|Gary Winstead, American Cowboy, Actor, Author|
American Cowboy Gary Winstead
Archived Interview from iVIEW trueCOWBOYmagazine.com July 2016
No Duplication Without Permission
When I met up with Gary Winstead, he was off to Las Vegas, honoring the memory of his wife Faye. They were married in Vegas 46 years ago. Gary reminisces, “We promised each other whomever passed first the other would take ashes, a picture, and play that person’s favorite machine.” From there, Winstead was “off to face the California traffic up to Hollywood to meet with a producer. He is interested in my next project. That doesn't mean much, everyone up there has an angle. So you shake hands then count your fingers…lol.”
Winstead is an author, writer, actor, movie producer and director. Besides those talents, he has a black belt in Judo and a horseman’s gold buckle. “I was a farrier/trainer, etc. in my youth,” Gary reflects. “I am retired now and for a time was a member of the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association. Now I just write and make short films. My last short film, The Pony No One Could Ride, was based on a true event that included my son and a free pony which did not end well. It has been shown in 12 film festivals and won me best director from a festival in Romania of all places (they like the American Cowboy in Romania). My newest project is a short film about a ghost light I encountered while serving with the Marine Corps in North Carolina back in the 60's. I have two scenes to shoot then off to editing.”
An author for Crimson Cloak Publishing and Solstice Publishing, Winstead has a new book out A Cowboy Tall Tales, based on the true life adventures of Cutter and Margo, characters based upon Winstead and his wife Faye. His books echo the value of America’s Wild Mustangs.
GM: When was your first encounter with a horse?
GW: The earliest I can remember is when my father took me to see a local rodeo. I was around five or six. I was so fascinated by what I had seen it became a quest, if you will, for me to have a horse. We were too poor to own property not to mention a horse so I was able to talk my way onto one that a prominent citizen owned.
Just down the block from me was a stable and a 10-acre pasture. Every weekend the man that owned the Chevy Garage in our small town would bring a few people and they would ride for several hours. Every weekend I was sitting there on the hay bales waiting until one day I guess he felt sorry for this poor waif and put me on one of his horses. I was seven at the time. It just kind of grew from there.
I would watch the shoer as he plied his trade and as fate would have it when I was honorable discharged from the Marine Corps I started my own business shoeing horses. Karma I guess.
GM: You’ve been around a lot of horses and are an accomplished rider. Do you have a favorite horse anecdote to share?
GW: There are so many from 60 years in the saddle but one that really stands out is something that I wrote about which will be in my next book due out this summer. In the early 70’s I had this great rope horse named Tip. She would turn on a dime and give nine cents change. Was great on trail and would run down a steer in record time. I also had a new (emphasis on new) neighbor that did not know or like horses and he had a mother-in-law who was as sweet as peach cobbler.
Behind my spread was a ravine and for some reason this particular weekend the in-law decided to park her vintage car in the ravine. The series of events that followed now could only be something Hollywood dreamed up.
My daughter was cleaning the stalls and did not secure Tip’s well enough and as anyone knows, give a horse an inch…So Tip gets out and heads for the ravine. I’m in the round pen working a young Mustang and hear Josephine hollering for Tip to come back. I get out of the pen just in time to see my great 1200-pound Palomino mare go up the side of the ravine, slip on the green brush and fall right on top of the Mother-in-laws car. She lands on her side on the hood, rolls over the roof on the trunk and doesn’t break stride as she hits her feet and keeps on going. Josephine and I are running and yelling for her to come back, right. Well too late now. Tip decides to stop and come back. Yep. Now we are hollering, no, no stop.
Undaunted she keeps coming, goes up the ravine, slips, falls on the trunk this time, rolls over the roof off the hood and comes right up next to me. She nuzzles like nothing happened and didn’t have a mark on her.
I hear “Oh, my.” Look up and there is Jan, Dennis and the Mom. She has her head in her hands and keeps repeating “Oh, my.”
The short version is we all stayed friends and her car was repaired. The funniest part was when I called the insurance company and told them I had a claim. “What is your claim?”
“My horse fell on my neighbor’s Mother-in-laws car and smashed it.” He never stuttered and replied, “No problem.” Needless to say that was a relief.
GM: That’s a great story! Horses can sure be unpredictable at times. What horses do you currently stable/ride?
GW: When my wife took sick I sold everything so I could provide the very best care so my last horse was sold sometime last August.
GM: You are a prolific writer and I like the way you engage your readers. You’ve written two books and many short stories. When did you release your first book?
GW: My first book I decided to write was about my four years in the Marine Corps as well as juxtaposing my early life with married life kind of going back and forth. After being rejected 203 times Solstice Publishing took that one and it did really well.
As anyone knows in the publishing business not all houses want the same thing so my next attempts with Solstice went unpublished at which time I started sending them to other houses.
Crimson Cloak Publishing picked up 2 of my short stories which started an ongoing relationship. I have a total of 12 short stories and full length novels as well as my autobiography. There are currently two still in editing.
GM: Are your story-lines, scenarios and characters based upon your own experiences?
GW: Most all of my works are based on real life experiences. I have two characters that appear time and again in my work. Cutter and Margo are really my wife and I. While most all of the stories are based on true events, a lot of the story is embellished for greater readability and enjoyment for the reader. But they almost all happened. You meet a lot of characters along life’s journey and the cowboy way tends to garner some prose worthy material. I make no bones about the fact that Faye (Margo) made me what I am today. She was my muse.
GM: As a writer, is it difficult to transition a book to a screenplay? What is the process?
GW: There are authors and there are screenwriters and the transition for an author can be difficult. As I will mention later, I was in film at an early age so I was familiar with the difference. As writers we tend to be really wordy because reading is cerebral. A picture is painted in the mind’s eye for the reader to devour. Film is visual and less is more. The rule of thumb is one page of script is one minute in a movie.
Therefore, you have to turn a 200-page novel into 90 or so pages. There is controversy in Hollywood about which way is best. I have heard that less is more. In other words, set the scene but don’t be too wordy and spend more time on dialog. Other producers will say, “But we need the character described so we don’t call the wrong sister to the set on shooting day.”
I tend to be wordy because I like my characters to be very colorful. And cowboys ain’t known for talkin”, right…lol.
I currently am a judge for a film/screenplay for a film festival and have been amazed at what scripts are turning up. They are all over the spectrum. I tend to favor the ones that paint a picture so the actor knows what is expected. Some directors on the other hand want the actors to develop the character. I guess I would have to say there is no easy answer. Last year I talked with an intern working for an agent in Hollywood. His job was reviewing scripts to pass up the chain for possible use. An inexperienced college boy was spending his days reading scripts. He said he found only one in a month. So my advice to hopefuls is be descriptive but not overly and have great characters. Hope that answers that question.
GM: You write of Mustangs and the West. What are your views on the horse slaughter debate and the BLM's ability (or lack of) to save the Mustangs?
GW: A real touchy area for me. The Free roaming mustang act of 1971 set up the horses for possible annihilation. Only activists have prevented a complete and utter destruction of one of Americas last remaining Icons. I understand the plight of the rancher trying to manage his herds but he is on government land and in some cases not paying the below market value for grazing. His herd most likely outnumbers the wild ones 50 to 1 so saying the Mustangs are ruining the grazing is dis-ingenious at best. My personal opinion is leave the Mustangs alone and they will self-regulate as all species do. As a compromise make more of them available for adoption, but do not under any circumstances kill them just to willow the herd.
GM: As an actor, what films have you acted in? Who was your favorite actor to work with?
GW: My career as it was spans some 50 years. The first one was Too Late the Hero with Cliff Robertson and Michael Caine. The last one was Volcano with Tommie Lee Jones and The Cowboys in the middle. All bit non speaking parts. I quickly discovered I was much better behind the camera than in front.
You ask who was my favorite actor to work with. Each had there their own quirks and in this business one must be circumspect in answering. I was one of the first to photo bomb. I have a picture of me with Caine. I walked up behind him on set and called his name, when he turned a friend took our picture. I had to get lost in a hurry. The movie was filmed in the Philippine Islands in 1968. Cliff Robertson was so great he would come over and talk to us between takes while other “stars” would disappear into their trailers. There was a British actor who regaled us with stories of the queen. He was hilarious and keep up the banter between takes and would get right back into character. Denhom Elliott was his name; may he rest in peace.
GM: Of all the Westerns and horse operas, which is your favorite?
GW: I’m old school so I have to go with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, starring The Duke, directed by John Ford. There is nothing harder than telling a cowboy his time in the saddle is up and Captain Nathan Brittles has to decide it is time to retire but he must first stop and Indian rebellion.
The you officers are sure to make a misstep as the old Captain tries to make the transition into civilian life but as fate, and movie magic will out, it all works in the end. And don’t discount the way Ford directed. He is responsible for no one else wanting to film in Monument Valley. His artistry and ability to capture the landscape is unprecedented.
GM: As a writer, you must have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author/writer?
GW: My first book I remember reading was Bomba the Jungle Boy. But shortly thereafter my father weaned me on Louie Lamoure. Pappy was born in East Tennessee so it was just a natural progression, but I must admit he is not my favorite. That would fall to Steven King. The first one I read was Salem’s Lot and was hooked. His mind is so creative it is almost scary to think what goes on in there. He paints a picture that will haunt the reader for days.
GM: Do you have advice for novice riders?
GW: Get back on. They need to know you ain’t a cowboy ‘til you fell off a dozen times. Pick yourself up, dust our self-off and get back on. There is a great meme I have seen on the web. Goes something like this. We see a picture of a kid on a fat horse. The kid is wearing jodhpurs, helmet, back straight, snaffle etc. You get the picture. There is a trainer standing there saying, “hands low, feet out, back straight, head up. Etc. the next photo shows a young kid of about 7 on a wild horse in a western saddle. There is dirt blowing all up around him and the horse has a hump in his back and wild eyes. The trainer is really the kids mother and says to him, “If you fall off, you are walking home.” The caption reads “The difference between the rest of the world and cowboys.” Love it.
GM: I love that meme, too! And advice for novice writers?
GW: Don’t give up. I have over 200 rejections on my first book. Also avoid rewriting, yes a lot of work needs to be redone, but once a publisher picks it up, as painful as it maybe they know what sells, so leave the editing to them.
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
GW: I would say that being a cowboy one must always be respectful of others. A good horseman/woman takes care of his animal first and last. That horse has a special relationship with nature and you. Respect it and it will respect you. Be good to fellow riders, treat them like you want to be treated. Understand that others have opinions that may not reflect yours, as long as no one is in danger a simple forced smile and a nod is all you really need to do. Then ride on.
When a horse dumped me and I ended up in the hospital with three broken and five cracked ribs the first thing I asked about when I woke up was where is my paint. The nurse laughed but as it turned out, another cowboy on the trail found her and took her to his ranch and searched for 3 days ‘til he found me. And don’t even ask about how the ambulance/fire/ paramedics couldn’t find me. That’s gonna be a short story coming up.
So to all your loyal readers out there, I hope you like my work, all profits go to the Alzheimer’s Association as they were so wonderful to me during my wife’s six-year struggle with it. I lost her on February 12 and you can bet we gave her one hell of a cowgirl send off.
Cowboy/girl Up. I am off into the sunset.
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Gina McKnight is an author, freelance writer, and equestrian from Ohio USA. gmcknight.com