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TV letters keep rollin', rollin', rollin in.....

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: September 14, 2006

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Alan Keeling has been out of the saddle for a few weeks and his reminiscences of old TV programmes have been temporarily corralled. But he'll be back next week, shootin' from the hip with more bostin memories.

Meanwhile a posse of other Bugle readers have been on his trail with their own recollections of television shows of old. Mr C. Tonks writes from Kingswinford:

"I have read and greatly enjoyed Alan Keeling's recent accounts of TV programmes from half a century ago. On page 25 of Bugle 728 the question was asked whether there were any programmes that hadn't yet been mentioned that deserved credit. Well I can remember two in particular, both Westerns. The first was called The Loner. My detailed recollections are a little sketchy, but Lloyd Bridges was the principal actor and it was shown on a Sunday afternoon. The second was called Branded and starred Chuck Connors. He played the part of a cavalry officer who was the only survivor after an Indian massacre. They said he ran away leaving his men to die, and as a result was stripped of his rank, dishonourably discharged from the cavalry and labelled a coward, hence the title of the programme Branded. Both of these Westerns were broadcast in the 1960s.

Colin Pratt from Rowley Regis has also been in touch, writing:

"I look forward to reading the Bugle's articles on old TV programmes as I collect many on DVD and video, including classic British comedy films of the 40s and 50s (Old Mother Riley, Norman Evans, Frank Randle, etc.) B Westerns, and cliff-hanger serials, but my main category is US produced TV Westerns.

"I read with interest the write up about Jock Mahoney and James Arness and thought I may be able to fill in some of the gaps relating to the careers of these two actors. Jock Mahoney was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Jacques O'Mahoney of French/Irish extraction, plus a little Cherokee. After moving to Devonport, Illinois, he attended the university where he excelled in swimming and football, and at the outbreak of World War Two enlisted as a marine fighter pilot. At the end of the war he moved to Los Angeles and found a job in the expanding movie industry where he became noted as a stunt man for actors like Errol Flynn, John Wayne and Gregory Peck. He was in fact the permanent double for Charles Starret (The Durango Kid). In 1951 Gene Autrey signed him for the lead role in 78 episodes of his series The Range Rider, along with a young American called Dick Jones whose claim to fame was the voice of Pinocchio. Jock's final movie was called, appropriately, The End, in which he played alongside his step daughter and actress Sally Field. He died in 1978 with a stroke which was attributed to injuries he sustained in a road traffic accident.

James Arness was born James King Aurness in Minnesota on 26 May 1923. At the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted in the US Army 3rd Infantry and received a Purple Heart after suffering a serious injury to his right leg at the Anzio landings in Italy. After the war he worked as a radio announcer in Minneapolis before moving to Los Angeles where his resonant voice and extreme height found him work in the movies. In the early 1950s he signed a contract with John Wayne's production company Bat Jack and made four films with the king of the Westerns.

In 1955 Gunsmoke was a successful radio series and CBS wanted to transfer it to the expanding TV medium. William Conrad (Frank Cannon) played the original Matt Dillon on the airwaves, but was considered too overweight for TV and CBS offered the role to John Wayne. However he declined and instead used his considerable influence to get Arness the part, and was so impressed with JA's ability that he did the introduction for the first ever Gunsmoke episode called Matt Gets It.

Arness stayed with Gunsmoke for twenty years and during that time received three Emmy Awards until the show was shelved in 1975. In addition he made four Gunsmoke movies for TV, the last of which, The Long Ride, was produced in 1992. From 1976 to 1979 he starred in the series How The West Was Won, and his last TV series was the police drama Big Jim McClain. His brother Peter Graves also a successful movie career in series such as Fury and Whiplash. As far as I am aware James Arness is still alive and lives with his wife Janet in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. playing an active role as both parents and grandparents."

And finally this week a Bugle reader from Brum who was carried away by our mention of the musical accompaniments to the great TV Westerns in a recent issue. Mrs Betty May writes from Weoley Castle:

"I can still hear those cracking theme tunes that used to be played at the beginning and the end of the Westerns, many of which I can still sing along to. I have to say a big thank you for all the articles in the Bugle of late about TV programmes of the past. It has been a real nostalgia boost. I am now in my early sixties and as a kid would watch as many shows as I was allowed. I had a crush on Craig Hill and of course Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood); and still have I suppose. Then there was Robert Horton out of Wagon Train who played Flint McCullough, and other terrific shows such as Sugar Foot, Maverick and Wells Fargo - what lovely memories. Best wishes and keep up the good work."

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