Ex-actor from 'Gunsmoke' is Western artist at heart

02/02/2013 11:06 PM

02/04/2013 8:53 AM

FORT WORTH -- Buck Taylor is the face of the Fort Worth Stock Show.

Not with his rugged Old West-like countenance, which has landed him roles in TV and film westerns for more than five decades, but rather with his art.

"This year I used a traditional West Texas cowboy from about 1910," Taylor said, describing the subject of the watercolor he painted for the official Stock Show poster. "He's got his chaps on, but he might ride to town and take the chaps off for the dance. I think it says 'Texas.'"

Taylor has been doing the Stock Show's poster every year since 1996 and is a well-known fixture in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall, where he mans a booth overflowing with his paintings and posters.

His stall is easy to find. It is the one that is that is nearly always crowded with art lovers and fans of Gunsmoke, the legendary TV series on which he played the character of Newy for more than 170 episodes.

"I'm a 'Smokie,'" said Rick Fields of Lake Whitney, identifying himself as a loyal fan of the show. "I've got all 635 episodes, 20 years' worth. I come here specifically to see [Taylor] every year. Buck is about the only main star who is left."

Fields is typical of visitors to Taylor's mobile art gallery. He initially came to the booth because of the TV show. But he kept coming back because of the art.

"I like his art because it is so difficult to control watercolors, but he does an exceptionally good job. And every year, he gets better and better," said Fields, a retired pilot instructor for American Airlines.

A Renaissance man

Taylor, 75, who lives near Abilene, is something of cowboy-booted Renaissance man who has enjoyed great success as actor and artist.

As a film and TV star, he is linked genetically to the American Western. His father was Dub Taylor, the famously rubber-faced character actor who played numerous roles in the oaters of the genre's heyday. As a result, Taylor grew up around of some of Hollywood's greatest. He once met John Wayne, Chill Wills helped him take his first steps, Ben Johnson was a family friend and he often visited and talked art with Charlton Heston, to give you an idea.

After studying art and flunking out of college ("I got A's in art but failed math," he said.), Taylor followed his father's footsteps into acting but did not limit himself to Westerns. His TV credits include appearances or recurring roles on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Ben Casey, My Favorite Martian, Combat!, Barnaby Jones, General Hospital, Dallas and T.J. Hooker. His most recent film role was in the Steven Spielberg-produced Cowboys and Aliens, in which his bad-guy character was blown away by Daniel Craig.

That means Taylor is almost certainly the only person at the Stock Show who can claim the distinction of having been killed by James Bond.

Even with all his success on the screen, Taylor said he was not fulfilled.

"There was something missing from my life, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was successful in movies and television, and that was gratifying. But there was just something missing. What I wanted to do, what I had to do, was paint," he said.

So in the early 1990s, Taylor picked up the art supplies he had set aside for 25 years.

"I took a life drawing class at a recreational park in California. There were a lot of housewives. I think I was the only man," said Taylor, who counts C.M Russell, Frederic Remington and Leroy Neiman among his influences. "Within two weeks, I was better than I was when I had quit."

Western way of life

So Taylor got back into his art with a passion, but he purposely avoided trading on his Gunsmoke reputation.

"Having grown up watching that show, and then all of a sudden, I am on that show and I'm walking into that Long Branch Saloon, thinking 'Man, what I am doing here?'" Taylor said, recalling his awe at having landed such a coveted role. "But when I first started back painting, I didn't want to go into Gunsmoke. I wanted to be accepted as an artist on my own. I always thought it would be kind of a cheap shot to [paint Gunsmoke characters and scenes] because I knew I would sell it just because of the subject."

Taylor credits a series of good teachers for his success with art.

"I wouldn't be at the Stock Show today if it wasn't for my 12th-grade art teacher at North Hollywood High School," said Taylor, who is well-known at the Stock Show for the warmth and generosity of time and spirit he extends to those who visit his booth, where he is happy to put his southpaw autograph on a poster for a fan. "And, in a strange way, now I have become a teacher. I love the American West. And my paintings, which I love to do, tell the story of the Western way of life."

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