Lifestyle

Riding with John Wayne – The Rudy Robbins Story

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Rudy Robbins wasn’t born in the Cowboy Capital of the World, but he got here as fast as he could. Growing up in Port Arthur, there wasn’t much opportunity to work with cattle, but Rudy always wanted to be a cowboy. He also wanted to sing, and taught himself to play the guitar at age 16. After earning a degree in Business Administration from East Texas Baptist College in 1956, he got the call from Uncle Sam and served a two-year tour in the Army. One of his fellow-soldiers was the son of a movie producer, who convinced Robbins that the best way to live out his cowboy dreams would be to play a cowboy in the movies. Since he had heard of several westerns being filmed in Bandera, Robbins made up his mind: “When I get out of the army, I’m going to move to Bandera.”

Riding with John Wayne

Photo: Wikipedia

He had some second thoughts about his decision when he first arrived in Bandera; he was told that there hadn’t been a movie made there for quite a few years. He got a job as a wrangler at the Dixie Dude Ranch, where he honed his riding skills taking guests on trail rides. His move paid off just a few months later, when John Wayne started looking for extras to work in his film, “The Alamo” (released in 1960).

“Duke personally picked me out” from a casting line-up, Robbins recalled.

In the famous movie filmed near Brackettville, Robbins played one of the Tennesseans who fought (and died) at the Alamo. He was distinguished mostly by a short dialog that was repeated several times during the film: a fellow-Tennessean would review a developing situation and ask Robbins, “Do this mean what I think it do?” Robbins would reply, “It do.” From that time on, John Wayne called Robbins by the nickname “It Do,” and one of Robbins treasured possessions is a souvenir Alamo mug addressed to “It Do” from “Duke.”

Riding with John Wayne

Photo: Cheyenne Autumn (IMDb)

Duke introduced Robbins to legendary film director John Ford, who hired Robbins as an actor for the movie, “Two Rode Together”(starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark and also filmed near Brackettville), in 1960. With these excellent connections, Robbins moved to Hollywood, where he worked as an actor and stuntman for almost ten years, with some of the biggest stars in the industry. He did stunts in John Ford’s last western film, Cheyenne Autumn, and worked with John Wayne in such well-known films as McClintock, Green Berets, and Rio Lobo. He worked with Fess Parker on the Daniel Boone television series, served as a stunt double for James Arness as Matt Dillon in some episodes of Gunsmoke, and performed in numerous other productions.

Robbins has a special appreciation for Fess Parker, who hired him during a dry spell to play Josh Cutler on the Daniel Boone show. “He knew I was hard up,” Robbins recalled. “When I showed up on Monday morning, he handed me an envelope with my first episode’s pay in advance.”

Riding with John Wayne

Photo: texasescapes.com

With western movies fading in popularity, Robbins moved back to Bandera in 1971 (“I had fallen in love with Bandera,” he said), but continued to perform around the country and around the world. The famous trick-roper and rodeo star, Monte Montana Jr., hired him to direct a re-creation of the old Buffalo Bill Wild West Show made famous by William Cody. The show toured the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia; the response was especially good in Japan, where they were held over another month after putting on at least three shows a day (four or five shows a day on weekends) for three months. Their last show was at Glacier National Park in Montana, just ten years ago.

Robbins had long admired the musical style of the Sons of the Pioneers; in 1991, he and three friends formed a similar western harmony band called the Spirit of Texas. During its tenure, the band entertained many celebrities, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Johnny Cash and June Carter, the Judds, Tom Selleck, Paul Anka, Governors Ann Richards and George W. Bush and even General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. It was named the “Official Cowboy Band for Texas” by the Texas Senate in 1992.

Riding with John Wayne

Photo: YouTube/Intriguing Mysteries of The Old West

A thoroughly professional all-around entertainer, Robbins performed in and around Bandera and produced Intriguing Mysteries of the Old West. He wrote a book entitled “How to Yodel the Cowboy Way,” (with Canadian champion yodeler Shirley Field), as well as numerous songs and magazine articles.

While Robbins has received a multitude of honors from his entertainment career (one of his favorites was a plaque naming him an honorary member of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures in Hollywood), he sold land and ranches for Bandera Real Estate “to keep the wolf away from the door” between performances. He was very active in the community, and was honored repeatedly for his efforts to keep Bandera “western.”

Robbins passed away from cancer on February 21, 2011, in Bandera. While he may be gone, his legacy lives on, and he surely was a genuine Hill Country hero.