Saturday, March 30, 2013

A to Z Challenge!

Dear Friends:

During the month of April I will participate in the A to Z Bloggers Challenge on three of my blogs. I will post every day except Sunday and the topic of each day's post will begin with the next letter in the alphabet. For instance, my first topic, on April 1, will be on The Andy Griffith Show--A for Andy--see how it works? Fun!

The challenge was started by blogger Arlee Bird, whose blog is titled Tossing it Out! There are over 1500 blogs signed up this year so it should be an exciting challenge!

Some of my posts may be shorter, but I've planned fun topics in advance so I hope you enjoy them. I will be posting daily on my Wild West History Blog, Classic Television Shows and Supernatural Television. I will post on the weekends on my other blogs listed below. Please leave comments, share your thoughts, and enjoy!

Thank you for reading my blog!
Darla Sue Dollman

Additional blogs by Darla Sue Dollman:

Julie Newmar: The Original Catwoman

In 1995, Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo had me laughing through my tears with their portrayals of drag queen pageant winners traveling to California to compete for Drag Queen of America. They bring along a photo of actress Julie Newmar autographed with the title signature. They are stranded in a small town and eventually help the locals focus on improving their lives and their opinions of each other. When they finally arrive at the pageant, the crown is presented by Julie Newmar.

Julie Newmar is a favorite of drag queens, and she explained her fame in a 1995 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle stating, "[Drag queens] know my secret. We have three things in common. We like to play in the makeup box, wear four-inch heels--actually, mine are five--and put on lots of sparkle."

Julie Newmar as Catwoman, photographed in 1966 on the set of Batman.

To baby boomers reliving their favorite childhood stars, there are few who can compare to the curvaceous Julie Newmar. Six foot five inches of sex appeal.

Julie Newmar has lived an enchanted life. She graduated high school at 15 and toured Europe with her family. She studied ballet and was Prima Ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera. Her acting career began with Broadway musicals, and she later appeared in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In 1964 she starred as Rhoda the Robot in the popular television series My Living Doll. In 1966 she was offered the role of Catwoman in the Batman series, a role that made her wildly popular. The popularity of Batman was unexpected and Newmar was contracted to a film during the third season of the series, so the role of Catwoman was give to the very talented Eartha Kitt. Remarkably, both women are still remembered for their outstanding performances in the same role.

Newmar's film commitment was to Mackenna's Gold (1969), which also starred Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif and Telly Savalas. Mackenna's Gold is a great film, if you can stand the illogical cutaways to a vulture in flight. Newmar plays Hesh-Ke, an attractive Indian woman who doesn't look anything like an Indian except for the trademark headband. She does have a provocative nude swimming scene in this film and truly shines in her portrayal of the jealous ex-girlfriend seeking to harm Gregory Peck's new love interest. The vulture made me laugh, but Julie Newmar kept me watching to the end.

"Tell me I'm beautiful, it's nothing. Tell me I'm intellectual - I know it. Tell me I'm funny and it's the greatest compliment in the world anyone could give me." --Actress Julie Newmar

Funny Quote from Frasier

Dr.s Niles and Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce) from Frasier. 

John Mahoney, who plays Martin Crane on Frasier. 

"If you were Hoss and Little Joe, Ben Cartwright would kick your sorry butts right off the Ponderosa," Martin Crane tells his sons.

"Dad, we're sorry," Frasier Crane tells Martin.

"We're very sorry," Niles Crane tells his father.

Martin leaves the room.

"He's back on the Cartwright's again," Frasier says to Niles. "You know, some day we really should ask him just who the hell they are!"

"The Cartwrights"
Adam (Pernell Roberts); Little Joe (Michael Landon); 
Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene); Hoss (Dan Blocker). 

Marshal Dillon: "Never Pester Chester"

Today we are watching Marshal Dillon in "Never Pester Chester." There is a reason why Marshal is occasionally spelled with one "l" on this blog. This is how it appears on the original title. Technically, Marshal and Marshall are both correct spellings. The origin of Marshal is British, used to describe an official in the household of a king or prince, or an officer of the highest military rank. Marshall was used most often in the U.S., and since Marshal Dillon and Gunsmoke were American made television shows, it's a curious choice of words for the title!

This show, "New Pester Chester," begins with Matt Dillon (James Arness) shooting his gun on Main Street Dodge City, Kansas, rather than walking through the cemetery as he generally does in the Marshal Dillon episodes, so I'm assuming this is one of the later versions of the show. It was episode 10 of season three, filmed in 1957, two years into the series, which ran from 1955 to 1975, making it one of the longest running U.S. television series excluding news programs and soap operas.

This particular episode of Marshal Dillon focuses on the character of Chester, played by Dennis Weaver. Dennis Weaver (1924-2006), was born in Joplin, Missouri. He was a former track and field competitor from the University of Oklahoma who also had a rather remarkable career in film and television, spanning 53 years. He starred in Marshal Dillon/Gunsmoke for nine years and also starred in numerous other television series, such as Kentucky JonesGentle Ben, and the popular detective show McCloud.

Milburn Stone as Doc and Dennis Weaver as Chester in Marshal Dillon.

My two favorite Dennis Weaver film appearances had similar names. In 1966 he starred in Duel at Diablo as Willard Grange, a proud cowboy trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife was kidnapped by Apache and made the wife of the son of the chief. In 1971 he played David Mann in the television movie Duel, the grandfather film of the mysterious-truck-driver-chases-innocent-driver-on-deserted-roads genre. Weaver spent his later years in Ridgeway, Colorado, in a home that he proudly constructed from recyclable materials. He made his last television appearance in 2005, in the television series Wildfire. He died in Ridgeway in 2006 of complications from Cancer.

Back to the show. In this episode Marshall Dillon is tired. He is plum tuckered out, drowsing in his chair while Chester putters around the office, cleaning the oil lamp, dusting the furniture, and singing. Chester asks Dillon to join him for a beer, but the Marshall retires to his bed, instead. Chester assures the Marshall that he will watch the office so Dillon can rest.

As Dillon closes his eyes, Shiloh (Woodrow Chambliss) rushes into the jailhouse then pauses, staring back at the door as if he's confused about what to do. "Looks like trouble, Chester," Shiloh says. He explains that a couple of cowboys have been whoopin it up at the Long Branch. "Shiloh, that's what saloons are for," Dillon replies. Shiloh then explains that the men have moved the party into the street and are harassing the ladies of Dodge, which apparently Shiloh finds particularly offensive as it is made clear that he often complains about such things to Marshall Dillon. Marshall Dillon is frustrated by the complaint, and just plum tuckered out. Chester volunteers to handle the situation.

What happens next happens fast, as these things often do. Chester steps outside and finds the two cowboys behaving exactly as Shiloh explained--harassing the ladies. Trevitt (Tom Greenway) and Stobo (Buddy Baer) quickly turn their attention to Chester and within minutes, Stobo has lassoed Chester and is dragging him behind his horse out of Dodge to certain death. Trevitt jumps on his horse and races after Stobo while Shiloh runs for the Marshall.

Shiloh and Dillon scour the countryside looking for Chester, which is not a good sign. They have clearly traveled a long way to find him--surely he is dead by now. When they do find his body, Chester is so broken up that Dillon can't tell if he's still alive. They transport Chester to Doc's office, and Doc does the best he can to fix Chester up, but Chester's breathing is shallow, and Doc is unsure if Chester will actually live. "We're just gonna have to wait," Doc says, and promises not to leave Chester for a minute.

Dillon clearly blames himself for Chester's pain. "I should never have sent him out there," he says, looking down at the floor. This is one of the charms of these early episodes--the young, handsome, James Arness playing a young, overworked, struggling Marshall who is still capable of making an occasional mistake. Dillon pauses in the doorway, still staring at the floor. Doc asks where he's going. "I'm going to get those two men," he says with chilling conviction.

Dillon then visits Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) who promises to spell Doc on occasion and watch over Chester. She also tells Dillon the names of the cowboys who were in the bar and the name of their cattle drive. Kitty asks Matt what he is going to do when he finds the men. If Chester lives, there's not much he can do according to the laws of the time, but he has to do something to punish these men! (Insert dramatic music here.)

In my opinion, this is a very important scene, and not only for the issue of punishment and restrictions on law enforcement. Miss Kitty is not directly involved in this story, so why does he visit her? I believe Dillon and Kitty are shown together to help viewers understand that this is how small Western towns worked. The people who lived in these towns were close. They shared intimately in all aspects of each other's lives. I believe this is why Gunsmoke was so popular, because the writers were careful to create characters that were real, characters that appear in every episode, and when viewers visited with these characters once a week they began to feel as if they, too, were part of this close-knit family in Dodge.

Dillon leaves to hunt down the cowboys, instructing Shiloh to take one of the Marshall's rifles and wait. He then visits the cattle outfit, the Crow Track outfit, and asks for the trail boss who tells him the men were paid off and sent on their way. He warns the Marshall to be careful. "Stobo is mean, and bigger than you are. Besides that, he's a Texan," Trail Boss says. This may sound funny to modern cowboys, but back in the day, Texas was a wild country, a big country, and like New Mexico, a place outlaws often used as a refuge from their past.

Now, I am very much aware that I am much too particular when it comes to the writing in these shows. Most of the Gunsmoke episodes were penned by talented radio and television writer John Meston whose work I greatly admire. Nevertheless, the following scene is clearly troublesome. As Dillon prepares to leave the camp, the trail boss's son tells Dillon he heard the two ousted cowboys were headed west along the Arkansas to Texas, perhaps Waco. He complains to the Marshall that Stobo kicked him. At this point, Dillon says something very strange. He tells the boy to "take my advice. Go home and learn how to fight your own battles, son." Considering everything that has already been said about Stobo, I think the writers messed this one up a bit. Matt Dillon would never tell a young man to learn to fight his own battles when he tells everyone else in town to turn to him when there is a conflict, and considering he's on a mission of revenge for the harm done to Chester, he certainly would have understood that fighting Stobo would not be the appropriate situation for a young boy to learn how to "fight your own battle."

Dillon finds Trevitt at a campfire. Trevitt, no longer the tough guy, asks the stranger (Dillon) not to hurt him. Marshall Dillon explains that he's a friend of the man who was dragged out of town and Trevitt explains that it was the other man, Stobo, who did the dirty deed. Dillon then ties Trevitt up with his rope. Trevitt explains that he is no longer with Stobo, they had a "row" and Trevitt was headed back to the Crow Track. He begs the Marshall to let him go, but Dillon insists on sending him to jail. He tosses Trevitt on top of the saddle, lying on his belly, and explains that the horse will return to Dodge on its own. Trevitt begs the Marshall to shoot him, knowing he may die on the ride if the horse does not return and no one finds him. Dillon offers to tie the man up to the back of the horse and allow the horse to drag him instead.

The Marshall then rides into Stobo's camp--yet another scene that is useful for comparing the younger Marshall Dillon to the older Marshall Dillon. Dillon allows Stobo to take his gun, which is clearly a strategic move. He then asks Stobo to feed him before shooting him. Stobo laughingly agrees. Dillon reaches for the pan of frying meat and throws the meat, pan, and oil at Stobo's face leaving a deep, dark burn on the man's cheek. This Marshall Dillon is a vengeful man. Dillon ties Stobo to his saddle and takes him into Dodge.

Shiloh has already found Trevitt and locked him in a cell. Dillon leaves Stobo with Shiloh so he can check on Chester, who is still struggling to breathe. Doc remarks how the whole town is talking about the way Dillon sent Trevitt back, apparently a bit surprised by Dillon's vengeful behavior. Dillon ignores the remark and offers to spell Doc so he can rest, but Doc insists on watching over Chester, so Dillon returns to the jailhouse.

Shiloh informs the Marshall that Stobo is complaining of the burns, a situation that can be rectified with a hanging, Dillon replies. Trevitt points out that if Chester doesn't die, the Marshall is obligated to set the two men free. Shiloh tells the two men to shut up and pours Dillon coffee. Shiloh also tells the Marshall that Stobo is mean, but he feels a bit sorry for Trevitt. Dillon snaps that Shiloh should go do his crying somewhere else. Again, this is a very different Marshall Dillon, an angry, less-controlled Marshall.

Then Shiloh replies, "Don't take it out on me, Marshall. I didn't send Chester to do my job!"


As Dillon apologizes to Shiloh, Doc rushes in to tell him Chester is recovering. He will be in pain for some time, but he will survive. Dillon stands with his hands on his desk, his head down. Here we see another Marshall Dillon, a man filled with a mix of remorse and gratitude.

Dillon takes Trevitt outside of the jailhouse, tells him to get on his horse and leave town. Then he unlocks Stobo's cell and tells him to step out the back door. Stobo's burn is clearly seen as he follows the Marshall. The burn covers the entire left side of his face. Stobo continues to talk. "We were just teaching him a lesson," he says. Wrong answer. The Marshall removes his gun belt and Stobo realizes he intends to fight him. Stobo thinks this is a joke.

Stobo, as you'll recall, is played by veteran actor Buddy Baer, younger brother of heavyweight champion Max Baer. Baer was the same height as James Arness, 6'6, but he wore lifts in his shoes during this episode to make him seem taller. He also weighed at least 100 pounds more than Arness. "I'll tear your throat out," he tells Dillon in the alley. He also indicates that he had beaten Trevitt earlier, presumably for objecting to the abuse of Chester.

Dillon punches Stobo and the fight begins. Of course, it's a typical John Wayne fist fight where the men pause between punches, giving their opponents a good shot. Stobo is the bigger body, but Dillon is the bigger man and Stobo is quickly subdued. Dillon instructs Shiloh to tell Stobo to get out of town "when he comes to," then Dillon heads for Doc's office.

Doc tells Dillon that Chester is fine and tries to check Dillon's facial cuts and bruises, but Dillon is in a hurry to visit Chester. Chester is clearly distraught and expresses his belief that he somehow failed the Marshall by allowing the cowboys to "get the drop" on him and drag him away. Chester's character also shows a tremendous depth of emotion in this episode compared to later episodes. As the show moved on through the years, in my opinion, the episodes focused more on exciting story lines, whereas the earlier episodes focused on establishing a bond with the characters, yet another reason for the longevity of this series.

Chester suggests that it might be best if he just goes off somewhere as he no longer thinks he is helpful to the Marshall. "Stop thinkin, will ya?" Dillon replies. "Let me tell you something, all right? I need you here, that's all, because outside of Doc here, you're the only man in Dodge I can trust. That's all." Clearly, Dillon is fumbling for words. He then tells Chester he is no good to the Marshall all bandaged up in the Doc's office. Chester assures him the Doc said he would heal quickly. "You better hurry up. That's all I got to say," Dillon replies.

Another interesting note about Dillon's character--he certainly seems more comfortable sharing his emotions with men than he does with the women in town, like Miss Kitty! Stay tuned...

Coach: "The Stand In"

Today we are watching Coach starring Craig T. Nelson as Coach Hayden Fox; Shelly Fabares as his wife, Christine; the absolutely hilarious Jerry Van Dyke as Assistant Coach Luther Horatio Van Dam and Bill Fagerbakke as Dauber Dibinski.

This particular episode, "The Stand-In," also stars football great Troy Aikman as himself. For those of you who do not follow football, Aikman played with the Dallas Cowboys at the time and was the number one draft pick of 1989, which is somewhat important to the plot.

Hayden Fox (Nelson) is the head coach of various university football teams throughout the run of the series. He lives, eats, and breathes football. His partner, Christine, who eventually becomes his wife, does not always appreciate having to compete for his time, but learns to adjust to her husband's obsession with the game.

Craig T. Nelson. Photographed June 1, 2009 by Angela George.

After they are married, Christine and Hayden decide they want to have a child together, though they are both in their forties and Hayden has an adult daughter attending university. We watch the couple struggle in more than one show as they try various techniques, such as in-vitro fertilization, in an effort to conceive a child.

For instance, in the show "My Cup Runneth Over," which aired February 8, 1994, Hayden wears a special device designed to increase his sperm count. To show his love and dedication as a Valentine's gift to Christine, he also wears the device during a special appearance on her television talk show. The device, however, is filled with water and begins to leak, making it appear as though Hayden has wet himself. When they learn of the real reason behind Hayden's wet pants, Christine's audience, of course, falls madly in love with Hayden and his "I'll do anything" attitude to help his wife conceive.

But tonight, we are watching "The Stand-In," which first aired on March 8, 1994. As "The Stand-In" opens, Christine arrives at Hayden's office with a brown paper bag. She leaves the bag with Dauber (Fagerbakke) who puts it in the refrigerator, but Luther (Van Dyke) decides it is Hayden's lunch and takes the bag into the break room. Hayden arrives and asks if Christine dropped off the bag and Dauber tells him he placed Hayden's lunch in the refrigerator. Hayden explains that it is not his lunch, but a sperm sample and we hear Luther's half scream, half groan from the next room.

After the opening credits, we see Hayden and Luther in Hayden's office. Hayden begins to lament about the process of trying to conceive. "All the poking and prodding and the doctor with a look on his face like he's watching Brian's Song," he says, explaining his frustrations. "We've tried everything," he says, as he lists the many techniques the couple has gone through, and Luther replies, "Have you tried a bed?"

Then Dauber enters the conversation, explaining the benefits of using a sperm donor. Dauber appears to know quite a bit about sperm donations, which piques the interest of Luther and Hayden. Hayden asks the inevitable question, "How do you know so much about this subject?" Dauber explains that he once supplemented his income during his undergraduate years by donating sperm--with a profit of around $9000! Dauber directs Hayden to the nearest sperm donation clinic, but Hayden is still undecided.

Then Mrs. Thorkelson, the department secretary (played by Pat Crawford Brown) enters the room. She reveals that she has been listening in on the conversation and shares her insight into the experience of childbirth to encourage Hayden. "The whole experience of childbirth was the most meaningful for me and I know it will be for Christine," she says. "Don't give up."

Hayden decides to go to the sperm bank, and of course, he takes Luther. Hayden shyly explains his situation to the man at the front desk who asks Hayden if he would like to meet the donors. "You keep them here?" Hayden asks, shocked. The man smiles, then explains that they keep careful, detailed records of the donors and Hayden and Luther are escorted to a back room where Hayden is given a few catalogs.

Luther goes through one of the catalogs while Hayden looks at the other. Luther is explaining the qualifications and the two men discuss the donors with that wonderful word play typical of these two fine actors. Luther explains that one donor has a degree in international business and has curly red hair. Hayden shakes his head. "Red curly hair is out. It's okay if it's a girl, but if it's a boy he's just going to get beat up all the time." Luther then turns to the profile of a nuclear physicist. Hayden shakes his head. "Mutated genes," he says. Luther next proposes a prize-winning novelist, and Hayden replies with, "Alcoholic." Now Luther shakes his head. He turns the page to the profile of a mathematics professor. Hayden grunts. "Chalk in his hair, can't remember his own phone number." Luther groans and closes the book. "Everyone we pick is going to have something wrong with him," he says. "Well, I don't, Hayden replies. "Then why are we here?" Luther asks.

Luther then asks Hayden to make a list of qualifications he is looking for in a sperm donor. Hayden explains that he would like to find someone who is strong, intelligent, a great athlete, charismatic, a leader, charming personality, handsome, "but not like a Hollywood pretty boy," and "he has to have morals." Luther replies that no one is that perfect, except maybe Troy Aikman...and Hayden gets a sly look on his face as he digs through his wallet, searching for the phone number of Troy Aikman.

In the next scene, Hayden proudly opens the door of his home and Troy Aikman steps inside. "Honey, I have a surprise for you!" Hayden calls out. Aikman asks if Hayden has told Christine about the sperm donation plan and Aikman and the audience are equally shocked to learn that Hayden has not discussed the plan with Christine. When Christine enters the room, Hayden introduces Troy Aikman and tells Christine about all of his wonderful qualities. Then Hayden tells his wife that he has chosen Aikman as the sperm donor for their child.

The look on Christine's face is priceless. She grabs Hayden's arm and drags him outside. She tells him that this act is by far the rudest, most insensitive thing he has done so far, and Hayden is hurt. "Honey, I don't know what to do," he says. "I just wanted to give you the perfect baby."

And this is where the show becomes one of the most emotionally touching Coach episodes ever filmed as Christine tells her husband, "I don't want a perfect baby. I want your baby." Okay, it's funny, but still very touching.

Christine tells Hayden that she understands that he has been through a tremendous amount of stress in their attempts to conceive and that she will also understand if he doesn't want to try to have a child anymore. Hayden explains that he just can't stand to see his wife disappointed every month when she takes the pregnancy test, then he asks Christine if she wants to stop trying. With tears in her eyes and a soft, choking noise, Christine shakes her head and tells him, "No."

"But, what if it never happens?" Hayden asks. "Then it never happens," she replies, "and that's okay, too. If this is as big as our family ever gets, then I am still very, very lucky."

They hug, tell each other they love each other, then they both remember that Troy Aikman is still sitting in their living room. Hayden says, "It's hard enough telling a guy you want his sperm, how do you tell him you don't?"

Hayden enters the room alone. He pats Aikman on the shoulder and says, "You're going to have to sit this one out, Pard. My wife's got her heart set on the old man." Meaning himself, of course.

Troy Aikman replies, "Hey, coach, I understand. Everybody wants Joe Montana!"

The perfect ending. (Eventually, the couple adopts a baby boy named Timothy, who is played by twins Brennan and Brian Felker.)

Craig T. Nelson has been nominated for four Golden Globes. He has starred in numerous television shows and films, including Call to GloryThe DistrictMy Name is Earl, and his well-remembered performance as the father in Poltergeist.

Shelly Fabares, niece of the famed singer/comedienne Nanette Fabray, made her film debut at 12 years old as Rock Hudson's daughter in Never Say Goodbye. She also played the daughter on The Donna Reed Show and became a teen idol, appearing in numerous "bikini movies" in the 1960s. The reference to Brian's Song at the beginning of "The Stand-In" is intentional--Fabares played the wife of dying football player Brian Piccolo in the 1971 tear-jerker classic Brian's Song. Fabares was nominated for two Primetime Emmys.

Jerry Van Dyke is the younger brother of comedian and television and film star Dick Van Dyke. Jerry joined the Air Force in 1952 and quickly gained a reputation for his comedy routines in Special Service shows. I first saw Jerry Van Dyke in John Wayne's McClintock! and his performance as a college fop was outstanding. Van Dyke was nominated for four Primetime Emmys.

Coach was created by Barry Kemp, who also created the equally popular television series Newhart and TaxiCoach ran from 1989 to 1997 and was nominated for five Golden Globes for Top TV Series and Barry Kemp was nominated for three prime time Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. The nominations were well-deserved.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

In Memory of Peter Breck: The Big Valley Brawler

In memory of Peter Breck (March 13, 1929-February 6, 2012) 
Your brawling days are over--may you rest in peace.

It is with a sad heart that I write this post. One of my favorite childhood actors has died. I started the post three weeks ago with a light discussion of Peter Breck and his character on The Big Valley, but when I resumed my writing this morning and took a quick glance at his biography on IMDb to verify the date of his birth, instead I learned of the death of Peter Breck.

Peter Breck and Anna Lisa from the television program Black Saddle.

The Big Valley aired from 1965 to 1969. I started watching The Big Valley when it was in reruns, but I never missed a show. I loved the close family atmosphere, the three older brothers watching out for little sister, and watching out for each other. Most of all, though, I had a secret crush on Peter Breck with his dark, wavy hair, dark eyes, and charming dimples. He was the perfect man in my eyes--tall, dark, handsome, and flawed, but willing to admit his mistakes.

Peter Breck was also a remarkably versatile and talented actor. He appeared in many stage productions and television shows, including episodes of GunsmokeLawmanMaverickCheyenne, and many other popular western series. Breck's character on The Big Valley is the middle son, Nick Barkley, a fun-loving, rowdy, charming man. He's also fiercely loyal and hot-tempered. He doesn't use the best judgment when it comes to disagreements. He has a tendency to jump into a fray when he's outnumbered three to one, and is often beaten pretty badly. His brothers watch from the side then pick up the pieces, shaking their heads.

I would have loved to be the woman kneeling by his side with a damp cloth to soothe his blackened eye, but I was just a kid when this show aired, lying on my belly on the living room floor, elbows on the carpet, chin propped on the palms of my hands as I stared dreamily at his sweet dimpled face.

Joseph Peter Breck was the son of a jazz musician who traveled frequently, so Peter, who was nicknamed Buddy, was raised at the home of his grandparents for a short time. When his parents divorced he moved in with his mother. He served in the U.S. Navy and studied English and Drama at the University of Houston. His Hollywood break came through Robert Mitchum who spotted Breck performing at a theater in Washington D.C. and offered him a role in his film Thunder Road (1958).

Peter Breck was also a singer and writer. His album, Just "Kickin' Back", was released in 1998. He was a regular columnist for Wildest Westerns Magazine. He married the lovely dancer Diana Bourne in 1960 and they had one son, Christopher. The family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Christopher died tragically in his early twenties of Leukemia. Breck took a break from acting to mourn the loss of his child. He later started an acting school in Vancouver. Peter Breck started in numerous films and made even more television appearances, but is best known for his performance as Nick Barkley in The Big Valley.

One of the things I love most about the character of Nick Barkley is his flaws. Nick is temperamental, explosive, energetic, often acts without thinking. He is passionate to a fault. He's also a brawler, though not a good one, which is part of his charm. One of my favorite Peter Breck brawl scenes takes place in the episode aptly named "The Brawlers," which aired December 15, 1965.

In "The Brawlers," Nick's little sister, Audra Barkley (Linda Evans) discovers an Irish family on the Barkley land. The Irish family has purchased land from a swindler, but they have a bill of sale. John James "Jimmy" Callahan (the great Claude Akins) is the leader of the clan. He tries to prove the sale to Audra, but she refuses to listen and instead tries to whip Callahan, so he pulls her from her horse and spanks her, then places her back on her horse backwards and slaps the horse's fanny sending her racing back to the ranch. Audra first fetches guns, then wisely decides to turn to her brothers for help. Of course, the logical brother, Jarrod Barkley (Richard Long) is in San Francisco with their mother, Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) so Nick and younger brother Heath (Lee Majors) follow Audra to the camp.

Nick calls the family "Hooligan squatters" and tells them to leave, then rides off with Audra leaving Heath with instructions to mend the fences--there's a metaphor in here somewhere. Heath tries to soothe the wound left by hot-tempered Nick by complimenting the Irish, who he says are always tolerant of other races.

Nick returns to the ranch in search of the maps marking their property line, which he is unable to locate. He is angry and snapping at everyone, including the house servant, Silas (Napolean Whiting), who patiently nudges Nick in the direction of providing the family with some flour and potatoes.

Nick finally receives a telegram from Jarrod verifying that the land has not been sold. He rides back to the camp and discovers Heath flirting with Callahan's niece, Sharon Callahan (played by Noreen Corcoran who was cast in many television shows in the 1950s and 1960s, though "The Brawlers" was her last performance).

Nick rides his horse through the field the family has plowed, waving his telegram. He then rides up to the wagons, demanding that everyone leave immediately and insulting them all in the process. Of course, Jimmy Callahan challenges Nick to a fight, which is what we expected all along, because we all know that if there is one thing Nick Barkley enjoys, it's a fight, in spite of how often he loses (and the show is titled "The Brawlers").

The two men pose with their fists raised and Heath takes a seat beside the wagon. Nick gets in a great first shot knocking Callahan to the ground. Callahan quickly rises and knocks Nick to the ground. Heath shakes his head and rolls a cigarette. Nick rises and... this point I am going to pause for an important explanation about Nick's fighting style. In fact, I call this the "John Wayne Fight Style" because it's something I've noticed often in John Wayne movies, particularly She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. When a man is in a fight and has been knocked to the ground, instead of rising to his feet with his fists raised, ready to defend himself, in the "John Wayne Fighting Style" he stands up slowly, shakes his head as if confused and pauses, arms by his side, waiting for the punch. This also happens to be Nick's trademark fighting style and he does this now--pulls himself to his feet, shakes his head, and waits for the knockout punch from Callahan.

Nick rises again and knocks Callahan to the ground. "Had enough, or are you resting?" Nick asks.

Callahan of course jumps to his feet and knocks Nick to the ground. "Come on you quitter, stand up and fight," Callahan says, but as Nick rises, we find that the two men are both plum tuckered out and end up leaning on each other until they both fall to the ground. Heath picks up his big brother and dumps him unceremoniously on the back of his horse, Callahan gets a bucket of water on his head, and Sharon reads the telegram from Jarrod declaring that they were, indeed, swindled by a fraudulent land company.

Remember Nick's hot temper? Nick returns to the ranch, gathers his men and guns. Heath rides ahead to warn Callahan. "Nick is not a bad man," Heath says, "but right now, he's mad." Callahan responds by grabbing his own gun and heading for the Barkley ranch.

Now, these stories never quite go the way you would expect, which is the beauty of The Big Valley. Victoria and Jarrod return from San Francisco. Callahan arrives at the Barkley ranch demanding the land in spite of the legal issues. Nick prepares to throw him out, and mother Victoria offers the two men a glass of sherry and suggests they shake hands and make up. Victoria convinces the two men to travel together to San Francisco and investigate the matter, and they agree.

They travel to San Francisco by train and the two men begin to understand each other a bit better. We also have yet another glimpse into Peter Breck's fine acting style. There are times during these shows when you can clearly see that he started as a stage actor. His actions are bold, clean, clearly visible to the audience. The two men get into a disagreement on the train and Nick pulls the hat down on the grumbling man behind him, turns around and sits back down, then plunks his boot on the arm rest of the man in front of him. Smooth, clean, bold.

The two men arrive at the hotel where Callahan met the land salesman and discover he has skipped town. Once again, Nick ends up in a brawl, this time with Callahan by his side, and big brother Jarrod bails the two men out of jail, explaining that the swindler actually took advantage of most of the people in town and is now a wanted man.

At first, the humiliated Callahan refuses to return to face his family. "Come on, Man, they can't hang a man for trying," Nick says.

"I'm a dumb, rotten clod," Callahan replies.

"You know, I think you're right," Nick tells him as he walks away.

Come now, reader, you know the Barkleys. You know they're going to help this poor family.

Sure enough, a few commercials later we find the Callahan clan packing their wagons, preparing to leave, when Audra, Heath and Nick ride up on their horses. Heath explains that there is a dry, dusty piece of land belonging to the Barkley's that no one is working and they are willing to donate the land to the Irish settlers if they can figure out a way to irrigate and work the land. Heath gives Nick a verbal nudge and Nick grudgingly admits it was his idea as Heath and Sharon exchange flirtatious glances.

Ahh, Nick. You always lose the fight, but gosh, we love you anyway.

The Big Valley: Teacher of Outlaws

Tonight we are watching The Big Valley "Teacher of Outlaws," filmed in 1966, this episode was directed by Michael Ritchie and based on a story by Lou Morheim.

Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) is at the Mission School in Stockton, substitute teaching in a pink pinstriped blouse with tiny brown bows, brown riding skirt and her trademark green eye shadow. She walks out to her buggy and climbs inside, prepared to leave, When a group of scripture-quoting boys on horseback, "Sam Beldon's boys," surround her buggy. (Yes, of course these are grown men, but remember, men are always "boys" in westerns). One of the "boys" leaves his horse to join Victoria on the buggy seat and they ride off, leaving a rather confused boy (this one is actually a boy) standing in the Mission doorway, watching.

The Barkley Clan: Audra, Victoria, Heath, Nick, and Jarrod.
(Linda Evans, Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, Peter Breck and Richard Long.)

The rest of the Barkley clan arrives at the Mission on their various horses, but Jarrod (Richard Long), the oldest son, sends Audra (Linda Evans) back to the ranch. "This is no place for a woman," big brother tells her, and she dutifully obeys as the men ride off in search of Mom with a good old fashioned posse following behind.

Victoria is transferred from buggy to horseback, then blindfolded with the pink scarf removed from the neck of one of the "boys" who was apparently trying to get in touch with his feminine side. She is led to an outlaw ranch. Sure enough, she meets Sam Beldon, Patriarch of the rather large Beldon clan--there are "boys" straddling porch railings, seated on horseback, standing in doorways, wandering aimlessly in front of the camera. It appears that Sam Beldon has been a busy man. However, it soon becomes apparent that these boys are his sons. Victoria has been kidnapped by an outlaw gang! (Insert gasp of horror here.)

Victoria is led inside. Some of the gang members flirt with her--remember, Victoria is a very attractive woman in spite of her pea green eye shadow! Sam Beldon pulls out his corncob pipe and a textbook, then informs Victoria that she will be teaching him to read. Yes, Victoria has been forced to become a teacher of outlaws, and what's worse, she appears to be enjoying herself!

This is a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, or Stockton Syndrome, one might say, since The Big Valley takes place in Stockton, California. Stockholm Syndrome is a situation where the victims becomes emotionally attached to his or her kidnapper. First identified in 1973 during a botched bank robbery in Stockholm. Victims were held captive for six days, emotionally bonded with their kidnappers, and later defended their captors at the trial. These feelings are believed to be caused by a mistaken belief on the part of the victim that a lack of abuse from the kidnapper is actually an act of kindness.

In all fairness, Beldon does have redeeming qualities, at least in my mind. In an alphabet picture book he easily identifies the difference between a pronghorn antelope calf and a spotted fawn, which he describes as one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. He also describes his late wife as "soft and fresh as a new sunrise." His poetic description of his home, the place where he buried his wife, is heart-wrenching. Apparently, I'm starting to feel a bit of Stockholm here!

Victoria does not attach to all of her kidnappers, though. When the young man with the pink scarf breaks into the conversation to update Beldon on important criminal business, he pauses to gaze lustfully at Victoria, who is clearly old enough to be his mother, but the men in the gang refer to her as a "pretty girl" who "gives a man an appetite." I'm beginning to suspect they do not realize they have kidnapped the Victoria Barkley! Meanwhile, Victoria's own boys are finding more clues, and coming closer and closer to the outlaw hideout. (Insert dramatic organ music here.)

In the middle of a lesson, the boys suddenly leave, and Sam Beldon leaves with them. They ride into a nearby town to commit a robbery. Victoria, of course, tries to sneak away and discovers she's been left alone with a leering outlaw wearing...a purple scarf. These boys are stylin'!

The outlaws start their robbery with a distraction, tossing dynamite into the livery stable, which I obviously did not feel the least bit comfortable about as I watched the frightened horses running from the explosion. Next, they start a hay wagon on fire, and the townsfolk realize it is a trick. I cleverly figured this out when someone shouts: "It's a trick!"

The sheriff runs from his office, firing his gun. Clearly, this man is not Matt Dillon. He only manages to shoot two of the Beldon Boys. If this was Dodge City, Kansas, Matt Dillon would have finished off every last one of them outlaws!

Beldon retreats, concerned for the safety of his outlaws--the scripture quoting outlaw is dead, another has a stomach wound and will not survive. They carry the wounded man into the ranch house. Beldon insists that the pink-scarfed outlaw fetch a doctor. See what I mean? Of course you emotionally attach to this man--he cares for his boys! As he stares lovingly into the eyes of the dying outlaw, the outlaw says, "bury me by the spring, Sam."

One of the outlaw boys steps inside and announces the gang is deserting Sam Beldon. They believe the gang is cursed. Beldon does not shoot the man like a proper outlaw. He shouts at the men to leave. "Who needs ya!" he asks rhetorically.

Victoria, never one to sit quietly, begins to goad him now. "The twilight of Sam Beldon," she says. Alone with the leader of an outlaw gang, she cleverly decides to pick a fight. Sure, that's what I would have done. She dares him to use his gun, then says goodbye and walks to the door. Of course, he shoots the wall beside her and she returns to her seat.

Beldon then removes a beautifully-carved headstone from a chest and explains that he made it for his wife's grave, that he wants to learn to read so he can carve her epitaph onto the headstone and read the words when he is through. Victoria, and Darla Sue Dollman, both begin to cry. (Insert deep sigh here.)

And the Barkley boys are getting closer.

The doctor arrives at the outlaw ranch. It is clear he recognizes Victoria, who quickly introduces herself as Miss Keller, the Stockton schoolteacher. Victoria offers to assist the doctor by holding the lamp. As he reaches for his equipment, she notices a gun in his bag and slips it into her skirt. When the doctor announces he cannot help the dying outlaw (of course he can't help him. Anyone who watches westerns knows a stomach wound is a death sentence.) Victoria pulls out the gun and declares that she will shoot Sam Beldon unless he lets the doctor go free. He agrees...and she tosses him the gun! Yup, that's right folks--Stockholm!

The Barkley posse finds the doctor, dehydrated, his boots worn down, dirt and scratches on his face. You would think he'd been walking through a desert for months, though he's less than an hour away.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Beldon tries to lift the wounded outlaw onto a horse, but the outlaw dies in Beldon's arms. Beldon buries the outlaw and says goodbye. Victoria urges Beldon to turn himself in. "Have you ever seen a hangin, Miss Keller?" he asks. What was she thinking? Kidnapping, robbery--back then, men were hung for stealing a horse!

The two remaining outlaws realize the ranch is surrounded. Nick Barkley (played by the very handsome Irishman, Peter Breck, who has rather attractive dimples when he smiles) shouts out for his mother, and the outlaws suddenly realize they have "the queen bee of the whole valley" in their hideout. Clearly, them outlaws are done for! Suddenly, the pink-scarved outlaw is no longer calling her a girl. Now, she is referred to as "lady." Beldon accuses her of laughing at him and she assures him she saw him only as "another pupil wanting to learn." Yup, Stockholm.

"Another time, another place," Beldon tells Victoria longingly, then instructs pink scarf to take her outside to her sons, but pink scarf insists on holding her hostage. As he walks away with her, Beldon shoots the outlaw in the leg and Victoria escapes. The outlaw drags himself to the posse, who is waiting to fix his leg up so they can hang him proper. Beldon continues to fire his gun out the window as the Barkley boys run from tree to tree. I kept waiting for Heath (Lee Majors, who later becomes the bionic man) to do a backflip or a few rolling somersaults like they do in modern westerns, but alas, he disappoints. He does make it to the ranch house, though, and kills Beldon, then hugs his surrogate mother, Victoria, lovingly to comfort her.

They bury Sam Beldon at the ranch house, which was equally disappointing. I thought they should have taken his body to his home and buried him next to his wife like any good Stockholm victim would have done. Instead, Victoria stood sadly over Beldon's grave, then said, "The cat saw the rat, the dog saw the cat. I'll bet they sure did have a good fight." Then she placed the open book on his grave and climbed onto her horse. She didn't even return the headstone to the grave of Beldon's wife, which I thought was the least she could have done, seeings how he restrained himself from harming her and treated her with so much kindness! Apparently, I have a far more serious case of Stockholm Syndrome than she does! Tune in tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall, or Gunsmoke, the Early Days

James Arness in 1956, screenshot from the first season of Gunsmoke.

Tonight we are watching Marshal Dillon, and it's a real treat. Although it's half as long as Gunsmoke, each show opens with the trademark image of James Arness shooting down a bad guy on main street. I believe the bad guy in this scene may be the legendary firearms and knife expert Rodd Redwing.

The show then switches to U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon walking through the tombstones of Boot Hill Cemetery, reflecting on his job, the town of Dodge City, Kansas, and the people who have impacted his life during his time as their Marshall.

He opens the episode "Chester's Mail Order Bride," with, "Each time I come up here to Boot Hill, I think of all the men that Dodge has watched die. Some a coward's death, some standing up and in good style. More than a few of these, I've had a part in--I'm Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall. But now, standing here looking out over the high plains, I remember that while Dodge is a pretty rough camp, sometimes, there's a lot of good to be found there."

Marshal Dillon was a half hour, black and white series that ran for six seasons, from 1955-1951, with the same cast as the Gunsmoke series. "Chester's Mail Order Bride" was episode 34 of the first season, first aired on CBS July 14, 1956.

The episode begins with Chester Goode, played by Dennis Weaver, who won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role in Gunsmoke, and years later, numerous Best Actor Emmy nominations for his own Western series, McCloud. On this particular evening, however, Chester is drunk in the Long Branch. He's showing a picture of a woman to Sam, but it's not the Sam we all know and love. This is a temporary Sam played by Bert Rumsey, who is also a fine actor, but the actor who made Sam Noonan famous was Glenn Strange.

Dennis Weaver, 1960. Weaver played Chester in Gunsmoke

Chester argues drunkenly with his friend, Nate, the buffalo hunter, who says, "You know, I've taken quite a fancy to you little fella. I hate to have to do this," and with one swift punch he knocks Chester out cold as Miss Kathleen "Kitty" Russell (Amanda Blake) and Matt Dillon watch from the balcony.

I'd like to take a moment to point out the year this show was made--1956. At this point in time, legendary actor James Arness is only 33 years old, and he is one handsome fella. He's been acting since he was 24, including his legendary performance as The Thing in science fiction classic The Thing from Another World. Sadly, James Arness passed away in 2011, a terrible loss to his family, I'm sure, and to fans of Western films.

Amanda Blake, who plays Miss Kitty, is also a sweet young thing. In fact, she's a bit thin in these early shows. Personally, I believe she is much more attractive as the middle-aged bar owner in the later versions of Gunsmoke.

Amanda Blake, who was born Beverly Louise Neill, worked as a telephone operator when she was cast in Marshall Dillon. She was 27 when this episode was filmed. Amanda Blake was close friends with Glenn Strange, who played Sam in Gunsmoke, and deeply distressed by his death. Strange was a rancher, deputy sheriff and rodeo performer before beginning his acting career. He died of lung cancer in 1973. Amanda Blake, who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, died of mouth cancer in 1989, seven years after testifying before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the dangers of smoking.

Back to the show. In the next scene, Chester, Doc (the incomparable Milburn Stone) and Matt Dillon are in the Marshall's office and Doc is insisting that Chester spill the beans and explain who the woman is in the photo.

Chester explains that she is the woman he is supposed to marry. He's been writing long, romantic letters to her and they exchanged photographs. Unfortunately, in a moment of insecurity, Chester sent Mary a photo of Marshall Dillon instead of himself. Matt Dillon, whose character is slightly different in these early shows and a bit more playful, decides to torture Chester a bit and tells him that he, Matt Dillon, will meet the attractive young woman at the station.

"I think I might enjoy that," he says. Chester does not look pleased. In fact, he still looks a bit hungover in spite of the copious cups of coffee Doc has set in front of him.

Switch to the barber shop. Doc convinces Chester to prepare to meet his future bride by taking a bath and changing into a suit Doc obtained from the undertaker, a suit "that belonged to a fella who is now on Boot Hill."

Meanwhile, back at the, uh, train station, Matt Dillon is checking the women who depart from the train to see if they match the photo in his hand. Finally, a young woman who looks nothing like the photo introduces herself as Ann, the mail order bride, played by Mary Carver.

Dillon quietly transports Mary to Miss Kitty and Ann is confused by her fiance's behavior. Miss Kitty shows her to a room and when Ann complains about how quiet "Chester" was on the drive, Kitty explains, "It will all become clear to you in a moment." Just then, the real Chester knocks on the door and enters the room. At first, Chester and Ann are both offended that the other used a fake photograph in their correspondence, but in the next scene, Chester is in the Long Branch announcing to Doc, Kitty and Matt that he is, indeed, engaged to marry Ann. Doc, of course, starts to grumble and shake his head, but whatever he is about to say is silenced with a glance from Miss Kitty.

Milburn Stone, or Doc, was well-acquainted with the real Dodge City as a Kansas native. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the Western film genre through his role as Doc on Gunsmoke.

Milburn Stone, the man who never seemed to grow older, back in 1959. 
Stone played "Doc" in Gunsmoke

Chester is in his suit again, in the Marshall's office, brushing his hair, talking to Nate, the buffalo hunter (Fred Carson) about the engagement party Miss Kitty is throwing at The Dodge House. The conversation is interrupted by a stranger, Mr. Brady, and Chester and Nate leave Matt Dillon to his business. Mr. Brady tells Marshall Dillon he is looking for a young woman who ran away from home--Ann Smithwright.

Matt Dillon is next seen explaining to Chester that Ann comes from a wealthy family back East. Ann's father is a judge, and her mother had a heart attack when she discovered Ann had run away. She is only 17, and she came to the West looking for excitement. Matt Dillon, always the realist, points out that it's likely the young woman will be greatly disappointed when she finds out the "excitement" of the West includes wildfires, shootouts, drought, and great tragedy. Chester, always the dreamer, responds with his own feelings about the West and the thrill of homesteading. Dillon reminds Chester that homesteading is a life of hard work, poverty, and great sorrow, and tells him his young bride, like the other "nesters," or wives of homesteaders, will be old before her time.

At the Dodge House, the townsfolk are dancing. Matt Dillon is at the door with a wooden barrel, collecting gun belts and tossing them inside. Chester is upstairs, talking to Ann as he fumbles with his hat in his hands. "I've had to do some decidin' and I just hope that I've decided right, for both of us," he says.

Downstairs, Miss Kitty tells Matt Dillon she is worried. "You act as if this is your engagement party," he comments. "Just playin it safe," she says, "in case I don't get one of my own." As you'll recall, Matt and Kitty eventually become an "item," but at this point in time, their relationship seems to be one of friendly teasing and occasional flirtations.

A few minutes later, Chester interrupts the dancing at the engagement party for an announcement.
He thanks his friends, then tells the crowd that he has decided to send Ann back to her parents in Philadelphia so she can finish school. "I think that's where she belongs. I talked it over with Ann, and she pretty much agrees with me. Besides, I could no more be a homesteader than Ann could." He then tells the crowd the engagement is off.

Nathan the buffalo hunter, is angry for Chester and decides to kill the messenger, Mr. Brady. Matt Dillon stops him. "Nate, now you listen to me," he says. "Brady here had nothing to do with this. Chester and Ann decided what was best for them, and I think that took a lot of courage. Now do you want to spoil it all?" Miss Kitty breaks up the discussion as only Miss Kitty can, by grabbing Nate's arm and leading him back onto the dance floor. Chester kisses Ann goodbye at the door and she leaves with Mr. Brady.

Buffalo at Terry Bison Ranch near the Colorado/Wyoming border. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman Nate is a buffalo hunter in this episode of Matt Dillon. 
(Okay, you've got me. I just wanted to show off my buffalo pictures.) 

"Nobody's fault, but my own," Chester says as Matt Dillon walks up behind him. "Never should have learned how to write," he says. Matt pats him on the shoulder and Chester limps into the next room. Chester's limp, by the way, was the creative contribution of Dennis Weaver who was looking for a way to make his character unique in the show. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Big Valley: "Explosion!" Parts I and II

Partial cast of The Big Valley. From left to right: 
Lee Majors, Barbara Stanwyck, Linda Evans, 
and Charles Briles, who played the youngest son, Eugene.

Tonight we are watching The Big Valley, "Explosion, Part I." This show originally aired in 1967 and focuses on a subject that I actually know a little bit about--wildfire and wildfire firefighting in the Old West. This story has a few minor subplots, though, most involving women!

The show begins with two men sitting by a campfire reading the women's undergarments page from a catalog, which is apparently the cowboy version of Playboy. The men are not outlaws, but they're not good guys, either. One mentions that the sheriff of Sacramento tossed him out of town, so they decide to go to Stockton to check out the women. They douse the fire, but not carefully, then drop the page from the catalog, which blows into the fire pit and ignites from the smoldering ashes.

The men ride off into the forest, unaware that they have just started one of the worst natural disasters the Barkley's have ever faced. Well, this and the "Earthquake!" episode from 1965 when Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) is trapped beneath the church with a pregnant Native American woman and a man suffering from alcoholism who her son, Nick, recently fired.

We leave the sparking camp fire and arrive in Stockton where second son Nick, played by the devilishly-dimpled Peter Breck, is showing his brothers the birthday gift he chose for their mother, Victoria. It's a painting by one of the most famous Western artists, Charles Russell. As they admire the painting, Silas (Napoleon Whiting, a talented man who also appeared in Giant, Farewell my Lovely and Skin Game), the Barkley's house servant, arrives with a calender with a copy of the same Russell picture. Heath comments that the painting is worthless, Jarrod points out that they have the original, and the painting makes it more valuable. He tells Nick to wrap it back up, and Nick tells Silas to wrap it up.

Suddenly, a buggy pulls up with a beautiful woman and the "Marquis" (Carl Esmond). Nick decides he is going to flirt with the Marquis' daughter (Leticia Roman) while Jarrod and Heath make bets on his potential success. Nick asks the daughter about the painting he chose for his mother and she pretends she cannot hear him, then her father steps out of the store and she tells her father that Nick is attempting to bring culture to Stockton. The Marquis makes a comment that this will be an impossible task.

The Barkley boys enter the local tavern where they learn about the wildfire. It is between Granite City and gold mines owned by the Barkley's and the Marquis. The Marquis insists they must protect the mines and the Barkley's insist the focus should be on the homes in Granite City. The Marquis proposes that both the city and the mines can be saved using nitroglycerin to build a fire break, a line where everything is burned, which will stop the fire since the fire will have nothing else to burn. This makes perfect sense, and yet, in the background we hear ominous music: dun dun dun! The Marquis says he has already spoken to Mr. Carter (played by veteran actor Stewart Erwin who died shortly after this show was completed), the best nitro man in the county, about the task. Carter will be paid $2000. Two young brothers agree to assist.

While researching the cost of cowboy boots in this time period, I discovered that $20 was the equivalent to $300 in contemporary dollars. Therefore, $2000 would be equal to $30,000. that's a lot of money for a nitro drop. While it's possible that the gold mines were pulling in massive amounts of money, if the timber bracing the outer entrance to the mines burned, and the timber used in making flumes, they would have a hard time replacing that timber after a forest fire, but it would not be impossible. The timbers inside the mine would likely stay intact. Would it be worth $30,000? To save Granite City, perhaps, but not to save the mines. The Barkley's are attempting to portray the Marquis as selfish, but the money issue seems to imply the Marquis is more concerned with the city than the mine. (Either that, or the writers used faulty logic.)

Now for the nitro. Referred to as "blasting oil," it was believed to be so hypersensitive "it would detonate if a man so much as spoke harshly in its presence" according to Robert Wallace's The Miners. Pure nitroglycerin was used experimentally in mining, and more often in rock quarries, but after awhile there were so many accidents that very few men were willing to take the risk. (Alfred Nobel changed this by mixing nitroglycerin with chalk, inventing dynamite.)

Mr. Carter is willing to take risk his life with the nitroglycerin. Why? He needs the money. He has fallen in love with a beautiful dance hall girl, Gail Miller (actress Arlene Golonka, who also appeared in the Clint Eastwood film Hang 'Em High). Jarrod Barkley (Richard Long), the oldest Barkley boy, watches Carter say goodbye to Gail. Carter climbs into the wagon, then warns a woman--Bridget Wells, played by Judy Carne--to stay away! Doesn't she know nitroglycerin is dangerous? She does, but Carter's salvation is more important than her life. She gives him a Bible.

Carter and the two brothers head up the mountain road with their deadly cargo. A rattlesnake crosses the road and spooks the horses. Moments later, there is an explosion. The curtains blow in the Marquis' breakfast nook where his daughter is serving him tea, the men in the bar run for the door, and Carter's girlfriend puts her hands over her face, and screams, screams, screams!

The footage of the explosion on the mountain was spectacular. Lots of smoke pouring over a rocky outcrop.

Back in the bar, Toby, the town drunk begs some whiskey from the Barkley boys. The Marquis announces an additional 10 gallons of nitro will be delivered in the morning by train. Then a farmer rushes into the bar. "We got trouble boys!" he announces. He's just lost his home, barn, farm, "everything!" He's surprisingly calm for a man who has lost...everything! But he tells everyone in the bar that the fire has moved and is now headed for Stockton. The men all run from the bar to pack their belongings and evacuate--everyone but the Barkley boys. They discuss the nitro, the mountain, the chances, then toast the Barkley luck. That's right, folks, them Barkley boys are takin' the nitro to the fire!

The Barkley boys meet Silas outside the bar and warn him not to tell mother Victoria, or little sister Audra (Linda Evans.) "I don't like it! I don't like it! I don't like it!" Silas proclaims. "He doesn't like it," Nick says as Silas drives the buggy out of town.

The men split up--Heath (The Six Million Dollar Man. Oops! I mean, Lee Majors) to talk the undertaker out of his new hearse with its fancy shocks--perfect to carry the nitro; Nick, to say goodbye to the Marquis' daughter; and Jarrod, to make sure their financial matters are in order in case, well, you know. (Insert dramatic sigh here.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Victoria and Audra are preparing for her birthday party. Silas arrives. She asks for the birthday gift and Silas hands her the Charles Russell calendar. "Well, she sure will be surprised," Audra says with a skeptical tone. Silas tells the women about the fire. Victoria decides to take emergency supplies to town and Audra heads for the orphanage, of course. Victoria tells her to bring the children back to the ranch.

Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.

When she enters the orphanage, Audra sees an adorable, big-eyed child with blond pigtails. Her name is Mary. (Mary is played by Eileen Barrel. You will recognize Eileen from another 1968 Big Valley episode, "A Flock of Trouble," the child whose uncle loses a flock of sheep to Nick Barkley in a card game.) Audra tells the priest to gather the orphans and take them to the Barkley ranch.

Now, the story gets interesting as each brother encounters...a woman! First, Carter's fiance arrives at Jarrod's office. She wants the money promised to Carter, who you'll recall was blown up on the mountain. The bank has refused to pay her Carter's $2000. She tries to convince Jarrod to lie, to tell the bank that Carter told him he wanted her to have the money. Jarrod refuses to lie, so she throws herself at him, offering her body in exchange for his soul! Of course, Jarrod says no, so she angrily storms out of his office, but it is clear we have not seen the last of Ms. Gail Miller!

The two bad men who unknowingly started the fire enter Stockton, their hormones raging after viewing the corsets in the newspaper. They grab the first woman they see and tear her blouse off. It is Bridget Wells (Judy Carne), the woman Mr. Carter warned away from the wagon. Heath leaves the funeral home in time to rescue Bridget Wells from the two bad men, but she turns on Heath, too, then runs away. Heath has surprisingly bad luck with women!

Nick, at the home of the Marquis, is warmly welcomed by the Marquis's daughter, who is exposing her ample bosom in a lovely gown. She flirts with Nick while she tells him of her family's past and their great wealth, which was stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte. She asks Nick to take the nitro up the mountain. Suddenly, Nick realizes she is only trying to convince him to take the nitro. In his usual fashion, Nick overreacts, making cruel insinuations to The Marquis, who has just entered the room, and his daughter. Nick picks up a champagne bottle and throws it into the fireplace. He storms from the house. The daughter confronts the Marquis, pointing out that Nick is far more cultured than they are. "Who has more dignity now, Nick Barkley, or you?" she asks...and the Marquis slaps her! She challenges him once more, and he slaps her again!

People tend to be a bit slap-happy on The Big Valley. In the 1968 episode "The Long Ride," Audra is stunned speechless after witnessing a triple murder. Her mother, Victoria, slaps her repeatedly, telling her to "snap out of it!" In another 1968 episode, "The Emperor of Rice," the evil wife of a family friend hypnotizes Victoria in an attempt to take over the Barkley ranch. When Victoria appears to be dying, the evil wife slaps Victoria repeatedly across the face to "wake her up," then attempts to hypnotize her again. Apparently, slapping was an accepted psychological treatment in the Old West. Who knew?

And this is where we leave the Barkley's dear readers, with a raging wildfire, stranded orphans, and 10 gallons of nitro arriving on the morning train.

The Big Valley "Explosion, Part II" 

There's a wildfire raging through the nearby forests headed straight for Stockton. The fire was started by a campfire. Three men have already died trying to use nitroglycerin to create a fire line to stop the fire. Ten more gallons of nitroglycerin is scheduled to arrive on the morning train.

The fire has crowned and moves fiercely from treetop to treetop. The Barkley boys--Heath (Lee Majors), Nick (Peter Breck), and Jarrod (Richard Long) stayed overnight in Stockton. They agreed to use the nitroglycerin to create a fire line. Audra Barkley (Linda Evans) is moving the orphans to the ranch for their own safety and mother Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) is preparing to make the most painful decision a mother of adult children must eventually make--not to interfere.

Lee Majors who played Heath Barkley in The Big Valley.

When the show begins, we are in the bar with Jarrod who is looking for his brothers. Jarrod is wearing a blue cowboy hat, blue jeans and a blue denim shirt beneath his leather vest. Why? Because this outfit highlights the fact that actor Richard Long has the most beautiful blue eyes in the history of television. Remember, folks, this was before the time of colored contacts. This man could make any woman melt with his stare.

Jarrod walks up to the bar. The bartender, who is packing the alcohol, explains that he helped last time there was a wildfire and when the town was evacuated someone stole all the liquor.

Toby, the town drunk, is seated at a table in the bar with Mr. Carter's fiance, Gail. As you'll recall, Carter was killed when the first delivery of nitro exploded. Gail Miller (Arlene Golonka), his fiance has returned to the bar and her dance hall dress--hot pink with black feathers--as she now has no money--remember, Jarrod refused to lie to the bank so she could inherit her fiance's payment for taking the nitroglycerin up the mountain.

Town drunk Toby gets handsy with Gail Miller and Jarrod stops him. Sobbing, Gail grabs a gun the bartender has left on the bar and runs upstairs, preparing to shoot herself. Jarrod follows and tries to talk her out of it, but she's had enough. She's seen hard times and she's ready to die for her bad luck. "Don't blame it on luck," Jarrod replies. "You put yourself in that dress!"

I must say, Jarrod is not doing so well with the ladies right now. I'm not trying to be judgmental, but the fire is still raging on the mountain, the train is coming in the morning, you could die tomorrow, soldier! Jarrod Barkley--make these last moments count! Save this woman!

Gail Miller claims Jarrod couldn't possibly understand suicide because he has so much to live for. He has money! Jarrod then tells her he's taking the nitro up the mountain in the morning. "But you've got everything," she says. "How can you throw it all away?" Stunned, she gives Jarrod the gun. They go downstairs and Toby remarks, "You've found someone to take Old Charlie's place already!" Gail Miller throws a drink in Toby's face and tearfully runs from the bar...but I have a feeling we have not seen the last of Gail Miller!

Heath checks on the hearse. The town blacksmith is making changes to accommodate the nitroglycerin. When Heath asks how the work is coming along, the man replies, "I feel like I'm building a coffin for my friends." Nice. The blacksmith advises Heath to go spend his last night with a woman. Heath leaves the building. He is surprisingly calm for a man who might die the next morning. Could it be that he knows he will survive this mission and later become The Six Million Dollar Man?

Heath once again encounters Bridget Wells, A.K.A Judy Carne. Carne invites Heath back to the Mission. She offers him tea and talks about her family's missionary work with the Yaqui in Mexico where her family was killed. Then she tells Heath she is consumed by guilt because she pretended to be sick to avoid joining her family in Mexico. She leans over and kisses Heath. "Now, what did that prove?" he asks. Wells repeats a story told by her father, a story told to him when he worked as a missionary in Africa. He said that if a hunter ate the heart of a lion he gained the lion's courage. "I'm not a lion," Heath says, and he leaves her.

Heath is a bit of a strange duck when it comes to women. He is rarely attracted to them, and when they are attracted to him, he's often cold and aloof. His actions in this situation are particularly strange as he is possibly facing a quick death in the morning and he is alone with a beautiful woman, Judy Carne, the "Sock it to Me" girl from Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. You remember the "Sock it to Me" suede halter top and bikini-bottomed Judy, don't you? If not, check out this video.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Audra hears a young girl crying in her bed. "Laurie, what's wrong?" Audra asks. The child sniffles and replies, "It's Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" That's right folks, the little girl is none other than Eve Plumb, who played Jan in The Brady Bunch. Freckle-faced Jan who suffers from an eternal case of middle-child syndrome. But, I digress. In "Explosion II," Eve Plumb really says, "Mary. It's Mary. She's gone back to the orphanage for her sister!" Unfortunately, Mary's sister died in a fire with her parents years before.

Audra, Victoria, Silas and the priest split up in search of Mary. Victoria finds the big-eyed, pig-tailed Mary (Eileen Baral, who made numerous appearances on The Big Valley over the years) in the barn trying to put a harness on a horse. Victoria helps Mary understand that her sister has died and convinces Mary to return to the ranch house and help the other children, who will now look up to Mary knowing she has survived a fire before.

Once inside, with Mary fast asleep, Victoria decides to go to town to check on her boys. Silas finally confesses that the Barkley boys are delivering the nitro in the morning. Aghast, Victoria starts to run out the door, then stops and turns around. "I forgot," she says. "They're not my boys anymore. They're men." Victoria realizes that she cannot see them, because she would only try to convince them not to go. They would go anyway, but they might doubt themselves. She realizes she must trust them and stay home. Wise move, Mom. It's time to let go. As Crush the turtle says in Finding Nemo, "You'll know when you know."

It's 4:45 in the morning and remarkably bright outside. The boys are waiting for the train. I love trains! They are standing before an Old West, one room train station. I love those old train stations! Jarrod asks Nick if he really knows as much about nitro as he claims. "Nick knows as much about nitroglycerin as he does about art," Heath says. Remember the painting for mother Victoria's birthday? The Charles Russell masterpiece? Nick's brothers tease him about his art knowledge, but as it turns out, he does in fact know quite a bit about both art and nitro!

The nitroglycerin arrives and is loaded into the hearse. As the Barkley's ride through town, Jarrod sees Gail miller leaving the bar, dressed in a powder blue dress and white blouse that covers her neckline. She is on her way to start another life as a dressmaker. She sadly waves goodbye as the hearse moves past.

Such great imagery--waving goodbye to the Barkleys who are seated in a hearse filled with nitroglycerin.

The hearse moves slowly up the mountain on a bumpy road. I would have had the men from town filling in those ruts the night before--they knew it was a rough road. They reach a gulley and decide to carry the nitro in boxes across the creek. As they empty the hearse, Nick realizes one of the bottles is leaking. He gently carries it over to a shrub, then removes his black gloves as they are also covered in nitro. Nick is always dressed in black gloves, black vest and black pants. His cowboy hat and boots may be different colors, but his basic outfit remains the same--the handsome cowboy dressed in black (with dimples that show when he smiles.)

He returns to the hearse and the boys realize the nitro has leaked down the axles to the brake pads. They remove the brake pads, which doesn't make sense. Wouldn't the nitro still be on the axles, and everything else it touched, like the floor of the wagon? Oh well. We already know they're in danger! And this is once again proven to us as the nitro in the shrub explodes for no explainable reason--a lizard, a rabbit, a firm breeze, anything could set off the sensitive nitro.

The men reload the nitro and now start down a very steep hill--with no brakes! Oh, could this situation possibly get any worse! The horses, of course, want to run, as horses tend to do when facing a steep hill, so Nick stands in front, holding them back, as the hearse brakes. Nick slips, of course (come on, you didn't see that coming?) and tumbles to the side of the wagon, then all three men stare at each other, realizing they just missed a fiery death.

They finally arrive at their destination, and this is where I am confused. They are within the fire lines. There is fire all around them, on trees, shrubs, everything but the grass. If they are trying to burn anything combustible to create a fire break, shouldn't they be back from the fire line a bit? Instead, they are planting the nitro beneath trees that are next to other trees that are already burning. This is a thick forest. If one tree explodes, the fire will just move to the tree in front of it! Okay, enough criticism. Grab your popcorn. Back to the show.

Suddenly, through the smoke, a woman appears on horseback. It is the missionary, Bridget Wells. She has clearly gained the courage of a lion from her one kiss shared with Heath. She insists on helping, so Heath has her hold the reins of the horses and move them out of harm's way as the hearse no longer has brakes. The men plant the nitro bottles between the burning trees and connect them with gunpowder.

Suddenly, a tree falls on Heath, pinning him to the ground. A line of gunpowder catches on fire when a burning branch falls from above and the flames move quickly toward a bottle of nitro. Wells sees Heath and tries to help. Heath tells her to run. Instead, the once cowardly lioness brings a horse to Heath as burning trees tumble to the ground around her. Nick and Jarrod realize Heath and the girl are missing from the hearse. Wells wraps a rope around a tree and ties it to the horse, and the tree begins to move. Jarrod and Nick arrive and pull Heath from beneath the tree. They help him onto the horse behind Wells and she races him away from the fire as Nick and Jarrod follow behind. The forest explodes, and the fire is out. Just like that.

Hmm, I say to myself. So I look it up in my textbooks and history books and sure enough, a quick blast of nitro will suck the oxygen out of the air long enough to put out a fire. They were not actually creating a fire break, they were sucking out the oxygen. What does fire need? Oxygen and fuel. (This is similar to how fires are extinguished in oil wells.)

The next morning, the Barkley family celebrates Victoria's birthday. Bridget Wells is there, too--you knew Heath couldn't possibly resist the "Sock it to Me" girl for long! Victoria recognizes the artist of the painting the boys give to her--the great Western artist Charles Russell--and is thrilled. She blinks back the tears in her green-eyeshadow covered eyes. Heath and Miss Wells move into the next room. Victoria asks about their evening in town and their luck with the ladies.

Nick and Jarrod both tell their mother their evening ended poorly. "Mine is a sad story," Nick explains. "Mine is a sad story also," Jarrod says. "I so completely reformed a lady that she moved to a dress shop in San Francisco," he tells his mother. "You might say I talked my case right out of court!" Aww, Jarrod, for a lawyer, you are a funny man! Stay tuned...