The first time I went to see the movie The Right Stuff I only went because my friends roped me into it.
“Have you ever known me to be interested in astronauts?” I asked in my most emphatic voice.
“No,” was the response. “But we think you will like this film and we’ll pay for your ticket if you aren’t satisfied after the first half hour or so.”
The movie started out fine with some terrific acting and directing, but I certainly wasn’t thinking this was how I wanted to spend three hours. Since it was February, I was imaging myself cross country skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling or fly fishing.
Then about 20 minutes in Sam Shepard and Barbara Hershey, playing the parts of Chuck and Glennis Yeager, decided to go horseback riding, and I was hooked.
While my friends were trying not to laugh at me, I was on the edge of my seat as the couple took off into the high desert after leaving the bar where the test pilots spent their evenings. And when Sam – we were on a first-name basis by then – hit a Joshua tree and broke some of his ribs I was ready to head out for an Ace bandage to nurse him back to health.
Having the right stuff, however, Sam (actually, Chuck Yeager, since the story is true) went up in his Bell X-1 the next day and became the first person to break the sound barrier.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and my friends did not have to pay for my ticket. The astronaut training and outer space scenes held my interest, but I snapped to attention whenever Sam Shepard was on the screen.
You can imagine how shocked I was when we were talking afterwards and I learned that Sam Shepard actually grew up in my own beloved Cody, Wyoming. We won’t count the time he also spent in Duarte, California, even though I am sure there are plenty of lovely people there.
When Sam Shepard died this week, I felt like I lost one of my friends. Although most people remember him as an actor, he was much more prolific as a screenwriter, author and playwright with some 12 films, eight books and 45 plays to his credit. His first work to be performed was named Cowboys, and I have to believe our town was a big influence. One of his best-known works was a two-act play called Geography of a Horse Dreamer with a main character named Cody who wishes he were back in his native Wyoming.
After learning of his death, I called my friends who insisted I go to the movies with them. We all had a good laugh and promised to see each other soon and watch The Right Stuff together again. Of course, that did not stop me from renting it the other night. Again.
Rest in Peace, Sam Shepard.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – at the speed of sound – in Cody, Wyo.