History of THE WESTERN FILM FAIR
William C. Cline
Western film festivals completed a quarter century of service
in 1997 - twenty five years of providing a place for lovers of the series westerns and serials of their childhood to gather
together and celebrate them. They have also become events where old and new friends can meet and exchange stories and memories
of their youth, while creating new memories and stories between themselves. Along with seeing many of their best remembered
and cherished movies, they have also been able to meet, in person, many of the people who made those films. A debt of gratitude
is owed to the pioneers of these events.
First formed in 1972, the first "Western Film Festival" was held
at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, under the direction of its founders - Mitch Schaperkotter, Packy Smith, Wayne
Lackey and Tommy Floyd. The guest stars who were there to meet and greet the fans were Lash LaRue, Max Terhune, Don "Red"
Barry, Sunset Carson and Russell Hayden.
The Film Festival, which was expected to last for only a few years,
returned to Memphis two more times - in l973 and l974. But it caught on with the fans, continued, and was transferred to Nashville,
Tennessee in 1975 and 1976. By this time, promoters were growing weary, and no show was held in 1977.
In 1978, promoted by veteran film collectors Harry Thomas and
Harold Smith, it became known as "The Western Film Fair" and was conducted in St. Louis. Many seasoned guests - like Marshall
Reed, Rand Brooks, Jimmy Ellison, Don "Red" Barry, Yakima Canutt, James Brown, Kay Aldridge, Victor Jory, Joan Woodbury, Directors
William Witney and Oliver Drake - to name a few - attended.
Back in Memphis, another group of interested fans began a show
to celebrate movies of all types. It later became "The Memphis Film Festival", which is how we know it today.
In 1979, Harry Thomas indicated to the publisher of "The Big Reel",
Don Key, that he did not intend to produce another show in St. Louis, but would be willing to assist with it in another location.
Don called Wayne Short in Charlotte and suggested that it be brought to North Carolina and presented here.
At the next bimonthly gathering of Milo Holts Old Time Western
Film Club in Siler City, North Carolina, a group of interested people met to hear Waynes description of the possibilities
of producing it in North Carolina. They voted to pursue bringing it to Charlotte. Subsequently, a nonprofit corporation was
created to produce it and was named The Western Film Preservation Society. Elected as President, Vice-president and Secretary-Treasurer
were Wayne Short, Bob Thompson and Dick Dellinger, respectively.
The first edition of The Western Film Fair in North Carolina was
held in 1980 at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in uptown Charlotte. As promised, Harry Thomas assisted by managing the Dealers Room; Bob Thompson acquired and scheduled the films shown; and Larry Reed set up and
supervised the Banquet.
The first years - 1980 through 1983 - were very successful, and
the Western Film Fair became firmly entrenched in North Carolina. During that time, a group in Raleigh, North Carolina, spearheaded
by Ron Butler and Edgar Wyatt, was established and asked that they be permitted to host the event in 1984. In addition to
a very impressive array of motion picture guests, one of Raleigh's favorite western stars, Charles Starrett, attended and
was named to be thereafter the honorary chairman of the Raleigh group.
Back in Charlotte for three more successful years, the Film Fair
returned to Raleigh for 1989 and 1990. Since then, it has been located in Charlotte, moving from the Radisson Plaza to the
University Hilton Hotel in 1995.
Since the beginning of The Western Film Fair, many changes have
taken place. There has been a change in how fans of old movies watch them. At first, only 16 millimeter films could be found
in the Dealers Room; now, in addition to film, there is a wide selection of movies on videotape. The Western Film Fair started
as a tribute to "B" westerns and serials of the movies and now celebrates "A" westerns and the ones found in television series
as well. As the availability of "B" western guests dwindled, promoters turned to TV and "A" western feature players for guest
stars. Now, projection screen television is used to show some of the old movies that are more easily obtained in that mode.
In addition to North Carolina and Tennessee, over the years other
film festivals and conventions have been staged in many locations throughout the United States. Local or specialized events
such as those honoring Buck Jones (in New York), Tom Mix (in Pennsylvania), Roy Rogers (in Portsmouth, Ohio) and Hopalong
Cassidy (in Cambridge, Ohio) are well attended by local folks as well as fans from other states.
Others, covering a wide spectrum of western films, are held in
Lone Pine, California; Tucson, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia: Knoxville, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; and Williamsburg,
Virginia. Some of the one-day events - in addition to the "Granddaddy of them all" in Siler City - take place in Hickory,
North Carolina; Gaffney, South Carolina; and Wytheville, Virginia.
Many friendships have developed among people attending The Western
Film Fair; and despite shows being downsized because of increasing costs, that camaraderie should continue. What started a
quarter of a century ago was anticipated to last only a few years, but is still going strong. Only the fans who support The
Western Film Fair can determine how long it will last.
Since Bill Cline's death in April 1998, The Western Film Fair
has indeed continued with the loyal support of all its fans. In 1998 and 1999, it was held at the Southpark Hyatt Hotel and
returned to the University Place Hilton Hotel in 2000 - 2007. In 2008 - 2011 Western Film Fair moved to the Clarion
Sundance Plaza Hotel and Spa in Winston Salem, NC.
In 2012 The Western Film Fair will again be held at The Hawthorne
Inn & Conference Center, Winston Salem, NC.