Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Lash LaRue gives David Letterman a bullwhip lesson — and more than you probably wanted to know about the Golden Boot Awards

Alfred Wilson "Lash" LaRue

Lash LaRue starred in a string of B-Westerns in the 1940s and early 1950s, most of them at ultra-low budget studio PRC and its equally low-budget spinoff Western Adventure. In the early days he typically played the Cheyenne Kid or Cheyenne Davis, before ascending to the movie rank of U.S. Marshal Cheyenne Davis. After bailing out on PRC along with producer/director Ron Ormond, legendary B-Western director Ray Taylor and Cinematographer of the Gods Ernest Miller, who combined their talents and hung out their own shingle as Western Adventure Productions, LaRue got to appear for much of the rest of his career as a version of himself, in the person of U.S. Marshal Lash LaRue.

Lash LaRue with his trademark bullwhip

While he had no whip skills to speak of at the time he launched his acting career, LaRue learned fast — and it became his trademark, with Lash earning the nickname King of the Bullwhip. In the video at the bottom of this post, LaRue reveals to David Letterman that he lied about his ability with the bullwhip to land his first acting job. The above promotional still, courtesy of Western movie expert Jerry England, shows LaRue as an accomplished whipsman, plying his trade at the Iverson Movie Ranch, with Chatsworth's Stoney Point visible in the background. Hollywood legend has it that LaRue taught Harrison Ford how to use the bullwhip for the "Indiana Jones" movies.

Lash LaRue's Arch, as it appears today

LaRue  was a regular at the Iverson Movie Ranch in the peak filming era — and even ended up with an Iverson rock feature named after him: Lash LaRue's Arch. The formation can still be found today, near the swimming pool at the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village.

Here's Lash posing for a promo shot, circa 1950, in front of the Iverson arch that would eventually be named for him. The arch was big enough for a rider to take a horse through — barely. This is another photo from Jerry England's awe-inspiring collection.

These days the arch is fenced off, so there's not much chance of any spontaneous equestrian activity.

"King of the Bullwhip" (1950) was one of the more famous of LaRue's B-Westerns of the late 1940s and early 1950s, along with "Law of the Lash" (1947), "Ghost Town Renegades" (1947), "Stage to Mesa City" (1947), "The Hawk of Powder River" (1948), "Son of Billy the Kid" (1949), "The Vanishing Outpost" (1951) and "The Black Lash" (1952). All of these movies were shot at Iverson.

LaRue made his way to TV for a time in the 1950s, including getting his own show, "Lash of the West," a 15-minute clip show and gab session that never took off and no one seems to remember anymore. He also had recurring roles on "Judge Roy Bean" and "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," along with one-off guest appearances on a few shows. In 1986 he got in on a TV remake of "Stagecoach" headlined by country legends the Highwaymen — Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Lash died in 1996 in Burbank, Calif., at age 74.

The world seems to be divided on whether his last name should be one word, LaRue, or two words, La Rue. Lash's movie credits have it both ways — and for that matter, credit him any number of different ways: Lash LaRue, Lash La Rue, Al La Rue, Alfred La Rue, Al "Lash" LaRue, etc. For what it's worth, IMDb is sticking with La Rue, while Wikipedia favors LaRue. I'm a recent convert to LaRue, which seems to be winning the "preponderance of Google hits" war.

Lash LaRue comic book

Lash's series of comic books back in The Day went with the one-word "LaRue," and even if it may be weird to use a comic book as the definitive source, it does seem likely that the comics would have got his name right. A couple of noteworthy tidbits about the above cover: Note that Lash autographed it using his real name, Alfred, but he tells Letterman in the video clip below that even his mom called him Lash. Also, note that the background appears to be the Iverson Movie Ranch, although I haven't been able to make a positive ID on it.

Here's a peek inside one of the comic books. You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you want to make it easier to read the page.

Lash LaRue was awarded the Golden Boot in 1983. In case you don't know what that is (I didn't either), it's an honor that was handed out by the Motion Picture & Television Fund for 25 years, and it was pretty prestigious. Other recipients that year — the awards' inaugural class — included Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Clayton Moore, Slim Pickens, Linda Stirling, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Doug McClure, Lee Majors and LaRue's stablemate at PRC, Eddie Dean, with the "In Memoriam" award going to Will Rogers. B-Western regulars Bob Steele, Charles Starrett, Rex Allen, Sunset Carson and Monte Hale were also a part of that illustrious first group of "Bootees."

Pat Buttram

The Golden Boot Awards were the idea of Mr. Haney from "Green Acres" — veteran Gene Autry sidekick and B-Western regular Pat Buttram. They were meant to honor the people who kept the Western tradition alive in film and on TV, while also raising money for the Fund — a charitable organization that looks after veterans of the entertainment industry who wind up in tough health situations and low on money.

Rhonda Fleming

Golden Boot honorees over the years included all the heavyweights of the genre — John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Connors, Sam Peckinpah, Dale Robertson, Audie Murphy, Jimmy Stewart, James Arness, Tex Ritter, Rhonda Fleming, Glenn Ford, Johnny Cash, Robert Duvall, Burt Reynolds, Robert Mitchum ... the list goes on.

Eva Marie Saint in "On the Waterfront" (1954)

I suppose by 2007, the last year the Golden Boots were handed out, they were running out of Western stars to honor. The "heavyweights" who got in on that last batch of Boots included Caruth C. Byrd — a well-funded but relatively unknown actor and producer who apparently made up for his puny (and not particularly Western-oriented) filmography by being generous to the Motion Picture & Television Fund — Martin Kove — an actor known mainly for "Rambo," "Karate Kid" and "Cagney & Lacey" — "Lord of the Rings" actor Viggo Mortensen — who did make a Western called "Appaloosa" around that time — stuntman Walt LaRue — possibly the most legit recipient in the bunch, having done stunts on "Silverado," "Pale Rider" and even "Blazing Saddles" (I don't know whether he's related to Lash, but my guess is that he is, either by blood or by hero worship) — and that giant of the Westerns, Eva Marie Saint — a terrific actress known more for her Oscar-winning performance in "On the Waterfront" and her star turn in Hitchcock's spy masterpiece "North by Northwest," although she did appear in a 1977 TV remake of "How the West Was Won."

John Wayne is introduced in John Ford's epic Western "Stagecoach" 
in 1939 — with the Iverson Movie Ranch in the background

The organizers of the Golden Boots also took the opportunity in 2007 to bestow the Founder's Award on the late John Wayne, so the Boot went out with a bang.

The other kind of Golden Boot — with Bulgarian soccer star 
Dimitar Berbatov, a striker in Premier League

In recent years the term "Golden Boot" has come to be associated more with sports — specifically soccer, or what much of the rest of the world calls football. The Premier League's "Barclays Golden Boot" is one of a number of Golden Boots and Golden Shoes awarded annually in the sport.

But I digress (as usual) ... back to the reason we're here: Lash LaRue made an appearance on David Letterman's old NBC show way back in Dave's third season in late-night, on Feb. 16, 1984. Before bringing out the cowboy star, Dave ran a few brief clips of Lash's movies — marking what might be the only appearance by the Iverson Movie Ranch on "Letterman," as a number of quick Iverson shots flashed on the screen. Lash may have filmed a higher percentage of his movies at Iverson than just about any other cowboy star, although Starrett and a few others would also be in that conversation.

The clip montage includes Lash slugging a bald-headed guy (whose hat fell off), after which Lash eventually makes his way out to trade quips with Dave and torment the host with his whip technique. It's worth checking out.

Here's the video:

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