Online Extra

Cowboys and Aliens

July 20, 2011

How two Western icons went from “Gunsmoke” to this new movie.

By Tom Moates

Buck Taylor, center, with his sons Cooper, left, and Matt, right, during the filming of the opening scene. Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC

Editor’s Note: “Cowboys and Aliens” is a big-budget, Quarter Horse-heavy film that opens in theaters July 29. The August issue of America’s Horse magazine – which goes exclusively to AQHA members – takes a great behind-the-scenes look at the horses and horsemen involved. Here, we’ll give you a look at two longtime Hollywood horsemen who were involved in the project, actor Buck Taylor and wrangler Jack Lilley.

The opening scene of “Cowboys and Aliens” stars an actor celebrated for his many Western roles, Buck Taylor, and his two sons, professional stunt men Matt and Cooper Taylor. Many remember Buck from playing Newly O’Brien in more than 100 episodes of “Gunsmoke” and the dozens of movies and other TV shows he has acted in over the past half century. He is also renowned for his talents as an artist and is featured in this year's America's  Horse in Art Show & Sale, which kicks off August 13 at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum.

“I’ve done a lot of shows with Jack (Lilley),” Buck says. “I’ve known Jack most of my life. In fact, he doubled me on ‘Gunsmoke’ one time doing a roping sequence because I was left-handed, and he was left-handed.

“I was so fortunate to be on ‘Gunsmoke,’ and I rode a Quarter Horse on that show. His name was ‘Ash,’ and Casey Tibbs brought him from South Dakota to California and picked up on him in rodeos, then he became a great movie horse. The horse I rode (in ‘Cowboys and Aliens’), his name was ‘Drifter’ (registered as Hardluck Lynx). They really took care of me and my two sons on the horses. They had over a hundred stunt men in it, all good hands, and the actors rode real well.”

One very important job of the wrangler is to find the right mount for each actor for a foolproof filming experience, Buck explains. The Lilleys are experts with this often very tricky task.

“Every actor will tell you he can ride,” Buck says, “and most every actor can’t. But (Jack and his son Clay) know that, and they don’t embarrass them. They just say, ‘Wait a minute, maybe this horse over here will be better suited for you.’ ”

That savvy comes from a career in the movie business that stretches back 53 years for Jack, and he was recently recognized with his own tile on Santa Clarita, California’s Walk of Western Stars.

And actually, the Lilley family’s history reaches back even farther than that.

“My father started in the ’30s, and he worked in the pictures,” Jack says. “He went into the horse rental end of it, and that is a wrangler. My children, Clay and his brother, Clint, and both their children, they’ve all worked in the business, so that’s four generations of us right there.

“My daddy was an inspector for the American Quarter Horse Association for years – John Lilley. He also was a judge in the Quarter Horse world. I’ve been raised up around the American Quarter Horse Association my whole life. … I’m still an active member. There’s no other horse, disposition-wise (better for movie work), and even my falling horses – you know, they take a shot and fall – they’ve been registered Quarter Horses. They just stand the act better than anything that I ever worked with, and I’ve worked with all kinds of show horses all my life. If I’ve owned one, I’ve owned 30,000 of them, so I think I’m a pretty good judge on disposition in these kinds of horses.”

You could probably count Buck as a pretty good judge of horse flesh, too. He has bred, trained and ridden American Quarter Horses for many years. His wife, Goldie, is an accomplished barrel racer, and the couple often breed their mares with her favorite sport in mind.

“I love my horses,” Buck says. “I rode three colts tonight. My wife likes the Flit Bar-Sugar Bar horses for barrel racing, and we’ve got some with a little Dash For Cash. We’ve got 17 right now, from yearlings on up. My rope horse is 16, she’s a double-bred Doc Bar mare. She’s awesome. Her name is ‘Doc,’ even though she’s a female.”

Besides the obvious Doc Bar connection, the horse got her name from the episode of “Gunsmoke” titled, “Doc Sam,” where a new doctor comes to town, and Doc Sam, to everyone’s surprise, is a female doctor.

The ability to work on horseback certainly draws Buck to movies like “Cowboys and Aliens,” but this time around, there was another perk.

“I’ll tell you what really moved me on the movie (‘Cowboys and Aliens’) – working with Matt and Cooper,” Buck says. “Especially when they’re stunt men and I’m an actor, I don’t get a chance to work with them all that much. I had a son named Adam, who was the first assistant director on ‘Tombstone,’ and he got killed in a motorcycle accident in 1994. Then my dad (“Dub” Taylor, an actor from the early days of Hollywood Westerns) passed away right after that. So, before we did this scene, I looked at Matt and Cooper … before the director said ‘Action,’ I said, ‘Boys, let’s make this good for my dad and Adam.’

“That was thrilling for me. It was the very first time that all three of us were together (on a film).”