“Cut, cut Goddamn it cut!” yelled the director. “Come on, Ben, this is the eighth time we’ve tried to get this scene right and you still haven’t got your lines correct. Enough for today. Let’s shut it down and regroup in the morning. Ben, for God’s sake, know your lines tomorrow.” Ben Fielding has heard the word “cut” too many times this week. Even though he had appeared in over 35 western films in the last 25 years, he was feeling that his age and his drinking was finally taking its toll. Cimmaron Creek was probably going to be his last film.
It all started in 1957 when his dad took a drove of horses to a movie set in Laramie, Wyoming. Ben went along to help. Growing up on a Montana ranch, where his Dad was a ranch hand for the owner, he spent his entire childhood on horses. Helping with the horses, Ben got to stay on set and instantly knew this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He became friends with some of the actors, and he voiced his desire to work in the movie industry. One night while talking to Duke Redding, an old character actor that had been around the western movie scene for years, Duke told Ben that he knew John Ford. Ford was going to be filming a new movie over in Jackson Hole in a few months and he always needed wranglers. Ben showed up on set and found Ford, “Mr. Ford, my name is Ben Fielding, Duke Redding told me to find you, and you would give me a job.” “Well son, can you handle a horse?” “Yes sir, I’ve been working horses since I was in diapers.” “Pay is $5 a day with room and board. Go see Charlie over at the corral,” Ford replied. That was the beginning of Ben’s career as a movie actor.
John Ford hired him as a wrangler for the film The Searchers. He continued to work for Ford doing numerous odd jobs on the sets of his movies. In 1962 at the age of 23, John Ford gave him a small part in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and 49 years later, Ben still loved being in front of a camera. In the movie world, Ben was dependable and considered a good actor, but not a great one.
Now being 72, roles are few and far between. When Roman De Luca, the director of Cimmaron Creek, offered him a part, Ben jumped at the opportunity. Come to find out later, Roman only offered him the part to please his wife, who was Ben’s cousin. Ben’s role was playing the patriarch of the Hornbeck family, who owned a 5,000 acre ranch in New Mexico in the 1870s. Railroad barons were threatening the Hornbeck’s hold on the Cimmaron Creek Ranch. The story tells the tale of a family fighting together to keep the ranch under their control. His part of the aging father was a small one, but he was glad just to be working again.
The shoot was being filmed a few miles outside of the small town of Loving, New Mexico. De Luca’s production company had leased two hotels in Carlsbad, a larger town north of Loving. Since Ben was always a loner when he was on location, he decided to stay at the Roadside Inn in Loving to get away from the chaos that always surrounds a movie location. The Roadside Inn was your typical motor inn that can be found in every small town in America. Thirty rooms spread out in an L shape with a covered awning over the front doors and a chair outside of each room.
Ben pulled in front of room 10 in his rented Jeep. He entered the room, collapsed in the chair and slammed the script to the floor. Pouring a large amount of Jack into a glass on the table, closing his eyes, Ben drank the burning whiskey in one gulp. Inside Ben’s mind, he relived the day’s events. This was going to be his last role, and it was going to be a disaster. He poured another glass of Jack and grabbed the remote to turn on the TV. On the small screen appeared a movie he was very familiar with, High Noon, with Gary Cooper.
Ben has watched this movie a least a hundred times. He loved the late actor, Gary Cooper and the character of Will Kane. He loved the way Kane stood before the bad guys alone while the citizens hid in the shadows. Ben was always impressed with the way Cooper handled his roles, with such class and dedication. Ben continued to watch the movie, and after a few drinks, he fell asleep sitting in the chair.
Ben woke to the sound of static coming from the TV. Looking at the clock radio on the night table, he noticed it was 1 a.m. Being wide awake, Ben reached for the bottle of whiskey and realized that Jack had left the building. He got out of the chair, walked to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Starting back at him was an old man with bloodshot eyes and a look of fear on his face. Ben stood there a minute, washed his face and returned to the chair. When he turned the TV off, the room was dark. He noticed a yellowish glow coming through the partially shut curtains. Ben slowly pulled the curtains open. The light was coming from a neon sign located across the street from the Roadside Inn. The sign was blinking The Yellow Rose Open 24 HRS. Ben said out loud, “Well, will you look at that, answered prayers.” Ben put on his boots and headed to the Yellow Rose.
Ben walked into the Rose and was greeted with total silence. A few ranch hands were sitting at a table by the jukebox, a couple playing pool, and one gentleman sitting at the last barstool at the far end of the old oak bar. Ben sat at the bar and the bartender came over and said, “Howdy partner, what you drinking?” “A double Jack on the rocks.” The bartender placed a glass with ice in front of Ben and poured the whiskey. “Never seen you in my place before. You just passing through?” Ben looked at the bartender, reached out his hand, and said, “I’m Ben, just in town for a job.” “ Welcome to The Yellow Rose, Ben. I’m Ted, and this is my place.” Ben raised his glass and took a swig of the whiskey.
Drinking his whiskey, he noticed the reflection of the stranger to his left in the mirror behind the bar. He was dressed in a western shirt with a vest and was wearing a black Stetson hat. He looked to be in his late fifties and was drinking a beer while smoking a cigarette. The stranger’s face was so familiar to Ben, but he couldn’t come up with a reason why. When Ben finished his whiskey and set the empty glass down, the stranger said, “The next one is on me, Mr. Fielding.” Ben turned to face the stranger. The stranger put out his hand, “ I would know you anywhere, seen most of your movies, big fan. I’m Frank.” Ben moved to the stool next to Frank and took his hand, “Always glad to meet a fan. What brings you to the Yellow Rose in the middle of nowhere, Frank?”
“In town to help an old friend. I heard there was a crew up at the old Wynn Ranch shooting, but somewhere I read, you had retired and moved back to Wyoming.” “ I kinda did for a while but got offered a part in Roman De Luca’s new western. Read the script and loved the character of Jonas Hornbeck. Playing an aging old gentleman trying to save his ranch for his kids and defeat the evil land barons, sounded like my kind of role. Plus it gave me one more shot to prove my worth to myself, I guess.” Ben explained. Frank and Ben sat there over an hour swapping old stories, and then Ben said he had to be on set at 11a.m. As he was getting up to leave, Frank put his hand on Ben’s shoulder and with an encouraging voice said, “Tomorrow, when De Luca shouts action, put elements of yourself into that character, convey that lost honor and desire for redemption. Be Ben Fielding talking to his daughter and grandson, not Jonas Hornbeck talking to some other actors.” Ben thought that sounded strange but figured it was the alcohol talking.
Ben got to the set at Wynn Ranch a little before 9 a.m., and sitting outside of his trailer was a pleasant surprise, his daughter, Kelly, and his grandson, Luke. Luke came running, yelling, “Surprise, Pops.” Ben picked him up and placed a big kiss on the top of his head. “Mom said we could come and watch you work, is that O.K.?” “Yep, that’s great,” Ben said with wet eyes. He walked over to Kelly, embraced her, and whispered into her ear, “You and Luke are just what I needed today.”
While in wardrobe, Ben studied his lines, and for the first time in years, had butterflies in his stomach. The stage director came and told him they were ready on set. In Ben Fielding tradition, he took a shot of Jack Daniels and headed out. Roman greeted him and said, “Today is going to be perfect, Ben. Just relax and do your job.” Thirty seconds before Roman shouted action, Ben looked off the set and saw Kelly and Luke sitting in director chairs, and at that instant, the words of Frank registered deep inside his soul. Fifteen minutes later, Roman yells cut, and the entire crew stands up, giving Ben a standing ovation. Kelly comes over and hugs her Dad and with an emotional voice, said, “That was flawless and so very real.” He kissed her on the cheek and all three walked off the set together.
Later that night, after having dinner with his daughter and grandson, Ben entered The Yellow Rose. He sees Ted behind the bar and a few other patrons scattered around the room. He looks to the last barstool at the far end of the bar, but no one is there. He asked Ted, “Has Frank been in tonight?” Ted had a puzzled look on his face and replies, “Who?” “The guy I was talking to last night in the old black Stetson hat there at the end of the bar.” “I don’t know any Frank, but the cowboy you were talking to last night goes by the name of Coop. I think it’s a nickname, don’t know his real name.” Ben plopped down on the nearness barstool and tells Ted, “I think I need a double Jack on the rocks.”
Ben spent four more weeks on the set of Cimmaron Creek, and every day he thought about the advice Frank gave him. He poured more and more of Ben Fielding into Hornbeck, and when it was all done, he was proud and satisfied with his final role. After the last day of filming, Ben stopped in The Yellow Rose for one last drink and to say goodbye to Ted. As Ben sat down, Ted poured him a Jack, and handed him an envelope, “I found this taped to the front door when I came in this morning.” Ben took it, and on the front was printed, Ben Fielding. He opened it and removed a sheet of paper. Ben read. “Nice job Ben. Remember, old cowboy actors never die. They ride off into the western sunset to fight another day.” It was signed Coop. He stared at the message and slowly folded it and returned it to the envelope. He shook Ted’s hand and said, “Thanks for the Jacks, see on the next go-round,” and walked out of The Yellow Rose.
Ben was sitting on his deck back in Wyoming, enjoying the early morning frost covering the aspens in his backyard when his phone rang. All he heard was Kelly screaming, ”Dad, Dad, you’re not going to believe this. You’ve been nominated for an Academy Award for best-supporting actor for Cimmaron Creek!” Ben heard what she said, but he was in shock. He sat there in silence until the tears of joy started rolling down his face.
Elizabeth Denning stood at the podium. She slowly opened the envelope and stared at the name printed on the card. “And the Oscar for best-supporting actor goes to Ben Fielding, Cimmaron Creek. The auditorium exploded, and Ben sat there in disbelief. He felt someone hug him, pulling him from his shock. He turned to see it was Luke. “Go get it, Pops, you earned it.” Ben Fielding took the longest walk of his life. Elizabeth handed him his Oscar and gave him a big old bear hug. “Wow, didn’t expect this. Sorry, but I’m at a total loss for words at this moment. Thanks to Kelly and Luke for showing up on set at the most critical time and encouraging me to be myself. Thanks to Roman and my movie family. Finally, thanks to Frank at The Yellow Rose in Loving, New Mexico. You are the greatest of all time.”
The sun was starting to set in the western sky when Ben walked in the door of The Yellow Rose. He looked at Ted. Ted looked back with a gigantic smile. Ben went directly to the last barstool at the end of the bar, placed the Oscar on the seat, and said, “That’s for you, Coop.” He left the Oscar on the barstool and without saying a word, walked out. Ben got back in his truck and drove away, glancing into his rearview mirror, he watched the yellow neon sign marking the spot of The Yellow Rose fade away.