The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Out - By John Bei­fuss / bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

IN A STILL-AC­TIVE ca­reer that so far has spanned more than half a cen­tury, ac­tor John Saxon has traded kicks with Bruce Lee, arm-wres­tled Mar­lon Brando, bat­tled Freddy Krueger and smooched San­dra Dee. Bruce Lee left the big­gest im­pres­sion — of his foot. Saxon, 74, a guest at this year’s Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val, an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of clas­sic cin­ema and vintage tele­vi­sion, met the late mar­tial arts ac­tion hero for the first time when he ar­rived in Hong Kong to be­gin shoot­ing “En­ter the Dragon” (1973), the movie that made Lee a su­per­star in the West as well as the East.

“I went to his home and he opened the door, and I walked in,” Saxon said. “I had done karate for sev­eral years be­fore that, but I was no longer that much in­ter­ested in karate. He said, ‘Let me see how you do your side kick,’ so I did it in the rather sim­ple way that I had. He said, ‘Let me show you how I do it,’ and he handed me a shield to hold, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.’

“He was kind of putting me in my place. And he stood back, I would say a good 8 or 10 feet, and lunged and belted that shield and knocked me clear across the room and into a chair, which broke. He wasn’t con­cerned with my be­ing hurt, but he said no­body had ever bro­ken that chair be­fore. Ap­par­ently he had done this many times. He was more con­cerned about the chair than me. He said, ‘That’s my fa­vorite chair!’ ”

A Mem­phis tra­di­tion for al­most 40 years, the Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val be­gins Thurs­day and con­tin­ues through June 4 at the Whis­per­ing Woods Ho­tel and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in Olive Branch.

Al­though the al­most two dozen ac­tors and ac­tresses com­ing to town for the event have ap­peared in all types of films, this year’s fes­ti­val is sub­ti­tled “A Gather­ing of Guns 3 — A TV West­ern Re­union,” sig­ni­fy­ing that the fes­ti­val’s re­turn to its rootin’-tootin’-six­gun­shootin’ roots may be per­ma­nent.

The Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val traces its ori­gins to the 1972 West­ern Film Fes­ti­val, or­ga­nized by cow­boy-movie fans and held at The Pe­abody.

As the fes­ti­val grew and be­came an an­nual event, it changed its name and even­tu­ally ex­panded its fo­cus to “golden era” movies and TV in gen­eral.

Un­for­tu­nately, young peo­ple who watched re­runs of “The Fly” on tele­vi­sion weren’t nec­es­sar­ily mo­ti­vated to come see star David Hedi­son in per­son. De­clin­ing at­ten­dance caused fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers to take a gam­ble. With the as­sis­tance of Boyd Magers of Albuquerque, pub­lisher of the bi­monthly news­let­ter West­ern Clip­pings, (visit west­ern­clip­pings.com), the fes­ti­val de­cided in 2009 to re-ded­i­cate it­self to the genre its or­ga­niz­ers love best, the West­ern, with an em­pha­sis on the hey­day of the TV “oater,” from the 1950s to the mid-1970s.

As for­mer fes­ti­val guest Lash LaRue might have cracked, that was a whip-smart idea. At­ten­dance boomed, and the fes­ti­val has been re­vi­tal­ized. Hun­dreds of at­ten­dees are ex­pected this year, from “all over the U.S. and Canada, the United King­dom, Aus­tralia and so on,” said long­time fes­ti­val chair­man Ray Nielsen.

“It has been a dra­matic turn­around for us,” he said. “The most sur­pris­ing thing has been the num­ber of women we’ve been draw­ing lately. In the old days, it was mostly all men. Now, with these TV West­ern stars, our au­di­ence has al­most be­come pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male, be­lieve it or not.”

Ap­par­ently, women who weren’t ad­dicted to the B-movie West­erns cel­e­brated in the early days of the

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