Saddle up, pardner, it's Saturday morning with the breakfast buckaroos.
Wearing Stetsons, pearl-buttoned shirts, horseshoe-size belt buckles and spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle, cowboy actors of yesteryear mosey on over to Big Jim's Restaurant each week to shoot the breeze and reminisce about the golden age of TV and movie westerns.
They are known as the Reel Cowboys breakfast club.
Several dozen usually show up for the two-hour gathering in the banquet room of the San Fernando Valley restaurant, a bargain-priced meat-and-potatoes place where a portrait of John Wayne hangs over the cash register.
There's an enthusiastic "Howdy!" and a tip of the hat for newcomers invited to sit on down a spell and listen to the rugged character actors and behind-the-camera figures. There is also a little guitar and banjo picking with a campfire song thrown in.
"This is more fun than staying at home watching college football," says country music producer Sheldon Altfeld.
Among the members is 67-year-old Robert Aaron Stephens, whose TV credits include "Dukes of Hazzard" and "Little House on the Prairie" as well as movies like "Every Which Way but Loose." Recently he appeared in a TV commercial for Viagra.
There's also Jon Locke ("Gunsmoke," "Wagon Train" and "Laramie"), Joe Cranston ("Wyatt Earp" and "Bronco"), Buffalo Bill look-alike Mike Masters ("Wild West" and "Bonanza"), Morgan Woodward ("Dallas") and veteran bad guy Mike Reynolds, who claims to have shot everyone from Ernest Borgnine to Kevin Costner.
All are vaguely familiar faces to baby boomers raised on westerns during the genre's television heyday. And some are carrying resumes, publicity photos and scrapbooks just in case. But mostly they are there to share stories.
Masters, the only Reel Cowboy who actually owns a horse, tells of an incident during on-location filming for a low-budget movie when Jay Silverheels--Tonto on TV's "The Lone Ranger"--performed a rain dance.
"Later it started to rain. We had three or four days of solid rain and it shut us down," Masters recalls. "The producer, I forget who he was, came by and asked, 'Who was the Indian who did the rain dance?' We said Jay Silverheels, and he said, 'Send that bastard home.' "
There are 15 women in the Reel Cowboys, most of them with big hair. There's Dolly Parton look-alike Devvy Davenport in skintight pants and rhinestone-encrusted denim shirt. There is also Dayle Rodney, who is said to be the first woman ever hanged in a movie, the 1959 western "Run Home Slow."
Rodney says a second ending to the movie had to be shot for Southern audiences. "A lot of them down there were anti-capital punishment for women," she says. "It just wouldn't have worked."
The 72-year-old beauty attributes her lustrous skin and youthful appearance to castor oil, and has written "Look Younger Longer Without Plastic Surgery" under her real name, Eleni Dayle Iversen.
Another member, British-born actor Hank James ("NYPD Blue" and "JAG"), doesn't get cowboy roles ("I play mostly Nazis and terrorists") but joined the Reel Cowboys six months ago. "I'm a weekend cowboy," he boasts.
In addition to sharing one another's company, the Reel Cowboys stage fund-raisers for abused children.
The 50-member group was founded in 1972 as the B.S. and Grub Club by such figures as "Yancy Derringer" star Jock Mahoney and "Big Al" Fleming, who was Buffalo Man on "The Magnificent Seven." They later renamed themselves the Reel Cowboys because they weren't being taken seriously.
During a recent meeting after breakfast burritos and eggs, Reel Cowboys President Fred Smoot tries to corral a meaningful discussion amid the wisecracks.
There's a motion to hold a luncheon for the widows of TV cowboys, and it is quickly seconded.
Smoot reports that Rex Allen was run down and killed by a car, eliciting group head-shaking. Stuntman Joe Soto informs them a member is down on his luck and confined to his apartment. More head-shaking and offers of help pour in.
"This is a fun bunch," Soto says afterward. "I love them."
CAPTION: They may look like real cowboys, but they're not. (Banjo is real; gun is not.) John Locke, above, and Mike Masters, at left, are members of the Reel Cowboys breakfast club, cowboy actors of the past who meet to eat and reminisce.