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High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy
June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
No, and the horse didn’t like you. I never knew a horse that did like anybody. Don’t dare tell it to horse lovers, but a horse isn’t too bright. I had the funniest thing happen in the circus. I had a great big palomino stud—he stood seventeen hands high—the dumbest animal I ever knew. He’d ride you right off the side of a roof if you put him over there. So my cowboy would bring him up to me when I was getting ready to go on, and this particular day for my entrance I wore my buckskin jacket. It was made for me by Arapaho squaws, and was smoke-tanned. He smelled that smoked tan and he put his nose right against my chest, and some woman said, “Oh, he knows his master, doesn’t he? He loves his master.”
I said, Oh, oh, don’t forget that one. So what I would do, whenever there were people standing around back there when they brought the horse up, all I’d do is stretch out my arms and he’d come right straight up and put his nose against my chest to smell that smoke. He knows his master! He didn’t give a damn about me.
Tell me a little bit about what happened when sound came to motion pictures.
I probably would still be at MGM except for sound. My contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had an option coming up just at that time, and they said to me, “Look, we can’t take up your option because everything is going to be sound and we can’t go outdoors with sound.” Everything was done on a small boxed-in stage, and in the beginning they didn’t even have them soundproofed. They’d have to shoot at night when there was no traffic going by, and they would have to take this microphone and hide it under a vase of flowers or something of that sort and then you’d have to play your scenes in such a way that you had to be turned toward that thing when you read your lines.
My family was in Europe. The kids were all in school in Paris. So I just high-tailed it over and spent that winter in Europe with the family. When I came back I was a forgotten man.
So many of the big cowboy stars like Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson and others made millions and they wound up with little or nothing at the ends of their lives. That obviously won’t happen to you.
Well, you know, I used to sort of think to myself, with all my vicissitudes I hoped that when I got older I’d be able to come into Snug Harbor. A lot of those fellows made more money than I did. Mix, for instance, made more money than any of us. But there’s a way of pacing yourself and gearing yourself, and I’ve enjoyed life and I’ve certainly never been tight. I have no regrets, even with my circus. We dropped a bundle on the circus. I mean I didn’t go broke personally, but I lost a bundle and everybody else did who put it in there because it was the biggest Wild West show that had ever taken the road. You could have put Buffalo Bill’s show in half of it. And even though that was a financial failure, it was not a failure for me because it satisfied one of the ambitions that I had. I have a facility of when anything happens to me like that I just draw a curtain on it and never look back over my shoulder. All I can say is try to live the best way you can, do the things you want to do, if you have the gall and stupidity and nerve, whatever it happens to be.
You mentioned the failure of your Wild West show. That was after very successful tours with Ringling Brothers from 1935 to 1938, wasn ‘t it?
Yes, and Ringling wanted me to come back but I simply had to take out my own show.
That was the disastrous year for all circuses.
In 1938. Nearly every circus went broke.
What’s the explanation for that?
Simple. The people didn’t come.
But they did come whenyou were with Ringling Brothers? I imagine that you drew an awful lot oj children to those shows, didn’t you?
Oh, yes, those were three great years for me. They were three very prosperous years. We drew children to the show and we drew them to the after show the same way. Those were terrific years.
Did your role as a cowboy hero put upon you a moral responsibility, some sort of obligation to these kids?
I think all of this stuff of feeling that you had to hold yourself up to the kids, I think it’s playing scenes with yourself. I really think you’re dramatizing yourself a bit when you talk that way about it. I didn’t make all the tabloids and the scandal sheets because I didn’t live that way. But as far as my impact on the kids, that never occurred to me. It was just a matter of personal pride. IfI just went out and played myself, why, that was all that I could give the kids.
I notice when you started naming your friends in Hollywood, you didn ‘t include the other cowboy stars—Harry Carey, Art A cord, Buck Jones, Tom Mix…
I knew those fellows.
But you didn ‘t hang around with them?
No, the only time I ever saw half of them was on the set. I never saw them socially, and I am not saying this in a snooty sort of way.
Well, they were a pretty tough crowd.
Yeah, they were. They just weren’t my kind of people.
Did your time away during World War II hurt your career in films?