By Caitlin Switzer
OURAY-Step through the front doors of the Ouray County Courthouse, and despite the presence of modern security measures such as a metal detector, you may feel as though you have stepped back to the days of the Old West. Courthouse Security here comes in the form of Warren Waterman, a former Montrose County Sheriff and lifelong law enforcement professional.
Backing Waterman on the job is a life-sized cutout of the Duke himself, John Wayne. And if you have a little time, the retired lawman will tell you about what it was like to be 26 years old and working the security detail for the filming of the original True Grit back in 1968.
“We get a lot of tourists here in the summer,” Waterman said. “It has really surprised me how many people plan their whole vacations around the movie location. They want to see the Courthouse, and then they see my collection and say, ‘You must be a fan!’ And we get to talking.”
“True Grit” travelers come from not only from across the U.S., but from around the world, he said.
“They come from Germany, France, England…and they have all seen True Grit and they know John Wayne,” Waterman said. “And they are just really thrilled to look at this courthouse, and to talk about John Wayne.”
His own involvement with the movie came about because of his work, Waterman said. “I was on the Montrose City Police Department,” he recalled. “The movie company hired us on our days off to provide security, so I got to do security two days a week for a few weeks, and hang out with John Wayne and Glen Campbell, and have lunch.”
Each morning a bus would take crews and security to the day’s location, he said.
“We would get to the scene before any actors got there,” Waterman said. “When John Wayne pulled up he would lean across the driver and wave and say, ‘Mornin, how ya doing!’ He had his own personal car and motorhome there, and his drivers got to be our friends. They would call us up and ride on patrol with us.” A fellow security guard, Roger Miller, proved to be so good with firearms that he was frequently called on to fix guns for the props crew.
Security professionals were there to protect the stars from being bothered, and did not chat with them on the job, Waterman said. However, a chance meeting with Wayne outside his hotel room led to a conversation one Sunday evening.
“We talked about the movie, and he talked about law enforcement,” Waterman said. “He was very pro-law enforcement; if he had not gone into the movies he would have gone into this field. So I mentioned that we had an opening on the department at the time. ‘Can you meet my price?’ Mr. Wayne asked me.
“So now, I can say that I once offered John Wayne a job.”
Glen Campbell was also a major star at the time of the filming, notes Waterman.
“Glen Campbell had a T.V. show at that time, and he had hit records. He was good looking and young, and here he was starring in a movie with John Wayne,” Waterman said. “John and Glen ate at the Red Barn Restaurant in Montrose all the time—John Wayne was even known to step behind the bar and tend bar there. The Red Barn had just opened in 1967, and it was THE restaurant in town.”
While True Grit was being filmed, crews enjoyed a lunch of steak and potatoes on location every day, he said. Waterman has a photo that he took with a Kodak Instamatic box camera of one of the lunches. “People ask me where I am in the photo, and I have to tell them I am the one behind the camera taking the picture,” he said.
Waterman also remembers the day spent filming a scene at Blue Mesa Reservoir Road. “I was up there that day,” he said. “When they got ready to film, they sent one of us down the road one way and the other in the opposite direction, so no cars would drive into the background. There was only one road in.”
Born in Telluride, Waterman himself only ended up spending with three years with the police department in Montrose before joining the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office for 36 years. “I liked being able to patrol in the farming community,” he said. “I liked getting out and around.”
And he greatly enjoyed the chance to serve and protect during the filming of an American classic.
“So many things happened, and I was fortunate enough to watch a lot of scenes as they were being filmed,” Waterman said. “I was in the right place, at the right time.”