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Montie Montana Given Cowboy Send-Off

There was western music, a roping demonstration and plenty of stories about the legendary rodeo showman.

May 27, 1998|AMY OAKES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHATSWORTH — They arrived in sports cars and pickup trucks, and many of them wore big shiny belt buckles and cowboy hats.

In what resembled a festive country reunion, more than 400 family, friends and fans of Montie Montana, who died last week at age 87, gathered Tuesday afternoon at Oakwood Memorial Park's Pioneer Church to pay tribute to the cowboy star known for his constant smile, welcoming charm and roping skills.

They greeted one another with a hug or a handshake and then told Montie Montana stories, which mostly ended in laughs.

The Riders of the Purple Sage trio played a collection of cowboy songs, including Montana favorites "It's No Secret" and "Texas Plains." Montana's grandson, Jess, 36, performed a roping demonstration while his father, Montie Montana Jr., 63, spoke about the old cowboy's escapades.

Montana, who was buried in a wooden coffin branded with his initials, wouldn't have had it any other way.

"He would want his funeral to be uplifting," Marilee Montana, his second wife, said in an interview. "He was western through and through. He was a cowboy."

Montana died Wednesday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia. Family members attributed his death to complications after a series of strokes and said he had been hospitalized since March.

"When we married, he said he had 10 years left in him," Marilee told the crowd. "We had 20, and 20 years with Montie is worth a whole lifetime with anyone else."

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Known for his fancy roping skills, Montana was a cowboy icon in Southern California, appearing in 60 consecutive Tournament of Roses Parades before declining to ride in 1995. And he was famous for roping famous people, including Dwight D. Eisenhower during Ike's 1953 inaugural parade.

"He wanted the president in his loop," said retired rodeo announcer and longtime friend Mel Lambert, 78, of Oregon. "For him, it was just like taking a picture."

Montana would do his horse and rope act at schools, parks and on the rodeo circuit.

"He was one of the last of the true showmen in the rodeos," said Tim Doheny, 72, of Santa Barbara. "You won't see any like him again."

Montana, born Owen Harlan Mickel, grew up in Wolf Point, Mont. He learned rope tricks from his father, Edgar Owen, and the pair, along with his mother, Edna Harlan, performed on the rodeo circuit in the early 1920s. They were called the "Montana Cowboys."

When he was 15 and performing at the Fourth of July rodeo in Miles City, Mont., the young cowboy picked up his pseudonym, "Montie Montana," from an announcer who couldn't remember his name. He kept the moniker, which honored his home state.

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In the 1920s and '30s, Montana was among the real-life cowboys who came to Hollywood to demonstrate and teach their riding and roping skills in the movies. He landed in more than 20 films, including "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Cowboy," and "Arizona Bushwhackers," appearing with such greats as Tom Mix and John Wayne.

Montana spent most of his adult life in the San Fernando Valley, living in North Hollywood, Van Nuys and Northridge before moving to a ranch across from Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce.

Bob Feist of Lodi said Montana, throughout his life, was always friendly and never shied away from people. He was not surprised by the large turnout for the funeral.

"He was the type of man who was always willing to shake a hand or tip his hat to a lady," Feist said.

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