John Wayne was a good football player in college. He was a big man, standing 6 feet, 4 inches, and weighing 240 pounds. He became an actor and a director. One of his best roles was a Marine sergeant. Most of his screen personas were cowboys.
Dick Coler was a good football player in college. He became an actor and a director. He was a big man, standing 6 feet, 3 inches, and weighing 240. He was a Marine sergeant.
He also was a cowboy, and lots more. Let's follow the trail.
Coler was born in the farm country of Ohio in 1927. He grew up in Cincinnati. His high school athletic abilities climaxed with being named to an All-Ohio football team coached by legendary Frank Leahy.
Coler received a scholarship from Purdue University, where he played linebacker and guard. When he found time, he
pursued other interests that would resurface later in his life. He loved horses and rodeos.
After college, he enlisted with the Marines and headed to Parris Island for basic training. He completed basic and stayed in South Carolina, where he was assigned to the Provost Marshal's Guard. Most of his duties required transporting prisoners.
He also played for the Marine football team. One victory came against Florida State.
He had some raucous adventures. A call came in about
a soldier breaking up a bar. "When I got there," Dick recalled, "he was sitting on a stool. I made the mistake of touching his shoulder and he knocked me across the room! I used my nightstick on him." Later, when Dick was getting re-certified with rifle, he looked up and saw the gunnery sergeant who had been his bar room opponent. Dick laughed and said, "He didn't remember me."
He had accompanied a young girl named Rosemary Clooney to a dance in junior high. He bragged about this to his Marine buddies. Clooney, who became a huge singing star, visited to entertain the troops. Fellow Marines pushed Coler to the front. Clooney looked down, and in her usual earthy style, shouted "Hey, Dick Coler, you S.O.B., how are you?" Saved his bacon.
Dick finished his hitch in 1952, earning the grade of senior staff sergeant.
Dick pursued his dream. He went to Colorado seeking ranch work. He found it and his specialty, breaking green horses. He also found time to rodeo, traveling the West and Canada with the International Rodeo Association.
He returned to Ohio to coach football. In time, he operated a Chevrolet dealership. More importantly, he found the love of his life, Scottie. He sold the car business to Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. He smiled and said, “She was quite a character."
Next, a career in real estate led to Dick being named to the Million Dollar Club, the highest honor of achievement.
The lure of the West called again. This time Dick and Scottie settled in Southern Arizona. He renewed his cow punching with Frank Moson, who owned a ranch in Cochise County. Dick became trail boss for the Santa Cruz Valley Horseman's Association. "I loved the life," he said.
In the rodeo days, he had met Ben Johnson, who was the best of them all. Johnson went into movies, mostly having parts with John Ford's company that churned out so many great westerns. Johnson won an Academy Award for his role in "The Last Picture Show."
Dick had his own movies experiences. "Broken Lance" was filmed partly in Elgin, AZ. Dick was hired on as a wrangler. The film's star, Spencer Tracy, never showed up. Dick said his double looked like Tracy's twin.
Coler and fellow cowboys were on hand for one scene that almost became a disaster. Young stars Jean Peters and Robert Wagner were in a buggy when the fractious horse took off. Wagner jumped to safety and Peters was left to handle the reins. Dick commented sourly, “That guy was no hero."
Plays, painting & poetry
Coler was hardly done. He produced and starred in Green Valley Recreation theater groups. One play, written with him in mind, "Senor Brady Jones," was a sold-out production. He sang, starred and directed in 14 plays for the group. He "discovered" Green Valley notable Regina Ford, who introduced this writer to Coler.
Wait, there's more to the Dick Coler's list.
He is an accomplished painter (note the painting in the picture of him), songwriter, and his sculptures depict great talent. His cowboy poetry captures the life. He published a book of his poetry in 2009, "A Cowboy Collection."
He had an unbridled love for his horses: Papago, who lived 32 years, and Tail Light, who Dick called Lawyer. "He was always trying to get me off!" His animals were extended family.
He retains fond memories of traveling the world with Scottie. She
passed away in 2013. Dick has battled cancer twice and is currently
dealing with a pulmonary ailment.
"I have no regrets. I am proud of how my family turned out. I am proud to be a Marine," Dick told me. Giving thought to his
life, he seemed comfortable. "Don't know if I am prepared, but I am
Dick Coler's poetry captures much of the man:
There is certainly horses in Heaven
and good dogs and children, I know
For, if none are present
Then don't expect me to go.
Well, it sure makes me think of reincarnation
of life and death and such
I ride away concludin'
Slim, you ain't changed that much
Semper Fi, Dick.
Scott Dyke is a Wyatt Earp historian,Western writer, lecturer and researcher. He can be contacted at scottdyke65gmail.com