The California Rodeo Salinas is the oldest and largest music venue in Monterey County. In 2021 we scanned all of the available programs from 1911 to the present. These programs are being kept by the Rodeo itself, and a restricted archive at California State University at Monterey Bay that can be accessed by researchers.
As part of a project sponsored by California State University at Monterey Bay, we scanned all of the available programs for co-sponsors California Rodeo Salinas (1911 to present), the Monterey Jazz Festival (1958 to present), and the Carmel Bach Festival (1935 to present).
In the California Rodeo Salinas 1931 program folder there was a letter from Pat North Ommert about Polly Burson. Out of the hundreds of programs we scanned for all 3 Festivals, it was the only one with a letter in it. The letter had a warmth and an intriguing picture from 1926. The letter was not written in 1931 – Polly Burson passed away in 2006 – and we do not know why it was in that location.
One thing lead to another, and Pat agreed to two interviews. This edited transcript is from the July 1, 2021 interview. The second interview on July 9, 2021 included Pat North Ommert, and her good friends Marguerite Happy and Bonnie Happy.
The California Rodeo Salinas is the oldest and largest music venue in Monterey County, and one of the top Rodeos in the world.
In the early days of cinema they needed stunt women, there weren’t a lot of female daredevils or extreme sportswomen as there are now. Except in rodeo, and especially trick riding. California Rodeo Salinas performers often became those stuntwomen. Raising the question, “What do the action sequences in movies that are performed by women mean to young women?”
In July 2021 Bob Danziger interviewed Pat North Ommert. The edited transcript includes excerpts from that interview, and information from subsequent discussions. Audio of the original interview is available in its entirety.
Two other legendary women, also famous as trick riders and stuntwomen, Polly Burson and Edith Happy, are the subject of, and in some ways part of these discussions.
A skilled trick rider, Roman rider and jumper, and jockey, Ommert toured the world with Wild West shows. She acted as a stunt double in Hollywood movies such as the 1954 picture, “A Star is Born,” and landed contracts for performances at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden. After she retired from trick riding, Ommert and her husband, a veterinarian, opened California’s first private equine hospital and the Los Caballos Farm, a center for resting and rehabilitating horses. Ommert was the recipient of the California Professional Horsemen’s Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. She has become a legend through her riding, and her invaluable advocacy to keep California’s horse trails and open spaces preserved will benefit cowgirls in generations to come.
Pat was born October 12, 1929 in Bell, California (near Los Angeles). Pat is 91 at the time of this interview.
Pat’s Mother, Vera North, was also a trick rider, bronc rider and stunt woman.
One of the premier stuntwomen in Hollywood history, Polly was born the daughter of Oregon ranchers and rodeo riders, beginning trick riding at fourteen and relay racing at eighteen. She decided to try her hand at stunt work in the movie industry, and worked on a variety of films, including The Perils of Pauline, and the classic, True Grit. Between films, she toured France with a Wild West show and sailed the Pacific in her own sailboat for three years.
For more information on Polly Burson:
For more information see:
Marguerite Happy Demo Reel for 2017 Reel Cowboys Silver Spur Award Show(Editor’s note: the music on the reel is Big Iron – Marty Robbins; I am a Shotgun Rider for the San Jacinto Line – THe Highwaymen; These Boots Are Made For Walkin – Nancy Sinatra; and, Pick Yourself Up – Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio)
Bonnie Happy: President,
The United Stuntwomen’s Association (USA) is an association of working, professional stuntwomen, co-ordinators, and second unit directors. The Association was established in 1984 for the purpose of assembling the top stuntwomen in the film industry. In addition to general, all around stunt abilities, USA offers champion stunt pilots, motorcycle racers, rock climbers, martial artists, equestrians, high divers, gymnasts, water specialists, circus performers, car specialists, and pyrotechnic performers. The highly qualified members of USA have distinguished themselves as professionals; creatively balancing safety with artistry through their extensive work in the film and television industry.
Movie Stunt Double
Born in October of 1925, Edith Connelly developed an abiding love of horses early in life, and this brought her into the sport of rodeo. She learned trick riding from Buck Abbott in the early 1940s, joined the RCA in 1945 and performed in the arena until 1972. Among the era’s trick riding performers, she was particularly well known for her perfection of the hippodrome stand.
Connelly also worked as a secretary during much of her career in rodeo, serving the Golden State Rodeo Company, the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, the Girl’s Rodeo Association (the forerunner of today’s Women’s Professional Rodeo Association), and venues ranging from the Salinas Rodeo to Madison Square Garden. She helped start the Pro Rodeo Judging System and was one of the designers of the “Day Sheet,” which is still used today in its original form.
Outside the rodeo arena, Edith Connelly was a well-known stunt woman. She doubled for stars like Betty Hutton, Dorothy Malone and Irene Dunn, and appeared in films such as Annie Get Your Gun and Westward The Women. In later years, she also participated in many civic and charitable programs, including Special Olympics, Friends of Rodeo and Meals on Wheels. Edith Happy Connelly passed away in 1999.
Edith Happy also is the cover of the 2017 California Rodeo Salinas Program – a distinct honor for many reasons.
The Happy Family at California Rodeo Salinas:
This article appears in the 2011 edition of the California Rodeo Salinas program:
THE HAPPY FAMILY
Edith, Don, Clifford and Bonnie Don and Edith Happy began working
Salinas in the mid 1940’s with J Spear Rodeo Company. Don hauled,
fed and cared for livestock. He was a pick up man for over 15years and
also found time to compete at Salinas and ride in the parade. Edith was a
rodeo secretary and became one of the most thrilling trick riders that performed at Salinas, becoming most well known for her hippodrome stand. The cowboys respected Edith as a secretary and voted her as
Rodeo Cowboys Association Spokesman in 1961. Edith was the only woman to hold this honor. Clifford and Bonnie were put to work by cooling out Don’s pickup horses and Edith’s trick riding horse at an early age, feeding livestock or pitching in wherever needed. Bonnie followed in Edith’s footsteps and began trick riding at Professional Rodeos, performing in Salinas for 8 years, starting at the young age of 16. She mirrored her mother’s style with the hippodrome stand and brought the crowd at Salinas to its feet, feeding off of the applause. Bonnie also carried flags in the opening ceremony, helped other contract acts and ran barrels professionally at Salinas. Clifford worked behind the chutes feeding, loading, unloading, helping on the track, helping his mom and dad and anyone else who needed him. He began competing at Salinas round 1972 atthe age of 19 and worked saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, tie down roping, steer wrestling and team roping-every event except bull riding! Clifford went on to become a well-known Hollywood stuntman. Clifford
and his wife Marguerite, a Salinas native, still attend the Rodeo every year and are enthusiastic ambassadors for this event, their “hometown rodeo.”
Marguerite Happy Pat North Ommert Bonnie Happy