Before He Was James Bond and Lord Sinclair, He Was a MaverickA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
Warner Archives have come fast and furious with the release of new Maverick DVDs! As I write this piece, the company has just let fans have access to the fifth season of the series, the one that probably was seen by the least amount of people. I am not sure if these episodes were a part of the syndication package, but certainly people not familiar with the show aren't aware of all the behind-the-scenes and complex lawsuits that affected what was seen on screen.
Plus, as television came into its second decade as a central part of American households, many changes were starting to happen in the medium. Jack Warner had set into motion a process and style at Warner Brothers that would culminate in changing how business worked in TV land.
As Maverick began its fourth year, Jack Warner's dismissive attitude about television as the 1950s started would cost him and his brothers as they entered the 1960s. Losing creators such as Roy Huggins only meant he would go to a competitive company and create another hit -- The Fugitive -- for someone else.
Jack Warner had a disdainful treatment of writers -- he determined no writer would have any copyright claim to a character and/or series he or she created. As well, his dismissive attitude extended to many actors under Warner's demanding contracts. Warner has been quoted as saying he made the actors famous, as if they were ingrates for being upset at the eyebrow-lifting surprise at their low wages as many of Warner's early TV series struck ratings gold!
The company's move into the television arena was a bonanza that Jack Warner, who despised television in general in the early '50s, could not have foreseen. Warners, along with Disney, helped make ABC a real contender as the Third Network channel. That's in the days when there were scarcely more than three channels in most cities.
Yes, I know. That's hard to conceive in these current days of hundreds of channels, and streaming and DVR and so many other options.
When the performers had to pay Warners even when they made personal appearances, many were angry and ready to fight. Clint Walker, Robert Conrad and James Garner were starring in shows that helped Warner Brothers place four series in the Top 20 programs during the 1950s.
The fuse had already been lit by the time a writer's strike hit the entertainment industry, and Jack Warner told the stars that they were all on suspension without pay because they did not have scripts to film. This wasn't totally true, since pseudonymous producers that were also writers wrote under W. Hermanos, Spanish for Warner Brothers.
I told you it was complex.
As the fourth year started on Maverick began, James Garner had taken Warners to court, suing them for breach of contract. This was in a time period when there were normally over 30 episodes done in a season, not 22 as we have now, and his TV brother Jack Kelly was left brotherless -- which would mean he had to gamble and connive and survive each and every week.
Bret Maverick (James Bumgarner, Garner's birth name) was in a courtroom showdown against Warners. Even Bette Davis had lost her legal battle against the big Hollywood studio. How could an upstart young TV actor think he had a snowball's chance in hell of winning?
Still, the show had to go on, and Garner wasn't going willingly. So William T. Orr, the overseer of Warner's television invasion had to make the old adage true.
The solution was to introduce a cousin. Cousin Beau Maverick.
Enter Roger Moore, as a cousin raised in Britain, whom audiences had never heard of before.
Roger Moore became a Maverick in the opening episode of the fourth season, "A Bundle from Britain", on September 18, 1960.
It would just be a little over a decade before Moore became James Bond. By the time I was working in editorial at Marvel Comics, and in the midst of writing "Panther's Rage" and "Killraven", I also wrote some articles on films for Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.
Many people know I loved James Bond long before there were the films with Sean Connery, from reading Ian Fleming's novels even before Moore became a Maverick. Readers of the reviews I wrote on the film versions of Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun know how I felt about the Moore Bond films. I could not believe the kid from Rhode Island would get to attend advance screenings of 007 movies. Ironically, they were Bond films that drove me totally crazy!
For those interested, at least one of these pieces is up on the Internet. Maybe everything is, if you know where to look. You can read the piece here.
The role I always felt Roger Moore was born to play was Lord Brett Sinclair opposite to Tony Curtis' Danny Wilde in the 1971 TV series The Persuaders. Roger and Tony played perfectly off each other; Roger reserved, Tony as if he were on methamphetamines. On top of that you had a John Barry TV theme song. That's a great icing on the cake.
I can't recall how many of the Roger Moore Mavericks I saw at the time they aired, if any. I was certainly aware throughout the years that Moore had been in the series, but I did not have the chance to catch up with Maverick until video tape came along, and then I would have seen mostly the James Garner or Jack Kelly episodes.
The Mavericks have a few things in common with James Bond: both take card games seriously and both enjoy the company of women. The Mavericks, as a rule, don't like to fight, and certainly would not accept any damn license to kill.
Most times, the personalities of the Mavericks are laid back, and that suits Roger Moore fine. He's certainly believable as a Maverick, except for the fact that no one has made mention of him in the previous three years, which takes getting used to, and is now os the prime center of attention whenever Bart refers to a relative. It's as if he forgot he had a brother named Bret.
It should be noted before I charge into the individual episodes of the fourth season, that with Moore or without, Maverick always had a formidable goal to try to achieve.
The challenge that Maverick had to meet week after week is: How to be Maverick?
Even with James Garner, it was not easy living up to the unique tone and spirit of Maverick.
"Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" from season two is one of the quintessential Mavericks. Bret never moves from the chair he sits in, whittling on a piece of wood, continually asked by the banker who robbed him if he is closer to getting his money back, with Bret cheerfully responding, "I'm working on it."
This easygoing charm, with con games within con games, with a glint of humor and larceny in its eye, and with its frequent lack of willingness to rush into heroism, is a tricky hand to play. Even with James Garner's ease and winning smile, if the script doesn't give him the right cards, that is not going to happen.
You also cannot play the same hand over and over again. You have to be careful not to lose the series's wanderlust heart.
One of the ways to come at this challenge was to do something not done on other dramatic series, namely do parodies of other shows. Maverick could shuffle the deck from whirling con games to having a great deal of fun with series like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Mentions would be made of other westerns, such as Have Gun, Will Travel and Wanted: Dead or Alive that never would have found their way into shows from other companies. Warners was even willing to do such mentions of other shows in their private eye series. For example, 77 Sunset Strip would acknowledge that Peter Gunn existed, extremely rare in this timeframe.
Maverick – season four, volumes one and two have the same consistent quality of image and presentation of all the 1950s and early 1960s Western series that Warner Archive Collection have released on DVD in this timeframe, from Maverick to Cheyenne to Sugarfoot. The only thing missing are the bumpers within the shows and the trailers for next week's episodes, but the episodes themselves are superb in contrast, capturing much of the evocative black and white cinematography.
The fourth season of Maverick has a number of decent stories, and perhaps gives a better appreciation of Jack Kelly's acting to those who thought the whole show was James Garner. He does a fine job with Bart; he just isn't Bret, and he shouldn't be.
The challenge I wrote about above is shown in glimpses -- within episodes, sometimes in the lighter toned stories with more than a glimpse, but more often, there just as a sequence of shots, or maybe just as a single close-up to capture that spark of TV episodic anarchy.
Roger Moore has talked about an origin script for Cousin Beau in Ed Robertson’s book on Maverick: Legend of the West that explains how he became an accidental hero during the Civil War and was banished to England exile by Bart and Bret’s father.
The origin was never filmed, and Beau’s introduction is reduced to a few lines when he and Bart first meet. Jack Kelly and Roger share the unfolding story of con games involving mistaken identities, false impersonations, a little dalliance with a woman, because what’s life without some romance.
The story takes some time to get going, though it wastes little time bringing Cousin Beau into the family fray, you’d think they’d been trading get rich quick schemes together for years.
Not bad for a cousin that the audience had never heard existed in three years.
In the second episode of season four, "Hadley's Hunters" did something rare in dramatic TV series of that time; they included crossover characters from other Warner Brothers series. Bringing in Cheyenne and Sugarfoot and other Western stars was something done in comics, quite often in Marvel Comics during the 1960s. Even when the other heroes appeared in cameos, it was often remembered fondly by fans.
Bart has a ticking timeframe to find a supposed criminal before the sheriff of the era sends bounty hunters out to bring him back, dead or alive.
In Bart's frantic race to find Cherokee Dan Evans he questions everyone he meets, including Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, and the stars of Lawman, Dan Troop and his deputy, Johnny McKay. The one cameo that brings a smile to Warner TV series fans of the time period is Edd "Kookie" Brynes from 77 Sunset Strip. Sunset Strip takes place in the 1950s, and Kookie is the parking lot attendant at Dino's, where private eyes Stuart Bailey and Jeff Spencer hang their address. Kookie was so noted for combing his hair and supposed hip talk, that Warners even had Byrnes and Connie Stevens sing a duo together called "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb."
The gag in Maverick shows Edd Byrnes from the back, combing a horse's mane. When Bart strikes out again at finding where his prey is, the camera pans up as he rides away. The sign over the stable: 77 Cherokee Strip.
There is also reference made to Steve McQueen's Wanted Dead Or Alive, a non-Warner's Western. McQueen used a sawed-off holstered rifle. He could do a complete 360º circle with it, to cock and fire. In Maverick, it is called a Hog's Leg, and it doesn't work accurately, much to Bart's dismay.
Here are many of the Warner Western stars in a publicity still: Chris Colt (Wayde Preston) represented by cobwebs in Hadley's Hunters because he just walked off the set. Bronco Lane (Ty Hardin), Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly), Dan Troop (John Russell), Bret Maverick (James Garner), Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) and Will Hutchins as Sugarfoot.
In "The Town That Wasn't There", Beau goes it alone for the first time. He is riding on stagecoach that comes to a town that has vanished. Along with the disappearing ghost town, if a viewer missed the first episode, I wonder how many were puzzled by this guy they have never seen before being the lead of the story.
"Arizona Black Maria"
I truly have no idea why this episode has that title.
Alan Hale guest stars as a marshal taking prisoners by wagon through Indian Territory. Hale's father had been Little John in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn in 1939, but the younger Hale would best be remembered for taking care of his "little buddy" Gilligan just a few years down the line.
There is a running gag about an Indian who wants Bart's scalp. If it isn't Have Gun, Will Travel and a few others shows in that time frame, I'd just as soon they keep Native Americans playing Native Americans. That written, though, Maverick does take a few light-hearted jabs at Hollywood clichés, so it isn't all bad.
This episode is the best pairing of Jack Kelly and Roger Moore together.
Only wanting some sleep, they are continuously thwarted from getting any rest, sometimes at gun point, sometimes forced to play cards even when dozing, and especially when they learn the mining town that has no sleeping quarters due to a rich strike has a telegraph office that wires their money, not to St. Louis, but to a nearby cave where the bad guys have set up quarters to swindle miners and gamblers alike.
I'm not sure why bad guys always seem to prefer run-down shacks and drafty, abandoned mines while they are supposedly shaking down big bucks, but at least there is a fine fight sequence within the walls of the telegraph cavern.
Bart and Beau doing what Mavericks do best: Swindle the swindlers.
After all the swindling is done, finally there is money in the pocket, a quiet space in time, and the two cousins only want what they needed before it all started.
In a script by Leo Gordon, Bart is in New Orleans, ending up in the midst of the mafia, or the "black hand" as they are labeled here.
Leo was Big Mike McComb in the pilot episode of Maverick, "The War of the Silver Kings." Big Mike also helped Bret pull off his con on John Dehner in "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres."
He still acted throughout the decades, appearing in the TV series Wiseguy in the 1980s as a corrupt politician. Is there any other kind in fiction? Is fiction inspired by real life?
I don't understand why Leo wasn't in any of the fourth season Mavericks as an actor. Some familiar faces from the past would have helped smooth the way for the addition of Beau to the cast. But Leo becomes a scripter here, and for other Maverick episodes.
"A Bullet for the Teacher"
The first ten minutes of this Maverick harkens back to the fast pace of earlier seasons of the series and other hour long dramas from Warner in the mid-50s, when the rules of what could make it on to television and what couldn't were unclear. There is expedient storytelling setting up the plot, introducing the characters, establishing what the emotional stakes are.
Kathleen Crowley was in the first regular episode of 77 Sunset Strip, "Lovely Lady, Pity Me", seducing Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.'s Stuart Bailey in the best femme fatale fashion, all throaty voice and invasion of his space. Here she is trying to live down her seductive past, with Leo Gordon co-writing.
"The Witch of Hound Dog"
Wayde Preston appears in this episode, but not as Chris Colt of Colt .45. He is a suitor for a woman in a small Tennessee town who most people believe is a witch. Jack Kelly and Anita Sands, as the possibly spellbinding woman, have a good time with a silly premise.
Her first walk through town is filled with pratfalls and over the top reactions by the local townfolk, while Bart follows in her wake, bemusedly.
They get the joke, and pass it on to the audience.
"Thunder from the North"
In Warner series, the lead characters can end up anywhere.
This is Beau's first, maybe last time, to find himself in a cavalry fort. There is a feeling of déjà vu about this. It seems to me every time a Maverick enters a cavalry fort they end up accused of murder. Oh, and true to form, some white people are screwing over the Indians.
Everybody is waiting for Bret Maverick to appear in…
"The Maverick Line"
As this episode begins, Bret and Bart are travelling on a stagecoach they won in a poker game. Another truism their Pappy apparently did not tell them was that if they won anything but money -- a bar, a hacienda, a stage-line, whatever besides money -- like the Indians, they were bound to get screwed over.
Bret and Bart dig at each other just as if they haven't been apart the entire season. They do not mention their Cousin Beau once.
Wait! I know what you're thinking if you don't know anything about the Maverick series: How can Bret be back when James Garner is suing Warners (successfully about the time this episode airs) to get out of doing Maverick?
The answer is that "The Maverick Line" was filmed during the third season of the series. I have never read exactly why this episode was held up from airing. It somehow was connected with the lawsuit. For James Garner fans, if they have this set along with the previous season sets, they have every Bret Maverick episode complete.
It is also a fine example of James Garner and Jack Kelly together, with swindles and cons and repartee coming fast and sure.
Another plus for "The Maverick Line" is Buddy Ebsen (before his Beverly Hillbillies days) as a stagecoach robber, who robs the same stage on nearly every trip and always ends up with nothing. Bret and Bart learn this fact on their initial ride on the coach.
The stagecoach itself is under constant threat. At one point there is a time bomb planted aboard the coach, unbeknownst to Bret or Bart, or Ramsey Plum (Ebsen), who, true to form, comes to heist any loot from the stage.
Bart shouts encouragement and urgency to Bret. James Garner has to drive the two-up stage himself.
It all ends with a furious fight, with Bret konking one of the bad guys who has a bucket fall on his head on top of the metal bucket, with a Three Stooges sound effect, every time the villain tries to get out of a water trough.
"Bolt from the Blue"
The season has a streak of strong shows, next with Robert Altman (who was a big fan of Maverick) writing and directing an episode.
Cousin Beau helps a wounded old timer, Ebenezer Bolt, who manages to get them both with a rope around their necks, sitting on the same horse.
Character actor Tim Graham has a grand old time conniving and twisting the truth. One minute he's seemingly sorrowful, then the next he's ready to leave you to dangle from a tree -- especially if it gets him off that horseback.
Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot) shows up to persuade the murderous, lynching thirsting posse to go for a proper trial. A nice gag Altman includes is people trying to figure out who Will Hutchins's character is. He is trying his first case, Beau is sure he recognizes him. Toward the end, he is asked straight out if he is Sugarfoot.
"Never heard of Sugarfoot," he claims, quietly.
Altman leaves it up to the audience to decide whether he is or is not the "cowboy with a heart full of song."
Kathleen Crowley is back as the episode's title character, Kiz Bouchet, a socialite who delights in scandalizing the proper, upper-social-crust aristocrats.
The problem is that she claims someone is trying to murder her. Members of her family are positive she's mentally ill and must be institutionalized.
Crowley has a long, black wig for this role, and she relishes playing the outrageous flirt, smoking cigars, and slugging offensive braggarts.
Kiz does not let the men do all the fighting when it comes time to fight.
She is properly fearful when the fears of murder become more tangible.
The question that Beau has to answer is: Is this all in her head, or is she really a danger to herself?
Kathleen Crowley returns after only a few weeks episodes away, from a blonde, to a brunette. Is the throaty-voiced Kiz really crazy, or is someone trying to drive her insane, or is she right, someone is out to murder her?
So Kiz sets a barn afire when surrounded by murders or men who thing she is out of her mind.
Kiz does whatever it takes. Actually Kathleen Crowley often played roles in Warner TV shows that required in some form or other that she would do what a
Woman needs to do. Here, after setting fire to the place she is trapped in, she attacks her attackers. Go get 'em, Kathleen!
Which doesn't mean the attacks don't hit back. That's omewhat unusual on TV in the early 1960s.
Which doesn't stop Kiz? Whether fighting fire or fighting off men. Kathleen holds her own.
Who's sorry now, huh?
Who's next, suckers? Come on up and get yours!
"Dodge City or Bust"
Every time I see Diana Millay, I am always reminded of her playing the tipsy blonde who drinks martinis because she likes the olives in the I Spy episode "The Trouble with Temple". Carol Wayne is Temple in that episode, and Jack Cassidy is her abusive lover, and Diana's role is small compared to this Maverick where she plays the lead woman to Jack Kelly's Bart.
It's a fast-paced affair, with one of the rare horse-to-wagon transfers as Bart rides to rescue Diana Dangerfield (Millay). By this time there were less racing horses in films than there was in the '30s and '40s, and especially, the early '50s.
I once asked Boyd Majers of Western Clippings why there were so many fewer horse chases in Westerns during the 1970s, going into the 1980s. Boyd explained that the horses used in B-Westerns and serials, going into early television series like The Range Rider, were movie horses. They were around cameras all the time. Roy Rogers's horse Trigger knew when the crew were ready to film as soon as he heard the word "Action!" He sometimes would purposefully move out of Roy's way when Rogers was leaping for a stirrup.
I bring this up because this episode of Maverick opens with the only stage transfer in this DVD set. It could be the only one in the entire run. So, I thought we should visually represent it, even if it isn't in the class of Yakima Canutt or Davey Sharpe.
"The Bold Fenian Men"
Beau is forced to become a spy on the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, who have plans to invade Canada. This showcases the fact that Warners never limited themselves to where a story could go.
According to Jack Robertson in his book on Maverick, this is based on fact. There really was an Irish group coming out of the Civil War deciding that thought taking over Canada would force Britain to give Ireland its freedom. See what you can learn?
"A State of Siege"
This ends the first volume of Maverick – season four. Warner Archives is selling both volumes of season four together.
The second volume has some interesting stories. It also has the appearance of Brother Brent (Robert Colbert) as a THIRD Maverick brother.
There's another brother?
Brent only appears in two episodes. Warners dressed him almost exactly like Bret. Claims were made that they were not trying to fool the audience, but they sure put Colbert in an uncomfortable situation. He normally played a lot of bad guys for Warner television series.
Hey! If you are doing Westerns and Private Eyes, you need a lot of good bad guys.
Beau goes around whistling the Maverick theme song while he is the one getting conned.
Politics Maverick style.
This episode showcases how quickly Warners series could propel a story. Within ten minutes we have gone from a town rife with political agitation and ambition to Bart cutting ice in a glacial expanse, only to discover a corpse that has been frozen for years.
A mansion stands in monumental isolation and within its walls many of its inhabitants plan on killing somebody. Beau realizes any of them might also take him out permanently through their violent plans.
This episode has a really neat matte shot, as Beau and others ride up to Flood's Folly Mansion. That's not the kind of thing seen often on a TV series, outside of Disney's Zorro.
And the Mansion at night.
Montgomery Pittman wrote this episode for his daughter, Sherry Jackson, giving her a chance to act as an adult. Many child actors are never allowed to grow up, and Sherry had been a part of the Danny Thomas sitcom as Danny's daughter. Eventually, she would do a Playboy spread during the later 60s when she was in the Peter Gunn movie.
At this point in time, though, she was in a transition phase (better known these days as reinventing yourself). Montgomery Pittman put her in many of his Warner shows, including the 77 Sunset Strip episode "The Kookie Caper", where she and Edd Byrnes played off each other for comedic effect.
In "Red Dog", Pittman lets his daughter showcase some sexuality, but also showcase her dramatic impact as a young woman who is being verbally and violently abused. Here is Sherry snarling her line, "Beat me, will you?"
Montgomery Pittman was also one of the few writer/directors on Warner series who was allowed to do continuity on the shows. Will Hutchins had return engagements as his decidedly nogoodnik twin on Sugarfoot. On 77 Sunset Strip, Pittman was able to do a sequel to the episode "Downbeat, with Upbeat" a couple years later.
In "Red Dog", the gathered group who plan a daring cowboy caper learn one of their key players has been killed by Dan Troop aka The Lawman.
"The Devil's Necklace" – Parts 1 & 2
In the only two-part episode of the series, Bart is back in a cavalry fort and he has been framed for murder by Luther Cannonbaugh (John Dehner). John Dehner was in everything around this time. He brings a lot of idiosyncrasy and gallows humor to the role. Steve Brodie, who was in some film noirs, plays a husband who seems like he is in a Noir in a cavalry soldier's uniform, given his penchant for backstabbing – literally and figuratively.
In reproducing a number of scenes in this column, somewhat sequentially, in comic book fashion, I hop any of you reading this would see how varied the stories could be. For fans of Maverick, that my screenshots would capture images of characters they have carried that torch for decades, capture them reacting to each other, and in action sequences. For people who have never seen the show, that my screenshots would give them a strong sense of the spirit of the show and the characters.
And as for my writing, that it would be entertaining and provide a little history behind the scenes, as well as some scattered facts here and there.
Just a quick note on the Warner Brother's TV theme songs: In these first series of shows, from Westerns to Private Eyes, the themes were memorable. They stayed with you. The music was used more elaborately in the opening credits of the detective shows like 77 Sunset Strip, with visuals of all the leads with the catchy theme playing, one that would stay in your head, and even years later bring the series it represented back into your mind. Maverick had a simple display card for its opening. In this fourth season the Maverick theme, with the lyrics included, are on the end credits of every episode.
The Maverick theme was first heard before the series aired, in the feature film of The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.
It seems appropriate to end this mammoth piece with the theme song lyrics from Maverick:
Riverboat, ring your bell,
Fare thee well, Annabel.
Luck is the lady that he loves the best.
Natchez to New Orleans
Livin on jacks and queens
Maverick is a legend of the west.
Read more here.
Important note: the screen captures appearing with this article are not from the Warner Archive DVDs! The image reproduction on both sets is superb. The clarity of image is constant through-out, capturing the often sharp black and white images, especially during the night sequences.
And I cannot thank Dan and Ruth Blair enough for all the work they did to make it possible for me to do this "Riding Shotgun" so visually, the way I wanted to do it.
Copyright © 2014 Don McGregor
The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/a Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. You can order it from Amazon.
And new things are about to happen at donmcgregor.com.