Despite flirting with the life agrarian, I’ve never been a morning person. Pre-10 a.m.? I need a spatula to get out of bed. If someone asked, and, they have, what I would do my last day on Earth? I’d cheerfully reply: “Pulsa el boton de repeticion…” Or, as we say north of the border — “Hit the snooze button.”
I had a good friend. Had he other plans, Jack Williams would have turned 100 next week. Jack made his transition almost 20 years ago and he had this darn burr under his saddle blanket that I needed to join him in celebrating the sun’s first rays inching over Vasquez Rocks. I patiently explained that we now have things called “videos” and I could watch a sunrise on my computer at a more civilized time, like 9:23 at night.
Imagine. Having 300 acres smack dab next to Vasquez Rocks. Rancher, actor, stuntman, intellectual, Realtor, complete rapscallion, swashbuckling trouble-maker, fluid in several languages including Latin and tanned owner of a wide-screen Hollywood cheesy smile, best of all? Jack was a wildman most companionable. He was born April 15, 1922, and doing movie stunts a couple years later. I had the most memorable sunrise viewing of my entire life with Jack.
Funny thing? Sunrises don’t get their fair due. We treasure sunsets more. Maybe dusk is a more reflective time. Sometimes they come with a robust and unjudging full moon and certainly there’s that sense of time itself slowing. No day ahead. No hurry. No chores. No places to be. The problem with Jack’s dratted sunrise over the world-famous San Andreas Fault rock formation was that I would have to either wake at 2:45 a.m. or stay up all night. I lived at the back end of Sand Canyon then. Putting on boots and contact lenses, then there was that trek to South Acton. Once at Jack’s spread, we still had a 20-minute drive to the sandstone vantage point atop a mountain.
Of all the sunrises I’ve ever witnessed, that morning with Jack Williams was the most memorable. Remember. Jack was a stuntman. He was a stuntman who forgot he was sneaking up on 90. Big grin, huge laugh, Jack drove up those dirt trails like Satan dancing on a hotplate. Inches from certain death, we slid around curves and kicked up clouds of dust and gravel on Jack’s Personal Pike’s Peak.
Oh. Did I mention? We couldn’t see?
Just our luck, we picked the one morning where a weather phenomenon rarer than a tsunami hitting Area 51 hit Agua Dulce. It’s August. Summer. Middle of the night. A Tule fog thicker than the president’s cognitive skills blanketed the Sierra Pelonas. The high beams were useless. I remember seeing, quite clearly, right outside the dusty windshield, The Signal’s next-day front-page headline:
Deranged Uncredited Madman Sr. Citizen Stuntman Plunges Beloved Mr. SCV to His Death Right Where
Captain Kirk Fought That Lizard Guy With the Asthma In Star Trek Episode #18, Season #1, at Vasquez Rocks
Perhaps I’m exaggerating. Knowing management as I do, the story would have been on page 64 in classifieds.
I’ve friends who are slugs and will have “Ate A Twinkie Once” etched on their tombstones. Others have managed to squeeze 64 lifetimes into one, laughing, daily, at danger. Jack? I smile thinking of that guy. Whether he was selling a mobile home or racing a chariot in “Ben Hur,” this was a model of how you live life.
Jack was 3 when he did his first stunt. It was 1926. His dad and uncle, both stuntmen, were filming a Western. His uncle was dressed as a woman (just for the scene, Jack assured) in a runaway burning wagon. At full gallop, he has to toss a baby from the flaming Conestoga to a cowboy on horseback. First take, they used a log and it looked like, what else, a log wrapped in a blanket. Jack’s dad moseyed over to say hi to his wife on the set, kissed her on the cheek, did some obligatory quality Dad Time, then kidnapped Jack, not mentioning to his mom that he was going to use him as a stunt baby in the burning wagon shot.
Sure explains a lot. Jack appeared in more than 300 movies, doubled for dozens of famous Hollywood superstars and never had a satisfactory answer for me as to why he never could seem to make it from Point A to Point B on horseback without falling out of the saddle. Jack was blankety-blank well-read, good-humored and insightful. That sunrise.
Poor Jack. He was so disappointed.
You don’t get pea-soup thick fog, in Agua Dulce, in August. No vibrant peaches and oranges, reds, pinks and yellows. It was more like watching the inside armpit of a winter wool coat. The sky melted from black, to dark grey, to not-so dark grey.
“Jack,” I said. “This is absolutely the most unforgettable sunrise I will ever see in my lifetime.” And, it was. We ended up doubling over, giggling uncontrollably like a couple of kids. I’ve never seen such a sunset more unforgettable, filled with life and suchness.
One last Jack story. In his final year, Jack was sitting on the edge of the examining table in the Beverly Hills office of America’s best throat surgeon. Making small talk, the doctor asked where Jack was from.
“Oh. You’ve never heard of the place,” said Jack.
“Try me,” said the young specialist.
“Newhall?” said Jack.
The doctor made a face, paused, then asked: “You ever heard of John Boston?”
Jack just about fell off the table and inquired how the doctor knew me.
“He’s my godfather,” said Niels.
Small world. Sometimes foggy. Sometimes not…
John Boston is the most prolific satirist in Earth’s history. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com. Buy something. Leave 5-stars. Enjoy your book!