Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws: A Tribute to Johnny Crawford

When Hollywood comes to Fort Bowers, Oklahoma, in 1915 to convince legendary lawmen Bill Tilghman to star in a bank robbery talking picture show featuring bonafide ruthless outlaw legends of the period, two very different worlds of Tinseltown and the Old West clash.

But when the cast and creators of Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws recently came to Thousand Oaks, California, many from several thousands of miles away, it was to help their friend, Johnny Crawford.

Photo Courtesy of One Eyed Horse Productions

Johnny Crawford has been in show business most of his life, from 1950 to 2018.  That’s 68 years of entertaining audiences. In Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws, Johnny played a cameo of silent movie star William S. Hart in what will likely be his last movie role in the soon-to-be-nationally released film. In reality, Johnny’s no longer fighting the bad guys on the big screen. He’s fighting for his life.

Left to right: Eliza Kelly, Don Collier, Johnny Alonso, Lana Wood, Darby Hinton, Johnny Crawford and wife Charlotte, Richard Cutting, and Robert Carradine (not pictured).

We were at the McCrea Ranch in Thousand Oaks, California on the evening of September 7, 2019, along with a stellar community of actors and fans honoring Johnny Crawford with a fundraiser to support his Alzheimer’s care.

Robert Lanthier (in red) is the president of Reel Cowboys which awards the prestigious Silver Spur to Western legends every year. Johnny Crawford was presented his own Silver Spur by Chuck Connors’ son in 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtLsGBHIeME&t=21s and https://www.thedesertway.com/reel-cowboys-silver-spur/

In the early 1930’s, legendary film actor Joel McCrea, based on advice from close friend and mentor Will Rogers, established a working ranch about an hour from Hollywood, just in case acting didn’t work out. Joel and his wife of 57 years, actress Frances Dee, built their home here and raised their three boys in this wonderful and unique environment.  

Lisa McCrea, Johnny and Charlotte.

Many thanks to Wyatt and Lisa McCrea for donating and hosting this event at the beautiful Joel McCrea Ranch on their big outdoor screen.

Photo Courtesy: Mark Bedor. Mark was shooting the event for Cowboys & Indians magazine. Wishing him continued success on his show, Today’s Wild West and books Great Ranches of Today’s Wild West and Great Rides of Today’s Wild West.

Also, a huge shout out to Wayne Shipley and Dan Searles and all involved in the making of Bill Tilghman for donating ALL the proceeds from this event to go directly to Johnny Crawford and his wife Charlotte, to help them battle Johnny’s Alzheimer’s disease. As many already know, Johnny is in an assisted living home and requires around-the-clock care.

Just some of the cast members from Bill Tilghman and The Outlaws who attended the Pre-Release party and West Coast Premier: Darby Hinton, Lana Turner, Robert Carradine, Johnny Alonso, Eliza Kelley and High Chaparral‘s Don Collier, who drove from Arizona to be here. Bruce Boxleitner was the very first to tell organizer Darby, “sign me up!”

The look of love between these two is amazing. The pair were high school sweethearts at Hollywood High School in 1964. Charlotte and Johnny have been married since 1995.

All the buildings on the McCrea Ranch have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and are being preserved for eventual sharing with the public.  The Conejo Recreation and Park District, in conjunction with members of the McCrea family, has completed the construction of a new visitor’s center that is now open during scheduled events and programs.   

Darby Hinton’s family served adult libations. It was a family affair.

The special evening included light refreshments of crackers and cheese and wine or beer for the lucky one hundred people who bought limited tickets to support Johnny Crawford’s fundraiser to watch the West Coast premiere under the stars on the giant screen. There was even fresh popcorn to compliment the venue.

A silent auction and raffle took place to support Johnny, much to the delight of the audience.

Items such as movie posters, photos, gift baskets and even a replica Rifleman rifle signed by Johnny Crawford were just some of the items up for bids.

Johnny Crawford’s sister, Nance, with John.

An exciting meet and greet allowed fans to meet Johnny and stars of Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws before the movie began. The cast was warm and engaging, so you instantly felt at ease. The audience included Roy Rogers’ granddaughter, Julie Fox Pomilia and a direct descendant of Bill Tilghman, Lynn Stewart, along with other notables too numerous to mention.

Patrons could stroll through the visitor’s center and look at memorabilia before the movie began.

Guests were “deputized” with star badges for their name tags and received clever little canvas gift bags which looked like vintage bank bags with goodies like gold foil wrapped chocolate dollar coins, a full-size custom Bill Tilghman bandana and a lovely postcard inside to commemorate the special evening. Many thanks to Darby’s wife, Shan, for adding her special touch.

Johnny’s brother (R), Bobby Crawford of Laramie fame, was in attendance.

Did you know Johnny Crawford was one of the original Disney Mouseketeers in 1955? At age 12, Johnny was cast as Mark McCain, the son of Lucas McCain played by Chuck Connors in the popular series, The Rifleman, which aired from 1958 to 1963. Unfortunately, like other child stars of his era, Johnny receives no residuals, despite the show’s enduring popularity.

It was fun to see how excited Johnny was about the premiere.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Johnny had wide popularity with American teenagers and a recording career that generated four Billboard Top 40 hits, including the single, “Cindy’s Birthday”, which peaked at number 8, in 1962. His other hits included “Rumors” (number 12, 1962), “Your Nose is Gonna Grow” (number 14, 1962), and “Proud” (number 29, 1963).

Photo Courtesy of One Eyed Horse Productions.

While serving in the Army in the late 1960s, Johnny appeared in, and directed a number of military training films in New York City and Texas, remembered by veterans of the times.

A former member of the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and the AJRA (American Junior Rodeo Association), Johnny competed frequently at rodeos throughout the country during the 1960s and early 70s.

High Chaparral’s Don Collier with stuntman and owner of Roy Rogers Double R Bar Ranch, Jim Heffel, enjoyed catching up with one another before the premiere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3NPo9Dek1c&t=515s and https://www.thedesertway.com/roy-rogers-double-r-bar-ranch/

Johnny formed his dance orchestra in 1990 and released, “Sweepin’ the Clouds Away” featuring swing music from the 1920s and 30s in 2008.

Many thanks to Daniel Boone‘s Darby Hinton for organizing such a lovely and prestigious event for Johnny Crawford.

Anticipation mounted as darkness fell under a canopy of twinkling stars. The falling temperature reminded everyone Autumn was just around the corner. Helpful park staff brought portable heaters to quell the chill. Organizers and cast members gathered on the deck to introduce the movie, then it was finally show time. And what a show it was.

Actors Don Collier, Johnny Alonso, Darby Hinton and Eliza Kelley.

Main characters in the movie included Cole Younger (Darby Hinton), Frank James (Robert Carradine), Bat Masterson (Marc Goodman) and Big Joe (Johnny Alonso). Richard Cutting portrayed a menacing ne’er-do-well named Murphy. Marshal Bill Tilghman was effectively portrayed by Ken Arnold. Kathy Searles played Tilghman’s rambunctious wife, Zoe. Outlaw Ma Darling was played by Lana Turner. Manuel Rodriguez played outlaw Cherokee Watie. And of course, William S. Hart was portrayed by the man of the hour, Johnny Crawford.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently.

Cheryle and Vincent Falls drove all the way from New Hampshire in their RV to attend the event.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age because it can have a much earlier onset.

Johnny and his Johnny Crawford Legacy Facebook fanpage creator, Tracey Bacus, who flew in from Missouri. www.facebook.com/johnnycrawfordlegacy You can also find Johnny on Twitter, Instagram and https://johnnycrawfordlegacy.com.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.        

John rescheduled his knee replacement surgery so he could attend Johnny’s fundraiser.

One thing’s for sure. People adore Johnny Crawford. His innocent smile and gentle manner still draws countless fans from previous generations and present. Johnny is genuinely humble and it still shows.

Rob Word interviews producer Rupert Hitzig at the McCrea Ranch before the premiere of Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws.

We are honored to support Johnny for this fantastic movie premiere and beyond. It was heartwarming to witness the love and enthusiasm of his cast mates and fans during Johnny’s fundraiser.

This thoughtful video about Johnny on A Word on Westerns on YouTube has nearly one half million views so far.

Sincere thanks to Rob Word for creating a beautiful tribute to Johnny from the event on YouTube.

Film clip from Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws courtesy of One Eyed Horse Productions.

We really enjoyed the tale of this wholesome western based on a true story. Our cowboy hats off to a great movie. Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws has everything a good western should have: action, suspense and a few belly laughs. It was truly wonderful watching Johnny on the silver screen once more, surrounded by others who love him so much.

Naturally, we hope it’s not the last work of our favorite trick roping cowboy band leader.  Good talent is hard to come by, and we’re happy to say we need him around for a long time to come. Johnny’s enduring legacy of love and tenacity despite the odds will touch your heart and inspire you. Now, maybe you can help Johnny too. His battle is not over. It’s just begun.

Me, Johnny and Nance. Oh, and a fabulous photo bomb from actress Lana Turner.

Citations:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/johnny-crawford039s-alzheimer039s-fund

http://darbyhinton.com

Jaylyn

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