Montie Montana Rose to Fame As a Roper.
The Associated Press | As published in the Havre (Mont.) Daily News, Tuesday Evening, July 1, 1975.
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Owen Harlan Mickel was 15 when he entered a roping contest in Miles City, Mont., and won $5. "If I can make money that easy, that's the life for me," he said.
That was exactly 50 years ago. Five years later, the young man was appearing with the Buck Jones rodeo when the announcer couldn't remember his name.
"Here he is, folks — Montie from Montana," the man announced.
As Montie Montana, the onetime cowpuncher has been roping around the world, through countless rodeos and scores of western movies. Now his home state is tossing a wingding to celebrate his 50 years in show business.
Gov. Thomas L. Judge has proclaimed July 10-13 as Montie Montana Days. There'll be rodeos and barbecues at Montie's home town of Wolf Point.
"The largest wagon train ever to be assembled in Montana" will travel from the Canadian border to Wolf Point, with Montie driving his 100-year-old stagecoach in the lead and wife Elly riding shotgun.
All this is highly gratifying to Montie, a modest man who never went Hollywood although he has lived here since the early 1930s. Before that he was touring with his roping act from Sydney to Dublin to Madison Square Garden, which he first played in 1929.
"One of my biggest thrills was appearing in Mexico City," he reminisced. "The Mexicans originated trick roping, and I was afraid they couldn't be impressed by my act. But I must have shown them a few tricks they hadn't seen before, because at the end they were throwing their hats and serapes into the ring."
Montana started making films with Yakima Canutt, the rodeo champion who became the screen's best stunt man and stunt director "Ben-Hur," etc.
Montie never quite made it to stardom, but he appeared with all the greats — Tom Mix, Joel McCrea, John Wayne, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, William Boyd, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Will Rogers.
"I did Roy's roping for him, and 1 doubled for Boyd — Hopalong Cassidy — when a young kid named Robert Mitchum was playing in the pictures," said Montie.
"Will Rogers was the best roper that America ever had. He taught me a few tricks, and I still cherish the rope that he gave me."
Years later Montie did the trick roping for Will Rogers Jr., when he played his father in the film biography, "The Will Rogers Story."
Montie has coached many performers in roping techniques. One of his most memorable assignments was teaching 40 small girls to spin ropes for the 1934 musical, "Stand Up and Cheer." Among them was Shirley Temple.
"After I had taught the girls, the assistant director said he could do the rest, and he let me go," Montana recalled.
"Well, after all the practice the ropes were dirty, so he painted 'em white and they wouldn't spin. He sent for me in a hurry."
In later years Montana has traveled from 40,000 to 70,000 miles annually to appear in rodeos and parades. He has ridden in Pasadena's Rose Parade every year since 1933. He made news when he lassoed President Eisenhower in the inaugural parade of 1952.
"I noticed that Mrs. Eisenhower laughed when I lassoed the French ambassador," Montana said.
"So when I got to where the President was standing, I asked his permission to throw my rope around him; I always determine whether a person wants to be roped. He said all right, and I did.
"At the inaugural Ball that night, the head of the Secret Service detail told me, 'It's lucky you asked permission first; otherwise you would've looked like a sieve."
Montana thought about retiring four or five years ago, "but I realized I'd be bored to death doing nothin'." So he continues to hit the road with his ropes and his veteran horse Rex, displaying what he fears is a dying art.