Of all the things that are Santa Clarita, the Walk of Western Stars just might be the Santa Clarita-est.
Similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in Old Town Newhall we have a western walk of fame, an ode to our valley’s western heritage in life, film and music. But we can’t CALL it a walk of fame — not officially anyway — because the overly litigious folks down in Hollywood might sue the chaps off of us.
So, it’s the Walk of Western Stars. But, ironically, instead of a star embedded in the sidewalk, it’s a saddle. I guess it could be called the Western Walk of Saddles.
The Walk of Western Stars has its origins way back in the late-1970s, when Jo Anne Darcy — one of my all-time favorite Santa Clarita people — started hosting a luncheon in Newhall to honor western celebrities who had connections to the Santa Clarita Valley. This was a decade before we even had a city of Santa Clarita.
By 1981, those luncheons had morphed into the Walk of Western Stars, which sought not only to honor All Things Western but also to help bring some foot traffic to the merchants of the valley’s historic downtown district, which was in decline over the years as the SCV suburbanized.
The early honorees — some living, some posthumously enshrined — were household names of western film, TV and music. Names like William S. Hart, Gene Autry, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Clayton Moore, John Wayne, Iron Eyes Cody and, one of my personal favorites, Sam Elliot.
You probably know Sam Elliot more now for being that voice in the Dodge truck commercials who says, “Ram Tough!” He’s also the guy who said, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” But his career bona fides as a western actor are unquestionable.
Back in 1993, they inducted Sam Elliot into the Walk of Western Stars in a big shindig at CalArts. After he was introduced and they had said all sorts of nice things about him, he took the stage and said, “I’ve been introduced by some bulls—ers before, but this takes all.”
I was there. It was hilarious. So hilarious that then-Signal staff writer Carol Rock (Hi Carol!) included it in her story. But she didn’t use any dash-dash-dash to conceal the S word that rhymes with “slit.” Nope. The full word, starting with “bull” and ending in “itters” with an SH in between, was right there in her story, in all its glory.
And that night, whoever was on the copy desk thought to himself, “What a great quote!” So, he made it what we in the news biz call a “pull quote.” It ran, above the fold, in large type, on page A1, on a Sunday morning right in plain view of all the conservative church-going folk of 1993 Santa Clarita — and, apparently, their impressionable children.
Oh, did my phone ring off the hook that Monday morning. And we got letters. ANGRY letters. (Funny thing: While I was researching for this column, I did an archive search of The Signal for that word — minus the “ers” — and to my surprise, there were 20, count ’em, TWENTY, matches, mostly in the 1970s and ’80s. Let’s put a pin in that for a future column…)
Fast forward to 2022. As two-hit wonder Paula Cole sang back in the ’90s, “Where have all the cowboys gone?”
Hollywood isn’t cranking out westerns at the pace it used to. And most of the obvious potential honorees — particularly those with Santa Clarita connections — already have their saddle in the sidewalk in front of a taqueria, gastro pub, theater or barbecue joint in Old Town Newhall.
So, this year, they inducted Ricky Schroder and Cesar Romero. Schroder is best known as the former child actor who costarred with Jon Voight in “The Champ” (1979), and Romero is perhaps best remembered as the Joker from the original campy “Batman” series of the 1960s.
Yes, they both had legitimate western roles on their resumes. But it’s kind of like the Baseball Hall of Fame inducting a guy who didn’t hit over the Mendoza line. I guess we’re fresh out of “John Waynes.”
They held the induction ceremony Thursday in Old Town Newhall, and neither of the two newest western stars were present. Romero had an ironclad excuse: He died in 1994.
Schroder — who has a few checkers in his past that you can easily find on Google, including a couple of arrests that went nowhere and a 2021 incident in which he had a meltdown over masking rules, which actually made me like him a little better — didn’t attend Thursday’s festivities. (Really, Rick? Big-timing us? Too busy these days?)
Romero was represented at the ceremony by local resident Miranda Cunha, who says she’s the love child of Romero and Carmen Miranda. (Romero is not known to have any children.)
Cunha, who has been advocating for Romero to be honored on the Walk of Western Stars over the past few years, is known for a 2016 appearance on “America’s Got Talent” in which she did a song and dance number while rubbing her bosoms in Simon Cowell’s face.
I am not making this up. Google it.
Either Cunha is absolutely telling the truth about being Romero’s daughter, or we’ve all been had.
Regardless, I’d like to throw a few names out there for enshrinement to pump things up a bit for the next go-round — and even if they don’t have a previous connection to the SCV, I think the time has come to loosen up that requirement anyway, if we haven’t already done so.
We need some inductees with a little more western cache than the Joker and the kid from “The Champ.”
For example, where’s Clint Eastwood’s saddle in the sidewalk? Answer: Nowhere. (Favorite recent Clint Eastwood movie quote: In “Cry Macho,” the kid tells Clint’s character that his rooster is named “Macho.” When Clint seems unimpressed, the kid asks, ”What’s wrong with that?” And Eastwood replies: “Nothing. Guy wants to name his cock ‘Macho,’ it’s OK by me.”)
Leonardo DiCaprio has been in a couple of westerns. Quentin Tarantino has directed a few. Kevin Costner has western street cred, and turned in one of my all-time favorite performances in “Dances with Wolves,” which was later reimagined in outer space as “Avatar.”
And then there’s Will Smith. He was in “Wild Wild West.” Imagine what a hoot it would be if we could get him to come to the award ceremony…
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.