Fred Gipson (1908-1973) published his most famous work Old Yeller in 1956. A prolific author of short stories, fiction and non-fiction books, articles, and movie scripts, he was born in the ruggedly beautiful Texas Hill Country. It was a place he loved and could never leave for long. When, after its publication in 1956, Walt Disney bought the movie rights to Old Yeller and hired Gipson to adapt it to film, the author found himself in Hollywood writing the script. The movie starred another Texan, Fess Parker, (my sister-in-law’s second cousin) as well as actors Tommy Kirk and Dorothy McGuire. But Gipson did not enjoy his time spent working in Hollywood on this and subsequent screenplays. He did not like Hollywood. It is said, in fact, he was not long happy anywhere but in Texas, and could never wait to get back, particularly to his beloved ranch home and the Mason area.
Texas and Mason have long loved Fred Gipson as well. On the last Saturday in September each year since 1999, the M. Beven Eckert Memorial Library in Mason has sponsored Old Yeller Days to honor the author and his most famous tale. That is—barring a pandemic or two. Since that date, this festival has drawn families, fans, and pets from near and wide to downtown Mason, its historic town square, and beyond. The quaint, Hill Country town of around 2,000 inhabitants provides entertainments such as a pet parade, an Old Yeller look-alike contest, vendors, cowboys, re-enactors, and a special showing of Disney’s Old Yeller or other feature film in the historic Odeon Theater where the world premiere of Old Yeller’s sequel Savage Sam was held.