A Mule For Sylvia Durando Comanche Station, 1960.

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Durando is shown on location where Comanche Station was filmed. Photographed in October 7, 2016, she is 82 years young and still rides horses and mules. Quite a Western gal, she is. Inset: Durando appears on set in the Alabama Hills in 1959. Comanche Station was the last script written by Burt Kennedy before he became a director. – All photos courtesy Sylvia Durando unless otherwise noted; Comanche Station stills courtesy Columbia Pictures –

Comanche Station opens with an 11-minute montage setup featuring hardly any dialogue. A loner, Jefferson Cody (played by Randolph Scott), is moving through the desert landscape with a pack mule. He is soon surrounded by Comanches who he hopes are after the bounty packed on the back of his mule. They aren’t, and they take him to their chief.

Cody throws in his Winchester, along with his mule pack. The Comanches accept, and trade him a white woman they have been holding captive. Cody puts the lady, Nancy Lowe, on the pack mule, and the two ride quickly out of the stronghold. Their flight to safety makes up the heart of the story.

Sylvia Durando doubled for the female lead, Nancy Gates. A photo of Durando shows her riding through the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California, in August 1959, when the movie was filmed.

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This movie still shows Sylvia Durando full face to the camera. Evidently, the PR department thought she looked enough like the star that no one would notice.

Riding was certainly an experience. Durando had this to say about her gear: “The mule did not have a bit in her mouth, just a halter with a frayed rope. So I asked that a wire or light reins be attached to the halter, just in case the rope were to break or if the rope should get dropped. The wrangler fixed it up for me. I was sitting upon a pack saddle, no stirrups for my feet and only the wooden forks of the pack saddle to hang on to.”

Durando also doubled Gates in the water trough scene. The actresses switched for the scene when Scott throws the lady in the trough to save her from the rain of bullets pouring into Comanche Station.
Durando also doubled Gates in the water trough scene. The actresses switched for the scene when Scott throws the lady in the trough to save her from the rain of bullets pouring into Comanche Station.

Durando began competing in horse shows at the age of eight. She spent her early years surrounded by the Silver King horses owned by Fred Thomson, a silent film cowboy who rivaled Tom Mix. Silver King was a white horse who appeared in Thomson’s Westerns. After Thomson died of tetanus in 1928, at the age of 38, Durando’s Grandpa L.S. Barnes, a “ruthless millionaire” who made his money in oil and mining, bought the Thomson estate, she says.

How can we tell when Durando is the one riding the mule in the film? She says, “If the lady isn’t bouncing, that’s me.”

What do you think?

Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.