An Accidental Cowboy
“An Accidental Cowboy” tells the story of the former Simon and Simon actor’s physical recovery and psychological healing on a California ranch. After being shot by a neighbor in 1992, Parker and his wife Darleen moved to the California hills to run a horse and cattle ranch. The book is notable for focusing more on life changes stemming from his tragedy than from the shooting itself, describing the Hollywood actor’s transition to competent cowboy.
Reviews for An Accidental Cowboy
“Yep, that’s right – Jameson Parker, as in A. J. Simon, the fair-haired brother in the 1980s “Simon and Simon” television series. But “An Accidental Cowboy” isn’t a Hollywood-actor-playing-cowboy book. Instead, the memoir offers two plotlines, so to speak. One is a thoughtful look at ranch life, particularly in southern California, and the other is Parker’s battle with his own demons after he became a shooting victim. When Parker and his wife moved to their ranch, where he attempted to deal with depression and what he ultimately learned was post-traumatic stress disorder, the result was “An Accidental Cowboy.”
His well-written chronicle of contemporary ranching includes many perspectives. Parker evidently asks the right questions in such an acceptable manner that cattlemen, cowboys and horsemen are willing to share their views. It also helps that he’s willing to ride horseback through the mud, blood and manure with them, and that he’s honest enough to admit that he does so more willingly at some times than other. Given the wry, self-effacing way he relates his ranch-related experiences, Parker can probably hold his own around any cow-camp fire.
His reflections are amusing and ironic, as he compares and contrasts modern ranching with history and/or classic literature, which creates an additional, bigger-picture perspective of the industry he’s embraced. His succinct explanations about livestock production, horsemanship and ranching simply underscore the depth of his understanding. Although Parker played polo in his acting days, he’s a relative newcomer to ranching and, as such, brings yet another, more personal perspective to the book.
It’s easy to become immersed in Parker’s sincere efforts to understand and fit in with his ranching neighbors, and equally easy to be jarred from them. Every few chapters he shifts gears to write of the scars the shooting left on his life and his psyche. Although brief, these are bleak, dark chapters that seem to be written by an altogether different personality. As “An Accidental Cowboy” progresses, the cowboy and the crime victim often clash, yet in true, Old-West fashion, the cowboy ultimately outwits the demons that moved with him from a crime scene to his southern California ranch. If Parker doesn’t have a white hat, perhaps it’s time he gets one; he’s earned it.”
In the ’80s, Parker won fame as half of TV’s “Simon and Simon” (he was the Stetsonless blond). But his interest in acting waned after he was shot by a neighbor in 1992. “I would read scenes involving shoot-outs, written by men who knew nothing about the reality of guns or shooting or being shot, and rage would start to roil inside me like food poisoning.” Struggling with a crushing depression, Parker retreated to rural California, where his heartrending story picks up. With false starts and apprehension, his ballad of emotional triumph mirrors the endless cattle drives or smelly horse foaling he charmingly illustrates. Peppered with inventive simile and playful self-deprecation, “Cowboy” is equally fulfilling.
“Actor becomes 1980s TV icon. Actor gets shot by a murderous felon. Actor, spiraling into posttraumatic stress, flees Hollywood for a life on the range. By the blonde guy from Simon & Simon, a sensitive, wise, sweetly written memoir about horses, California’s last cowboys and giving up the fast life. And more horses.”
(Starred review) Readers wondering whatever happened to Jameson Parker, one half of television’s “Simon & Simon” private detective team, will be pleased to know that he is alive and well and living in southern California. Although, as he tells us in this splendidly written memoir, “alive and well” was a dicey proposition for a while: a few years after his series was cancelled, Parker was shot, and very badly wounded, by a rather unpleasant neighbor. Physical recuperation went relatively smoothly, but the psychological healing is still progressing. Now living with his wife on a cattle ranch, and still taking on the infrequent acting role, Parker writes about his struggle frankly and with abundant good humor. Unlike many triumph-over-adversity books, which play the tragedy for all it’s worth, this one doesn’t even get around to telling us the specifics of the shooting incident until two-thirds into the book; until that point, the book is the story of an actor who went through a mostly unspecified, life-changing event and decided to chuck the big city for a ranch 5,000 feet above the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a story about a stranger in a strange land, about a man learning an entirely new set of skills, and the colorful people he meets along the way. Thousands of actors have written memoirs, but this one is unlike all the others. It isn’t the actor’s celebrity that makes it fascinating, but the way he tells his story.
“This extraordinary book is like a documentary film. Jameson Parker, an actor, has a cinematic eye: scenes follow one another in a fascinating sequence. Against a background of wild California, cliffs and canyons and twisty dusty roads strewn with “boulders the size of rolltop desks,” cattle are tracked down and herded off to slaughter. A brutal business, but Parker has a tender heart. The dogs and horses and even some of the cows are as distinctly themselves as the fiercely independent men and women who cling stubbornly to their ancient – horse tackle derives from 8th century African/Spanish Moors – craft. Left at that, the book would simply be a genre account. It is not, because we gradually realize that Parker is healing himself of near-mortal wounds by becoming “an accidental cowboy.” Robust, self-reliant, witty, he takes to a way of life he so relishes that his pleasure in it keeps us bumping along happily at his side, hot and
saddle-sore, but enchanted.”
-Anne Truitt, author of Prospect: The Journey of an Artist
A former television star who took to the trail extols a disappearing way of life. Parker, star of ’80s detective drama, “Simon and Simon,” has almost nothing to say about his acting career, other than to discuss why it eventually became enervating. Instead, his debut memoir begins when he leaves LA for parts just slightly east and deeper into the American West: the California ranch country of the Sierras. With his horse-loving wife Darleen, the author joins up with local cowboys, seeking to learn just how this quintessentially western job is done today. Whenever possible, he pitches in on cattle drives, helps out at brandings, looks on at auctions, and asks questions of men who excel in giving one- and two-word answers. Deeply enamored of this life rooted in the land, Parker take the reader along on his beginner’s tour of the basics of the cowboy way. He may know little about herding balky cattle, avoiding cantankerous bulls, or heating branding irons, but he’s endlessly eager. Local trainers are profiled with deep admiration and respect. Cattlemen and cowboys are drawn with admiring strokes. The economics and politics of ranching, a true morass, are examined with a respectable attempt at evenhandedness. The habits of cows and horses come in for scrutiny. and Parker’s mare, Miss Flirt, is a character in her own right. The only digressions are periodic references to the traumatic shooting that resulted in a depression that led, in turn, to the author leaving Hollywood. Most of the limelight, however, is reserved for the cowmen. Perhaps most surprising are Parker’s writing chops: the language is expressive and intelligent, despite the author’s best efforts to imitate his laconic heroes. Smart, disarming, and forgivably sentimental.