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Reliving the Glory Years at Shepherd of the Hills

Performers from the show's early days reflect on the play and its close ties to Branson history.
BRANSON, Mo. -- The iconic Shepherd of the Hills play will run for one more week before the curtain closes for good.

But the performers, vendors, workers and managers who helped keep the show running for more than 50 years will never forget the history of the play or its close ties to Branson history.

Bud Lynn, who played Jim Lane and the title role of the Shepherd off and on from 1968 to 2002, said he began acting in the play as a young man who needed to build confidence.

"I just loved it it," Lynn said. "It was a big big big part of my life. I grew up as a farm boy and I got out in front of people to talk to them."

Lynn is now retired. He tours the country with his wife, also a former performer in the play, and builds beautiful, quaint chapels in the Ozarks as part of a nonprofit. He and hundreds of other performers took the stage over the years and transformed into the Ozark archetypes Harold Bell Wright wrote about more than 100 years ago.

Lynn worked alongside Helen Williams, who began playing Sammy Lane in 1969. Back then, actors would perform stunts like falling off buildings and hitting each other full force on stage. She remembered one performance in which she accidentally slapped Wash Gibbs too hard, and actually feared that he would come after her in retaliation.

"The fight scene was a fight scene," Williams reminisced. "They pulled their punches but they hit. They had a fist and it went to a slap."

In those days, Williams' feisty real life personality reflected Sammy Lane's persona in the book and in the play. She called herself a Tom boy, and said she used to ride her horse onstage at full speed, stopping the horse in a sliding halt. She was 16 years old.

"Back then, Branson was such a small town," she said. "They knew the people at Shepherd, most everybody. So they called me Sammy. Helen by day, Sammy Lane by night."

Lynn confirmed the experience. He said even after Branson experienced a theater boom the play remained competitive in the town's entertainment industry.

"Shepherd of the Hills was entirely different from everybody else," he said. "It was itself."
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