“After four decades devoted to informing fans about the cowboy life style of Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale (Queen of the West) Evans, the family museum in Branson, Missouri, has shut its doors … Christie’s (Auction House) will be selling off most of the collection July 14-15 … (including) … Rogers’ trusty costar Trigger, in the flesh.”
–The New Yorker, July 12, 2010
I’ll admit that I was irresistibly drawn to the Christie’s Web site to delve further into the spoils of the museum’s dismantling. I wondered who in his right mind would pay a quarter of a million dollars for a stuffed horse rearing up on its two hind legs? (The obvious answer, I suppose, is someone with too much money and perhaps not quite in his right mind.)
And so arose the next question: Who would pay $3,000 for this lot? Trigger’s Road Apples: “Comprising two Buffalo Nickels and a bolo tie and an ash tray made from Trigger’s road apples.*”
I am not making this up.
A number of lots intriguingly labeled Nudie the Rodeo Tailor included fringed and embroidered costumes created by Rogers’ and Evans’ tailor, James Nudie. Nudie was the first man to put rhinestones on clothing, not surprising since early in his tailoring career he was making G-strings for showgirls.
Nudie also designed a custom Pontiac Bonneville for Rogers and Evans—a “Nudiemobile”—that sports a 6-foot-wide pair of Texas longhorns on the front, six-shooters as gear shift mechanisms and door handles, and 150 silver dollars decorating the center console. Like the stuffed Trigger, it also fetched upwards of $250,000 at auction.
The impression I get from looking at the items that were sold is that using the phrase “cowboy life style” to describe Rogers’ and Evans’ lives is a bit of a stretch, sort of like calling Hearst Castle a typical American split-level home. Talk about the phenomenon of Hollywood packaging.
A flower arrangement with a red gladiola stem at the center came my way a few days ago. Its petals shone iridescent in the midday sun. I got out the magnifying glass to confirm what I was seeing: the surface seemed to be simultaneously absorbing and reflecting the light, like a length of brilliant red silk velvet.
This too is packaging, designed to draw in wasps, moths or birds to pollinate and ensure survival. But the naked desire in that display of color and surface, based on reproductive necessity, seems infinitely more honest than the fringe-y, silvery, rhinestone-y packaging of Rogers’ and Evans’ personae.
As a performer (and not just a celebrity), you hope that your performance and your public self bring joy to your audience, like Evans and Rogers did in their heyday. You’d have to believe that you have something special to deliver, and have hope that the audience will respond to what you’re offering up.
But you also have to hold your true self in balance, remembering, as Naomi Shihab Nye advises, to “Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second.”
We all have a desire for attention to some degree, but the culture of Hollywood has always encouraged taking things to the extreme. Make it bigger, louder, fancier, more lurid and they will beat a path to your door. They will pay big money to witness the spectacle, in fact. But to be captivated by all those trappings, to be lured in, is to pollinate something pretentious and spurious. (Can you say “Lindsay Lohan”?)
If you only thrive in the spotlight, when people look away—and they will look away—you will feel that something essential has been lost to you.
But if you’re lucky, one day you’ll wake up and find that the illusion no longer holds water. That rhinestone-encrusted vessel has become a leaky, waterlogged boat and you’ve got to make your way to shore. You’re obliged to take a more honest assessment of the world and yourself. You’re driven to discover that something like a flower petal can thrill you and captivate your imagination.
Fame is a two-sided coin, but maybe it’s a buffalo nickel made out of a road apple.
*A road apple is a euphemism for a chunk of horse excrement.