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Texas Actor Rides Again in McMurtry’s Upcoming “Comanche Moon"

By Jennifer Litz
December 3, 2007

Wally Welch and one of his favorite actresses, Ashley Judd. (contributed photo)
Wally Welch has come to obscure fame via more than 30 small parts in television series and movies, mainly Westerns. He looks and speaks like the ranch hand he usually plays, but you’ll find no exaggerated bravado, or Kinky Friedman-brand obscenity in this son of Sanderson, Texas. His latest piece of work is the anticipated Western,“Comanche Moon,” the latest installment of Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” series. It debuts Jan. 13 on CBS.

Meet Welch at Jim’s restaurant, and he’ll order chili and eggs, and take his sweet time finishing it. He is all “yes’ms” and politeness. He sports a graying handlebar mustache. He wears faded plaid shirts, tight Wranglers and rose-colored aviator glasses—on his days off the set. He remembers his entry into the acting business with humility, attributing his staying power as a Western type to his being “tall and ugly”: His Actors Clearinghouse fact sheet lists him at an impressive 6’4, 170, with blue eyes. The sheet doesn’t describe how blue. They’re piercing.

His start was serendipitous. It was in the eighties. Welch was hauling cattle up to Dallas for a buyer. The buyer took a long time to meet him, so Welch decided to park and have a beer. “I got to drinkin’ that cold beer, and a guy came up—the director of “Dallas” was there,” Welch says.

That meeting resulted in a part on five episodes of Dallas as the ranch foreman for Howard Keely, who was playing Dusty’s dad. That small part opened the floodgates, at least for Welch’s identity as an actor: “Then I hooked up with Actors Clearinghouse, and used the Kim Dawson agency. Next was a documentary; the first time I met Sam Elliot [was in] Gone to Texas, [it] was ‘87ish. Then I did “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”; “Lonesome Dove”; worked on “One Life to Live”; and “Unsolved Mysteries.” ”

The list goes on: His Actors Clearinghouse résumé lists about 30 parts he’s had in television series and feature films, including McMurtry’s series, “The Newton Boys,” and three years on “Walker, Texas Ranger.” But the actor has completed still more. In “Serving Sara” with Elizabeth Hurley, he was the ranch foreman. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre II” credits him as “Drunk #1.” But Welch has also been in some acclaimed and hard-hitting movies, such as the film, “Come Early Morning,” written and directed by his friend, Joey Lauren Adams (she is the nasal, husky-voiced blonde in such ‘90s movies as “Biodome” and “Chasing Amy”). The film was nominated as a Grand Jury winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and many critics have said it may be lead actress Ashley Judd’s best work to date.

Judd is, in fact, one of Welch’s favorites. “She’s a sweetheart,” Welch, usually a man of few words, says emphatically. He also likes Adams, whom he considers a friend: She called him directly to ask him to play the part of Eli in “Come Early Morning.” Welch describes his character as an older man who tries to woo Judd, but realizes she needs him as a “big brother” figure more.

He’s worked with A-list and other celebrity actors in his career. He says that Elizabeth Hurley is a gorgeous woman in person, and that Billy Bob Thornton, whom he worked with doing stunts on Thornton’s “All the Pretty Horses,” is as country and simple as they come (Thornton passed the time in between takes playing catch on the set). Anthony Hopkins is as nice as they come: on the set of “All The King’s Men” (where Welch did stunt work), Hopkins put his escort (who was supposed to take care of him) under his umbrella, walking her to the curb.

Ask Wally who is difficult to work with in Hollywood, and he gets tight-lipped. He’s an easy one to get along with, he says. What he means is that he doesn’t trash-talk. The closest he gets to that is boo-hooing the lack of incentives for movies to be shot in Texas.

“A lot of Texas crews have moved to Louisiana, shooting around Baton Rouge,” he says. “Like 54 movies have gone out there. [Directors are also] taking more out to New Mexico: “Swing Bote” [he auditioned for it], “310 to Yuma,” “Wild Hogs”—those coulda been shot here.”

The problem, according to Welch, is that these other rugged-terrained states offer better perks and tax breaks. For example, according to an incentives chart published by Screen Actor (the Guild’s magazine), New Mexico offers such perks as a 25 percent film production tax rebate, a loan and 50 percent reimbursement of wages for on-the-job training of New Mexico residents in advanced below-the-line crew positions (whew!), in addition to no state sales tax. Texas offers a sales tax exemption on items purchased or rented for production, and the Legislature just recently passed a rebate program that offers up to a 6.25 percent grant to production companies for wages spent in the state.

“McMurtry wanted to shoot the last installment of “Lonesome Dove” in Texas, but there was no incentive,” Welch says. Crew shot “Comanche Moon” in Texas for a few days, but CBS ultimately moved it out to New Mexico.

Welch plays Ranger Ikey Ripple in “Comanche Moon.” The actor describes the character as the oldest ranger in the bunch, kind of like Timothy Scott’s Pea Eye character from “Lonesome Dove” (for whom Welch acted as a double). “He was very dependable, an old Indian fighter, had a lot of heart—he was a kind old individual,” Welch says.

Not too different from Welch in real life. He’s adaptable enough to have existed in the real Old West: He taught himself how to do stunts (though he says he “don’t do no fire stuff” anymore). He stumbled across an acting career hauling horses out West. And he’s also a ranch broker, selling land across Texas.

Do the people who purchase property from him have an uncanny feeling they’ve seen him before?

No doubt they stand there, scratching their heads as he rides off into the sunset.

Greatest man on earth. Plain and simple.

Wally has been my friend since 1966 when, as a Marine I returned from Viet Nam to Brunswick, Ga. Wally was a student at the Air Traffic Control School and since both of us were true cowboys we hit it off from the get-go. Later, in 1977 I transfered to Houston (IAH) tower as a controller and was surprised that ole Wally was working there as well. I later moved to Idaho and lost contact with him until recently when I found him living back in Texas. At one point we lived 60 miles apart and neither of us realized it at the time. I hope to see him again soon, drink a few beers, play a little Willie Nelson music and tell a few lies.
Regarding the story above, we used to car pool to work since we lived 45 miles north of the airport. Wally would rountinely finish a grocery bag full of sandwiches on the way in, then eat the contents of the other bag for lunch. Never gained a pound as far as I know. He always drove a beat-up green International PU. My son. now a Las Vegas Metro Policeman, when he was about 9 years old, would drive Wally's PU around the pasture while Wally and me would sit in the back shooting the bull and drinking beer. Life was alot more simple in those days....Be safe my friend

I have known Wally Welch since the seventies, thru thick and thin, good times and bad. I have never had a better friend or known a better person. He is as much as a true Texan than anyone could imagine. A hell of a cowboy that could use to hit a tennis ball 100 mph in his proper tennis attire! Knowing Wally Welch is a great piece of my life!

Everyone in this world should be lucky enough to get to spend five minutes with Wally. He is a special person you won't soon forget~

I know Wally and he is a great pearson. We live in the same town. He is extreamly funny, and he's really cool.

I met Wally back in the early 80's when I was a deputy in Conroe, Tx. Wally carried a crew of mexican laborers that he had cleaning up construction sites in the area. One of our friends was a retired Houston cop, and he gave Wally a box of old Houston PD shirts for his crew to wear as work shirts. It was always funny to see Wally's truck coming down the road with what looked like a bunch of Houston policeman in the bed of it. Every time I ran into Wally, he had a joke and a laugh for you...a good guy.

Waldo is a Sandersonite, pure and simple. Paint the car anyway you want, underneath this poor man's exterior is just another potential example of the same product this wierd community has turned loose on an unsuspecting world for decades - the mentally retarted, demented and potentially dangerous sociopath. In point of fact, Wally is nothing more that a Nephelim. These creatures were the children of fallen angels and earth women mentioned in the first book of the bible. Their physical bodies were washed away in the flood but their immortal souls were destined to hover above the earth in search of a human body to occupy.

Wally Welch is the real deal. He is a true to life real Texas cowboy and good ole boy. He is a natural actor and great guy. I knew Wally in 1970's and early 80's when he and I worked together at the Houston Intercontinental air traffic control tower. That's right, Wally worked for the FAA as an air traffic controller. He was a very good controller. He decided to seek greener pastures in 1981. Two funny things I remember about Wally that can describe his unique look on life. In those days when I knew him, we were required to wear neck ties to work. It didn't make much sense, but that was the rule. One day Wally wore a neck tie that came down to his knees. As I recall, it was a table cloth checkered red and white tie, like you would see on a clown. On Wally, he being 6' 4" plus and very thin, it was a comical sight. That defined his attitude about such a stupid rule. Another thing about Wally. His metabolism was sky high. He consistently brought his lunch in a large brown grocery bag. This was before plastic and the bag was a standard size bag. His lunch usually consisted of enough sandwiches to feed a small army. He would eat it all. Wally was totally unpretentious and down to earth. He was a friend to all and fun to work with and be around. I never heard a negative word about Wally. It is great to see him doing well.

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