Bud Kennedy

Betty Buckley gets her day in Fort Worth

Betty Buckley at the film fest ball.
Betty Buckley at the film fest ball. Star-Telegram

Betty Buckley finally had her day, and she nearly missed it.

“When Mayor [Betsy] Price said it was Betty Buckley Day, I thought — wow, I wish I’d known,” the Broadway stage and singing star said Saturday, laughing a day after she was honored at the annual Lone Star Film Festival ball.

“I’m going to pretend it’s today as a makeup.”

At a film festival that merges movies with music, Buckley was honored with the festival’s Stephen Bruton Award, named for the late guitarist and sideman to reflect the festival’s roots in a city where today’s movie-grill server may be tomorrow’s singing or screen star.

Today, that’s Leon Bridges or Kelly Clarkson. In the 1960s, it was Buckley or John Denver or Bruton or one of the other kids from Arlington Heights High School, or maybe somebody from Paschal like songwriter and music producer “T Bone” Burnett.

“Stephen used to say that he thought aliens landed and put something in the water in Fort Worth, because so many writers and musicians came from here,” Buckley said Saturday from her horse ranch west of town, home for the weekend but headed back to Philadelphia for work on Split, her upcoming movie with James McAvoy and director M. Night Shyamalan.

“We were so lucky to grow up here,” she said: “It was still very much a Western town. But we were exposed to every kind of art and music, the great musicals at Casa Mañana and the wonderful talent from New York.”

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Burnett, 67, introduced Buckley, 68, remembering how their generation grew up hearing about Broadway star Mary Martin of Weatherford. But Burnett went on to call Buckley “probably the best singing, best acting Broadway star of all time.”

(Friends 50 years, the two collaborated on the recent album Ghostlight.)

Buckley noted her mother Betty Bob Buckley’s recent 90th birthday, then sang numbers including Bruton’s wistful Too Many Memories.

That was after what must be the only film festival charity auction anywhere that included rodeo box seats, a Stockyards horseback tour and a yearling quarter horse filly (“green-broke, and under saddle”).

“My assistant kept telling me, ‘Do not bid. Do not raise your hand,’ ” said Buckley, already caring for “dogs and cats and a donkey and four horses.”

This film festival has emerged as an annual Ed-stravaganza: a celebration of Fort Worth entertainment, Sundance Square and the arts leadership of philanthropist Ed Bass, 70.

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Buckley, daughter of an Air Force officer, praised the gifts of the city’s legacy cattle and oil families.

“Those are the people who are responsible for this great arts community,” she said.

“Fort Worth is a wonderful city that feels like a town. It’s people like Ed who keep giving, who keep on keepin’ on.”

Sounds like a song.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.