IN THIS fast paced world we live in, periods of calm and contemplation are all too brief, and when the opportunity to reflect on days gone by does come along, details of certain subjects can easily be lost in the mists of time.
That's when conversations between friends, work colleagues, family members, or the perusal of articles in the Bugle, can work like an hour's session at the local gym, flexing those brain cells and jogging memories that might otherwise have remained dormant. And when it comes to rattling the cage of TV history, Alan Keeling is our man, and this week he's rolled out the red carpet to present a gallery of classic TV Westerns that entertained us all those years ago. Alan writes:
"Depending on how old we are we all have our favourite Westerns that were made popular during the golden era of terrestrial TV, before the coming of the satellite age. Who could ever forget Laramie, Bonanza, Maverick, Whiplash and Broken Arrow, or The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore on his faithful white steed, Silver, or the less well known Frontier Circus and Bronco Lane.
"For my most recent trawl through the archives of TV Westerns I have begun with a series that starred Dale Robertson as Jim Hardie in The Tales of Wells Fargo. It was first produced in 1957 and had a run spanning 211 episodes and five years, finally running out of steam in 1962. It was initially screened in the UK on BBC 1 in 1958 and became popular with viewers in its Sunday evening slot. Star of the show Dale Robertson was an agent working for the Wells Fargo Stagecoach Transportation Co., and in the first 167 half-hour episodes (filmed in monochrome) the stories followed his adventures on the Western Frontier in the 1860s. The final 44 episodes (increased to an hour in length and also produced in colour) were about Jim Hardie as a ranch owner in San Francisco, and by that time he had acquired a side-kick named Jeb Gane, the ranch foreman, who was played by William Demarest.
"The original pilot for the show was entitled A Tale of Wells Fargo, and was a segment of an anthology series called Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, and when the cameras began to roll, filming took place at the Universal Studios in California, produced by Nat Holt and Earl Lyon for Overland Productions. Wells Fargo was a training ground for many burgeoning young actors including Jack Nicholson. Others who appeared in the series included Chuck Conners, Lee Van Cleef, Michael Landon, Denver Pyle, Dan Blocker, Jack Elam, Jim Davis, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Adam West and Howard Keel.
Wild Bill Hickok is a legendary name from the history of the American Wild West, and when the TV show hit the ATV screens in the Midlands in 1957, it was assured of success. The series was based on the stories that surrounded Hickok when he was a marshal in Kansas, and enjoyed a five year run from 1951 to 1956. Guy Madison played the leading role and Andy Divine his side-kick, the overweight comedian Jingles P. Jones.
"When the show appeared on American TV it was sponsored by Kellogg's Cereals, and during that time a version was also broadcast on radio. The first 61 half-hour shows were filmed in black and white at the Melody Ranch in California and were made by William F. Broidy Productions, whilst the remaining 52 episodes were shot in colour, produced by Screen Gems (Columbia) Ltd., and filmed at a new location on the Columbia Ranch. Of course every good marshal and his assistant must have a horse he can rely upon on, and Hickok and Jingles were no exception, and the equine names chosen were very appropriate. For Wild Bill it was Buckshot and for the comic Jingles it was of course Joker.
"In accordance with the important part played by all the old Westerns in furthering the careers of actors, many of whom were appearing in their first television productions, a list of co-stars who appeared in Wild Bill Hickok is as follows. They include Alan Hale Jr., Tris Coffin, Rand Brooks, Robert Blake, Clayton Moore and Denver Pyle.
"The Legend of Jesse James, which premiered on US TV in 1965, ran for just 25 half-hour episodes and was filmed entirely in black and white. Henry Fonda had portrayed Jesse in two feature films' in the early '40s, followed in another film in the '50s by Robert Wagner, and Robert Vaughan starred as the famous Jesse James in an episode of The Tales of Wells Fargo in 1957. But this was the first time the legendary outlaw had featured in his own series. Christopher Jones played the lead role (four years later he appeared in the John Mills movie Ryan's Daughter) and Allen Case his brother Frank. The stories followed the James brothers in Missouri during the 1860s as they went after railroad officials to avenge the killing of their mother who had refused to sell them her land. Other guest stars included Jack Elam, Lyle Talbot, Marie Windsor, Tris Coffin, Claude Akins and Charles Bronson.
This mid sixties 20th Century production was finally shown by ATV in the Midlands in 1970/71, although other ITV regions had seen it earlier, and it was always broadcast late at night. In fact, the show never managed to hang on to a regular time slot, being used as a filler for most of the time, so the series might be hard to recall by Bugle readers.
Another Western series to hit the screen during this prolific period was Colt 45, a Warner Brothers production made between October 1957 and July 1960. Altogether 67 half-hour episodes were seen here in the UK, but when the BBC broadcast it in 1966, they chose a children's viewing time slot and changed the show's name to The Colt Cousins. The original concept was based on Warner's 1950 feature film starring Randolph Scott which was set in the lawless years of the 1880s.
"The television version starred Wayde Preston as Christopher Colt, a US government agent (and son of the inventor of the Colt 45 revolver) who poses as a salesman for the aforementioned gun. After a number of episodes a dispute between Preston and his employer, Warner's, forced him to leave the show, and he was replaced by Donald May who played Colt's cousin Sam Colt Jr. Preston however returned to complete the show's final season. The creator and producer of Colt 45, Roy Huggins, had previous TV Western success with Cheyenne and Maverick.
"Finally in this current round-up of famous TV Westerns I must mention Stories of the Century, a show that won a prime time Emmy award for the best TV Western in the autumn of 1955, and later changed its name to Legends of the West. Produced by Republic Pictures TV Division (called Studio City Productions) it enjoyed a run of 39 half-hour monochrome episodes, but wasn't shown by Midlands ATV until a decade later in 1965, and even then was given a late evening slot at 11.30 pm on a Friday night.
"This particular Western series was set in the 1890s and centred around the investigations of Matt Clark, played by Jim Davis, and his female assistant Frankie Adams, played by Mary Castle. With stories often extracted from official newspaper files and records, both detectives, who worked for the South Western Railroad, encountered true legends of Western history, including Black Bart, Frank & Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and The Dalton Gang, etc. After 26 episodes Clark was given a new female assistant called Margaret Jones, played by Kristine Miller. The series also contained various stock footage from some of Republic Pictures' earlier B-Westerns, and indeed most of the guest villains came from the B-Movie serials such as Robert Shane, Pat Hogan, Harry Lauter, Pierce Lyden, Marie Windsor, Anthony Caruso, Richard Simmons, and Bruce Bennett.
"See you all next time."