The Rodeo Queen and the Comic Book WriterA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
When Marsha was in her teens, she sat tall in the saddle and rode down Main Street, dressed in body-tight white, adorned by blue ribbons declaring her a winner and a Queen!
She rode straight and strong in the saddle and off of it.
If the cowboys yearned for her as she rode in the parade, she eventually showed them she was more interested in the Indians.
It was 1960s Oklahoma, and her first intense love affair was with a Navajo Indian.
It was a different time and place. It is difficult for people who did not live in that time to really grasp what it took to make a stand, in terms of race, whether you were a rodeo queen in the West or a writer in the East, whether you acted on what you felt in the face of public hostility, or backed down.
Marsha could be dressed in velvet green on horseback, adored, but that would be a few years old memory when she defiantly stood her ground.
Marsha did not just talk; she walked the walk. She met physical threat as well as verbal assault with equal ferocity.
She came into Manhattan the same way, young and full of talent, not even having a place to live, but she was going to go into theater, and soon she was key student at Earle Hymen’s school. Earle would later become Bill Cosby’s father on the Cosby show.
In the late 1960s into the early 1970s, I was making my own ventures into New York. I was having a helluva time with people like Alex Simmons and Billy Graham.
Alex and I would strap on six-guns in the early morn hours and go into the deep woods in Central Park and play cowboys. We were both cowboys, not Indians, and we were hunting each other. It was great fun. I suspect today we’d be shot with real guns if we did such a thing, but I still recall fondly moving stealthily in shadows hoping I had out-foxed Alex, but not sure he was waiting for me to make the wrong step.
I would go with Alex to some comic book Halloween party way out in the woods somewhere that I can’t recall, dressed as Hopalong Cassidy. That was back when I still had my six-guns.
It was long before I would have the honor of meeting Grace (Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd. Even then, decked out in my Hoppy outfit, I don’t think I would have believed I would have the honor to sit next to Grace when the Western Channel premiered the showing of the documentary on Hoppy.
I would not have believed that the rodeo queen was in my future.
The first time I met the rodeo queen, I did not know she’d ridden down Main Street or that she’d been voted a cowgirl queen.
She wore a white French ruffled blouse, and a short skirt, and everything about her enchanted me. I was at a party given by a couple that were both involved in comics.
I did not get her phone number.
I kept asking the woman member of the couple who gave the party about Marsha; she told me Marsha wasn’t available. It took awhile before I understood that this woman was interested in me, and never, ever, mentioned anything to Marsha.
I was near the end of my time writing Jungle Action and "Killraven".
Marsha would become involved during that time, and she lived more unconventionally than most of the comic book people, who fantasized about doing the things she was actually living.
I was living on the Bowery, developing Sabre, and many people in the comics industry was sure I was crazy with the concept, and that a comic could sell just through the comic book stores.
It was a different time and place. Hard to believe if you weren’t living it. Harder still, if you weren’t even born at the time.
Mark Gasper was shooting a film, and he was going to have a screening of scenes from it at a place only blocks up from where I lived. He had been a reader of the books, and wanted me to be there since he had a sequence where one of his characters were reading one of my comics.
I was living a single lifestyle, then, so dates did not exactly carve themselves into my head.
John David Warner called and asked me if I wanted to go see some Martial Arts movies that were playing somewhere in the city. In that time and place, it was difficult to get to see more obscure Hong Cinema than today. There weren’t huge video stores, or afterwards, DVDs or Blu-Ray. I said certainly I wanted to go, because, back then, you never knew if you were going to have the chance to see them again.
I was actually getting ready to go out and meet John when I remembered I was supposed to go to Mark’s screening.
Here he was having it within walking distance of where I lived, and I was about to take off and be somewhere else after telling him I would be there!
I couldn’t do that.
I called John, told him I’d forgotten I’d already made a promise, and hiked up to the building were Mark was showing his film.
It was dimly lit inside when I entered.
I made my way among the seats.
And saw Marsha for the first time since that single night over a year past.
She was sitting next to the woman who had wanted (and still wanted) to be with me.
I’m not sure if I saw much of Mark’s film.
I sat next to Marsha, and I could not take my eyes off her.
I could not know she had just been through a terrible relationship and gone to live on her own only weeks before.
I only knew one thing, one thing for certain.
There was no way I was saying "good-bye" to her this time, without getting her phone number.
And celebrating the day of her birth from that day forward.
To this day, I still have that card with her name and phone number in my wallet.