Interview: Actor Rex Linn to laud Kevin Costner, Clark McEntire, Michael Martin Murphey and more as Western Heritage Awards emcee
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Cowboy up: Actor Rex Linn returns to OKC to emcee the Western Heritage Awards
Rex Linn still remembers the exact day he left Oklahoma City for Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.
“I left Oklahoma City and hit I-40 on Feb. 5, 1990, and got here at midnight on Feb. 7. So, I’ve been here 30 years,” Linn said in a phone interview from his L.A. home.
“I was a banker and worked for a couple of oil companies out there … and, hey, I was 34 when I moved out here. That’s old for moving out here, especially to pursue the career of acting. When I loaded up my U-Haul on Feb. 5 and hit I-40, it was a big move. You remember … those impactful moments, especially when everyone except your family and two best friends are thinking that you’ve completely lost your mind that you’re going to Los Angeles to study acting. Yeah, you definitely remember those days.”
Over the past three decades, the Texas native, 62, has earned nearly 100 screen credits, including the films “Wyatt Earp,” “Cliffhanger” and “Rush Hour” and the TV series “CSI: Miami,” “Better Call Saul” and, most recently, “Young Sheldon.”
But Linn makes frequent pilgrimages back to OKC, often to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, where Saturday he will again serve as master of ceremonies for its star-studded Western Heritage Awards.
“My association goes way back to my father, James Paul Linn, who was instrumental in keeping the Cowboy Hall moving forward during some financial dire straits. He was on the board and he’s done a lot for the Cowboy Hall. When we moved to Oklahoma … we came from Spearman, Texas, which had a population at the time of 2,700. So, the Cowboy Hall of Fame when we went there the first time … that was like walking into Disneyland. I grew up with cowboys, and man, just from the start, we were enamored … so it holds a special spot in my heart – and always will,” Linn said.
“I’ve been up there on that stage so many times, it’s been great. …The Western Heritage Awards are really fantastic. And this year especially there’s gonna be a lot of good energy there.”
The 59th annual Western Heritage Awards Saturday night will celebrate creative works in literature, music, film and television that reflect the significant stories of the Western genre. The show also will mark the induction of several people into the museum’s halls of fame.
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner will be inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers along with the late musical and screen performer Howard Keel (1919-2004). Costner stars in the popular television series "Yellowstone," which also will be honored at the ceremony.
Inductees into the Hall of Great Westerners for 2019 will be the late Clark McEntire (1927-2014), three-time world champion steer roper and father of country music icon Reba McEntire, and the late George McJunkin (1851-1922), a cowboy and former slave who discovered the first Folsom archaeological site.
The 2019 Western Heritage Awards will recognize Dave Stamey, cowboy entertainer and musician, with the Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award. Named in honor of the museum’s founder, this award is bestowed on a living honoree who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to Western values and ideals.
Singer and songwriter Michael Martin Murphey will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his nearly 50 years producing celebrated Western music.
The Western Heritage Awards festivities begin at 11 a.m. Friday with a workshop featuring Emmy-winning makeup artist Michael F. Blake that is free to the public with museum admission. It is followed by a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. and an autograph session with honorees at 6 p.m.
The Western Heritage Awards Panel Discussion is set for 11 a.m. Saturday; it is also free to the public with museum admission.
Although Saturday night’s black-tie awards dinner is sold out, the Wrangler Network will be streaming the event live and free on wranglernetwork.com.
Linn said he is thrilled to help induct Costner into the Hall of Great Western Performers; the two are close friends who have worked together on three films: “Wyatt Earp,” “Tin Cup” and “The Postman.”
The Oklahoma-Texas actor hadn’t been in Los Angeles long when he joined the cast of Costner’s 1994 biopic of one of the West’s most legendary lawmen. He remembered one moment looking at one of those beautiful purple New Mexico sunset as he got read to do a scene.
“Here I was on a horse with a scar on my face and a six-gun and I’m coming into Tombstone – and I’m getting paid for it. … They had like eight or nine cameras rolling … and I just looked at that sunset and I just thought, ‘Man, this is a long way from Spearman, Texas," Linn recalled. “It’s really nice to be asked to make some remarks about Kevin. He’s done a lot for me. He’s done a lot for everybody. He’s a class act.”
As for Linn, his acting career continues to offer new opportunities. He said he is relishing the chance to work with youngsters in his recurring role as the East Texas high school principal whose students include 9-year-old genius Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) on “The Big Bang Theory” spin-off “Young Sheldon.” The show’s executive producer, Chuck Lorre, also cast Linn in a guest-starring role last year on his Golden Globe-winning Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method,” which gave the actor an occasion to work with two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas.
“I don’t ever take it for granted because I’ve gone months without employment. If you’re gonna be in this business, you need to embrace the idea of a work in progress, because it always is – and you’re always learning. You can get really busy and then you can not be busy, so you sure appreciate the times you’re working,” Linn said. “But there has been a sense of perseverance. You have to just persevere and so far, so good. It’s been a great ride so far; I’m not done yet, hopefully.”
59th annual Western Heritage Awards
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Where: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63.
• Kevin Costner
• Howard Keel (1919 – 2014)
Hall of Great Westerners Inductees:
• Clark McEntire (1927 – 2004)
• George McJunkin (1851 – 1922)
Chester A. Reynolds Award Recipient: Dave Stamey
Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: Michael Martin Murphey
• Western Novel: "The Hunger" by Alma Katsu, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
• Nonfiction Book: "The Woolly West:" Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes by Andrew Gulliford, published by Texas A&M University Press
• Art/Photography Book: "Living Beneath the Colorado Peaks – The Story of Knapp Ranch," by Betsy Knapp, Bud Knapp and Sarah Chase Shaw, illustrated by Todd Winslow Pierce, published by Knapp Press
• Juvenile Book: "Hardscrabble" by Sandra Dallas, published by Sleeping Bear Press
• Magazine Article: “Long Live the King,” Western Horseman, by Christine Hamilton, Ross Hecox and Susan Morrison, published by Ernie King
• Poetry Book: "Landscapes, with Horses" by Mark Sanders, illustrated by Charles D. Jones, published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press
• Original Western Composition: “Frontier Symphony,” recording artists Jeff Lippencott with the 46onier Festival Orchestra, composed by Jeff Lippencott
• Traditional Western Album: "Sunset on the Rio Grande Revisited," recording artist Syd Masters
• New Horizon: “I’ll Ride Thru It,” recording artist Deanna McCall, produced by Randy Huston and Jim Jones
Film & Television Awards
• Fictional Drama: “A Monster is Among Us,” "Yellowstone," S1, E7, starring Kevin Costner, directed and written by Taylor Sheridan, produced by Paramount Network
• Western Lifestyle Program: "Red Steagall is Somewhere West of Wall Street," starring Red Steagall, produced by West of Wall Street Film Company
• Theatrical Motion Picture: "Ballad of Buster Scruggs," starring Tulsa native Tim Blake Nelson, directed and written by Ethan and Joel Coen, produced by Netflix
• Documentary: "UmoNhoN Iye The Omaha Speaking," directed and written by Brigitte Timmerman, produced by Range Films, LLC