There are many benefits to be derived from downsizing, although the hard work and annoyance are not among them. As Jeanna and I settled into our new condo and bid a fond (sometimes) farewell to our old house, I was pleasantly surprised to come across two photographs from my childhood at Kelly’s Motel (the namesake of this column). Until I found these in a forgotten box, I had pretty much stopped thinking about their significance. Before the advent of photography, as I often tell my classes, these childhood memories would have long disappeared. These memories, thank goodness, were reawakened when I saw the two photographs reproduced on this page. While I look pretty ridiculous dressed as a cowboy, the gentleman shown with me could be either Monte Hale or Tim Holt. Admittedly, these are no longer household names, so read on.
If you do your research on IMDB, you will find that Tim Holt, who died at the young age of 54 in 1973, appeared in over seventy movies, most of them Westerns. And you will discover that he followed in the footsteps of his now-largely-forgotten father, Jack Holt, whose acting career spanned the era of silents and talkies until his death in the early 1950s.
Monte Hale, who was born the same year as Holt, and lived much longer (until 2009), was also primarily a star of Westerns, but not as prolific as Holt, appearing in less than forty films. After examining my photographs and matching them against online images, I believe I was most likely Monte Hale’s “co-star” rather than Tim Holt’s “back in the day.”
This picture was taken when Holt and Hale stayed at Kelly’s Motel while they were in Sparta, NC, making a series of personal appearances at our local movie theatre promoting a couple of their latest movies (most likely the thankfully-forgotten duo of “Desert Passage” and “Yukon Vengeance”). About the only thing I remember about their visit was their black Cadillac convertible touring car with a shiny non-functional six-shooter as a gear shift–a luxury provided by the movie studio no doubt. And I vaguely recall having my first taste of beer when I slyly picked up an empty can from beneath either Tim or Monte’s seat while they were playing cards with my dad. This momentous event wasn’t photographed, of course.
Now that I have resurrected the picture of me and Monte (or Tim), I like to think my deep-seated and long-lasting love of popular culture originated during that long-ago summer when I encountered my first movie stars. And this interest was fueled (no pun intended) years later when Jerry Lee Lewis was a guest at our motel and graciously granted my mom’s request that he play some hymns for her on my Hammond Organ. Too bad we didn’t have smartphone cameras in those ancient days.
Although I probably didn’t have my picture made with Tim Holt–at least not one I have located yet–I did get to meet him. Here I was, at a very young and impressionable age, associating with a man who had already been given co-starring roles in such iconic American films as Orson Welle’s “The Magnificent Ambersons,” John Huston’s “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” and John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” which introduced the world to John Wayne in 1939. And, as much as these films now mean to me, I wish the Sparta Theatre had premiered Holt’s 1957 Super-B-Grade sci-fi film, “The Monster That Challenged The World.” Holt made this picture about three years after he left Sparta, but it would have been nice to have had him back for this event. To give you some idea of the caliber of this film, here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia plot synopsis: “In the Salton Sea, an underwater earthquake causes a crevice to open, releasing prehistoric giant mollusks. A rescue training parachute jump is conducted, but the patrol boat sent to pick up the jumper finds only a floating parachute. One sailor dives in but also disappears. The other sailor screams in terror as something rises from the water . . . .In the meantime, Gail is at the lab with her young daughter, Sandy. Worried about the lab rabbits being cold in the lab’s lowered temperature, Sandy surreptitiously turns up the thermostat. Twill [Tim Holt’s character] calls the lab and gets no answer. He arrives and finds that the hatched mollusk has Gail and Sandy cornered in a closet, where they ran to escape from the monster. He fights it with lab chemicals and a CO2 fire extinguisher until other Navy personnel arrive and shoot the mollusk.” In case you haven’t guessed, this magnificent film is about giant mollusks who are indestructible until confronted by a fire extinguisher. And, just think, the man I met just a couple of years earlier saved the day and emerged as the hero.
Monte Hale didn’t share billing with any giant mollusks, but he did appear, after his stay at Kelly’s Motel, on TV in episodes of “Gunsmoke” and “Honey West” (the 1960s show starring one of my favorite actresses, Anne Francis), while his biggest claim to fame is a role he landed in the iconic Elizabeth Taylor-James Dean movie “Giant”; in addition to his appearance as an actor, he taught Dean some rope tricks while on the set. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love pop culture so much. And why I am indebted to Tim and Monte for giving me my first real brush with fame. Never mind that I was totally clueless about any of their work when I met them. It is just enough today that all three of us appeared together at Kelly’s Motel once upon a time.
See you next week. In the meantime, I will see if I can locate some more pictures that document my development as a pop culture enthusiast and the future author of this column.