THE LONER (1965-6) 26 EPISODES
By all accounts this short-lived series was of the highest quality. It never made it to Australia so I have never seen an episode, but it is nonetheless surprising that a series devised and written by Rod Serling, creator of the classic series The Twilight Zone, was cancelled after just one season. It was reported that Serling was particularly disappointed by that decision. The Loner was about a former Union soldier, William Colton, portrayed by Lloyd Bridges, who rides through the West after the Civil War, searching for answers to his life and encountering people in difficulties and with problems of their own. Serling was the kind of writer who churned out screenplays that were almost always thought-provoking, often at the expense of action. Perhaps, that is why the series lost favour with the viewing public and could not maintain big enough ratings to survive into a second season.
The screen career of Bridges started way back in 1936 when, as a 22 year-old, he played (uncredited) a college boy in a minor film. By the time of his death at eighty-five in 1998, he had chalked up over two hundred movie and TV credits. However, it was his starring role as Mike Nelson in America’s most syndicated series Sea Hunt in 1958 that made him a household name. His fame spawned the unsuccessful The Lloyd Bridges Show (1962-3), a drama series that disappeared after one season. Then came The Loner which suffered a similar fate. It is worth remembering that he appeared in three films selected by the Library of Congress in its list of films deemed ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’, – A Walk in the Sun (1945), High Noon (1952) and Airplane! (1980). Bridges was married to Dorothy Dean from 1938 until his death almost sixty years later. Two of their four children, Jeff and Beau Bridges, are accomplished movie actors.
MACKENZIE’S RAIDERS (1958-9) 39 EPISODES
Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie (portrayed by Richard Carlson), commands the 4th Cavalry at Fort Clark in south-west Texas, and is ordered by President Grant to prevent Mexican bandits from crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, raiding, and then returning to Mexico. Although the series has a fictional premise, Mackenzie himself was very real indeed. As a 2nd Lieutenant in the Union Army’s Corps of Engineers during the US Civil War, he fought at the battles of Antietam, Second Bull Run and Gettysburg. Wounded at Bull Run, Gettysburg and at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road during the siege at Petersburg, he lost two fingers on his right hand, a disfigurement that earned him the nickname ‘Bad Hand’ from then onwards. By war’s end he had been wounded six times and received seven brevets.
Colonel R.S. Mackenzie
In October 1871, he was wounded a seventh time by an arrow in his leg while leading punitive raids against Indians operating out of Mexico. Five years later he defeated the Cheyenne at the Dull Knife Fight which helped bring about an end to the Black Hills War. The man once described by Ulysses S. Grant as ‘the most promising young officer in the entire Union Army’ suffered a head injury after a fall from a wagon and died in 1889, aged just 48. The 1950 John Ford western Rio Grande contains similarities to Mackenzie’s actions on the frontier.
The Mackenzie’s Raiders television series could have addressed this remarkable soldier’s true life story, yet producers chose to fictionalize aspects of it instead. The show consisted of thirty-nine episodes of thirty minutes duration each, shot in black and white and mostly on the Fort Apache set in California. Its star, Richard Carlson, started out as an English instructor at the University of Minnesota before turning to acting. It took him nearly twenty years to become nationally known through his stardom in the 1953 TV series I Led 3 Lives. The series, about an FBI agent infiltrating Communist cells in the USA, came along during the HUAC Communist witch-hunts, which lent it credibility and popularity until the HUAC and Senator McCarthy were exposed for what they were. Although he landed minor roles in several OK films, Carlson will probably be best-remembered for portraying David Reed in the classic B-feature Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH (1965-6) 34 EPISODES
When Robert Horton abandoned his role as scout Flint McCullough in Wagon Train, a role he had fulfilled from 1957 until 1962, he vowed he would never make another western television series. When A Man Called Shenandoah came along in 1965, however, he read the synopsis and changed his mind. He felt the role gave him great scope to improve his acting, the lead character being a man afflicted with amnesia and in search of his true identity. In the opening episode buffalo hunters find him, more dead than alive, and cart him off to a township, hoping he might be an outlaw and there could be reward bucks involved. But Horton’s character has no recollection of who he is. The doctor treating him dubs the bewildered man ‘Shenandoah’, which he says means, ‘land of silence’.
For the remainder of the series Shenandoah roams the West seeking clues to his identity. Along the way he learns that he was a heroic Union soldier during the Civil War and is also an expert card-player. Unfortunately, the series only ran from September 1965 until May 1966 before it was cancelled, so he never got to learn much more about himself. This is a little surprising given that it was produced by Fred Freilberger, the same man who produced Star Trek: The Original Series (1966). Indeed, future Star Trek ‘regulars’ Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan, all appear in episodes of A Man Called Shenandoah. Incidentally, Horton himself wrote and sang the theme song.
The son of Mormon parents, Horton married three times during his 91 years of life. His second wife (1953-6) was Barbara Ruick, a delightful musical actress who played Carrie Pipperidge in the 1956 musical Carousel. A former room-mate of Carousel star Shirley Jones, (when both were starting out in New York), she sang ‘When I Marry Mr. Snow’ at Shirley’s wedding to Jack Cassidy in August 1956. Sadly, Barbara died suddenly from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1974, at the young age of 43.