated to the preservation of the great Western movies of films and classic television.”

This is a festival steeped in Western nostalgia, fondly recalling the days of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown, Allan “Rocky” Lane and, yes, the most popular cowboy of them all, John Wayne. Before stardom came in John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939), Wayne made his fair share of small-scale B-Westerns and serials — and he never lost his love for the genre. These vintage Westerns harken back to a more innocent time when the good guys triumphed and the bad guys got what was coming to them. And, along the way, the good guy might pause to sing a song or two.

This year’s Western Film Fair is once again top-heavy with talent, with a star-studded line-up of celebrity guests including Clu Gulager, Dawn Wells, Belinda Montgomery, Morgan Brittany, Sandra Van Natta, Robert Colbert, Michael McGreevey, Jerry Williams, Alias Smith & Owens, Chris Robinson and musical guest Rex Allen Jr. Fellow YES! Weekly columnist Jim Longworth will be profiling some of the guests in his column, having interviewed Robinson last week.

Although all of them have appeared in a big- or smallscreen Western at one time or another, each has also made a mark in other genres. Early in his career, Gulager starred as Billy the Kid on “The Tall Man,” then with Lee J. Cobb and Doug McClure on “The Virginian,” and later tangled with Kenny Rogers in the popular TV movie The Gambler (1980), but his many credits include Don Siegel’s 1964 version of The Killers (opposite Lee Marvin and, in his final film role, Ronald Reagan!), Peter Bogdanovich’s Oscar-winning The Last Picture Show (1971) and the cult horror hits Return of the Living Dead (1984) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). More recently he has appeared in the ultra-gory Feast films directed by his son John.

Wells, of course, was the much-beloved Mary Ann from TV’s “Gilligan’s Island,” but also appeared as a victim of attempted murder in the fact-based 1976 shocker The Town That Dreaded Sundown (which I reviewed in my DVD column not long ago). Montgomery’s credits include a recurring stint on “Miami Vice,” countless guest roles on TV, and the madefor-TV Rosemary’s Baby take-off The Devil’s Daughter (1973) opposite Shelley Winters and Joseph Cotten. I remember being spooked by that on the late show as a kid — and it wasn’t just because of Shelley Winters!

“We’re excited to have them all here,” says Western Film Fair co-chairman Jerry Campbell.

Throughout the event, there will be autograph and photo sessions with the guest stars, screenings of vintage 16-millimeter Westerns, rooms stacked high and higher with memorabilia and other collectibles (posters, lobby cards, magazines, toys, CDs, DVDs, etc.) available for purchase, panel discussions with the stars, live entertainment each night and, of course, the Star Appreciation Banquet on Saturday night, at which the Western Film Fair’s Ernest Tubb Award will be presented.

Having attended the very first Western Film Fair in St. Louis, Campbell says he’s pleased with its longevity and durability these 35 years. He’s loath to pick favorites among the many guest stars the festival has welcomed over the years — “I liked all of ‘em, actually,” he says — but admits he was especially pleased to encounter three of his boyhood heroes in Charles Starrett, Kirby Grant and Eddie Dean, the latter one of the more popular singing cowboys of the 1940s.

As the event closes in on its 40 th year, Campbell says that the Western Film Fair isn’t riding off into the sunset just yet. “We’re already planning for next year,” he says. “We look forward to doing this every year.”

Tickets for the event are $60 (individual three-day pass) and $75 (couple’s three-day pass), $20 (daily pass), and $5 (after 5 pm). The Hawthorne Inn is also offering a special discount rate for event attendees. Call 800.972.3774 and ask for the Western Film Fair rate, or go online at hawthorneinn.com.

For more information about the Western Film Fair, call 828.524.5251 or e-mail cowboys@cometwesterns.com. You can also check out the official website: westernfilmfair.com.

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