Casting the Western Songs of Marty Robbins
Back when Country Music could be found in the Country & Western section of your local music stores, one name that was bound to have a number of LP’s in stock was Grand Ole Opry favorite Marty Robbins. Not familiar with the late singer? Surely you’ve heard his classic tale of a cowboy’s love put to music in the 1959 chart topper, El Paso. In our home, Robbins, was always a favorite from Dad singing Marty hits like A White Sports Coat or Ribbon of Darkness on his guitar to my sister playing his albums on the family stereo. Even now I myself enjoy playing a CD in the car or yes even play a song or two of Marty’s on the guitar just as Dad did years ago.
Robbins himself went into the movies. Mostly low budget drive-in affairs like Hell On Wheels which mirrored Marty’s real life love for racing cars and yes he made a few westerns. Titles include the aptly named Ballad of a Gunfighter (1964) and Guns of a Stranger (1973). Before passing away prematurely in 1982 Marty co-starred opposite Clint Eastwood in Honkytonk Man and scored a top ten single with the title track.
Now let’s have some fun and play casting director with a trio of Marty songs, Big Iron, The Master’s Call and of course, El Paso. One title we don’t need to address is his 1959 top twenty number, The Hanging Tree. This tune served as the title song in Gary Cooper’s 1959 western from director Delmer Daves.
I’m including the songs here for those that are either unfamiliar with them or need to have a refresher as to the story within the songs. So please have a listen and start to imagine just who would be starring in these roles should they have been made into a movie around the approximate time of their release in 1959 to radios across the continent. Yes it would help if you’re a fan of the genre to come up with a list of names and don’t be shy to add a character or two into your picks. Remember you’re the casting director and scriptwriter so use your imaginations.
Now that we’ve all had a listen here are a few suggestions from yours truly.
Arizona Ranger with the Big Iron vs. Texas Red the Outlaw ……
Audie Murphy vs. Neville Brand / Elvis Presley Vs. Jeff Chandler / Steve McQueen vs. Jack Palance / Randolph Scott vs. Dan Duryea, from director Budd Boetticher of course / Joel McCrea vs. Richard Boone / Glenn Ford Vs. Kirk Douglas- a first rate match-up we never did see back in the day.
Now there has to be a woman in this town that will serve as a love interest for our Ranger and who knows, maybe she’s had a relationship with our villain to add some spice to the script. Depending on the male casting could we see a Felicia Farr opposite Audie, Elvis or McQueen? Maybe Yvonne de Carlo or Virginia Mayo opposite the other combinations? Or do you prefer Rhonda Fleming?
The song mentions in a couple spots the “folks in town” so we can fill out the cast with Dean Jagger, Robert Middleton, Whit Bissell, Ellen Corby, a Royal Dano and maybe even a sidekick for the Outlaw Texas Red. How about James Best or the one and only Jack Elam?
The Master’s Call
I thought I’d feature this number because at the time Hollywood was more than eager to release big budgeted religious themed pictures from The Ten Commandments to Ben-Hur. So who are we going to cast as the young outlaw cowboy who meets his maker out on a cattle drive in a raging storm?
I see this as a perfect role for Jeffrey Hunter who would probably be up against Robert Wagner or Don Murray to land the role. Of course we’ll need an outlaw band that he falls into so how about Lee J. Cobb or Charles McGraw as the gang’s leader and fill out the supporting roles with a customary gang of rascals. Paging Robert J. Wilke, Jack Elam once again and maybe Richard Jaeckel.
Somehow the script writer is going to shoehorn a gal in to this one so let’s go for broke and write in a part for Audrey Hepburn. It may not work but you and I both know that the studio heads are going to demand it and the casting is bound to add weight at the box office.
On a final note if we could turn the clock back about ten years I think Gregory Peck or William Holden would have been right at home in the lead role told in a flashback from their mature years.
And now the big one, El Paso.
I see this story of a cowboy longing for a love he’ll never have as the perfect role for the method actors of the day. Maybe a precursor to One Eyed Jacks for Marlon Brando or perhaps Paul Newman as a cowhand punching steers down along the border. If we can’t rope either one of these heavyweights then how about Stephen Boyd? I’ve always liked his work.
Central to the film’s success will be the casting of Feleena the Mexican girl who captures our leading man’s heart. Gotta be Natalie Wood. Push for a second choice and I’ll submit to Rita Moreno.
The song features a young cowboy who is “wild as the West Texas wind” who will be challenged for the love of this maiden by the leading man in the saloon where she dances. It’s a small part but how about a pre Bonanza Michael Landon? William Campbell? Maybe Marty Robbins himself in a made to order cameo!
Now there’s a posse to gather who chase the killer down for the balance of the song so this is the perfect moment to get Gilbert Roland in here. We can say that Roland owned the cantina where “Feleena would whirl.” He’ll join the chase alongside posse leader and father figure to our man on the run, Van Heflin, accompanied by Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Rodolfo Acosta and the man who will take down our anti-hero, Henry Silva.
That’s all I’ve got so feel free to join in the fun and throw a name or two out that you think would be a good fit for anyone of these cowboy classics. Maybe I should instead come up with some of today’s names and approach a studio with a script in hand. Hmmm….
In closing here’s one more number from the great Marty Robbins. 1959’s The Hanging Tree that fans of Gary Cooper are sure to recognize from the opening credits of the film.