Museum of Northwest Colorado: A Colorado governor goes Hollywood | CraigDailyPress.com

Museum of Northwest Colorado: A Colorado governor goes Hollywood

Mary Pat Dunn, Museum of Northwest Colorado Registrar

— Newlyweds Ed and Fern Johnson came to Colorado in 1909, hoping the high mountain air would cure Ed of his tuberculosis. Ed took up work as a railroad telegrapher until his doctor urged him to spend more time outside in order to recoup his health. In 1910 the young couple moved west to what was still Routt County, and homesteaded near Lay, roughly 17 miles west of Craig. They spent the next 10 years in the invigorating frontier air, and Ed did regain his health. In 1921, the Johnsons moved into Craig, and Ed began his first run of public service when he acted as a spokesman for the area ranchers.

'Big Ed,' as Johnson was known affectionately, died in 1970 at the age of 86, leaving an impressive legacy of strong leadership and commitment to those he served. The Museum of Northwest Colorado has an exhibit dedicated to Johnson and his stellar career as an advocate for the state he so loved. Looking every bit the tough old railroad telegrapher, Colorado Gov. Ed Johnson poses on the motion picture set for Universal Studio's "Night Passage" starring Jimmy Stewart. Portions of the 1956 film were shot in the remote Los Animas Canyon. The vociferous politician was limited to three lines in the script, but in a style true to his form, he ad-libbed a fourth line — which the director kept.

It didn't take long before his forceful and compelling arguments for his ranching constituents made an impression on other political groups. In 1922, the Moffat County Democrats nominated him for State Representative, a post he was elected to in this traditionally Republican stronghold. He served three additional terms in that position before he was elected as lieutenant governor in 1930. He subsequently was elected Colorado governor and served two terms in the mid-30s.

In 1936, Johnson was elected to serve as state Senator, a position he held for three terms. He was again elected governor at the age of 70. In 1956, Universal Studios was shooting a western genre film featuring the beloved actor Jimmy Stewart. The studio needed a bit character to play a construction worker, and they thought the crusty old governor might just be a hit. When they learned he had actually been a telegraph operator in his youth, they changed plans and type-cast him in that part, and gave him three lines. It appears that Ronald Reagan had nothing on Johnson when it came to Hollywood acting.

'Big Ed,' as Johnson was known affectionately , reluctantly retired after his third term as governor. Not one to be idle he continued to actively volunteer wherever he felt he could benefit his beloved adopted state. Johnson died in 1970 at the age of 86, leaving an impressive legacy of strong leadership and commitment to those he served. The Museum of Northwest Colorado has an exhibit dedicated to Johnson and his stellar career as an advocate for the state he so loved. Located in downtown Craig, the Museum of Northwest is open Monday through Saturday with free admission.