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Buck Taylor, Ruta Lee, Clint Walker and array of TV cowboys host Memphis finale

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The Memphis Film Festival, subtitled "A Gathering of Guns 6 – A TV Western Reunion," reaches a thrilling finale Saturday evening. In an early morning announcement, festival organizers revealed that last-minute tickets are still available at the door of Sam's Town Hotel and Casino.

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Western devotees can meet an even dozen of their heroes and participate in informative, often boisterous celebrity panel discussions at the Tunica (aka Robinsonville), Miss. nightspot, located about 30 miles southwest of Elvis Presley's Graceland when traveling on Highway 61.

Actress Ruta Lee [e.g. Maverick, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Andy Griffith Show], The Wild Wild West's Robert Conrad, Gunsmoke's Buck Taylor, Robert Colbert [The Time Tunnel and "Brent Maverick" on Maverick], Cheyenne's Clint Walker, The Virginian's Clu Gulager, Wagon Train–Laramie–Emergency! star Robert Fuller, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip infamy, Michael McGreevey ("Chip" on Riverboat), Jon Walmsley ("Jason" on The Waltons), Dennis Devine (son of jolly character actor Andy Devine) costumer-to-the-stars and longtime John Wayne friend Luster Bayless, biographer David Rothel [Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armour in a Savage Land], and the multi-talented Henry Darrow, best known as "Manolito" on The High Chaparral, await your arrival with extended arms.

Three screening rooms will be available between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. showcasing vintage episodes from Hollywood's golden era and first-rate, albeit rarely seen movies featuring the special guests. A silent auction of retro memorabilia and dealers specializing in cowboy gear are on hand, too.

The penultimate celebrity panel, moderated at 11 a.m. by The Films of Audie Murphy author Boyd Magers, consists of Darrow, Gulager, and Bayless. A trivia contest worth $100 in cash, sure to arouse fierce competition among cowboy aficionados from every corner of the USA and beyond, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Thirty scant minutes later, the ultimate panel, moderated by Western historian Ray Nielsen, is sure to have the audience on the edge of their seat as Lee, Fuller, and Colbert trace their respective Hollywood careers. Patrons are definitely encouraged to participate and ask questions.

The showstopping finale of the Memphis Film Festival is the entertaining awards banquet, held at the exquisite River Palace Entertainment Center. A concert from Jon Walmsley is extra icing on the cake. Meeting such an impressive cast, most swiftly approaching octogenarian eligibility, is a highly infrequent happening. Factor in the East Coast locale, and you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in the same room with folks forever ingrained in the public's collective consciousness.

Still on the fence? Then turn to the effervescent, sharp-as-a-tack Ms. Lee for the final incentive: “I thank my fans from my very bottom – which is my best part – for caring and sharing a little of their time with me. I so look forward to meeting everybody in person.”

DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! John Wayne possessed no plans to retire after "The Shootist" opened to excellent reviews but slow box office receipts in August 1976. After open heart surgery in late spring 1978, the Duke was determined to begin work on "Beau John." He went to impressive lengths to secure the project, actually buying the film rights via Batjac, the first time that had happened since he unsuccessfully bidded for "True Grit" 10 years earlier. The legend also had plans to reunite with one of his recent costars. Little has been known about the unfinished film until now. To learn more about the one project that gave Wayne some much needed hope during his final days, head on over to "'Beau John': The Untold Story of John Wayne's Last Project."

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Exclusive Interview: Burly character actor Gregg Palmer appeared in an impressive six films with John Wayne. By far, "Big Jake" contains Palmer's best work with the towering legend. In it, the 6'4", 300-pound Palmer memorably plays a vicious machete-brandishing villain who threatens his grandson's life with near deadly results. In the words of fan Tom Horton, Palmer was one of the nastiest bastards to ever fight Duke. In a just released two-part interview (Part One is "The Man Who Killed John Wayne's Dog..."), the gentle giant relives his friendship with Duke and remembers his 30-year career alongside some of the greatest actors in Hollywood.

Exclusive Interview No. 2: Starring James Drury in the title role, "The Virginian" is the third-longest running and first 90-minute western in prime time television. A humble, genuine cowboy in real life with intense passions for writing and flying, the octogenarian speaks eloquently in a new feature about his unexpected encounter with the iconic John Wayne, whether he had a role model in mind for his characterization of The Virginian, the 50th anniversary of his namesake series, and why he will always appreciate his fans. Click on either installment link above to begin the enlightening ride.

Exclusive Interview No. 3: Kent McCray served as Michael Landon's best man and proverbial right hand on three beloved television series –Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. In a wide-ranging conversation commemorating Landon's 76th birthday ["The Brother That He Never Had..."], McCray recalls their strained debut encounter, Landon's burgeoning progress as a writer and director, a few memorable practical jokes, visiting a terminally ill teenager and ensuring her controversial last request happened, and what happened when the actor didn't have a driver's license at an L.A.

Exclusive Interview No. 4: If Lee Marvin hadn't stubbornly insisted on taking the lead role in the derided musical "Paint Your Wagon," he might have had the opportunity to star in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" with celebrated cult actor Warren Oates. Though not a household name, Oates lit up the screen in a 25-year career cut inexplicably short by a heart attack at age 53 in April 1982. His hardscrabble Depression-era upbringing in the predominantly coal-mining community of Depoy, Ky., no doubt influenced his honest characterizations as the voyeuristic deputy of “In the Heat of the Night,” a good-natured outlaw gang member in “The Wild Bunch,” the psychotic pill-poppin’ villain in Lee Van Cleef’s “Barquero,” a tall-tale spewing car driver in “Two-Lane Blacktop,” the sympathetic title role of “Dillinger,” and Bill Murray’s constantly exasperated sergeant in the comical “Stripes.” His pre-eminent biographer, Susan Compo, speaks in a fascinating interview [i.e. "Warren Oates: A Wild Life"] about Oates’ hell-raising and humanity, best and worst movie roles, working alongside the mercurial Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and what she might have said to Oates if their paths had crossed.

Exclusive Interview No. 5: Jack Kelly had an undeniable knack for making the ladies swoon. Possessing a svelte figure, the charming cowboy became a household name when he costarred with James Garner on the seminal comedy western series, "Maverick." His biographer, Linda Alexander, recently took it upon herself to expose the actor's body of work to a new generation, and an interview seemed like the perfect place to start. In "More Than Bret Maverick's Brother: Remembering Jack Kelly On His 85th Birthday"], Alexander reveals Kelly's entry into show business at the insistence of a bona fide stage mother, his quintessential "Maverick" episodes, the ongoing Bret versus Bart debate, how Garner's contract negotiations with the network affected his costar, and whether the two were friends in real life.

*****CLICK HERE to get your free email subscription to Jeremy Roberts’ regular column. Authentic interviews, original commentary, news, and reviews from the wide world of pop culture will be delivered directly to your inbox. And whether you enjoyed or disliked this article, don't hesitate to leave a comment below to join the discussion. Thanks!

© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2014. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Headlines with links are fine. In addition, posting any links to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or Google Plus is sincerely appreciated.

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