Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Duke's horse keeps special bond

Dollor's ears twitch and then get alert when he hears that well-known voice. The horse looks around searching for the man behind that voice. He is looking for an old friend.

The 17-year-old chestnut gelding carried that man with that well-known voice on his back for many years. They were movie stars together.

Dollor, a long-legged quarter horse, made his movie debut in one of John Wayne's finest scenes in one of the Duke's best ever movies, "True Grit."

Most John Wayne fans remember that scene at the very end. Rooster Cogburn's other horse, Bo, had been killed when the old, fat, one-eyed marshal charged across the valley at four bad guys. Rooster got them, but they got Bo.

In the final scene, Rooster has found a new horse. Kim Darby's character comments about the new horse. The marshal says that new horse can jump a four-rail fence.

And then with a sweep of his hat, John Wayne jumps his horse across the fence and the film ends with the horse and rider still in the air.

That was Dollor carrying the Duke, said Debra Keffeler of Midlothian, Texas. She's now the proud owner of Dollor.

She said John Wayne first rode the horse in that move when Dollor was just a 2-year-old. The horse then was owned by a California movie production company that furnished horses for John Wayne movies.

"The Duke had an exclusive contract with them that no one could ride Dollor but him," she said. "I think he liked the horse because their temperaments were a lot alike."

"True Grit" was made in 1969. John Wayne made nine more Western movies after that, including "Chisum," "Big Jake," "The Cowboys," "The Train Robbers" and "Rooster Cogburn."

Dollor was in most of those films. He was mentioned specifically by name several times in the Duke's last movie, "The Shootist."

Debra said the Duke had "The Shootist" script rewritten so he could use Dollor's name. That's how much he thought of the horse.

She bought Dollor — "for a whole bunch of money" — about a year ago from an Iowa man. Dollor lives in a $65,000 barn with her nine other horses.

He's in semi-retirement, content to munch on alfalfa hay and oats. But he still likes to go, she said. Dollor was used to traveling to all the Duke's movie locations, she said.

But what he likes best of all is listening to the sounds in one of his old movies. Debra plays the old movies for him.

"He gets all excited when he hears the shooting and that voice," she said. "Then the ears get alert, and he's looking for John Wayne."

Debra manages a Western clothing store in Ducanville, not far from Dallas. Dollor often makes personal appearances at the store. He also appears at banquets and openings of other stores.

"People cry when they see Dollor," she said. "They just want to touch him. It makes them feel good to see John Wayne's horse. John Wayne was an idol to lots of us as well as a legend.

"He was a good man. People want to keep his memory alive. That's why they let out their feelings when they see Dollor."

Debra said only two other stars have ridden Dollor since the Duke's death. Robert Wagner rode the horse in a segment of the "Hart to Hart" television show, and John Forsythe rode him in "Dynasty."

She doesn't ride Dollor. Nor does she allow others to ride him.

Several times requests have been made to allow someone to ride Dollor in a parade.

"I'm not going to allow some flashy blonde to ride John Wayne's horse in a parade," she said. "That just wouldn't be right."

Ol' Dollor is going to live out his days at her place eating good hay and oats, occasionally appearing before the Duke's fans.

And for a treat, he'll get to see a John Wayne movie just as often as possible, she said.

This column, by John Whiteside, originally appeared on Jan. 16, 1985.

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