Rosell, booster of Montana as film site, dies at 85
CHRISTENE MEYERS For The Gazette | Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010
He was a California boy with his heart in Montana. Earl Rosell loved his adopted state, and Billings in particular, and promoted this piece of the West into his dotage.
Rosell, who died Monday just weeks before his 86th birthday, went to Hollywood in the 1960s to promote the Pryor Mountains and his ranch. Long before Montana established a film commission, Rosell believed the area perfect for filming.
His day job was insurance salesman, but he was an expert horseman and his love of westerns paralleled his passion for horses.
Between 1969 and the mid-1980s, six feature films and many commercials were shot on the ET Ranch co-owned with his wife, Antoinette “Toni” Fraser Rosell. The couple celebrated 53 years of marriage after meeting, appropriately, at a movie at the Babcock Theater in 1956.
The ranch’s first coup was “Little Big Man,” directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman. There followed “The Missouri Breaks,” “Son of the Morning Star,” “The Legend of Walks Far Woman,” “Far and Away” and “The Return to Lonesome Dove.”
Rosell loved “Little Big Man,” a picaresque 1970 comedy drama about a white boy raised by the Indians, who recalls his century-plus life as the ancient Jack Crabb. In one scene, Hoffman during his young Indian days is chased by Rosell’s “Giant Trooper.” The soldier declines to kill Little Big Man when he sees that he is white.
Rosell’s nephew Wally Kurth, an actor known for his roles in “General Hospital” and “Days of Our Lives,” said his uncle encouraged his career path.
“He loved kids and our dreams,” Kurth said. “He took us to sets — imagine watching Dustin Hoffman or Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Earl said, ‘Kids, they put their pants on one leg at a time. You can do it, too.’ ”
Rosell the horse lover was generous in sharing his passion. Family friend Kim Spahmer, of Colorado, remembers a childhood visit to the Rosell ranch. Seeing her riding talent, Rosell offered her a horse. She picked Pryor Queen. Earl drove it to Colorado where it became an American Quarterhorse Youth World Champion, living a royal 26 years.
Rosell’s community boosting included 40 years of driving a horse and sleigh as Santa Claus. Through the Shriners’ Black Horse Patrol, he raised money for children’s homes.
He was a founding member of the Fox Committee for the Performing Arts, which led to the establishment of the Alberta Bair Theater. Fox director Skip Lundby, now a Chicago actor, recalled how artfully Rosell blended his city and country affections. He engineered a “pitchfork fondue” for the American Conservatory Theater when it played a three-night run at the Fox in 1979.
“What a mingling: stylishly dressed San Francisco actors with people in buckskin and cowboy boots. Everyone had a great time,” Lundby said. “That gift of schmoozing and connecting people was part of Earl’s charm.”
ROSELL, Earl Leonard
Born: 8/18/1924, San Diego, California, U.S.A.
Died: 7/12/2010, Billings, Montana, U.S.A.
Earl Rosell's western - actor:
Little Big Man - 1970 (giant trooper)