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2011-02-24

Saying adios to Bandera's Rudy Robbins

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Long before it became a popular bumper sticker philosophy, Bandera icon Rudy Robbins had quipped, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."
Robbins lost the long battle he had waged against cancer on Monday, Feb. 21. However, even as his chapter on Earth closed, he never lost his love of being a cowboy.
Robbins' most recent accolade came in July 2010 when he was inducted into Bandera's Texas Heroes Hall of Honor as a Living Legend. During the annual National Day of the American Cowboy celebration, Robbins' brother, "Doo," accepted the plaque for his ailing brother.
In Robbins's absence, emcee Guich Koock commented, "As Rudy Robbins would have noted, 'In a 20-year period from 1866 to 1886, the cowboy moved 10 million head of cattle and one million horses from Texas to northern railheads. So, it wasn't the oil man who painted the picture of Texas, but rather the cowboy'."
Although born in Louisiana, Robbins was, no doubt, toddling around in cowboy boots at the age of two when his parents relocated the family to Port Arthur on the Texas Golf Coast.
After kicking around the Lone Star State, in 1956, Robbins graduated from Marshall's East Texas Baptist University after studying business administration and sociology.
While serving a stint in the United States Army from 1957 to 1959, he became acquainted with the son of a film producer. The friend convinced Robbins that a surefire way to lead a cowboy life would be as a stuntman in Hollywood. Later, the suggestion turned out to be good advice.
After completing his military service, Robbins moved to Bandera - partly because of a mistaken impression that a lot of westerns were being filmed in the area. Once in the Cowboy Capital of the World, he honed his cowboy skills by working as a wrangler for the Dixie Dude Ranch.
As luck would have it, Robbins was soon offered a speaking part as one of the Tennessee Volunteers in John Wayne's epic, "The Alamo," being filmed near Brackettville. For those ordering "The Alamo" from Netflix, Robbins plays the "It Do" character. You'll know him when you see him.
One of his treasured possessions was a souvenir Alamo mug inscribed to "It Do" from The Duke, himself.
After working on "The Alamo," Robbins divided his time between Bandera and Hollywood where he worked as a stuntman and actor on the films, "The Sugarland Express," "Rio Lobo," "The Rounders," "Cheyenne Autumn," "McClintock," "Two Rode Together" and "The Green Berets." On the small screen, he worked with Fess Parker on the "Daniel Boone" series and served as both actor and James Arness' double on "Gunsmoke."
As a testimony to his talent, Robbins was given an honorary membership in the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures - along with Wayne, Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood.
In an earlier interview with the Bandera County Courier, the consummate performer remarked, "If it's western entertainment, I've done it. I always feel good in my heart whenever I can entertain someone."
With that attitude, it's no surprise that Robbins' western career kept rolling along. Famous trick roper and rodeo star, Monte Montana Jr., hired him to direct a re-creation of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show made famous by William Cody. Featuring a cast of 125 cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians and 135 bison, longhorns and horses, the show toured the United States, South America, Europe and Asia.
In Japan, the citizens apparently couldn't get enough of America's Wild West - the show played for four months with four to five performances daily. The final performance took place at Glacier National Park in Montana.
In 1991, the Texas Senate designated Robbins' western harmony group, The Spirit of Texas, as the "Official Cowboy Band for Texas." Modeled on the Sons of the Pioneers, The Spirit of Texas performed for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash and Tom Selleck, as well as General H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Texas Governors Ann W. Richards and George W. Bush.
For his contributions to the Bandera County's rich musical heritage, Robbins received the Lifetime Achievement award and was inducted into the Bandera Music History Project's Hall of Fame in 2006.
As a prelude to the National Day of the American Cowboy celebration, in 2007, Robbins, along with Dave Burrell and Kelly Scott, presented a lecture on the Western Trail and its impact on Bandera County in the late 1800s, as part of the Frontier Times Museum's "Hats off to the Cowboy" series.
As Robbins noted, "Money from cattle drives put Texas back on the map financially after the Civil War. Texas - and this little town of Bandera - not only provided seed stock for the entire cattle industry in the West, it also turned the American Cowboy into an enduring folk hero. And it started right here in Bandera."
Robbins might be gone but his legacy, charisma and talent will live on - not only in his films but also in the memories of those who were charmed by the gentlemanly tip of his cowboy hat.
Visitation will be from 4 pm to 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 26, at Grimes Funeral Chapel of Bandera with the funeral service set for at 2:30 pm, Sunday, Feb. 27, at the First Baptist Church.