Back When They Bucked with Herb Friedenthal
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Herb Friedenthal won the bull riding at the second RCA rodeo he ever went to. “It was the night of my 18th birthday and I split first with Walt Mason in Riverside, California,” said the 79 year old from Fallon, Nevada. “I feel so fortunate that in my career I was around the best rodeo cowboys that ever lived from three decades, the 40s, 50s, and 60s.” Herb Joined the RCA in March of 1956. “A couple guys came around to the amateur rodeos and they asked me to throw in with them. It was a big deal for me.”
Herb was raised in Southern California; back in the 1950s there were lots of rodeos in his area. His dad was an insurance salesman and his mom raised him and his younger brother, John. Herb joined the Marine Corp and served for a little over a year before being honorably discharged. His rodeo career took off after that and he competed all across the west. “Andy Jauregui was a stock contractor and world champion team roper. I worked for him on the labor list, that’s what we did a lot in those days – it kept us busy when we weren’t competing and gave us some extra money.” Herb also worked for Cotton Rosser. “Most of my career I stayed on the West Coast. I was happy living the dream and there were a bunch of good rodeos out there. I placed at most of the major rodeos; Cow Palace, Ogden Prescott, Las Angeles coliseum, and Tucson (he won that one).” He met a lot of great cowboys, including Casey Tibbs, who put together a Wild West Show and Rodeo to take to Japan, and invited Herb to join the group.
“We went over there in July of 1962,” he explained. The crew consisted of between 35 and 40 people; counting the Mexican bull fighters the Mariachi band, several Indians and the support crew. “Only about 15 of us were rodeo cowboys and out of that there were six past world champions; Gerold Roberts, Ben Johnson, Eddie Akridge, Clyde Vamvoras, Casey Tibbs, and Paul Mayo.” They were there for three months, which included six weeks in Tokyo. “It was a tough deal. We had two performances a day, three on Sunday, and Monday off. Casey took some national finals stock over there. If you got wiped out in the afternoon performance, you had to get on that night. There was no doctor release.” During that time in Japan’s history; 17 years after the war and two years before the Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese still believed that parts of the United States were the same as they had been watching in the old American Westerns, including cowboys and Indians. “It was 100% Japanese. You could get two blocks from the hotel and get lost. The way we made it was we had a business card from the hotel and the cab could drop us off.” After 125 performances, they headed home.
When he returned, he landed a job modeling for Marlboro. “Clyde Cisco May had it and didn’t want it and gave it to me.” He was photographed in silhouette form for more than a month all over the country. Most of the shots were taken at recognizable landmarks and he wore his hat, spurs, and jeans. He posed with an unlighted cigarette because it took so long to get each shot. “I’ve never smoked or even lit a cigarette,” he said. The ads ended up in national magazines such as “Life” and the “Saturday Evening Post.” That exposure led to stunt work as a bull rider on the television series, “Cowboy in Africa,” which starred Chuck Connors. He also doubled for Michael Landon (Little Joe) on Bonanza and bulldogged a steer for a Buick commercial. He never cared for the Hollywood life, and decided to move on.
He used his GI bill and went to aviation school. He also met and married his wife of 50 years, Starr. They have two girls, Carry Ila and Ila Carry, and two grandchildren. Herb worked as a flight instructor for two years before becoming a union carpenter. He made that his career for 20 years and moved up to become a business representative for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters until he retired at the age of 70. He took his competitive nature and became a marathon runner. “I finished the LA marathon three times and ran a couple hundred 5k and 10k runs.” He has also been a lifetime supporter of the Braille Institute. “Helping those who are blind or visually impaired is the right thing to do.”
Herb has no regrets in life. “I’d do it all over again. For 15 years I didn’t have a boss, I got to see the whole world and be around the best guys. I’ve got five acres in Fallon, Nevada. I’ve got a horse, a great wife and family, and I hang out at the sale yard coffee shop (Stockyards Diner), with my friends. The older you get, the fewer friends you have.”