On this date 50 years ago, Hollywood dropped in on Cowtown.
The Rare Breed, a Western about the introduction of Hereford cattle (an English breed) to the American West in the late 1800s, had its world premiere on Feb. 2, 1966, to take advantage the cattle-savvy crowds in town for the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show (known today as the Fort Worth Stock Show).
The gala debut, which took place at the Palace Theatre (a long departed downtown movie house, not the current Palace 9 Theatre), included appearances by the film’s principals: Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara; supporting players Juliet Mills and Don Galloway; and the film’s director, Andrew McLaglen, who is better remembered for Shenandoah and McClintock!
In addition to appearing before each of two screenings of the film at the Palace, the film’s stars, who were among the top names in Hollywood in that era, visited the Stock Show, where they posed for pictures with prize cattle and attended the rodeo.
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The Star-Telegram was thick with coverage.
The Rare Breed was not Fort Worth’s first world premiere. Three other films had previously debuted: The Westerner (1940), Follow the Sun (1951) and Fort Worth (1951).
Columnist Elston Brooks noted that the premiere would be preceded by a parade led by the Castleberry High School marching band and, after the event, that Stewart had received standing ovations from both audiences attending the screenings, which were emceed by legendary Texas broadcaster Cactus Pryor.
Columnist Anne Miller Tinsley recounted that Stewart was brought to Fort Worth in a Bell helicopter and that the premiere would include the announcement of the winner chosen from “the 16 pretty Texas lasses vying for the ‘Miss Poll-ette’ crown” — a pageant conducted by the Texas Polled Hereford Association. That breed association had a special interest in The Rare Breed because one of its leading characters, a Hereford named Vindicator, was hornless — or “polled.”
Not the first premiere in Cowtown
The event also received some national coverage, albeit of a self-serving type. Universal Newsreels, an affiliate of the movie studio that produced The Rare Breed, shot a brief segment that shows a champion polled Hereford bull from the Stock Show. The bull was held in pen in front of the Palace’s ticket window, as a tuxedoed Stewart and a fur-clad O’Hara waved to the crowds gathered around the theater.
The Rare Breed was not Fort Worth’s first world premiere. Three other films had previously debuted here: The Westerner with Gary Cooper (1940), Follow the Sun with Glenn Ford (1951) and Fort Worth with Randolph Scott (1951).
And the Stock Show was no stranger to Hollywood stars. In the mid-20th century, promotional appearances by big names from screen Westerns, including such greats as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, were almost commonplace at the Stock Show.
The music for The Rare Breed was done by “Johnny Williams,” better known as Star Wars’ composer John Williams.
But no film ever overlapped with the Stock Show as directly as The Rare Breed, which was about an important transition period in the American cattle industry when European breeds were introduced to improve the rugged American breeds, like the Texas Longhorn. It is also one of the few films where a bull is a central character.
‘It really spoke to us’
Was the movie worth its hype?
The answer to that question depends on whether you ask critics or audiences.
Although some reviews were mostly favorable (the New York Times said the film was “the kind of frontier opus that Mr. Stewart personifies with his laconic expertise year in year out.”), the tally for the film on rottentomatoes.com comes to a lowly 33 percent approval rating from critics. But the audience rating on that same website registers 58 percent positive.
We just thought it was interesting to see a story on film about cattle and cattle raising. It really spoke to us.
Cari Alexander, who who grew up in a family that raised polled Herefords
From a purely cinematic standpoint,The Rare Breed is well-made and well-acted, but seldom rises above the ordinary when compared with other Westerns of its era.
But for people who grew up around cattle, it remains a Citizen Kane-level film.
“We just thought it was interesting to see a story on film about cattle and cattle raising. It really spoke to us,” said Cari Alexander, who grew up in a family that raised polled Herefords on a spread near Whitewright and is now the media librarian at TCU’s Mary Couts Burnett Library. “Vindicator could have been the bull of my grandmother’s heart, given his temperament and things like the little curls on top of his head.”
Vindicator, it should be noted, was a steer who played the part of a bull.
Now that’s acting.