At the start of its 1960-61 season, the TV western Maverick was having to cope with the loss of its star, James Garner, who had quit the series after a messy contract dispute with Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the program. The show’s producers added another Maverick to the family to help out co-star Jack Kelly (Bart Maverick, who now became the show’s star) in the form of future Simon Templar-James Bond Roger Moore, who played the Maverick brothers’ British cousin, Beau—he would be introduced in the fourth season’s opener “The Bundle from Britain” (09/18/60).
But it’s the second show from that season that I’m drawing attention to—one which is scheduled to air tomorrow on the Encore Westerns channel at 8:00am EST. In “Hadley’s Hunters” (09/25/60), Bart runs afoul of a rogue sheriff played by Edgar “Uncle Joe” Buchanan (and future Academy Award-winner George Kennedy plays his deputy) who’s running a lucrative racket hunting down innocent men by claiming they’re outlaws and cashing in on the reward. Midway through the episode, Bart is informed that unless he locates a man whom he inadvertently let escape, he’s going to have to take his place. (The “outlaw,” by the way, is played by actor Brent Colbert—who would later turn up as brother Brent [and James Garner clone] in a pair of episodes toward the end of this season before disappearing into the same televisual void that claimed the likes of Davey Gillis, Eugene Barkley, etc.)
In hunting down the wanted man, Bart tries to enlist the assistance of marshal Dan Troop (John Russell) and deputy Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) from Lawman; Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker), Bronco Layne (Ty Hardin) and Tom Brewster (Will Hutchins) from Sugarfoot—none of which are of any real help. There’s also a quick reference to Warner Brothers’ other hit western, Colt .45 (which had been only recently been cancelled) and a funny bit from an actor who was prominently featured on 77 Sunset Strip, constantly combing his hair. (You get three guesses…and the first two don’t count.)
It’s the cameos from these Warner’s westerns stars that make “Hadley’s” a fun watch; those of you who follow this blog on occasion know that while I remain a James Garner partisan when it comes to Maverick Jack Kelly could be equally effective, and this is one of my favorite Bart escapades. (I think the reason why I’m not 100% in Kelly’s corner is because when I first got the opportunity to see the show in reruns after years of aching to see it, it always seemed to be a Bart repeat.) But I’ve changed my opinion on Kelly, who in later years proved that he was a real class act—he used to always remind interviewers: “Garner was Maverick—I was just his brother.” (And he was still one of the best things in that 1991 TV-movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw.)