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The Horse Lovers

Fresh direct from the vault, here’s the original manuscript version of a story that Pat Jordan did for TV Guide in 1988.

The Horse Lovers

By Pat Jordan


The movie is “Bluegrass,” a four-hour, CBS-TV mini-series. The actors are Cheryl Ladd, Brian Kerwin, Anthony Andrews, Mickey Rooney, and Wayne Rodgers. The setting is Lexington, Kentucky, Bluegrass Country, where thoroughbred racehorses are bred and trained on rolling pastureland that is zoned strictly for horse farms. The time is late fall. The grassland is turning brown. The leaves on the trees have faded from bright orange to the color of mud. The horses graze quietly in the pasture until another horse intrudes on their meal. They twitch, rear up, and gallop after the intruder, snorting out their hot breath into the damp, cold air. They curl back their lips, baring teeth, and nip the intruder on the flanks before slowing finally and then stopping to graze again.

The fictional plot concerns the efforts of Maude Sage Breen (Ladd) to fulfill her dream of breeding a Triple-Crown thoroughbred. She is thwarted at every turn by her ruthless neighbor, Lowell Shipleigh (Rodgers) and aided by her recovering alcoholic trainer, Dancy Cutler (Kerwin). It is Dancy who wins Maude’s love in a romantic joust with the mysterious Anglo-Irishman, Michael Fitzgerald (Andrews). What unites them all, however, hero, heroine, and villains alike, is that they are all horse lovers.

Scene One

A cold, blustery day at Crestwood Farms outside of Lexington, Ky. Brian Kerwin and Charles Cooper, a black actor from Cincinnati, are huddled in the equipment barn trying to keep warm while waiting for their cue from the Broodmare Barn up the hill where, today, history will be made. The birth of a foal will be filmed for national television. Kerwin and Cooper sip coffee from Styrofoam cups while speaking in hushed reverential tones as if they were expectant fathers in a hospital waiting room.

“Oh, shucks, Miss Scarlett,” says Kerwin, smiling, “I don’t know nuthin’ bout birthn’ horses.” Kerwin, with a veterinarian’s help off camera, is expected to aid in the birth of the foal. “They told me that if it’s a breech birth I have to reach up my hand into the mare and turn the foal’s head around,” he says. He shakes his head at the mystery of what he is about to partake in. Cooper tries to reassure him.

“I aided at my wife’s delivery of our son,” Cooper says. “It was a Caesarian birth. All I could do was stroke her forehead.” He flutters his long eyelashes. “It was a beautiful experience.”

Kerwin nods with admiration. Both men look down at the dirt floor, shuffle their feet. Kerwin begins to talk about the breeding sequence he was involved in filming a few days ago. He had to help a stallion insert his penis in a mare while the crew filmed the scene. “It was all very tastefully done,” He says. Cooper nods in perfect understanding.

Just then, a woman enters the barn. “It’s time,” she says to Kerwin. He crumples up his coffee cup and discards it in a trash barrel. Then he smoothes the sides of his reddish hair. His lean face is bruised and cut. Make-up applied today, after last night’s flight sequence staged at a roadside tavern.

Scene Two

Flashback to midnight of the night before. “Little Jim’s Tavern” out on Georgetown Road next to “The Slumber Inn Motel.” The dirt parking lot, which is usually crowded with rusted Chevys and battered pick-up trucks, is dominated this night by the huge vans of the film crew. Two police cars, their lights blinking, guard the road as if for intruders.

Inside, the small, cave-like, drinking man’s bar is strangely lighted by colorful neon signs that the crew has placed on the bar’s usually blank, concrete walls. The middle of the small room is dominated by three cameras and their crews and bright spotlights aimed toward a corner of the bar where the fight sequence will be staged. The actors are settling into their places for last minute instructions.

At the other end of the bar, in darkness, the bar’s regulars, farm hands, construction workers, and long-haul truck drivers, are loitering around, drinking beer and bourbon, smoking cigarettes, and shooting a few games of pool with Jimalou, the bar’s regular, plump, blonde waitress. “My father owns this place,” she says, as she leans over the pool table and sights the eight ball. “He always wanted a boy.”

Bonnie, the regular barmaid, is pouring drinks for the regulars as she is expected to do for the actors when the scene begins. Bonnie has short, dark hair, lots of blue eye-make-up, and she talks out of the side of her mouth, just as one would expect a barmaid in a roadside tavern to talk. Bonnie is a barmaid. Tough, funny, caustic.

“What’s the difference between being a barmaid and playing a barmaid?” she says. “Simple. I get it right the first time.”

“Bonnie’s the reason we come her,” says Marshall, a regular. “She makes us feel at home.”

“Sure does,” says D.B., tilting back his cowboy hat. “Abuses us just like our wives.” Everyone laughs out loud. One of the film crew looks back at the laughing regulars as if they were misbehaving third graders. He is a very short, bald, finicky-looking man with a red beard. He puts his hands on his hips.

“Quiet, puhleeeze!” he says. Then he turns toward a man who is smoking a cigar. “An no cigar smoke in here,” he adds.

“You’re kidding?” says the man. “In a bar?”

“No cigar smoke in this bar!” says the red-bearded man. Just then one of the crew turns on the smoke machine. Smoke billows into the bar until visibility is zero. Bonnie fakes a few coughs and flaps her hands at the smoke.

“It’s never been this smoky in here,” she says.

“And we never had a fight in here·, either,” adds Jimalou.

The second assistant director, a woman, begins to wave her clipboard wildly in the smoke to get the extras’ attention. “Everyone, everyone, to their places, please!” she calls out. “Have we had everyone?”


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver