By Leilani Roberts Ott
Actor Clu Gulager is coming home to be a part of the 14th annual Bare Bones Film and Music Festival here, and he can’t wait.
The festival officially opened Thursday and continues through April 14 at different locations in Muskogee. Organizers Oscar and ShIronbutterfly Ray said it’s the biggest one yet with the screening of 150 movies, many of them family oriented. The Clu Gulager Tribute at 6:30 p.m. April 11 at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame is the highlight of the festival. Tickets to the tribute are $10.
Gulager, 84, makes his home in Hollywood — a block from Pink’s Hot Dog Stand, he said. He will be traveling with his daughter-in-law, Diane, who is married to his son, John Gulager. Diane is a “fine actress,” he said. John is directing a movie for the SyFy channel, so they are not sure if he will be able to attend, but he’s hoping to. A documentary will be made of Gulager’s visit which includes stops for ceremonies in Holdenville, where he was born, and in Tulsa, where his name will be “put in cement,” he said.
“I hope they don’t put my face in it,” he said and laughed.
He did more than 500 shows like “Have Gun Will Travel,” he said. One of his favorites was when he played a professional golfer who was dying in a film called “Par for the Course,” directed by a young Steven Spielberg.
“I thought, ‘He’s very gifted,’” Gulager said.
He stopped acting “years ago” except for his performance in “Vic,” directed by the late Sage Stallone, son of actor Sylvester Stallone. Gulager’s son shot the film. It will be previewed at the Bare Bones Film Festival.
Gulager’s voice heightened with excitement as he told of his memories of living in Muskogee. He remembered going down by the Katy Railroad and the viaduct where he “hung out” at a place like the YMCA for boys. Then he and his friends would go to Third Street and Broadway to the Golden Goose.
“They had the best hamburgers I’ve had in my life,” he said.
He’s come “home” a few times for reunions at Muskogee Central High School.
“I saw my old girlfriend who had four children and none of them were mine,” he said.
Gulager said he got his acting bug from his father, the late John Gulager, who was doing a play in New York when he contracted tuberculosis. He came back to Muskogee and entertained some before going to Kansas City to get a law degree. The elder Gulager was a judge here and Gulager’s mother, Hazel Opal (Griffin) Gulager, worked at the VA Hospital for 35 years.
The family attended St. Paul United Methodist Church. When he comes home, he wants to visit Honor Heights Park where he remembers the church picnics with “fried chicken, Jell-O with fruit in it, potato salad, and great pies and cakes.”
“Everyone went swimming at the big pool there,” he recalled. “Everytime we had one of those picnics, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.”
He remembers getting a haircut and shave downtown and working at KBIX on a radio show called “Tea and Crickets.” He remembers visiting his aunt, Mary Gulager, in Tahlequah who was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.
“Kids would ride up on their horses,” he said. “It had a pot-belly stove. Those are some pretty good memories.”
After high school, Gulager went to Oklahoma City and joined the Marine Corps with a cousin. When he returned to Muskogee, he went to Northeastern State University where he joined the drama department. A professor there told him he had some talent so he went on to Bailey University in Waco, Texas.
Marjorie Szabo, festival volunteer coordinator, attended NSU when Gulager was there. They had the same circle of friends.
“He was always working in theater, performing every chance he got,” Szabo said.
A group went to Fort Smith, Ark., to see Gulager and another friend perform in “Anything Goes.” She also went Christmas caroling with him and a snowstorm hit.
“He was a lot of fun,” she said. “I am very pleased he is being honored as one of Muskogee’s own. We have a lot of talented people in our city. Be sure to look for Clu in the white carriage as parade marshal in the Azalea Parade on April 13, 10 a.m.”
Ray said the tribute is a “this is your life” and will include words from friends like Shirley Rogers, who was in his class; and songs from his friend, Barbara McAlister, family friend Leigh Ann Matthews, and actress and filmmaker Janet Mayson of Bloomington, Ill., formerly of Muskogee.
ShIronbutterfly Ray said the Gulagers will be joining people from around the world attending the festival that also features music and social issue documentaries. The actors, writers and filmmakers will be honored at the special red carpet awards gala, the Grand Bonehead Awards Gala, at 4 p.m. April 14 at the Roxy Theater. The festival is the leader in bringing “heads in the beds” tourist dollars to Muskogee.
“Our filmmakers stay three to four days,” Ray said. “It also brings in other people and adds cultural enrichment.”
Szabo called the Bare Bones Film Festival “a treasure for our community.”
“Past years, the filmmakers have told us this is their favorite film festival because the town is so friendly,” Szabo said. “So I encourage you to smile and tell them, ‘Thank you for coming to Muskogee.’”
If you go
WHAT: Bare Bones Film and Music Festival.
WHEN: Today through April 14 with the two biggest events — Clu Gulager Tribute at 6:30 p.m. April 11 at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame; and the Grand Bonehead Awards Gala at 4 p.m. April 14 at the Roxy Theater.
WHERE: Movies and music are presented at Roxy Theater, Three Rivers Museum, Bacone College, Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Grant Foreman Room at Muskogee Public Library, Quality Inn Studio 2 and Fairfield Inn Azalea Room.
COST: $5 to $75 for a VIP pass to all events. Volunteers will receive free passes.
INFORMATION AND MOVIE SCHEDULE: www.barebonesfilmfestivals.org.