I woke up this morning - a good thing - and logged onto the NY Times. Shortly thereafter I found out that the star of my all time favorite western had passed away yesterday at the age of 86. This is not an obituary. There are plenty of those on-line. It's a post of mine from 5 years ago on the TV series Maverick.
February 23, 2009
Maverick - a western with a sense of humor
My favorite western television series of all time is Maverick. I remember watching it as a kid on Sunday nights. To my knowledge, Maverick reruns haven't been shown in quite a while. My wife discovered that they are on Direct TV channel 529 which is Encore Westerns here in Nashville. The shows air Monday through Friday at 5 and 6 pm central time so I've been tuning in whenever possible or recording them. Watching this show again, from the opening theme song to the credits, was kind of like meeting an old friend again and feeling immediately comfortable. I have always thought of Maverick as a comedy western. Even the more dramatic episodes often have comic elements. After being extremely disappointed with several new western movies in the last few years, watching Maverick again has been a really pleasant experience. The episodes are shown without commercials, just a brief pause where each commercial break had originally been, so the running time is about 45 minutes. The series was in black & white. That reminds me - when my kids were young, the first time they saw one of the old black & white shows they thought the TV set was broken.
My favorite Maverick episodes are the ones with James Garner as Bret Maverick however the shows with Jack Kelly as brother Bart Maverick are also very good. The Maverick boys were reluctant heroes. They were gambling men who generally did all they could to avoid work or trouble - but the latter invariably found them. As the theme song said they were "livin' on jacks and queens" .. "luck is the lady that they love the best". The "villains" were sometimes con men such as Dandy Jim Buckley, a recurring role brilliantly played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who is more famous for starring in The FBI TV series. The Maverick episodes he appeared in were downright hilarious. (According to www.deadoraliveinfo.com, Mr. Z recently turned 90 and Mr. Garner is 80 however Mr.Kelly died in 1992.)
I like it that the credits on these Encore Westerns are shown at normal speed. So many TV reruns whip through the credits so fast that you can barely read anything. I like to see the names of all the actors in these shows to see if anyone appeared who later became famous as well as to identify character actors who I've seen in many shows over the years but can almost never recall their names. Looking at the credits for one of the Maverick episodes the other day, I happened to see that one of the writers was Elmer Kelton, a famous author of western novels such as "The Day the Cowboys Quit" and "The Time It Never Rained". I've read and highly enjoyed nine of Mr. Kelton's books. I usually don't look to see who the writers are on TV shows but maybe now I will.
I watched many other westerns as a kid. The Statler Brothers' song "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott" mentions a lot of the really old westerns, Roy and Gene and Tex Ritter and even some that few probably remember today such as Lash Larue (the guy with the whip), Johnny Mack Brown and Smiley Burnette. My family's regular viewing included Roy, Gene and Hoppy, the Cisco Kid, Cheyenne (my mother's favorite), Sugarfoot and Bronco Lane, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickock, Lawman, The Rifleman, Broken Arrow, Annie Oakley, Elfego Baca, the High Chaparral, The Rebel, Bonanza and probably more I can't remember right now. The most notable exception to our western watching was Have Gun, Will Travel. Don't remember why we didn't watch it. Knowing the shows appearing in the same time slot would probably answer my question. What are your favorite westerns?