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JESSIE LA RIVE MAPES ON PLAYING HERSELF IN 'URBAN COWBOY'

Interview with Urban Cowboy's Jessie La Rive Mapes
"Hold my beer, Jessie," Debra Winger's character, Sissy, tells real life cowgirl Jessie La Rive Mapes, then billed as Jessie La Rive, in the  popular 1980 John Travolta feature URBAN COWBOY, in which the former disco king, trading polyester for chaps, rides a mechanical bull in the gigantic Gilley's Bar in Houston, Texas, where, on film and real life, Jessie was right at home...

How did you first get involved with URBAN COWBOY? The original story was written by Aaron Latham of Esquire magazine. He did a story about my best friend, Betty Jones, her ex-husband and myself along with my daddy, Steve Strange. Then director Jim Bridges with Paramount Pictures decided that the love triangle around the bull would make for a great movie.

Jessie and John Travolta outside his airplane
How was it working with a big star like John Travolta? When we first heard they were considering John Travolta to play the part, we were all in shock. I loved him in GREASE which I had just seen, but a cowboy? 

They pulled us off a trail ride one night because he was coming into the club and wanted to meet us. He was very welcoming and treated us like old friends. When we started filming, we were always going out to eat or just hanging out. 

I remember the first time we went to lunch. He picked me up in his limo and handed me a cell phone. Okay, this country girl from Pasadena was not used to phones in cars... he told me to call whomever I wanted, so I called my grandmother. Of course she didn't believe I was with John Travolta, so he took the phone out of my hand and started talking with her. I was pregnant through half of the filming, and John would chase me through the club carrying a fake knife and a video camera, wanting to hurry things along and film the birth. But my best memory is when he took me for my first plane ride on my 21st birthday. He had just purchased a new plane at Hobby Airport and surprised me by taking me flying!

Jessie La Rive, Debra Winger and John Travolta
How about Debra Winger, who played your best friend, Sissy? With Debra the chemistry was instant. We were truly friends in the movie, always hanging out when we weren't shooting, going and getting lunch for everyone, playing on the bull. Betty and I taught her the stunts she did on the bull. We were doing all of the tricks and more in the club to make a little pocket money.  

Our thing was that we could out-ride anyone at any speed. So there were a lot of scenes that never made it into the film: of Debra and I playing around on the bull, or just hanging around in the club. And the fight scene outside of Stoney's Diner was real for the two of us. We kept giggling every time we went to shoot the scene, so Jim made us go behind the building and get mad at each other so we could get the shot done.

Jessie with Scott Glenn and James Gannon
What about Scott Glenn? Scott was nothing but a gentleman. He didn't hang out with the Gilley regulars, or "Gilley Rats" as we were known, but when we shot scenes he was always nice to me.

What are some memories of being directed by James Bridges? Jim was leery at first to cast me for my role, but John insisted that I play myself. He was great to work with and always tried to keep the regulars happy. He said without us the movie would not be the same. The first night back, after having my son, he hired a babysitter and let me use his motor home while we were shooting scenes.

Jessie La Rive Mapes, Debra Winger & John Travolta at Gilley's
What was the "concrete prairie" of Gilley's like as a movie location? Filming was both a great experience and a living hell at times. Most of the scenes inside the club were filmed during the day. That particular summer we were seeing 100 degree days, and when we would start to shoot a scene, the AC units inside the club had to be turned off because of the fog machines. 

Forty-years ago the stuff they were using, to make the club look smoky, was not very healthy to breathe, so we had a lot of headaches. Also heat exhaustion from being inside a closed-up metal building. Filming was anywhere from 10-16 hours a day, with a lot of hurry-up and wait going on. But it was an experience of a lifetime, and something my kids and grand-kids are able to brag about. When we weren't filming we would either go back to our dressing trailers or hang out in the club with the extras. Most were regulars of the club, so we knew quite a few of them. We would play cards, pool, have little jam sessions: anything to pass the time.

Jessie with Debra and John in URBAN COWBOY
You were very natural on screen... Did you catch the acting bug after the movie wrapped? I never thought anymore of acting; wasn't my thing. I had a new baby and just wanted everything to go back to normal. But because of the movie I have done numerous interviews over the years, been in several documentaries and have been able to concentrate on my music. 

My husband and I race running quarter horses in Yorktown, Texas. I released a CD two years ago and we are working on another one now. I sing with my cowboy church band and write country gospel music. I have made long-lasting friends because of the experience, and I am always happy to meet new fans.

Jessie La Rive Mapes can be found HERE on Twitter
I hope this gives you a little insight into the fun we had while filming URBAN COWBOY. And just a little side note: the last scenes in the movie... the robbery, the fight, and the scene where they get back into the truck... were all filmed on a sound stage in L.A. 

Also, look for the mountains in the background of the trailer park scenes; there are no mountains in Deer Park, Texas. One of the things that I like to do when I'm performing is trivia: so whoever can tell me the very last line in the movie will win an autographed picture, CD and t-shirt. Do you know what the last line is and who said it? No cheating now!
Jessie La Rive Mapes today: seated on the Mechanical Bull
Jessie La Rive Mapes being interviewed about her part in URBAN COWBOY
Jessie La Rive Mapes with Debra Winger in URBAN COWBOY
Jessie La Rive Mapes with Debra Winger while John Travolta's Urban Cowboy throws food at Scott Glenn
Jessie La Rive Mapes cheers on her friend, Debra Winger's Sissy, in URBAN COWBOY
Jessie La Rive Mapes with Debra Winger and John Travolta in URBAN COWBOY
Jessie La Rive Mapes as Jessie with Debra Winger as Sissy in URBAN COWBOY
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