By Jeff Berg
No, there won't be a duck roundup at Deming's Wild West Day to help promote the town's "getting more popular by the moment" Duck Races. Instead, what you will find when the festival kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 13, are a number of events traditionally related to Deming's western heritage .
Bridget Kelly, executive director of the Deming Chamber of Commerce (and also the only film commissioner for a county without a movie theater), and a staff of volunteers have put together something that is a little bit different than the usual salute to western history.
Two things set this apart from other western festivals. One is an old-fashioned spelling bee, and the other is a special screening of a rare documentary film that was partially shot in Deming in 1954, called The Cowboy.
It was Tom Kelly, the recently retired chamber director, who first remembered that there was a documentary filmed in the area many years earlier. "Tom initiated things with the film office when he mentioned that film," Bridget Kelly recalls. She says that Tom Kelly (no relation), who is moving to Oklahoma soon, mused that "we need to do a western thing."
"The festival is also highlighting the downtown revitalization, which has three new art galleries, and will also serve as a welcome back to our 'snow birds,'" she goes on. "It will also help to honor Veteran's Day. Next year we hope to make it a two-day event, but since a lot of this happened on such short notice, we'll only be doing it for one day this year."
The Cowboy was directed by Elmo Williams, who also directed 1953's The Tall Texan, which starred Lloyd Bridges. Both movies belong to a surprisingly long list of films that were shot at least in part in Deming over the years, including Ring of Fear, made in 1954 and featuring, amazingly, Clyde Beatty of Beatty Circus fame, and author Mickey Spillane; Sonny Boy (1990); Gas, Food, Lodging (1992) and Chooch (2003) .
When Bridget Kelly first heard of The Cowboy, she began doing some research to see if anyone had a copy of the long-out-of-print film. A few Web sites later, she was able to contact Les Adams of Abilene, Texas, who later connected her with Kit Parker of Kit Parker Films, who coincidentally was working on a restoration of the 70-minute piece.
The film was not only directed but also edited, co-written and co-produced by Williams, who had won an Academy Award in 1950 for his editing of the classic western, High Noon. Williams' wife, Lorraine, co-wrote the script for The Cowboy and also wrote three of the songs that were used in the picture. Elmo Williams is now 92, and resides in Oregon.
Parker will also be in Deming to do interviews with a couple of the actual cowboys who were featured in the film, L. B. Johnson and Ross May, both of whom still live in Deming.
The movie was shot all over the West, and features real cowboys, from the young to the very old. Williams followed them on their daily routines and captured the historical flavor of a job that is now larger than life.
The Cowboy was narrated in part by character actor John Dehner, who was a regular in a number of western films, and by another, slightly more familiar actor, William Conrad (most noted for his narration and television work). It also featured a soundtrack performed by REAL western singers, namely Tex Ritter and Curly Wiggins.
The other activity that will help set Deming's special day apart from the flurry of other cowboy-related days in other western towns will be an old-fashioned spelling bee. It will feature competition for adults as well as children, according to Janet Menter of Deming Travels and Tours. It also seems that Deming will have a few places with temporary new names. "The spelling bee will be at the 'Cowboy Corral,' which is actually the Wells Fargo Bank parking lot," Menter says.
Other activities will include a cowboy chuckwagon breakfast; rope tricks; a mock shootout by the El Paso-based reenactment group, Paso Del Norte Pistoleros; live music by the Desert Troubadours; and a contest for people (and horses!) to find the best dressed in authentic western outfits.
A few of Deming's other "underground' stars will also be on hand, including Elmo Williams' nephew, James, who runs the Pro Shop, and songwriter Max Crook, who co-wrote "Runaway," the 1961 hit record recorded by Del Shannon.
"It is really the local businesses—most of which will be open that day—artists and performing artists that are making this come together," says Bridget Kelly.
For more information and for a complete schedule of events, call the Deming Chamber of Commerce at 546-2674 or (800) 848-4955, or www.demingchamber.com.