Cliffie Stone Equestrian Trail
Top Row (L to R): Archie Wallace, Skeeter Hubbert, Joe Espitallier, Jerry Hutchison, Rufus “Goofus” Brewster, Darol Rice, Cliffie Stone. Bottom Row (L to R): Vince Engel, Lyn Dossey, Stuart Hamblen, Sonny Dawson, Herman ‘the Hermit.’ This is Stuart Hamblen’s ‘Lucky Stars’ radio band on KEHE and he’s holding the trophy for the ‘Best Cowboy Band.’ (In 1971, Stuart received the ACM’s Pioneer Award.) Cliffie’s father, Herman ‘the Hermit’ (the last man with the beard in the bottom row of the above photo) was a colorful, fascinating man who was a jack-of-all-trades! His legal name was Clifford H. Snyder. He was nicknamed “Herman the Hermit” by Stuart Hamblen which is an interesting story because if Herman hadn’t met Stuart, Cliffie might never have met him either. Herman was a talented musician who could play piano and all the stringed instruments. He and Nina Belle (Cliffie’s mother) owned Snyder Nursery which was on 5 acres of land in Burbank near the vicinity of the motion picture studios. The area was rural at that time and it was a perfect place to hunt. Herman loved dogs and he’d always take his 6 hound dogs hunting with him. He probably was a dog whisperer, because they obeyed and were loyal to him. Being an outgoing man, he struck up friendships with people when they came to his nursery and many of them worked at the movie studios. So he made studio contacts and whenever they needed an “atmosphere” dog in a movie, they would call him. (An example of an atmosphere dog is one who runs across the street or is sitting on a porch in a scene.) One of these movies was ’I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” starring Paul Muni and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It’s a true story about a man who was wrongly accused of a crime; he was convicted and put in a brutal chain gang. He escapes and is being hunted down by guards and dogs. The studio called Herman and he supplied them with his 6 hound dogs. Sometimes he’d be in a few scenes with his dogs in order to control them during the frantic chase scenes. Then he got another movie gig that totally changed his life. Director, Raoul Walsh, called him and said that he needed atmosphere dogs for a new movie he was going to direct called “The Big Trail” (John Wayne’s first leading role). This is a story about a large caravan of settlers who are traveling cross country during the earliest days of the Oregon Trail in the 1840s -1869. It was filmed in 1930. Raoul wanted his actors to look rugged so they grew beards. Once again, Herman was in a few scenes with his dogs because he looked like a tough pioneer. When Herman left for location for 3+ months, he took his dogs and his banjo with him. To pass the time away in the evening, the crew would gather around the campfire. Herman would play songs on his banjo and the most requested was “Oh, Suzanna.” The crew would also play poker and Herman won a lot of money because he was an excellent player. Since it was in the Great Depression time period, the Snyder family struggled to make ends meet. Cliffie recalls his mother saying, “We’re in high cotton” whenever she received the studio checks as well as the money that Herman won from the rest of the crew members. During the filming, Herman got to know John Wayne. (Cliffie asked John Wayne for his autograph when he met him in 1973, and John Wayne wrote, “Herman’s son has to be a ‘hell of a man’.” And John Wayne was right!) After returning home, Raoul called Herman and had him come to the studios to play “Oh Suzanna” on his banjo, which was scored for the movie. Stuart Hamblen went to see “The Big Trail” after it was released and he called the studios to find out who the banjo player was because he needed one for his radio show on KEOW. Stuart’s eyes popped out when he saw Herman, because he still had his beard and long hair. He hired him and nicknamed him “Herman the Hermit.” Stuart liked to make up funny stories and he’d always tell his radio audience that while he was hunting in the Burbank hills, he found Herman holed up in an old cabin. One day, Stuart’s bass player didn’t show up, so Herman called Cliffie to come down and audition for Stuart. The rest is history. Stuart nicknamed him Cliffie Stonehead; he didn’t want anyone to know that Cliffie was Herman’s son because “hermits don’t have children.” It’s interesting how a chain of events can change someone’s life. Some call it luck and others call it fate.

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