Saturday, March 30, 2013

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

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.

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

Laredo: The Land Grabbers

Today we are watching Laredo with Captain Parmalee and his Texas Rangers. Action and humor with three fictitious Texas Rangers--what more could a cowgirl want on a lazy winter afternoon?

This series had an all-star cast, 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.

Veteran actor Philip Carey played Captain Parmalee in Laredo.

The series was directed by Irving J. Moore, et al, and produced by Universal Studios for NBC. Unfortunately, it only lasted from September 16, 1965 to April 7, 1967. I suspect it was yet another victim of the dwindling interest in westerns.

The cancellation of this show is a bit surprising as it is a combination western/comedy, and comedies are always popular, as are shows about the Texas Rangers, though this show focused more on the characters than the Rangers organization. The show also had frequent guest appearance from stars such as Kurt Russell.

If I had any criticism of this show, it would be focused on the plot/story line, which is where my criticism generally falls. The actors are all pros, and as I stated before, visually appealing, as well. Although Neville Brand's voice is grating, this is also part of his appeal as a comedic actor--laughing at the tough guy in the bunch. His co-stars, Brown and Smith,are handsome, muscular, and often shown without shirts. Between the Texas Rangers theme and the shirtless hunks, the show should have covered a wide audience comprised of men and women.

In today's episode, "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.

I am now interrupting this program to point out that many of the land grabbers and homesteaders are shown with donkeys. As I watch these western television shows and films, I notice that every last one includes donkeys in an obvious attempt toward realism. There is an interesting controversy brewing in Texas right now, a debate as to whether or not donkeys, or wild burros, are an exotic animal since they were first brought to what is now the American West and Southwest by the Spaniards in the 1600s. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department claims they are an exotic species, so they have issued an extermination order for these wonderful creatures that have served miners, pioneers, and farmers for hundreds of years. The Wild Burro Protection League has more information.

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. That Captain--he knows everything! Stay tuned...

James Arness played the popular sheriff Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.

"Now let me tell you something, Sommers. 
It's my job to keep the peace in this town and I'll do it, 
but I'll do it my own way." 
--Matt Dillon (James Arness) 

Westerns Staging a Comeback on Prime Time Television

According to an August 30, 2011 announcement on The Hollywood Reporter, Ron Moore, the Executive Producer of Battlestar Galactica and Mathew Roberts, writer for the televisions series Caprica, have sold a new Western, Hangtown, to ABC. Ron Moore will produce the show.

Hangtown will have classic Western themes, such as the frontier town coping with the good and bad aspects of railroad expansion in the early 1900s. However, it will also reflect Roberts' fascination with the future as well as his creative touch with a doctor who uses emerging forensic techniques to solve crimes and a town Marshal who uses intuition. There will also be a strong female character who writes about crime.

James Arness played Matt Dillon in the Western phenomenon Gunsmoke.

Hangtown is not the only Western in the works for prime time television. The team from the recently-cancelled Friday Night Lights--a Texas favorite filmed in Austin--Peter Berg and Liz Heldens recently sold a Western with a female perspective to NBC. David Zabel sold Gunslinger to ABC and Jame Mangold's Ralph Lamb , a modern Western about a cowboy-turned-sheriff, is with CBS.

It will be interesting to see if any of these new shows can live up to the long-running and very popular example set by the classics, such as Gunsmoke, starring James Arness, which ran from 1955 to 1975; or Bonanza, starring Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon and Dan Blocker, which ran from 1959 to 1973. There were many great classic television Westerns, such as The Virginian (1962-1971); Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963); and Death Valley Days (1952-1975). I doubt that anything new could ever replace the love we have for the classics, but I am excited to see the new crop of Westerns and will certainly give them a fighting chance to win me over!

The Monkees: Saturday Morning Cartoons

The Monkees! 
From left to Right--Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith.

When I was a child, my sisters and I spent every Saturday morning fighting over the best seat on the couch and watching cartoons. When the cartoons were over, we would play outside until it grew too hot, then we would dart back into the living room to resume our battle for the couch, finally settling down just before the start of our favorites show--reruns of The Monkees.

The Monkees was a comedy that ran from 1966 to 1968, but CBS aired the show as reruns on Saturday afternoon from September 1969 to September 1972. It was then picked up by ABC and ran from September 1972 to August 1973.

The Monkees followed the lives of four young rock musicians who lived in a beach house in California, shared a Pontiac GTO, and seemed to spend a tremendous amount of time running from young women.

The Monkees! 
Advertisement from Billboard Magazine/Public Domain.

My oldest sister had a crush on Davy Jones, the British singer. I liked Michael Nesmith, the guitarist, and my little sister was torn between Peter Tork, who also played guitar, and Micky Dolenz, the drummer, though I think she tended to favor Peter Tork as Micky Dolenz was the wild man of the bunch. Apparently, Dolenz was not a professional drummer. There were too many guitarists in the band, so he was assigned to the drums and provided with a teacher. As kids, we could never tell. We thought he played just fine.

Sometimes we played the Dating Game and pretended Davy Jones had to choose between one of us. Of course, my older sister always won. The board game, Mystery Date, was released the year before The Monkees became popular, in 1965, and of course we pretended The Monkees were the mystery dates. There was a formal date, who we pretended was Davy Jones, a skiing date, who we made Michael Nesmith, a bowling date, who seemed perfect for Micky Dolenz for some reason, and Peter Tork was the beach date, since we all decided he had a surfer personality.

I had a square, metal lunch box with a picture of The Monkees on it, but the school bully beat me up and stole it. I was heartbroken. However, my older sister, the only one of us with a record player, had all of their records and we often listened to the records and danced after the show. I had many favorite songs, including The Last Train to Clarksville, and I'm A Believer, but my favorite was I'm Not Your Stepping Stone.

I think, looking back, what surprises me the most was how young we were at the time--we were all pre-teens--but the show did appeal to a young audience. It was, well, goofy.

I believe The Monkees would be considered what is now called a "boy band," a pop rock group brought together, not on their own, but by two producers, Robert Rafelson and Bert Schneider, just for the show. The music was supervised by Don Kirshner, who also managed The Archies, another of our Saturday morning rerun, and always my favorite comic book.

Eventually, the members of The Monkees were supervising their own group and touring as a band. I watched a documentary on the band once that said, over the years, the group sold over 50 million records! I'm not surprised. I do believe the music was good, even if they were considered a pop band. The show was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.

After the first season of The Monkees, drastic changes were made, primarily because the band members had become so popular that they were each demanding more attention, and rebelling against Don Kirshner. They eliminated the canned laughter, which never bothered us. Most children don't mind canned laughter, but I suspect, in a way, that the group was trying for an older audience.

The second season was more of a variety show. I suspect the members of the band were perhaps trying to become a cross between The Beatles and Laugh-In. They later made a movie called Head, produced by actor Jack Nicholson, but I was much older before I watched this film, and it was drastically different from the show my sisters and I loved as kids. In short: I didn't like it. Apparently, the movie eventually became a cult film, though.

Peter Tork was the first to leave the band in 1969, but by then, the show was already cancelled. Nevertheless, my sisters and I were heartbroken, particularly my little sister, who no longer had a choice and had to date Micky Dolenz during our Mystery Date games. Micky Dolenz was handsome, and had an amazing voice, but I think she liked the fact that she had two dates to choose from.

Michael Nesmith left next and joined another band. He is now considered one of the pioneers of Country Rock. Michael Nesmith and the First National Band made three records for RCA. Nesmith was eventually awarded the first Grammy Award for Video of the Year for Elephant Parts. He later had a short-lived variety show for NBC called Television Parts, where a few big-names got their start, such as Whoopi Goldberg and Jay Leno. It didn't last long, but I thought he was, of course, amazing, just as I remembered on our Mystery Date!

A marathon of The Monkees aired in 1986 on MTV and brought about a Monkees revival, which greatly increased their record sales. They are now considered one of the great pop bands, but to my sisters and I, they will always be our Mystery Dates.