Robert Fuller gives Bernita Shrum a hug at the Memphis Film Festival. It has been one of Bernita’s dreams to meet the western movie star in person. Submitted photo
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Cash-Book staffer meets cowboy movie star

by Elane Moonier ~ Features Editor

My friend and co-worker here at The Cash-Book Journal recently got to fulfill one of her dreams and mark something off her wish list.

Bernita Shrum has always been a fan of western movies and television series, and one of her favorites is the 1960’s TV show, ‘Laramie’.

The young and handsome actor, Robert Fuller, was the star of that show, playing the part of Jess Harper.

As an avid fan of Fuller, Bernita joined his Facebook fan club, called ‘Robert Fuller Fandom’, and she learned there were many others who shared her interest in his career.

She decided that one day she would like to meet the cowboy star in person and tell him how much she enjoyed watching his shows.

Through his fan club, Bernita discovered that Fuller would not be in Laramie, Wyoming, for a special celebration this summer, but would be present at the Memphis Film Festival at Sam’s Town in Tunica, MS, early in June.

She quickly got on line and made reservations to attend the four-day gathering for television stars from the 1960’s. She invited her sister, Barbara Arnzen to accompany her and share the adventure.

Bernita and Barbara left Jackson on Wednesday and made the drive to Tunica in about four hours, then checked into the hotel at Sam’s Town.

They planned to arrive early for the event, hoping they might get the chance to see Fuller in the hotel lobby or restaurant before his actual showing, and luck with with them.

Soon after their arrival, they were in the lobby and saw the cowboy star coming into the hotel. Bernita said she held her breath and was sort of in shock when Fuller walked up to them and first gave Barbara a big hug and then did the same for her.

“I mumbled something to him I think,” Bernita said. “I was sort of stunned and speechless."

Bernita said that he greeted them like old friends and took the time to speak to everyone who was in the lobby waiting for him to come in.

Tony Gill, Fuller’s manager, took a photo of him hugging Bernita, and that photo was posted on the Fandom Facebook page that day. She also was able to print a copy of the photo for herself.

That evening, Fan Club members could join the stars upstairs in the casino if they chose to do so, but Bernita and Barbara decided to go to the buffet instead and relax for the evening, as they anticipated a big day on Thursday.

Early the next morning, they enjoyed breakfast, then got in line to get their time slots in which they could visit with Fuller personally.

Bernita said that each time slot allowed about a dozen fans to be with the star at that time, and they could get autographs, have photo sessions and purchase souvenirs.

When they walked in, Fuller was seated at a table and wore a white cowboy hat and jeans. She said he was very distinguished looking, yet very open and friendly.

She had learned some things about the star earlier. He has a birthday in July and will be 85 years old.

“He still looks good,” Bernita said.

Fuller and his wife of 17 years, Jennifer Savage, actually live on a working ranch in Texas. The horse that he rode in the Laramie shows was actually his own horse. Fuller has a very big fan club made up of all ages of admirers.

“He was very nice to talk to,” Bernita said, “a sweet person and very considerate. He was always coming up with something to make you laugh.”

She also learned that he was a prankster who was continuously joking with his staff and co-workers. Fans brought all sorts of items to be autographed, including hats and boots, she noted.

In the afternoon, they attended a Fan Club question and answer session, and Bernita got to ask two questions. She first asked Fuller, “How do you get in character for Jess Harper?”

Fuller responded that he was Jess Harper, so he didn’t have to get in character. His biography revealed that when he auditioned for a part in Laramie, he was chosen for another role. But Fuller refused to take that part and insisted that he was Jess Harper and should have that role.

The film makers agreed and gave him the part. Laramie episodes ran on NBC for four years, 1959-1963. Fuller also starred in other westerns during his career, including Wagon Train and numerous movies.

Bernita next asked Fuller, “How did you make your fast draw authentic?”  After noting that his fast draw was recorded at .28 seconds, Fuller said the three magic words, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Bernita and Barbara had plenty of souvenirs to bring home with them and autographs and photos they have shared with friends. The festival turned out to have the biggest attendance in its history.

This adventure was particularly exciting for Bernita, as she has embraced the western culture herself, by taking on the character of Belle Star, as a train robber on the Iron Mountain Railway. Each week she joins the Jesse James gang as they hold up passengers on the train.

Meeting Robert Fuller, a real western star, was the the frosting on her cowboy cake, and Bernita said this memory will always be one of her greatest treasures.

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