When famed actress Cybill Shepherd comes to town to launch the 11th annual Lone Star Film Festival — which runs Nov. 8-12 at multiple downtown venues — she will present the world premiere of her new film, “Rose.” But, more importantly, she will also be lifting a longtime personal burden.
The film in question, which features Shepherd, 67, in the title role and James Brolin, 77, as her leading man, tells a story described as a widowed ex-cop (who might have a life-threatening illness) taking a trip across New Mexico in a motorized wheelchair. Along the way, she meets Max (Brolin) and some late-in-life romance ensues. A sentence from an online description may be a tagline for the film: “Sometimes love takes the back roads.”
“It is rare that we have an opportunity to get a film like this one, with an iconic star like Cybill Shepherd,” says Chad Mathews, who is in his third year as executive director of the Lone Star Film Festival. “She is one of those classic American actresses. Everyone knows that face when it pops up on the screen. The filmmakers were so excited about premiering with us, so it was an easy decision for us.”
While it is not unusual for stars to be enthusiastic about their films, Shepherd seems to be genuinely over the top about her love for this project.
“I would have done it for nothing. It was that kind of movie.” — Cybill Shepherd
“I attached myself to this project six or seven years ago,” says Shepherd, displaying a warm, honey-drenched Southern accent shaped by her upbringing in Memphis, Tenn. “I would have done it for nothing. It was that kind of movie.”
Shepherd also has high praise for Brolin, who joins her on screen for the first time in “Rose.”
“When I first got to Hollywood, Barbra Streisand was very kind to me,” says Shepherd. “And I thought if she married (Brolin), he must be the best guy in the world. And not only is he the best guy in the world, he knows everything about movies. And he’s tall, handsome and can ride a horse. What more do you want?”
Shepherd is a logical choice to launch this year’s festival because she is such a major star who has amassed an astonishing body of work over her long career. The Internet Movie Database lists more than 70 films and television series in which she has appeared.
Moreover, even though Shepherd is bringing a New Mexico-set film to the event, Texas looms large in her legend.
“Most people think I am from Texas because of the ‘Last Picture Show’ and ‘Yellow Rose.’ And I take that as a compliment,” says Shepherd, alluding to her first feature film, which she made with legendary director Peter Bogdanovich when she was only 20, and a “Dallas”-like primetime soap opera from 1983-84 that did not make much of a splash. Shepherd also reprised her role of Jacy Farrow in “Texasville,” the 1990 sequel to “The Last Picture Show.” She was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2006.
A great deal of Shepherd’s past is tied to the Lone Star State. Speaking of the past leads to the other byproduct of her visit to Fort Worth: the lifting of an onerous personal burden.
I should first point out that this sidelight of her visit is of no consequence whatsoever. But, that has never been the sort of flaw that has shied me away from a writing topic in the past, and it is certainly not going to slow me down in this instance.
You see, this “personal burden” of which I speak is mine, not hers. (What? You thought this story was about Cybill Shepherd? No. It’s about me. Pay attention, will ya?)
The ugly truth is, for years I bore a grudge against her Cybillness because she cheered against me in high school, even though I had never done anything to her in my life.
Many of my formative years were spent in Collierville, Tenn., a town outside Memphis that was then so small and rural that it made Andy Griffith’s Mayberry look like Chicago. One of the continuing humiliations about living in Collierville was being forced to play sports against the big schools in Memphis, such as Shepherd’s alma mater, East High School. There was no such thing as 5A, 4A and all that division stuff. We routinely had to play teams from schools that had more students in their senior class than we had seventh through 12th — with predictably disastrous results.
When I was in college a few years later, I roomed with a guy who had attended East and grew up next door to the Shepherds. One night we hauled out his old annuals for some reason, and Shepherd, who had become famous by that point, seemed to jump off every page, including the shots of the cheerleading squad (what a surprise).
So I realized that East had not crushed us because our offense seldom seemed to have any idea which goal line we were supposed to head for, or that our defense was a total sieve and our kicking game was a turnover looking for a place to happen; we obviously lost only because we did not have the girl who was soon to be America’s most beloved supermodel shaking her pom poms on our behalf on the sideline. So I have bitterly blamed Shepherd ever since.
But it turns out that she claims to have an alibi.
“They kicked me off the squad because I had an unsatisfactory in gym” is her story.
I realize that strains credibility. Shepherd has been called a lot of things over the course of her career, but “unfit” is not one of them. Claiming to have flunked gym seems a dubious line of defense for her that a more intelligent man would not accept.
But, perhaps because Shepherd even sounds pretty when she talks on the phone, and because that accent fills my head with the sweetest memories of my years in Tennessee, I am blindly and totally buying into her version of the disputed events of Cheerleadergate. I am ready to move on, and I trust she is too.
The Lone Star Film Festival
Shepherd will be the big name at this year’s festival. She will be on hand for the festival’s opening night ball, and to present “Rose” and “Chances Are,” a romantic comedy from 1989 in which she stars with Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan O’Neal.
There is another star who will be a major part of the festival, even though he will not be present. This year’s festival will honor the memory of beloved Fort Worth actor Bill Paxton, who passed away in February.
“We want to pay tribute to him for a number of reasons, including that he was one of (the festival’s) founding members,” says Mathews. “We are going to do that at the gala, which will make for an emotional start.”
To more fully recognize Paxton, the festival will offer six films under the banner of “The Bill Paxton Selection,” a handful of titles that showcase Paxton’s work in front of, and behind, the camera.
“He was a renaissance man. He was more than just a guy on the screen. He was an artist,” says Mathews. “The thing that we really wanted to do was capture just a little taste of Bill’s work, not only as an actor but also as a director.”
The festival will further honor Paxton by presenting Shepherd the Bill Paxton Achievement in Film Award. Mathews says the award has been part of the festival before, but this will be the first time it bears Paxton’s name.
In addition to the Shepherd and Paxton films, the festival will offer screenings of more than 150 features and shorts, which represents just the tip of the iceberg of what was sent in. “We had more than 1,000 submissions,” says Mathews.
Even though the festival creates an international vibe with films from as far away as Australia and South Africa, Mathews stresses that the event is, ultimately, more locally focused.
“We always want to serve our community first by giving them content that they would not otherwise see,” says Mathews. “We want to encourage those filmmakers who are being showcased in the festival to take their films to the next level. And, ultimately, we hope that they will want to make their next film here. There are a lot of ways that a film festival serves the community.”
For more information about films, showtimes and venues, visit www.lonestarfilmfestival.com.
10 Things You May Not Know About Cybill Shepherd
1. She has long been an outspoken social activist. Shepherd has led marches in support of abortion rights and gay rights. And there is a plaque honoring her in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, thanking her for helping to “break the chain of oppression.” Shepherd notes that her support of civil rights was homegrown. “Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated three miles from where I was going to high school,” she points out.
2. She briefly dated fellow Memphis native Elvis Presley in the early 1970s. The relationship did not endure because Shepherd said she was put off by his drug use.
3. Puccini’s loss is filmdom’s gain. In her teens, Shepherd studied with a vocal coach from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Although she is not known for it, singing has been a part of Shepherd’s life in various ways over the years.
4. Larry McMurtry’s novel, “Texasville,” is dedicated to Shepherd.
5. She was a friend of the famed actor and director Orson Welles, and credits him with giving her some vital tips about acting.
6. When she was initially contacted for her part in the Martin Scorsese film “Taxi Driver,” her character had no lines. After she improvised with star Robert De Niro, however, her character was given speeches. “I learned to act by being in great films with great people,” she says.
7. The best Cybill Shepherd movie you have never seen is “Silver Bears,” a hilarious caper comedy from 1978 that also stars Michael Caine, Martin Balsam, Louis Jourdan, Tommy Smothers and a host of others. It’s a great film that showcases Shepherd’s gift for comedic acting, which is too often taken for granted because she does it so well.
8. Millennials seem to know Shepherd best for her sitcom, “Cybill.” But long before she was a television and film star, Shepherd was probably the most famous model in America. She won the “Miss Teenage Memphis” award in 1966 and the “Model of the Year” award in 1968. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it seemed like she was on the cover of every women’s magazine ever published, and in all of the makeup and hair ads inside them.
9. The odd spelling of her first name is the result of her, surprisingly, being named for two men: her father, Bill, and her grandfather, Cy.
10. She is almost certainly the only actress who has appeared in two films that also had Jay Leno in the cast list (playing a character rather than himself). Although they probably never met on a set, Leno and Shepherd can both be seen in the aforementioned “Silver Bears,” and the wacked-out 1979 comedy “Americathon.”
Punch Shaw is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Indulge Magazine.