The California Cowboy
SIX DEGREES OF COWBOY JIM
by Jim Nichols
There is a fun parlor game called SIX DEGREES OF KEVIN BACON. The premise is anyone in the film industry can be linked through their film roles to Kevin Bacon within 6 steps. The one who does it the fastest is the winner.
|L. Q. Jones|
I was chugging a cool one in our local cantina with Terry, a movie producer, and John a retired Disney engineer. Terry suddenly looked at her watch and said “ L.Q. Jones is supposed to meet me here at half past noon. Do you guys want to meet him?” “Who is L.Q. Jones?” asked John. “ He is a name most don’t recognize with a face everyone knows” I said. “And yes Terry I’ve met him years ago at the Golden Boot Awards. He won’t remember me but I would like to meet him again.” John said nothing and sat there making small talk with the bartender. Not long after, looking out the window, Terry said “L.Q. just drove into the parking lot.” She disappeared out the door to greet him. After about ten minutes she stuck her head back in and said “Jim come out and say hi to L.Q.” I stepped out into the bright sun light and there he stood next to a vintage M.G. Roadster surrounded by admirers talking to him about his car which he said was for sale. He was shorter than I remembered. I knew he was in his late 80’s but he looked healthy and handsome sporting a big shock of white hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. Sheepishly I approached, not wanting to disturb the conversations, and offered a hand. He took it with a big grin and asked with a wink “do I owe you money?” All laughed and L.Q. said “let’s go inside and get out of the heat.” Star whore that I am I said “L.Q. I’ll buy you lunch and a margarita for the pleasure of talking with you about your movie career.” “Done” he said “alcohol is not my friend. I’ll have a coke.” He is one of the friendliest actors I have ever met. For the next hour he and I talked about all the things we had in common. He was pleased I had seen most of his movies and many of his T.V. performances. From the age of six I was glued to the T.V. watching westerns. L.Q. was in most of them. L.Q. estimated he has been on camera close to 200 times. His career started in 1955 and I believe he said his last performance was in 2004. L.Q. and I have Texas in common. He was born in Beaumont and went to the University of Texas at Austin. I married a Texan and graduated from Abilene Christian University a few hours north of Austin. L.Q. and I have and had several friends in common. He worked with Johnny Crawford on the Rifleman. Johnny has been to my house and I have been to his. He knew the late Paul Harper who was a wonderful actor from Abilene, Texas. Paul spent many hours on my couch laughing a talking about his movie career. His favorite film was THE WILD BUNCH where he along with L.Q. were part of Deke Thornton ( Robert Ryan’s) posse. When I mentioned the WILD BUNCH L.Q. lit up. He repeatedly referred to it as “The Bunch.” Half of our hour long conversation was about that remarkable film. The WILD BUNCH was made in Mexico in 1968. It was budgeted at 3.5 million with a shooting schedule of 70 days. The budget ballooned to 6 million and it took 80 days to make it. It was the crown jewel in Director Sam Peckinpah’s career. “I have a WILD BUNCH 8X10 Bo Hopkins photo hanging on my wall” I told him. Bo signed it “to Jim you can kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass!” I was a bit taken a back by the wording until Bo laughed and said “Jim that is my greatest line in the WILD BUNCH, I delivered it just before Robert Ryan’s bounty hunter characters blasted me all over the screen like an exploding pizza.”” Bo is a good man” said L.Q.” And Strother Martin?” I inquired. “One of my very best friends” he said. “Strother and I were doing the scene where he and I shot some members of Pike’s (William Holden’s) gang and we were fighting over the spoils when Holden first arrived on location. He watched us perform then told Peckenpah he had to go to his motel room.” Why” inquired Sam? Because these guys are good and I have to go study my lines” he said. “ Sam Peckenpah was one of the most difficult directors in the industry to work for” said L.Q.” He drank all of the time and at the same time was a workaholic. However, I was in his stock company and appeared in his Klondike series (1960-1961), Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Ballad of Cable Hogue(1970) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid(1973)”. He added “our friend Paul Harper was also in the Pat Garrett movie and died a beautiful slow motion squib exploding death in that one” I told L.Q. “I saw Peckinpah (didn’t meet him) when he was shooting Junior Bonner with Steve McQueen in 1972. I had a gig as a disc jockey at KNOT RADIO (1450 on the dial) when the movie company rolled into town. I stood on the side lines, with other gawkers and watched McQueen and Peckinpah work. Because I was the local radio talent they allowed me to get close to the filming” I said, “Did you know McQueen?” I asked. “Does a duck have flat feet” he remarked. Working the six degrees I volunteered “I met McQueen twice. Once when my dad reduced his dislocated shoulder (dad was an orthopaedic surgeon) I just happened to be in the E.R. at the time. And another time when I was on my Triumph motorcycle and he pulled up next to me on his. I would like to say we had a conversation at that time but it was more like two words from him to me…”nice bike!” “Ben Johnson was a principal in the Wild Bunch and I knew him” I bragged. “I bought a bronze of him and his movie horse Blackie from artist Jimmy Don Cox and when I would occasionally run into him at parties and functions he would ask ‘how is my bronze doing?” “Everybody liked Ben” said L.Q. “We called him Uncle Ben. It was sad when he and John Ford had a falling out” he commented. More degrees: L.Q. asked me what I did for a living these days? I told him I was a retired lawyer and spent most of my time on my cattle ranch. He said he owned a cow/calf operation in Nicaragua. It was over 2000 acres.” We had fresh water sharks in the ponds and every now and then they would eat a leg off a cow.” He said that without smiling and I wonder even now if he was pulling MY leg. “Any close calls when making movies?” I asked. “Several” he said. “The latest was when we were shooting the mining cart sequence in THE MASK OF ZORRO (1997) with Catherine Zeta Jones. There was not much head room for me when I rode that mining cart down an incline. There were nasty bolts sticking out of a metal frame inches from my face as I zipped by.” Any accidents on THE WILD BUNCH?” I wanted to know. “We almost killed two stuntmen when Sam blew up the bridge” he said. They got caught on cables underwater and Strother and I pulled them loose.” As he was finishing his meal I asked if he was married? “Once 1950 to 1973” he replied. I think he said he had 3 kids but I’m not positive about that. He seemed more comfortable talking about his movies than his personal life. “Is L.Q. Jones your real name?” “Nope, it is the name of the character I played in my break out roll in BATTLE CRY in 1955.” I didn’t pry further but later learned his birth name is Justice Ellis McQueen, Jr. “I don’t buy autographs L.Q.” I said “but I sure would like to have a signed picture of you from the WILD BUNCH.” He gave me his home address and phone number and said “Jim, you come up with the picture and I will come up with the autograph.” By the time this is published, if ever, that cowboy will be smiling down on me from my hall wall next to John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Gene Autry. So there you have it my friends. SIX DEGREES, maybe more. Texas, Johnny Crawford, Paul Harper, Bo Hopkins, Sam Peckinpah, Steve McQueen, Ben Johnson and cattle ranching. I win!
After L.Q. left my Disney friend wandered over and said “I recognized that actor immediately. Jim why didn’t you bring him over and introduce him to me?” I said “because when I’m star whoring and playing Six Degrees I steer around the bar room speed bumps.” He didn’t think that was funny.
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