TV – When the western was king – PT1.

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There was a time, back in the fifties when television suddenly took off, that saw the western genre dominating the box. Scores of series were launched throughout the late forties, the fifties and sixties. Many of them lasted only a single season (even less), but others made a fortune for their studios and ran for years, even decades. Based on the number of episodes produced, I have arrived at the top 50 series screened from 1949 to 1969. Some carried on into the seventies, but the list consists only of those that began prior to 1970.

Here are numbers 50 to 26. The top 25 will follow in two days’ time. Quite a trip down memory lane.

 

50        LAREDO                   1965-7                        (56 episodes)

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Philip Carey, Neville Brand, Peter Brown, Robert Wolders & William Smith

The exploits of a band of Texas Rangers under Captain Parmalee.

 

49        F TROOP                  1965-7                         (65 episodes)

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(L to R) Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch

A rarity. A western comedy series that now boasts cult status. Melody Patterson (Wrangler Jane) had not yet turned 16 when she lied about her age and auditioned for the part. In 1970 she wed James MacArthur who played Danno in Hawaii 5-0.

 

48        COLT.45                    1957-60                       (67 episodes)

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                                    Wayde Preston

Chris Colt is a government agent posing as a guns salesman as he tracks down bad guys. Preston was a former Lieutenant in the US Artillery during the Korean War. After retiring from acting he piloted aircraft for a construction company, operating from Los Angeles to Mexico and back.

 

 

47        BRONCO                  1958-62                       (68 episodes)

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                          Ty Hardin

Former confederate soldier Bronco Layne wanders the Wild West encountering famous characters of the era. Ty Hardin portrayed him in the series. In his later years Hardin formed the ‘Arizona Patriots’, a group of fanatics who stock-piled weapons in order to wage war on the ‘unholy’ US Government. The FBI raided their base and confiscated the arms.

 

 

46        SUGARFOOT          1957-61                       (69 episodes)

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                               Will Hutchins

Correspondence school law graduate Tom Brewster travels the west seeking his fortune. The series was part of ‘The Cheyenne Show’ which rotated ‘Cheyenne’, ‘Bronco’ and ‘Sugarfoot’ in a three-week cycle. Hutchins later became heavily involved in the circus industry.

 

 

45        TRACKDOWN        1957-9                         (70 episodes)

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Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman tracks down criminals in the Old West. Robert Culp played him and would afterwards team up with Bill Cosby in the popular ‘I Spy’ series.

 

 

44        SKY KING                1951-59                       (72 episodes)

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Gloria Winters & Kirby Grant

Sky King and his niece operate out of the Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona. All but forgotten today, Kirby Grant starred as Sky King. He was on his way to be honoured by the Challenger Space Shuttle astronauts on October 30, 1985 when he was killed in a car crash. A few months later the Challenger blew up and killed those same astronauts.

 

 

43        BROKEN ARROW             1956-8             (73 episodes)

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        John Lupton, Michael Ansara

Indian agent Tom Jeffords and Apache chieftain Cochise enjoy a friendship. Michael Ansara convincingly played Cochise, so convincingly that many fans assumed he must be a Native American. In fact, he was born in Syria to Egyptian parents. From 1958 to 1974 he was married to Barbara Eden, star of the ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ series.

 

 

42        THE TALL MAN                 1960-2             (75 episodes)

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Barry Sullivan, Clu Gulager

Fictionalised stories about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in New Mexico 1870. The very fine actor Barry Sullivan starred as Garrett.

 

 

41        THE REBEL                         1959-61           (76 episodes)

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Johnny Yuma is a young confederate soldier drifting through the post-Civil War west. Nick Adams starred as Yuma. He died from a drug overdose in 1968 at the age of 36.

 

 

40        THE DEPUTY                      1959-61           (76 episodes)

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             Henry Fonda, Allen Case

Clay McCord is a Silver City deputy, an expert shot who refuses to use his gun. This was Henry Fonda’s first TV series. He was a big enough star to demand that all his scenes for the season be shot at once, so that he would still be free to make movies during the remainder of the season.

 

 

39        THE ADVENTURES OF JIM BOWIE    1956-8             (76 episodes)

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                        Scott Forbes

Jim Bowie, the supposed inventor of the Bowie knife, encounters famous people in 1830 New Orleans. This series was almost entirely fictional. It certainly did not even hint at Bowie’s buying, selling, even stealing slaves!

 

 

38        ZORRO                                  1957-61                       (78 episodes)

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           Guy Williams, Gene Shelden, Henry Calvin

Don Diego de la Vega opposes corruption in Spanish California as the swordsman Zorro.

 

 

37        26 MEN                                  1957-9                         (78 episodes)

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   Tristram Coffin, Kelo Henderson

True stories about the Arizona Rangers around 1900.

 

 

36        THE TEXAN                                    1958-60                       (78 episodes)

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Bill Longley is a Texan who roams around, not looking for trouble, but trouble keeps finding him anyway. At one time the show’s star Rory Calhoun was threatened by a magazine editor who was considering exposing his criminal past. Rory had been a car thief as a teenager and had done prison time. He went public by his own volition and his career did not suffer.

 

 

 

35        SHOTGUN SLADE             1959-61                       (78 episodes)

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Slade is a private detective hired to hunt down criminals and recover stolen money. Scott Brady was the real life brother of Lawrence Tierney.

 

 

34        SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON     1955-8                 (78 episodes)

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                Dick Simmons

Canadian Mountie patrols the Yukon with his horse Rex and dog Yukon King. The final casting for the lead came down to two actors – Dick Simmons and James Garner – both of them unknowns. At the last moment Garner decided to concentrate on movies and withdrew from the race.

 

 

33        THE RESTLESS GUN        1957-9                         (78 episodes)

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Vint Bonner is a cowboy in the post-Civil War era and portrayed here by the popular John Payne. Once married to Gloria DeHaven and then Anne Shirley, he had serious romances with Coleen Gray and Jane Russell.

 

 

32        THE RANGE RIDER         1951-3                         (79 episodes)

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          Jock Mahoney, Dickie Jones

The Range Rider has a reputation for fair play throughout the west. Jock Mahoney was the step-father of Oscar-winning actress Sally Field. He died from a stroke two days after being hospitalised because of a car accident.

 

 

31        ANNIE OAKLEY                1954-7                         (81 episodes)

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Gail Davis, Brad Johnson, Jimmy Hawkins

A fictionalised account of the life of ‘Little Sure-Shot’ Annie Oakley.

 

 

30        THE GENE AUTRY SHOW          1950-6             (91 episodes)

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Gene Autry, Champion, Pat Buttram

With his comic pal Pat and his horse Champion, Gene travels from town to town singing his songs and bringing justice to bad guys.

 

 

29        TOMBSTONE TERRITORY        1957-60           (93 episodes)

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Pat Conway, Richard Eastham          

Sheriff Clay Hollister of Tombstone, Arizona and his friend, the editor of The Tombstone Epitaph. Star Pat Conway was the real life grandson of silent star Francis X. Bushman.

 

 

28        WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE       1958-61           (94 episodes)

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                      Steve McQueen

Josh Randall is a bounty hunter after the American Civil War who carries a sawn-off shotgun. This was prior to McQueen hitting it big with The Magnificent Seven (1960).

 

 

27        THE HIGH CHAPARRAL             1967-71           (98 episodes)

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                                      Linda Crystal & Leif Erickson

The Cannon family runs the High Chaparral Ranch in Arizona.

 

 

26        THE ROY ROGERS SHOW          1951-7             (100 episodes)

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Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Trigger, Buttermilk and Bullet

Roy and Dale do some singing on his ‘Double-R’ Ranch. Executives at Republic Pictures changed Leonard Slye’s name to Roy Rogers. He had no say in it. They chose Rogers because of the popularity of the late Will Rogers, and they picked Roy because the French word for ‘king’ is ‘roi’. He would be billed as ‘King of the Cowboys’.

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Long time lover of both western movies and TV shows,Alan.

    Laredo remains my very favorite. The rowdy,rollicking tales of the Texas Rangers,Company B were a hoot.
    The cast had wonderful chemistry together & it was one of the few westerns that employed humor every week along with the action-adventure elements.

    ”We’ve Lost a Train”was an episode of The Virginian which was also the pilot for Laredo.
    Trampas travels to the rough tough border town of Laredo in order to purchase a prized bull for the Shiloh Ranch he works at as a cowboy.
    While in Laredo,Trampas encounters Reese Bennett(Neville Brand),Chad Cooper(Peter Brown) & Joe Riley(William Smith),all Texas Rangers who enjoy a good fight.

    Laredo lasted only two seasons,should have had a much longer run.

    F Troop.Saw some episodes on MeTV a few years ago & the show has not dated terribly well. Strong,funny cast & there are some amusing scenes here & there in their episodes.
    Overall though,it is mediocre.

    Sugarfoot.WillHutchins is the only living member from all those classic Warner Brothers westerns of Cheyenne,Maverick,Lawman,Colt .45 & Bronco lead stars have all passed on.

    Trackdown.MeTV airs two back-to-back episode on Saturday mornings. Good show with the always watchable Bob Culp. Ellen Corby(Granma Walton)has a nice role as the publisher of the town newspaper.

    Sky King. Fun memory of watching the series in reruns. Songbird was his nifty airplane.

    The Rebel. Nick Adams was intense & compelling as Johnny Yuma.

    Zorro. Walt Disney put a lot of money in Zorro making it a lavish looking show. The budget was beyond what the average hour TV western had to work with weekly. And Zorro was a thirty minute series!
    Guy Williams was sensational in the part,every bit the equal of Ty Power.

    Wanted:Dead or Alive. Another good,solid western. Josh Randell’s Mare’s Leg shotgun was a powerful & unique weapon.
    Bounty hunters seemed to have lousy reputations among law enforcement & average citizens in western movie & films.
    I’ve always wondered if that was an accurate depiction from history?

    The High Chaparral.After Laredo,THC is my next top western series. A fantastic cast.
    The actual filming on location in Arizona gave the look of the series a freshness compared to other TV westerns.
    99% of the TV westerns from the 50s,60s & into the 70s were shot in Hollywood. So they all had the same look regarding their scenery. That got to be rather mundane after a time.

    The Roy Rogers Show. Who didn’t love RR? The theme song written by Dale Evans is a classic. I wanted to ride in Pat Brady’s Nellybelle.

    • Would I be correct in presuming you are American, Michael? I am a Western Australian and ‘Laredo’ was never shown here although, of course, the much longer running ‘The Virginian’ was. Come to think of it, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ did not make it to our screens either. At present I own six complete western series – ‘Cheyenne’, ‘Tombstone Territory’, ‘F-Troop’, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’, ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’. I also loved watching ‘Maverick’, but it is regularly re-run here so I have never bothered to purchase it. The one series (not a western, of course) that does not seem to be available ANYWHERE is ’77 Sunset Strip’, for some reason or other. A great pity. I recalL the first night of TV in Perth (1957, I think it was), ‘Sunset Strip’ was one of the first series shown, so I have kind of a soft spot for it. Other shows we were subjected to included ‘Casey Jones’, ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’, ‘Circus Boy’, ‘Sea Hunt’, ‘The Adventures of Superman’, Wagon Train’ and ‘Gunsmoke’. Of course, TV was such an amazing novelty back then, we loved whatever was served up to us. I still remember people standing outside shop windows in Fremantle and Perth WATCHING THE TEST PATTERN on TVs in the store windows! And that was only in black and white. Colour TV was many years away for us. Even so, what a magical time that was. Sad too. From the time I was 10 until about 14, I was desperately in love – with Annette from ‘THe Mickey Mouse Club’, until I found out that the series was shot several years earlier and that she was actually a grown woman. I was shattered! Young love can be a very serious thing. I wept for an entire day!

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