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Dueling Banjos Hoax

by Brett M. Christensen

This story was first published on May 16, 2011

Message claims that the “Dueling Banjos” scene from the movie “Deliverance” was not part of the original script but showed a real incident caught on film when guitar player Ronnie Cox and a local intellectually disabled boy engaged in a spontaneous musical interaction after the film crew stopped at an isolated gas station.

Brief Analysis:
The claims in the message are untrue. The scene was not spontaneous but very much a planned and scripted part of the movie. The music was composed in 1955 by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. The part of the banjo-playing boy in “Deliverance” was played by Billy Redden. Redden could not actually play the banjo. Film director John Boorman hid another, more skilled youngster behind Redden and had him fret the notes with his left hand. Musicians Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell arranged and performed “Dueling Banjos” on the film soundtrack.

Subject: Dueling banjos–How it Came to Be

At the end of the beautiful piece you realize for sure that the one man sitting up higher has some kind of learning problems going on and won’t actually look at, smile to , or speak to the other guy he was playing with once the music stopped.

Pretty neat story. Read the commentary below. If you saw the film, “Deliverance,” you will recall this scene. A classic.
Then, click on the attachment.
The guy playing the guitar is Ronnie Cox from Portales New Mexico.
Autism? Asperger’s syndrome? Genius primary, social interaction secondary? Serendipity?……..or maybe we just haven’t figured it out yet.

Plumbing the depths of the human mind and spirit is an eternal frontier.

Watch the young mans face not his fingers. Read this before viewing video….

This is an excerpt of the film “Deliverance”. When the filming group of the movie stopped at a gas station somewhere, one of the actors started to play a tune of the film on his guitar.

When a boy who was watching (an autistic) heard the music, he started to respond with notes from his banjo. They started an incredible dialogue of instruments and the autistic boy expressed himself in probably the only form in which he was prepared to communicate.

This is how this remarkable scene, that was included in the movie, was developed and filmed. Look at the expression of the boy. At first, he seems uncertain and waiting but as the intensity of the music progressed, his lost expression was gone and an expression of pleasure and happiness was recovered; thanks to this guitar player who happened to pass by.

After this magic moment passed, the boy returned into himself leaving this part of his externalized beauty in the film. This truly was a memorable part of the movie.

This is a good story. I never knew it was true.

This scene was not a part of the script until the camera man happened to catch it on film…The family was well paid; and beat poverty by accident.

Watch the little boy especially at the end…

Detailed Analysis:
According to this message, which circulates via email and social media, the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene in the iconic 1972 movie Deliverance was not part of the script but was real footage captured when the film crew stopped at a gas station. The story claims that, when actor Ronnie Cox started playing a tune on his guitar at the gas station, a local boy with an apparent intellectual disability began following his notes on the banjo. A remarkable and completely spontaneous jam session then took place. A musical interlude so good that the director made it a part of the film. Or so this tall tale would have us believe.

The truth is somewhat less remarkable. In fact, the claims in the story are outright nonsense. The “Dueling Banjos” scene was very much a planned and scripted part of the movie and all parts were played by actors. The part of the banjo playing boy was played by then 16-year-old Billy Redden of Rabun County, Georgia. After auditions were held at a Clayton, Georgia school, Redden was chosen for the role because his appearance was thought to effectively reflect the “look” of the inbred and intellectually disabled banjo playing boy described in the original James Dickey “Deliverance” novel. Redden’s “disabled” appearance was enhanced with movie makeup.

Moreover, Redden could not play the banjo, nor was he even able to effectively pretend to play the instrument for the scene. In fact, to create the scene, film director John Boorman hid another boy behind Redden to do the banjo fingering. The second boy reportedly reached around Redden and fretted the banjo with his left hand.

And, even Ronnie Cox, the guitarist in the scene, simply mimed the playing of his instrument. The “Dueling Banjos” music on the movie’s soundtrack was arranged and performed by accomplished bluegrass and folk musician Eric Weissberg with the help of Steve Mandell. And the tune was actually composed years earlier by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1955. Smith called the piece “Feudin’ Banjos” and recorded it with five-string banjo player Don Reno.

Thus, although it may be entertaining, this circulating story is pure fiction.

Billy Redden revisited his role as a banjo player with a cameo appearance in Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish. When Burton “rediscovered” him, Billy was working at the Cookie Jar Cafe in Clayton, Georgia. Billy has also appeared on Blue Collar TV and given numerous interviews. According to iMDB, Redden was paid $500 for his role in Deliverance.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,