Superstar, April 1973

Do you know, it's often struck me that it's something of a waste to have two gunslinging experts like Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones in a series where the story-line limits their shooting to such an extent!

Of course, I realise that it's all part of the storyline to establish them as guys who simply do not kill, unless they're absolutely driven to it. After all, the Governor is hardly likely to issue a pardon to multiple murderers, is he?

But in spite of the limitations on ‘shooting to kill', the alert ear would have no trouble at all identifying the highlight of Monday's TV viewing as a Western! Agreed?

Well, having watched, spellbound (as usual) and impressed, as Pete and Ben proved their speed on the draw and bull's eye aim. I found myself wondering just how much practice they had to put in before they could achieve that sort of skill with a gun. So the next time I had the chance to chat to Ben Murphy, that question was one that I had lined up all ready to ask.

I must say, I did notice a slight twinkle in Ben's eye as he related:

"Well, you see that's how you tell the dedicated Western actor. Not only is he willing to cripple himself with saddle-sores, but he's also happy enough to spend hours on end aiming a gun at a row of empty coke cans."

I looked sympathetic . . .I still hadn't fallen to it that Ben was having the time of his life putting me on.

"But how about when you're actually filming?" I wanted to know. "Supposing you had all off-day and couldn't get your eye in at all . . . Wouldn't the producer get awfully angry at the amount of time and money that was wasted as a result?

"And another thing." I went on (in full flood now):

"Even if you're using dud bullets when you're shooting at people--say to shoot a gun out of a guy's hand--isn't it pretty painful for him if you miss and get a direct body hit instead?"

At this point Ben couldn't contain himself any longer--he just burst out laughing!

I still didn't really understand, but I did at least realize that he must have been playing me along up to now. So I waited for him to get over his fit of laughter and explain:

"You see, although we do need to put in some shooting practice" he began, smiling, "they sure never make the mistake of relying on us actors to be able to shoot straight! They'd have been held up for months at a time if they'd been waiting for me to hit a moving target!

"It's a shame that 'Alias Smith & Jones' isn't in production right now," Ben went on, "or I could have taken you along and shown you exactly how it's done, but you must come over to Universal some time while you're here and see the action on another Western set."


(So I've still got that to look forward to . . . A visit to the studio with Ben(!!!!!).) But, for the time being he sat back and explained to me how it all happened:

"You see, the most important thing for the Western actor is to be able to draw a gun convincingly... If you're gonna see a picture of the whole guy, that's something that just can't be faked. The only way they could do it would be to take a close-up shot of some other guy's hand and flash it in. But most actors--including me even--manage to get as far as looking pretty dangerous on the draw!"

Ben confessed, however, that he always stuck to drawing on the one side (with his right hand):

"I reckon my left hand would go kind of berserk... It has a tendency to get sort of frantic if I make any special demands on it!"

Incidentally, that's one reason why Western riders always rely on one hand only to control the reins...They need to keep their 'gun' hand free in ease any trouble demands a quick reflex draw . .

So how do they get those sensational shots when they pierce bottle tops spinning through the air and all that?

"If you notice," Ben pointed out kindly, "you get a separate shot of the slug hitting the bottle top as it spins through the air. So that's easy to fake..."

"Ah," I put in, "but what about those shots (and I know I've seen some!) when say you or Pete stand in front of a row of bottles or something and shoot your way along them, getting each one first time ?"

I was absolutely certain that I'd seen some sequences like that when the camera stayed fixed on a long shot, keeping the entire scene-- including the cowboy shooter--in full view.

But Ben, of course, had an answer ready for this one too:

"I guess you could say that sort of thing is done by the 'fairy-godmothers' of the Western studios." he laughed.

I must have looked as puzzled as I felt, became he went on to explain:

"You see, every one of those bottles, cans or whatever, is wired up with a small charge. Then all you need is a little guy with a detonator somewhere just outside of camera range--and there you are! The only job for the actor is to work out the timing of his movements to coincide with the blasts, and you've got yourself a tiny bit of magic. That sort of timing was never any bother at all for Pete..." (The smile vanished from his face for a moment) . . . "As you know, Pete was really interested in guns anyhow, so he was pretty fast and accurate for a start-off."

Ben, it seems, had to work a bit harder at it. But I'm sure you'll agree that he looks pretty good when he tries it out on the screen!

He went on to tell me how they rig up those scenes where a saloon gets bust up and how they fix the blood--not to mention all sorts of other special effects...

But I'll tell you all that some other time. I reckon that I've shattered enough illusions already for one month!

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