The essence of a great Western, to me, is John Wayne. I think his characters and the stories told, for the most part, convey the myth of the American West. Thanks to True West Magazine, we know what the West was really like. But when I see a John Wayne movie, I see the West the way it should have been.
On the Westerns Channel, we receive tons of requests for movies that haven’t been seen in decades, in particular those of Buck Jones and Randolph Scott. But recently, we are hearing from fans of the Classic TV Westerns. They are very outspoken. When we announced that we would be showing The Virginian, Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke, I heard an outcry from the Cheyenne contingent worried that we would take their favorite series off the air. I assured them that Cheyenne stays.
If I had a wand, I would look like Tom Selleck and sound like Sam Elliott.
True West Moments came about because several years ago, Bob Boze Bell proposed doing a half hour True West program. I told him that shorter segments, between movies, would be seen much more than a program. Hence, True West Moments.
The most gracious Westerns star is hard to single out. I loved working with Dennis Weaver for eight years, and I enjoy my friendship with Clint Walker and Dale Berry. Monte Hale was wonderful. “Dobe” Carey, Buck Taylor and Ben Cooper are a joy to be around, but then, so are most of the stars you’ll talk to at festivals around the country. Stuntmen Dean Smith and Neil Summers have gone out of their way to help me avoid some potentially embarrassing situations. I will tell you one of my thrills was meeting Wilford Brimley. I’d been warned that he can be abrupt. But when I asked him for an interview at the Dean Smith Celebrity Rodeo, he got right up, willing to answer any question.
Performing cowboy poetry on the Great Wall of China was not as strange as I had imagined. We had an interpreter, but everywhere we performed in China, we had a largely English-speaking audience. They don’t have our Western heritage, so I tried to adapt my poetry to include movie cowboys they had seen. It was a wonderful adventure, but I couldn’t wait to get home and have some good Chinese food.
My most successful cowboy poem is probably “Cowboy Up, America.” I had the good fortune to be invited to perform that in 2004 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
When it comes to programming Westerns 24/7 most people don’t understand that we program 16 different movie channels and since we are non-commercial, we have to share our resources. We do what we can with what we have to update our movie selection every month.
I can’t say I ever get tired of hearing from viewers. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to answer everything.
My favorite Westerns are She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Angel and the Badman, Conagher, Tombstone and Open Range.
I tend to shy away from foreign attempts to capture the cowboy era. I agree with Charlton Heston’s comment at the Golden Boot Awards. Only America can make a Western movie.
For my money you can’t beat a corned beef on rye sandwich and a piece of cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli in New York City.
My parents always told me to love your family, clean your room and wear clean underwear just in case.
What history has taught me is if more people had guns, fewer people would need to use them. There are people out there who will stop at nothing to kill us. You can’t talk them out of it; yo
Jeff Hildebrandt, STARZ Entertainment
Jeff has made his living in radio and TV for more than 40 years. Since 1994, he has been a driving force behind Encore Westerns. His special tribute to “100 Years of John Wayne” was awarded a Wrangler by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He is the only cowboy poet to ever perform in mainland China, and he often shares his poetry at cowboy church services across the United States. His latest faith-based book is Ridin’ for the Boss and the Brand.