For the first time in its 12-year history, the Plaza Classic Film Festival welcomed a Hollywood power couple to the stage: Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross.
Married for 45 years, the pair won El Pasoans’ hearts Aug. 2-3 with their warmth, quick sense of humor, humility and appreciation for the borderland.
Elliott’s family ties to Texas go back a long way: one of his ancestors was a surgeon at the Battle of San Jacinto. His parents and grandparents lived in El Paso, and he and his family visited here regularly when he was growing up.
Ross and Elliott said they enjoyed their visit, caught up with cousins, ate at Avila’s and Anson 11 and took in the desert and the mountains.
We may see them back in El Paso at some point: they want to work together again and are considering ideas for filming a new western in Texas, they said.
He’s particularly intrigued by the story of one of his heroes, the colorful Judge Roy Bean, aka “Law West of the Pecos.”
Ross was presented with the Plaza Classic Film Festival Lifetime Achievement award on Aug. 2 before the screening of the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in which she starred. The award was presented by El Paso Community Foundation president Eric Pearson and film festival organizer Doug Pullen.
Elliott received the honor at last year’s film festival.
Ross and Elliott talked about “Butch Cassidy” with Turner Classic Movies host Scott McGee.
Ross described working with co-stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford. During the filming, she said, Redford was planning his next movie. “He was on the phone a lot,” she said, “while Paul knew every joke known to man and was always telling jokes.”
“So when they’d say, ‘We’re ready for take one,’ we always had to wait for Paul to finish his joke and Redford to get off the phone,” she said, laughing. “I, of course, was perfect and always on time.”
While Ross was the leading lady of the box office hit, Elliott, a contract actor with Fox studio, had the role of “Card Player #2” in “Butch Cassidy” – and had one off-camera line: “I’ll take two cards.”
Elliott joked that his big part was just a “shadow on the wall.”
“I would see Katharine coming and going and I was totally smitten by her, just as everyone else was after ‘The Graduate,’” recalled Elliott, referring to her landmark 1967 film with Dustin Hoffman. “But our paths didn’t cross.”
The pair met when they were cast as a couple in a horror film called “The Legacy” in 1978. Six years later, they married – Elliott’s first marriage and Ross’s fifth.
Now a cult classic, the movie was the first of several film and television projects on which they worked together.
Most recently, they played a divorced couple in a 2017 movie written for Elliott called “The Hero,” which is now available on Hulu.
In the film talk before “The Legacy” on Aug. 3, the pair reflected on their careers.
Ross recalled that she was in college when she told herself and her parents that she wanted to act. She dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco to audition and work with the Actor’s Workshop.
Elliott knew what he wanted to do since childhood.
“When I was a kid, there was a neighborhood theater – I used to go see the Saturday matinee,” remembered Elliott. “I just fell in love with watching that thing happen up on the screen, the little light going through the celluloid.”
He also talked about the importance of working with the right directors, people like George Roy Hill, the Coen brothers and Brett Haley.
“So much depends on the people you’re working with and whether it’s a collaborative atmosphere,” Elliott said. “What I’ve learned is how thankful I am to have had the career that I’ve had. It’s afforded me the opportunity to work with these kinds of directors.”