Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DVR-TiVo-Or whatever recording device strikes your fancy-alert!

Encore Westerns has a pair of reruns coming up in their Classic TV Westerns rotation tomorrow that might be of interest to fans of both the Lawman and Gunsmoke series because they introduce new regulars to the shows—one of which stayed for the rest of the show’s run and the other who wasn’t quite as fortunate.  First up, B-movie queen Peggie Castle joins Lawman as Lily Merrill, proprietress of Laramie’s Birdcage Saloon, in an episode appropriately titled “Lily.”  Lily’s arrival in town is not entirely welcomed by Marshal Dan Troop (John Russell), who believes that an establishment like hers will jeopardize his peacekeeping mission…and when a crooked gambler played by Ray Danton kills a customer outside in the Birdcage’s alley it looks as if Merrill’s going to have to relocate in a hurry.  But hey—it all works out in twenty-five minutes, and Troop (who at one point is referred to by Lily as “The Great Stone Face”) begins to soften up…which is good for him, because she’s pretty much going to be his girlfriend for the remaining three seasons Lawman was on the air.

When Lawman first premiered in the fall of 1958, the Troop character sort of made time with a woman named Dru Lemp (Bek Nelson), who ran the town café…but what I did not know (since I missed the first ten episodes when Lawman came to Encore Westerns) was that Dru was the widow of the man who marshaled Laramie before Troop—which kind of makes Danny Boy a bit of a hound, to be honest.  But I guess the romance between the Widder Lemp and Troop wasn’t going anywhere (Dru was sweet but a bit colorless) because she soon disappeared; Troop then flirted in a couple of episodes (well, “flirting” is sort of a generous use of the word because Dan Troop really had a stick up his butt when it came to the romance thing) with Julie Tate (Barbara Lang), the editor of the town newspaper.  Julie was introduced in an episode entitled “The Big Hat” which is kind of a sad outing in that in order to bring in her character they had to kill off the previous editor in her dad Harry (Jon Lormer)—a likable guy who was also Troop’s most vocal advocate, not to mention a lot more interesting than his daughter.

With the arrival of Lily the town’s previous watering hole, the Blue Bonnet, sort of receded into the background (and that also signaled the departure of its proprietor, a jovial cuss named “Hank” who was played by character great Emory Parnell) and the man who tended bar at the Birdcage was a feisty Irishman named Timmo McQueen (Clancy Cooper) who appeared in a number of episodes and even had one built around him in which he must face the fact that his son Mark is a bit of an evildoer (“The Prodigal”).  Timmo is introduced in the first minutes of “Lily” talking to a trapper character…

…and because I wasn’t aware of it the first time I watched the actor playing the trapper (“Barney Tate”—no relation to Julie or Harry) is actor Dan Sheridan…who takes over as Lily’s bartender, Jake Summers, in Lawman’s third and fourth seasons.  Sheridan was a busy beaver on the Warner Brothers TV lot; you’ll spot his bald cranium in episodes of Cheyenne, Maverick (he’s the doc in the classic “Duel at Sundown”), The Rebel, etc. and in addition to his non-Jake appearance in this episode he was in an earlier Lawman outing entitled “The Senator.”

The addition of the Lily character might not have done much for Marshal Dan Troop’s love life—his romance with Merrill was as chaste as the twenty-year hookup between Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell on Gunsmoke—but it did lighten the somewhat previously somber tone of the series; many of the later episodes adopted a lighter, comedic flair and Castle’s character got to warble a barroom ballad from time to time.  What’s interesting about Castle’s first appearance in this episode is that even though her character becomes a regular and the gambler played by Ray Danton draws his rations by the end of the episode…

…he gets billed before her in the credits.  (He really is a wanker!)  You can watch “Lily” tomorrow (March 30) on Encore Westerns at 9am EDT on Lawman.

Later that day, the titular character of the Gunsmoke episode “Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood” comes to Dodge City in search of four drovers—whose leader is an uncompromisingly nasty Jack Elam, who appeared in so many Gunsmoke episodes (the IMDB credits him with fifteen) he practically got his mail there—who are indirectly responsible for the death of his father (Paul Fix), a retired Tulsa, OK lawman who was living out in retirement running a general store and being paid $5 a month to keep the peace in a town so small the all-night café closes at 3pm.  Young Greenwood (his last name is sort of a tip-off) is a bit of a novice when it comes to law enforcement because Dodge’s resident peacekeeper (James Arness) informs the youngster that the warrant for the quartet (filled out by his pa before he kicked it) is not enforceable in Kansas; so Thad starts to shadow the four bad men, constantly watching their every move in an effort to psyche them out.  Because the drovers are involved in a bit of cattle rustling (they’re swiping calves by staging a series of attacks that look as if they’re being carried out by wolves but are in actually a pack of trained killer dogs) they are swiftly dealt with by Dillon and by the end of the episode Matt offers Thad a job as part-time deputy (at the generous salary of $8 a month…which is a king’s ransom compared to the $1 a month he was making as his old man’s sidekick).

Playing the part of Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood is actor Roger Ewing, who even though he’s trumpeted in these credits as “introducing” was no stranger to the veteran TV oater—he appeared in an episode the previous season entitled “Song for Dying.”  The character of Thad was brought in because Dillon’s previous second-string deputy, half-breed blacksmith Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds), left the show after three seasons (Gunsmoke fans know, of course, that Quint was introduced as a part-time substitute for Dennis Weaver’s Chester Goode).  The Thad Greenwood character was a boyish, heartthrob addition to Dodge but he wasn’t a particularly interesting or memorable presence (my Dad and I were watching a Gunsmoke rerun on TVLand one afternoon and when he saw Ewing in the credits asked: “Who the hell is that?”) and so he left in the fall of 1967, replaced by Buck Taylor’s Newly O’Brien…who had a great deal more staying power in that he not only finished out the series’ lengthy run (it might have helped that Newly had a regular job in town, as Dodge’s gunsmith) but got to be Dodge City’s marshal in the 1987 reunion movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.  (Thad is on hand for the third episode of Gunsmoke’s thirteenth season, “The Prodigal,” but that’s because that outing had been filmed the season before.)  I liked Thad but I admit he didn’t bring much to the table as far as the show went…though he does do some funny physical comedy in one of my favorite Gunsmoke episodes, “Which Dr.”  You can see how it all began on Encore Westerns tomorrow (again, March 30th) at 7:06pm (approximately) EDT.

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Yvette said...

I had the biggest crush on John Russell so I watched LAWMAN religously. I still say that Russell was one of the handsomest men I've ever seen. Those cheekbones could cut steel.

I loved him as the Indian chief in YELLOWSTONE KELLY...sigh!

Anyway, thanks for posting this, Ivan. Great stuff.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Yvette, before I caught Lawman my familiarity with Russell was primarily as a bad guy in movies like Untamed Youth (his romance with one of my OTR heroines, Lurene Tuttle, still gives me a bit of an "ick" factor), Rio Bravo, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pale Rider. (Okay, he played a good guy in Jason of Star Command but he was covered in blue makeup most of the time so even then he looked scary.) It's fantabulous that Encore Westerns resurrected Lawman because it really is a great TV western -- I love the father-son relationship between Russell and Peter Brown, one of the few sheriff-deputy deals where the deputy's not just a comic sidekick.

I asked my Mom if she ever watched Lawman when she was a young'un and she told me she hated it. (I'm still not discounting the theory that I may have been adopted.)