Conversation: Buck Taylor
Still in love with the West
Walter Clarence Taylor III, better known as “Buck,” has a
weathered face and bushy mustache. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, cowboy boots and
other Western attire, Taylor looks like he just walked off a movie set full of
sagebrush and hitching posts. It’s a natural fit. Most of the more than 100
motion pictures and television series Taylor has appeared in have been
Westerns. And he’s still acting occasionally.
In an interview at Silver Dollar City, the Branson, Mo.,
theme park where he spends seven weeks each year selling his Western-themed
watercolor art, Taylor spoke with TPE News Editor John W. Kennedy.
The dialogue stretched for nearly two hours as visitors to
the barn art gallery continually introduced themselves to Taylor, who instantly
presented himself like an old friend. And in a way he is, thanks to his
signature role of Newly O’Brien. Taylor portrayed the Dodge City deputy marshal
and gunsmith from 1967-75 on Gunsmoke, the longest-running drama in television
history. Taylor politely acknowledged comments from tourists and posed for
pictures. In exchanges with admirers, Taylor told stories about acting, horses
Taylor, 69, is the son of character actor Dub “Cannonball”
Taylor (1907-94) who appeared in some of Hollywood’s blockbusters, beginning
with 1938 Best Picture winner You Can’t Take It With You and concluding with
tpe: Even though your dad was an actor, you didn’t start out
in the profession.
TAYLOR: After I got out of the Navy I had gymnastic
scholarships to three schools. I tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in 1960
and even though I did well, I didn’t make it. I wanted to be a painter, and I
studied art at the University of Southern California. But soon I got into
movies through stunt work.
tpe: You and your dad primarily appeared in Westerns.
TAYLOR: Dad did more than 500 movies. He was a great guy.
I’m proud to be his son. I love the cowboy way of life. I have a ranch in
Texas. I do rodeos.
tpe: You admired James Arness (who portrayed U.S. Marshal
Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years).
TAYLOR: James Arness is still my hero. He’s a humble and shy
guy. I named my son Matthew after his character. He’s a patriotic American,
wounded in World War II. When I painted a portrait of him, he asked me to make
him look like he did on Gunsmoke.
tpe: Your first time on Gunsmoke, in a guest role, you
played a villain.
TAYLOR: I played so many parts on different shows in those
days. Three weeks after that episode they called me back to test for the part
of Newly O’Brien. I’m thinking, They just killed me off as a villain. But I
guess they liked me. I got the part over four other actors. I was in the right
spot at the right time.
tpe: Few people have an eight-year run in a recurring role.
TAYLOR: Especially on a show that is so popular [Gunsmoke was a top-10-rated program for six of those final eight years]. The airwaves
are still saturated with Gunsmoke. Anything else I’ve been in hasn’t lasted as
tpe: Do you ever see Westerns making a television comeback?
TAYLOR: I hope there won’t be any more like [HBO’s] Deadwood. Because of the language, I couldn’t get through an episode. They can
make a Western without profanity and raunchiness.
tpe: Newly O’Brien defined you because these reruns will be
TAYLOR: Because of Gunsmoke, my artwork originally gained
recognition. Now it’s spread to people who never heard of the show.
tpe: You started drawing again on film sets during breaks.
TAYLOR: I got serious about painting in 1990. I started
sketching and painting on the sets of movies like Gettysburg and Tombstone where I had models like Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck walking around. I’m living
a dream to be able to work in movies and also paint paintings of the American
tpe: How did you meet your wife, Goldie?
TAYLOR: I met Goldie at a world quarter horse show in
Oklahoma City. I’ve never seen anyone ride any better on a horse. She wanted to
find a nice guy for her girlfriend. The girlfriend wandered off. Goldie found
someone she wasn’t looking for in me. Three months afterwards we married.
tpe: That was a difficult time in your life because your son
Adam had been killed in a motorcycle accident the year before.
TAYLOR: I was going through a lot of grieving. I almost lost
my spirituality. I asked a lot of spiritual questions. I thank God that Goldie
helped restore my faith.
tpe: Not many actors talk about their faith much.
TAYLOR: I have a lot of faith. Goldie and I are Christian
believers. My artwork is an attempt to honor the Creator for His blessings.
tpe: You seem to resemble the part you played in Gunsmoke.
TAYLOR: Probably so. The writers made the character Newly a
lot like the person Buck. As an actor, part of my real personality came across.
James Arness was a lot like Matt Dillon. But Ken Curtis wasn’t anything like
tpe: You appear to enjoy the interaction with people here in
TAYLOR: Gunsmoke has given people a lot of pleasure over the
years. When people call me Newly, I don’t mind it a bit.
tpe: Are you coming back to Silver Dollar City in 2008?
TAYLOR: I hope so. I love this place.
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