Friday, August 3, 2018

Laredo--Classic Western Fun Predictably Cliched

Veteran actor Philip Carey played Captain Parmalee in Laredo.

Gunfighters, heroes, villains--Laredo was one of many cliched, 1960s Western series that was popular with the public, had an all-star case, but a predictably short life.

 Screenshot of Neville Brand from the film D.O.A., 1950.

Laredo's cast was a mix of military veterans and seasoned actors, including war hero turned steely-eyed actor Neville Brand as Reese Bennett; soap opera hunk Peter Brown as Chad Cooper; William Smith, who appeared in over 300 films and television productions, as former gunfighter Joe Riley; and yet another war hero and seasoned actor, Philip Carey, as Captain Parmalee.

William Smith, from Invasion of the Bee Girls, 1973.

The series was directed by Irving J. Moore, et al, and produced by Universal Studios for NBC and ran from September 16, 1965 to April 7, 1967. It may have been yet another victim of the dwindling interest in Westerns. Then again, the dwindling interest in Westerns may have been because all of the shows that were churned out by the television studios in the late sixties were nearly identical--misfit cowboys and gunfighters thrown together by chance, form a bond and protect a town; helpless yet extremely attractive women; or themselves when they are falsely accused by the local bad guys.

The cancellation of this show was mildly surprising as it did have a combination of western and comedy, and comedies are always popular. It was also about Texas Rangers, and Texas Rangers are always popular; and, as mentioned before, it had a cast of television and film veterans along with frequent guest appearance from stars such as Kurt Russell.The actors were visually appealing and included the required one or two "hunks" in  Brown and Smith--handsome, muscular, and often shown without shirts. Between the Texas Rangers theme and the shirtless hunks, the show should have appealed to a wide audience comprised of men and women.

The problem with Laredo was not the premise of the show, or the acting. It was the writing. So many of the stories were silly and pathetically unbelievable. They lacked originality and failed to draw out the skills of the actors, which must have been an embarrassment to this veteran crew.

For example, let's take a look at the episode "The Land Grabbers," season 1, episode 12, which aired on December 9, 1965. "The Land Grabbers," the Rangers arrive to round up land grabbers trying to jump claim on prime pieces of land before the next day's land rush. The rangers have chased off a small group of land grabbers (also called Sooners) and are now informed that this is an ongoing issue before land rushes.

The Rangers arrive in town to find Land Commissioner Smoot peering over his eyeglasses, grumbling about having only three Rangers and the lack of more support. "There's 40 square miles between here and the Los Alamos River," he declares, and Captain Parmalee assures him they are more than capable as the Rangers stand back, looking very tough and predictably intimidating.

Audrey Dalton in Wagon Train, 1969. 

A woman, Mrs. Coverly--played by Audrey Dalton, yet another highly-skilled actress who moved effortlessly from film to television work and appeared in many Westerns--appears on the scene, of course, and where I smell trouble, Ranger Chad Cooper smells nothing but perfume. As Cooper flirts and Reese tells Civil War tales to the children, a small group of men is pushing their way to the front of the line in front of the Land Commissioner's tent. Yup--corporate. Big money. Corruption, and cliched. Sigh.

Reese and Cooper both arrive at the woman's tent at the same time, Reese as a guest of the woman's son, Robert. Oddly, the family speaks with greatly differing accents, a common problem in 1960s Westerns where actors were generally passed from one series to another and rarely chosen for the roles they played (for instance, there was a shocking lack of Native American actors playing the numerous roles available in 1960s Westerns). Mrs. Coverly sounds like she came from Colorado, her son sounds Australian and her father, British. But, they say they are family, so they are family.

Joe Riley sees the two men having tea with the woman and her father, Major Donaldson (Alan Napier, who was also the butler, Alfred, in the Batman series), and sneaks away. It's possible he senses trouble, but more likely he's running to tattle like a school boy on his partners--remember, men in westerns are always referred to as "boys." Riley reports the tea party to Captain Parmalee, who stomps off the chastise the wandering Rangers.

The Captain informs them that the notorious Burt Sparr is in camp with his gunslingers, intimidating the pioneers who have gathered for the land rush and registering his "boys" as homesteaders. Those darn boys again!

The townsfolk make random accusations that the Rangers might be paid off by Sparr. They are grumbling. I've often wondered what the actors say while they're grumbling. Do they say "grumble grumble grumble?" Or do they say, "hey, when is the chuck wagon coming by today?"

Captain Parmalee replies to the grumbling by stating that he will personally dismiss any Ranger who is found assisting a homesteader. This, of course, is a lead--obviously, one of the Rangers is going to assist one of the homesteaders.

Mrs. Coverly, with her wiley womanly ways, bats her pretty eyes of some or another color at Ranger Cooper and asks for his assistance with her father, who she suspects will be risking his life in the land rush. Major Donaldson intends to wear the uniform from his previous service with the Lancers as he makes his rush for a piece of land by the river. Cooper advises him to take the first piece of land he sees as the river plots are the most coveted, but Donaldson insists. The plot thickens...

Captain Parmalee tries to convince Smoot to start the race later, which would foil the plans of Smoot's men. They would ride into town to declare their ownership and discover the race didn't start yet. Smoot refuses to comply. "Take away his glasses and he couldn't tell the difference between the hind end of a camel and a horse," Captain says. Now there's a leading statement...

Without informing the Captain, the Rangers devise a plan to accidentally break Smoot's glasses, then tell him it is noon when it is actually 1 p.m., an hour later, thus buying time for the Captain's plan. Reese breaks Smoot's glasses then volunteers to assist him. When the first of the land grabbers arrive, the Rangers ride out to arrest them. Captain Parmalee tells the Rangers to return the flags and stakes to the land plots for the homesteaders. On the way, Sparr's boys knocks Riley unconscious. Surely, this will leave a brain injury of some kind.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Major Donaldson dresses in full uniform and lines up for the race. Much to the chagrin of the homesteaders, the race starts an hour later, as the Rangers planned. Donaldson rides out to a river plot, plants his stake, then passes out. Reese guides Mrs. Coverly and her wagon to the site and the Rangers help load Donaldson into the wagon.

Cooper, of course, changes clothes with Donaldson, donning his uniform, then starts back to town to register the land, thus aiding one of the homesteaders against the Captain's orders. Sparr's men spot him and knock him to the ground, unconscious. Riley, Reese and Cooper finally meet up and return to town. Reese assists Smoot in documenting the land ownership. Smoot tries to identify Major Donaldson, but all he can see without his glasses is the uniform, which of course is worn by Cooper. Ownership is approved and Donaldson, Coverly, and her precocious little boy have their land by the river.

The last of the Land Grabbers ride in to town. Captain Parmalee raises questions about their actions based on the fact that their horses are not sweating. Smoot agrees, and they lose their land. Cooper says goodbye to Major Donaldson, Mrs. Coverly and the boy, and promises to return often to visit the lovely Mrs. Coverly. As the men ride out of town, Captain Parmalee makes suspicious comments, revealing that he is well aware of the actions of his "boys," breaking Smoot's glasses and assisting in Donaldson's grab for a piece of land.

"The Land Grabbers," the Rangers arrive to round up land grabbers trying to jump claim on prime pieces of land before the next day's land rush.

Back to our regularly scheduled program, the rangers have chased off a small group of land grabbers (also called Sooners) and are now informed that this is an ongoing issue before land rushes. "There's a smell of something for nothing in the air," Reese comments. "Yep, it's a powerful attraction," Captain Parmalee replies. I'm beginning to sense there is a corporate organization behind the land grabbers--there's a bit too many men trying to jump claims in this scene.

The Rangers arrive in town to find Land Commissioner Smoot peering over his eyeglasses, grumbling about having only three Rangers and the lack of more support. "There's 40 square miles between here and the Los Alamos River," he declares, and Captain Parmalee assures him they are more than capable as the Rangers stand back, looking very tough and scary.

A woman (Audrey Dalton as Mrs. Coverly) appears on the scene, of course, and where I smell trouble, Ranger Chad Cooper smells nothing but perfume. As Cooper flirts and Reese tells Civil War tales to the children, a small group of men is pushing their way to the front of the line in front of the Land Commissioner's tent. Yup--corporate. Big money. Corruption.

Reese and Cooper both arrive at the woman's tent at the same time, Reese as a guest of the woman's son, Robert. Oddly, the family speaks with greatly differing accents. Mrs. Coverly sounds like she came from Colorado, her son sounds Australian and her father, British. (Did I say great acting? I may have fudged a bit on that one.)

Joe Riley sees the two men having tea with the woman and her father, Major Donaldson (Alan Napier, who was also the butler, Alfred, in the Batman series), and sneaks away. It's possible he senses trouble, but more likely he's running to tattle like a school boy on his partners--remember, men in westerns are always referred to as "boys." Riley reports the tea party to Captain Parmalee, who stomps off the chastise the wandering Rangers.

The Captain informs them that the notorious Burt Sparr is in camp with his gunslingers, intimidating the pioneers who have gathered for the land rush and registering his "boys" as homesteaders. Those darn boys again!

The townsfolk make random accusations that the Rangers might be paid off by Sparr. They are grumbling. I've often wondered what the actors say while they're grumbling. Do they say "grumble grumble grumble?" Or do they say, "hey, when is the chuck wagon coming by today?"

Captain Parmalee replies to the grumbling by stating that he will personally dismiss any Ranger who is found assisting a homesteader. This, of course, is a lead--obviously, one of the Rangers is going to assist one of the homesteaders.

Mrs. Coverly, with her wiley womanly ways, bats her pretty eyes of some or another color at Ranger Cooper and asks for his assistance with her father, who she suspects will be risking his life in the land rush. Major Donaldson intends to wear the uniform from his previous service with the Lancers as he makes his rush for a piece of land by the river. Cooper advises him to take the first piece of land he sees as the river plots are the most coveted, but Donaldson insists. The plot thickens...

Captain Parmalee tries to convince Smoot to start the race later, which would foil the plans of Smoot's men. They would ride into town to declare their ownership and discover the race didn't start yet. Smoot refuses to comply. "Take away his glasses and he couldn't tell the difference between the hind end of a camel and a horse," Captain says. Now there's a leading statement...

Without informing the Captain, the Rangers devise a plan to accidentally break Smoot's glasses, then tell him it is noon when it is actually 1 p.m., an hour later, thus buying time for the Captain's plan. Reese breaks Smoot's glasses then volunteers to assist him. When the first of the land grabbers arrive, the Rangers ride out to arrest them. Captain Parmalee tells the Rangers to return the flags and stakes to the land plots for the homesteaders. On the way, Sparr's boys knocks Riley unconscious. Surely, this will leave a brain injury of some kind.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Major Donaldson dresses in full uniform and lines up for the race. Much to the chagrin of the homesteaders, the race starts an hour later, as the Rangers planned. Donaldson rides out to a river plot, plants his stake, then passes out. Reese guides Mrs. Coverly and her wagon to the site and the Rangers help load Donaldson into the wagon.

Cooper, of course, changes clothes with Donaldson, donning his uniform, then starts back to town to register the land, thus aiding one of the homesteaders against the Captain's orders. Sparr's men spot him and knock him to the ground, unconscious. Riley, Reese and Cooper finally meet up and return to town. Reese assists Smoot in documenting the land ownership. Smoot tries to identify Major Donaldson, but all he can see without his glasses is the uniform, which of course is worn by Cooper. Ownership is approved and Donaldson, Coverly, and her precocious little boy have their land by the river.

The last of the Land Grabbers ride in to town. Captain Parmalee raises questions about their actions based on the fact that their horses are not sweating. Smoot agrees, and they lose their land. Cooper says goodbye to Major Donaldson, Mrs. Coverly and the boy, and promises to return often to visit the lovely Mrs. Coverly. As the men ride out of town, Captain Parmalee makes suspicious comments, revealing that he is well aware of the actions of his "boys," breaking Smoot's glasses and assisting in Donaldson's grab for a piece of land.


As I said, if I had any criticism of this show, it would be focused on the plot/story line, which is where my criticism of short-run television shows generally falls anyway.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Victoria Barkley and her Green Eye Shadow--Update

Barbara Stanwyck, Ziegfeld girl. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston, ca. 1924. 

Edited: This post was originally written five years ago and I'm working on a new post about Barbara Stanwyck. However, a reader asked why actress Barbara Stanwyck always wore high-neck shirts and dresses.

And the answer is (drum roll please) she didn't! In fact, as you can see from the photo above, Barbara Stanwyck was not afraid to show some skin when she was younger. She started out as a chorus girl and worked for Ziegfeld Follies during 1922 and 1923.

I suspect that she wore turtlenecks when she was older for the same reason many older women wear turtlenecks--it is fairly easy to purchase creams and lotions and makeup that hides wrinkles on your face, but nearly impossible to hide the aging of your neck. This applies to both women and men. I also believe this is why Diane Keaton is always seen in a turtleneck. In fact, Jack Nicholson, her costar in Somethings Gotta Give, teases Keaton accuses Keaton's character of being afraid of aging and trying to hide her age by wearing turtlenecks. 

However, this post will remain as is and I will add another later about  Barbara Stanwyck (A.K.A. Ruby Catherine Stevens) and her career. Stanwyck was a skilled actress and beautiful woman and deserves more than a cheap tease about her eyeshadow. She was nominated for four Academy Awards, won three Emmys. Stanwyck also received an Honorary Oscar at the 1982 Academy Award ceremony and many other awards for her acting career.

In a way, this is meant as an apology to Ms. Stanwyck for this semi-disrespectful post, but the apology will come later when I finish the post about her career. Until then, let me just say that Barbara Stanwyck was skilled, talented, lovely--and appeared often without turtlenecks or high-collar blouses!

From 3/28/2013

Victoria and her Green Eyeshadow


Barbara Stanwyck and Adam West from an episode of The Big Valley.
(It's difficult to see her green eye shadow in a black and white photo, but it's there, I promise.) 

I first started watching The Big Valley as a child and I've never grown tired of the show. The Big Valley ran from September of 1965 to May of 1969. Not long when you consider other shows, like Bonanza, and Gunsmoke, ran for nearly twenty years. The Big Valley was under-appreciated as far as I'm concerned. Interesting, believable story lines and talented actors made it appealing to all age groups.

Barbara Stanwyck, (made famous by her excessive use of green eye shadow) stars as the family matriarch, Victoria Barkley. She has one daughter and four sons, including one, Heath, who her late husband fathered when he experienced a brief spell of amnesia and forgot he was married. (Okay, most of the story lines are believable.)

Victoria's daughter, Audra, is played by Linda Evans. Audra is a bit spoiled in the beginning of the show, but later becomes obsessed with funding an orphanage in nearby Stockton, which seems to draw her into maturity. Audra is often the victim of foul play, which is a great excuse for her over-protective brothers to come to the rescue. (Okay, let's say many of the story lines are believable.)

In the real world, Evans' appearances on The Big Valley were limited at first as she wanted to spend more time with her new husband, John Derek. Linda Evans later became even more famous as Krystal Carrington in the night time soap opera Dynasty. Remember Krystal? She had one of those winged haircuts made famous by Farrah Fawcett, who later married--you guessed it! Lee Majors, who starred as Heath in The Big Valley! Hollywood is one big circle.

As for the "boys" (no matter what their age, they are always referred to as "boys" in Westerns) the youngest son, Eugene, is rarely seen as he was away at college. Eugene was played by Charles Briles, who was actually a medical student studying at Berkeley.

Next in line is Heath (Lee Majors). Heath is a strange duck in this show. I suspect that Majors' was trying to portray him as reserved, cautious, with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but to me he has the personality of a stick stuck in the mud, albeit a handsome stick in the mud. He is rarely attracted to women and often pushes them away when they are attracted to him.

When Heath first appeared at the ranch, he was rejected by Nick, but eventually, all of the family members accepted him. Mother Victoria seemed to instinctively know he was the son of her late husband. She took him under her wing and pampered him like a mother bird. Soon, he too was calling Victoria mother. (Okay, I lied. Very few of the story lines are believable, but who cares. It's a western, and westerns are always fun!)

The middle son is Nick. Nick is one of my favorite characters in the show. He is played by Peter Breck, who I believe was more handsome than Lee Majors. Breck portrays his character as feisty, hot-tempered, and always dressed in leather vests and black gloves. Breck tended to overplay the part. Nick was a bit excessive, it's true. I would guess he was more comfortable on stage. I think he's great, though. He's interesting, and fun to watch in his excess!

Jarrod Thomas Barkley is the oldest. He is also appealing as the logical and reasonable oldest child. Jarrod is played by Richard Long, and impressively well-played. Longs' performance is everything you would expect from the oldest son, a lawyer, who loves his family and watches over their every need. Richard Long was a great actor who died of a heart attack at the shockingly young age of 47.

The Cast of The Big Valley, from left to right, bottom row to top: Linda Evans, Barbara Stanwyck, Heath Majors, Peter Breck and Richard Long. 
Charles Briles, who was rarely seen in the show, is not pictured.

This brings us back to Mother, Victoria. Now, I'm not trying to be critical here. I believe Barbara Stanwyck is a fine actress, but she does have this one quirky behavior in the show--she is always wearing green eye shadow. It doesn't matter what color her clothing is--turquoise, midnight blue, purple--her eye shadow is always green. When you watch back to back shows for hours on end, as I do on my writing days, you begin to notice these things.

Even now, for instance, as I glance up at the screen, I see her in a beautiful tangerine suit dress with dark orange lapels and a soft orange scarf tied demurely about her neck and tucked into the cleavage. Her hair is meticulously styled. Her manners are everything you would expect from a wealthy community leader...and her eye shadow is that odd, drab shade of green.

At this point, you may suspect that The Big Valley was cancelled due to Victoria Barkley's excessive use of green eye shadow. Not so! The green eye shadow is my personal issue. Sadly, this wonderful Western was cancelled simply because it was 1969, a time of great turmoil in America, and Americans wanted situation comedies to ease their aching hearts from the pain of Vietnam. I suspect that if it had started ten years earlier, The Big Valley would have had a much longer run. Stay tuned...