Sheila Cone is a knowledgeable equestrian with a particular affinity to Cass Ole’ who played the Black in the 1979 film. We thought it was time to gift her writing to all the Stallion fans! You can write her and check out her extensive collection of interesting Black Stallion facts and photos on her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fansofcassole/?ref=share
Sheila R. Cone
Cass Ole. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
As far back as I can remember I have always loved horses. I saw The Black Stallion for the first time in the early 90’s when my dad brought home a vhs copy. I remember watching that magnificent black horse on screen and was utterly mesmerized. I had to know who he was and what breed of horse. My search birthed a deep love of research and I have devoted the past thirty years to finding photos and info about Cass Ole, speaking to people who knew him or bred their mares to him, and I am just as ardent a fan of Cass Ole as when I first saw his iconic performance as The Black.
Cass Ole was bred by Gerald Donoghue of Donoghue Arabian Farm in Goliad, Texas. Born in 1969, he had a cute little star and four white socks and was the first black foal Gerald bred. Unfamiliar with the mousey coat color, he at first thought Cass Ole to be a liver chestnut. On the farm he was affectionately called ‘Mickey Mouse’. Three full siblings were born before Cass Ole, all were bay. He was sold as a two-year-old to the Cuello’s of San Antonio, Texas where he would forge a deep bond with Francesca that would later help her heal and recover from a devastating accident.
La Bahia with Cass Ole as a foal. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
La Bahia with her filly Cassa Viva, full sister of Cass Ole.
Photo courtesy Charlotte Donoghue.
The Donoghue Farm was known for producing Arabian horses that were family horses first, show horses second. Cass Ole was no exception. He had such a clam disposition that his owner, Francesca Cuello, would have to really push him at times to get him to move beyond a walk. His quiet disposition allowed him to excel in western pleasure. In 1975 he won the U.S. National Championship in AOTR with Francesca. During his seven-year show career, Cass Ole had accumulated over 400 ribbons and trophies competing in English Pleasure, Side Saddle, Native Costume, Formal Driving, Halter, Most Classic as well as winning the AHSA Horse of the Year award in 1975 and 1976. He was also awarded the King Saud Cup trophy twice. Cass Ole’s fans would often shout “Ole! Ole! Ole!” from the stands, fulfilling a vision Gerald Donoghue had for the horse and the reason he named him Cass Ole.
After a nationwide search, Cass Ole was chosen to perform the main role of the Black. His presence in the show ring translated beautifully on film, captivating the hearts of many horse-crazy kids—and adults—across the nation (including mine!). His intelligence made him stand out on set as well. His trainer, Corky Randall, commented that the horse seemed to know he was acting and even enjoyed it.
Back home Cass Ole’s popularity escalated. A fan club was created for his faithful followers with special items of memorabilia such as pins, postcards, t-shirts, stickers, etc. His fame also extended to the breeding shed. Cass Ole sired 135 registered foals, fifty of which were black. The Cuello family put on many presentations at the farm where thousands gathered throughout the stallion’s life to see him with their own eyes.
Cass Ole at San Antonio Arabians in 1984. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
In 1993 Cass Ole suffered from a severe case of colic and had to be euthanized. He was buried in the arena at San Antonio Arabians, but his memory is forever immortalized on film. And there are two stallions available to the public for breeding. A black grandson named Cass Ole’s Stahr lives with his owners in Arkansas and has four foals due for 2022. Bronze Starfire is a chestnut great grandson living with his owner in Nevada. These two are the last known stallions carrying Cass Ole’s line into the future.
Cass Ole as the Black
Be sure to join Sheila’s fan club and meet new friends!!
Don’t forget to watch the Kentucky Derby tomorrow 6:45 pm NBC sports.
Talking to an old friend, Kelli Thompson, who worked as a publicist on the Black Stallion film about some of our experiences I thought you might like to hear some more “behind the scenes” stories. Those days in the 70s – 80s had some great times, people and places! Thanks for putting together this stroll down memory lane Kelli!!
I helped work on publicity and marketing for the movie THE BLACK STALLION. Part of my job included working closely with actor Kelly Reno (Alec, in the film) and his parents, Bud and Ruth Reno. I escorted them all around Los Angeles as I took Kelly to different talk shows and interviews. It was also arranged for Cass Ole (credited as Cass-Olé in the movie), the magnificent Arabian horse that starred as The Black in the film, to come to California for various publicity events.
I had Kelly as a guest on The Mike Douglas Show and Cass Ole was brought out in front of the audience for a bit. His trainer had him rear up and do tricks and the audience was thrilled being so close to the horse. Mike Douglas was concerned at having such a large animal on his set with its slippery floor so Cass Ole’s performance was cut short. The actor George Kennedy was another talk show guest that day. Mr. Kennedy was so kind and decent to Kelly and proclaimed, on air, that Kelly deserved an Academy Award nomination for his acting in the movie.
Perhaps one of the bigger publicity events at the time was The Black Stallion Day at Hollywood Park Racetrack. The racetrack printed out 10,000 t-shirts that proclaimed “Hollywood Park Presents the Black Stallion”. The t-shirts were given to everyone in attendance at the racetrack that day. Kelly was scheduled to ride Cass Ole on a section of the track, parading in front of the crowd between races, while wearing his racing silks from the movie. Teri Garr, who portrayed Kelly’s mom in the movie, was also in attendance. Kelly and his parents flew out to California and when I met them Ruth was worried because the airline had lost the suitcase that had Kelly’s racing silks (the originals from the movie) in it. She was also concerned that Kelly had grown so much they might not even fit anymore. Fortunately, shortly before Kelly was due to appear at the racetrack, the racing silks showed up. He hurriedly changed into them and luckily they still fit and his appearance went off without a hitch.
I brought my camera with me that day which I generally never did. I took some photos with it and also handed it off to other people to take photographs of me with folks I’d been working with so much.
Kelly, his parents, and I spent time before and after his appearance in the racetrack’s private club house. I was standing there, chatting with people, when a man walked up behind me. I turned around and much to my surprise it was the actor Cary Grant. Grant smiled and gestured at Kelly, asking for an introduction. It was my immense honor to introduce them both. I turned to Kelly and said “Kelly, there is someone here who would like to meet you.” Now, Kelly was maybe 12 or 13 at the time so I’m still not sure if he really knew who Grant was. Kelly was immediately gracious and respectful. Grant was so genuine and complimentary to Kelly, telling him how much he admired his work in the film. I managed to grab my camera and take a photo of the two when they posed for journalists that were there. You can see in my photo that Grant is looking at the reporters but Kelly is looking at me (because he knew me). Behind them on the right you can partially see Ruth Reno beaming at them both.
It turns out that Mr. Grant was on the racetrack’s Board of Directors and spent many years at Hollywood Park. A casino at the racetrack was later named after him.
Considering this was Kelly’s first time doing movie publicity I was very impressed by his professionalism. He was still a kid but he was relaxed and natural in every appearance he made. Bud and Ruth Reno were good people all the way around and made my job easier. For a few years after the film came out I got Christmas cards from them. It was such a nice gesture and I’ve kept all the cards I received from them.
I am forever grateful that others there that day managed to get a couple of photos of me introducing Grant to Kelly. This was decades before cell phones so it’s kind of a miracle that I have any records of that day, outside of what I photographed. In the photo of Grant shaking hands with Kelly, Ruth and Kelly’s aunt (I believe that’s his aunt) can be seen at the table behind them while I am standing next to Grant.
It was a remarkable time and an even more remarkable movie. I still consider myself so fortunate to have been involved to the small degree that I was.
Kelli Thompson worked in film and television in publicity and production for many years. Her credits include publicity work on THE BLACK STALLION, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ALIEN, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and FLASH GORDON. Her other credits include work on STAR TREK, THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK-GENERATIONS, MURDER SHE WROTE, KNOTS LANDING, THE HOWLING, HARD RAIN, BUFFALO SOLDIERS, BLACK CAT RUN, and MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. She is currently a photographer specializing in fine art photography and photojournalism. www.Kelli.photo
First published in 1941, Walter Farley’s best-selling novel for young readers is the triumphant tale of a boy and a wild horse. From Alec Ramsay and the Black’s first meeting on an ill-fated ship, to their adventures on a desert island and their eventual rescue, this beloved story will hold the rapt attention of readers new and old. We are thrilled to welcome another wonderful horse and book set to the Breyer collection! Freedom Series | Ages 8+ | 1:12 Scale
Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.