Touring Texoma: Roger Smith

Tonight's Touring Texoma focused on a Wichita Falls native, who saw for himself the good and bad side of Hollywood.

"That's good stuff.  That's like candy.  That's like candy."

"Well you're a pretty good horse.  Didn't even bite me."

"Yeah, he's pretty mannerly."

Roger Smith and his wife, Mary Ann have been married now 51- years, and they love their horses.
In fact, Roger even won California's cutting horse championship in 1969.

That, by far, was not all he'd accomplish in the Golden State, though, mainly in Hollywood.

Before even graduating from Old High in 1954, Roger already had experience in Hollywood, having worked there as a golfer for several years, thanks to his sister who'd made it as a dance choreographer.

It was about that time,  Roger's  brother- in- law  decided to produce a Rin Tin Tin  TV series.
 "That was the smartest dog I have ever seen.  I've never seen a dog that was human."

"He knew right from left.  It was just like if I gave you instruction, just like a human.  I've never seen a dog you could just talk to."

Roger learned both ends of the camera business.
He knew how to fix them, and how to shoot, and he says that helped a great deal in landing great jobs,  like "The Lucy Show".

"She was one of those who had the ability to turn on the funny Lucy that you know on the screen, and she had the ability to be a very business person.  But, she wasn't mean, wasn't rude, but very, very business like, you know when she's producing."

Roger's career in television and movies was in full- swing by the late 70's, when he was asked to film all the fight sequence shots in Rocky II.

He'd film them in Rocky III and IV as well.

"How funny it was that Stallone, I guess it was Creed or one of those when they did the mouthpiece thing.  And, he whooped him hard, and ol' Creed just shook his head and said, ok Stallone, it's my turn now.  And, he whooped him hard too.  They took some punches."

"I think about it.  I was very fortunate to be in those situations.  It just seemed that one thing led to another and it opened doors of opportunity to me."
But, that opportunity also led Roger to a very dark time in his life while filming action sequences in the movie, The Twilight Zone.

At 2:30 in the morning on July 23rd, 1982, Roger was actually standing out on a helicopter's skid outside Los Angeles when everything went wrong.

"Things were happening, and Vic Morrow was running, grabbed up two kids because supposedly the bombardment of the village, and he's rescuing them and running across the water.  He's got one under each arm, and the director calls us, and he's talking to the pilot, telling him to get lower and lower.  Well, that wouldn't be a problem if you don't set all the explosions off."

"I'm thinking in my own mind, I need to get out of here.  I need to get back in that ship.  Well, I got this 35- pound camera in my hand."

Somehow, though, Roger ended up back inside the chopper just before it crashed down onto the skid he'd been standing on.
"So, I would have been dead if I'd have stayed out there."

It was when Roger was on shore, in shock, that he realized just what had happened.

"Then they dragged the little girl out there, and her mother come running there, because they were sitting on the shore, and she was crying her eyes out and whaling, and I'm going, oh no.  And uh, one of the production guys came up there trying to find out where Vic Morrow was, if he was underneath or what, and found half of his body sitting out in the water.  He ran out there, I remember, grabbed the torso, and just dropped it, realizing the top part of his body wasn't there, it was somewhere in the river.  And, then they found the other kid was under the skid, where the helicopter had landed on him."

"That's what happened.  Here you've got a lamen, and all he's thinking about is the excitement.  Wouldn't it be great if we could blow this thing up underneath this, or this.  Hey, he's not thinking about the safety aspect of it that causes people to be killed.  And, OSHA said, enough's enough."

Because Roger, and two others, spoke out publicly for more regulations.

"It took the control of the director, out of his hands with dangerous things or explosives, that only the powder man could do so."

After speaking out,  Roger says the major studios would no longer hire him.

His career would go on, though, and for many more years, with a clear conscience.

"Simon and Simon, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, Airwolf.  That was one of my favorites because it was an action show, and I loved to do action."

It was about 18- years ago that Roger and Mary Ann moved back to Wichita Falls, and back to a quieter way of life.  It's where they love their horses, and where Roger no doubt looks back on his Hollywood years with pride.

"Well, I always tried to do the right thing, and tried to do the best way I knew how.  And, I wouldn't settle for second.  I wanted to do it the right way the first time."

It was because of  that spirit and dedication, that Roger and Mary Ann were able to bring decades of Hollywood memories, back home to Texoma.

"Well, we're going to have to come back and feed the rest of these ponies."

"Are you going to do that for me, hun?"

"Well, of course."

After that accident, The National Transportation Safety Board concluded a mortar apparently blew a glue pot lid into the helicopter's tail rotor.

Then, Director, John Landis and several crew members were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges, in a jury trial that went on for about a year.

As far as Roger, he went on to film countless commercials and documentaries, and TV specials and series.
He even filmed that shot of Greg Louganis in his final dive, in the '84 Olympics, when he earned the gold medal.

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