Originally created 01/24/04

Star on a new stage



Betty Lynn Buckley doesn't consider herself a Broadway diva.

"I'm a cowgirl who just happens to sing and act," she said. "But I came pretty close to forgetting I was a cowgirl there for awhile."

Who could blame her? Buckley has had a successful stage, screen and music career. She earned a Tony award for the musical Cats, along with another Tony nomination and aGrammy nomination.

If her name doesn't sound familiar, consider her television career. In the late 1970s, she played stepmother Abby Bradford in the popular show Eight is Enough. She has recently performed in the hit HBO series, Oz, and made movie appearances in Carrie, Frantic and Tender Mercies.

Buckley might be best-known, though, for her voice. Hired specifically to play the role of Grizabella in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, Buckley sang an angelic rendition of Memory. She won a Tony award in 1982 for her performance.

"I've always thought of myself as one of those three-point kickers," Buckley said of her role in Cats. "The team sets it all up, and I go in and kick in the three points, and we win the game."

Buckley is looking to have that same sort of success in the cutting horse industry. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Buckley re-evaluated her life and decided to return to her Texas roots.

"I said I better get on with finding my cutting horse," said Buckley, who was born in Big Spring, Texas.

She met legendary trainer Bill Freeman in August 2002, and with his help purchased Purple Badger later in the year. Then the big decision came. Buckley, a former Fort Worth, Texas, rodeo reporter, sold her New York City apartment and moved into a ranch outside of Weatherford, Texas, last November.

If you think Buckley is in this for the short term, think again. She sold her beloved BMW for a much larger red Ford pickup truck.

"I don't even know how to park it," she said.

She is still learning how to ride cutting horses as well. Last year, she showed her 7-year-old gelding for the first time in Augusta. While Buckley failed to make the finals, she did pick up a check for finishing fifth in the limited Non-Pro. She was so excited for earning cutting horse money, she let out a scream to the bewilderment of the show office.

"People were like, 'We've never seen anybody this excited for fifth place,"' she said.

In the 2003 West Texas Futurity, Buckley nearly won an amateur event. She made the rookie mistake, though, of putting her right hand on the reins to turn the horse around in the final two seconds of her run - a points deduction that kept her out of first.

"Bill said, 'I'm never talking to you again,"' she said.

Despite her time on stage acting and singing in front of thousands of people, Buckley gets jittery on her horse when it's showtime.

"I'm scared to death," she said. "I'm terrified."

Buckley simply hasn't had much time to practice her new profession, especially with acting, singing and teaching engagements on her platter. And the 56-year-old Buckley isn't slowing down.

She'll be at the Sarasota (Fla.) Film Festival next week promoting an independent film (The Mummy and the Armadillo) in which she performed. Also in the next few months, she has a teaching obligation at the University of Texas-Arlington and a singing engagement in New York.

Buckley, however, is slowly beginning to make her new stage a dirt floor. And with practice, maybe she'll become a cowgirl diva.

"To be honest, I'd like to become one of the top non-pro riders," she said. "Everyone tells me it's not too late. I'm counting on that."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, ext. 114. or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.