Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bat Masterson (1960)

Bat Masterson was a half-hour western that ran for three seasons, from 1958-1961, starring Gene Barry in the title role. Like The Untouchables, it was based on a book about the exploits of a real-life figure, in this case Richard O'Connor's 1957 biography of Masterson, which is shown at the end of each episode. However, also like The Untouchables, the stories shown in the TV series were highly fictionalized adaptations of real events, only in this case the source material was at least partly to blame. Though O'Connor's book claimed that Masterson was born as William Barclay Masterson on a farm in Illinois in 1853, he was actually born as Bartholomew Masterson in the parish of St. George, Henryville in Quebec, Canada. And his nickname of "Bat" was not given to him when he began using a cane after a gun wound, employing  this cane to "bat" his enemies about. Rather, the nickname "Bat" was a shortened version of his actual given name of Bartholomew. But the cane became such a big part of his legend that it is used extensively throughout the TV series and figures prominently in the show's theme song. Masterson's legend was also inflated by tall tales told to a gullible New York Sun reporter visiting Gunnison, Colorado in 1881 by Dr. W. S. Cockrell, who among other things said that Bat had killed 26 men by the age of 27. However, in his 1979 biography of Masterson published by the University of Oklahoma Press, Robert K. DeArment claims that there is no certifiable proof that Masterson ever killed anyone. Masterson himself, who certainly exploited his reputation for all that he could get out of it, once was quoted as saying that he was tried for murder four times and was acquitted all four times.

But whether or not he ever killed anyone, Masterson led a life full of adventure. He was a noted buffalo hunter, a scout for the U.S. army, a sheriff's deputy alongside Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Kansas, county sheriff of Ford County in Kansas, a gambler and prize fight promoter, appointee of Theodore Roosevelt as deputy to the U.S. marshal in the southern district of New York, and sportswriter and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph from around 1904 until his death at age 67 in 1921. However, he was also no angel: besides the accusations of murder, he was close friends with con man Soapy Smith and was implicated with Smith in the 1889 Denver registration and election fraud scandal, and upon moving to New York in 1902 he was arrested for illegal gambling.

But his character in the TV show has no such shades of gray--he always chooses the path of righteousness, though he is not above making a buck or two in the process. However, as played by Barry, TV's Bat Masterson is cut from a different cloth than other western gunslingers. He is a refined gentleman in a dandy's outfit--derby, gold-tipped cane, and ornately patterned vest. Barry, in fact, remarked in a May 21, 1960 TV Guide interview that he was not interested in the part until he learned about Masterson's wardrobe and gentility. Masterson does not always shoot first and ask questions later; rather, he lets his cane do the talking, though he is not above using his pistol when the situation warrants. He is also quick-witted, frequently recruited by his friend Hugh Blaine to get him out of predicaments Blaine has foolishly gotten himself into. In "A Picture of Death" (January 14, 1960), Blaine makes a bet with Roger Purcell over whether a trotter horse lifts all four of its feet off the ground at the same time. Bat hires a photographer to rig up a series of cameras that are tripped by strings placed across the race track so that when the horse trots past a series of photographs is taken in hopes that one will show the horse with all four feet off the ground. Bat's scheme works, and Blaine wins the bet. In "Pigeon and Hawk" (January 21, 1960), Blaine complains to Bat about Baxter & Wynant, a pair of competitors who are snapping up all the good gold and silver options from nearby mines because they have  a team of Pony Express riders who arrive with the news of which mines have struck before anyone else finds out about it. So Bat acquires and trains a flock of carrier pigeons to get the news to Blaine before Baxter & Wynant's riders can inform them. Of course, Baxter & Wynant then employ  a young lady with a hawk to catch and kill Bat's pigeons. But both of these episodes, and many others, show Bat's keen intellect in solving problems, rather than just attacking them with brute force. Likewise, in many of the episodes shown early in 1960, Bat is more inclined to subdue adversaries with his cane rather than his gun, perhaps in response to general complaints about too much violence in westerns, as mentioned in our previous post about The Rifleman. But as 1960 progressed, Bat began using his gun more, often in combination with his cane, so that by year's end he most likely had as many killings as The Rifleman's Lucas McCain.

Still, Bat also has his weaknesses: he has an eye for the ladies, almost in a less-alcoholic Dean Martin kind of way, that can get him into trouble--in "The Elusive Baguette" (June 2, 1960), he is duped by pretty blonde widow Lucy Carter in a scheme to make a $150,000 necklace appear to be stolen, in "Gold Is Where You Steal It" (May 19, 1960) he is tricked by pretty young Rosita Anselm (though he is suspicious of her from the start), and in "A Grave Situation" (May 12, 1960) he is fooled into trusting Katie, the pretty blonde secretary of swindling real estate agent Lemuel Carstairs, though she is a part of the swindle herself. 

Probably the low point of the show was the theme song, which ran in different versions at the beginning and ending of each episode. The music for the song is credited to Havens Wray, which is believed to be a pseudonym for David Rose (for more about Rose, see my post for Men Into Space). But it's the lyrics that really stink; these belong to Bart Corwin, about whom little is known. Amongst his lyrical transgressions are saying that Masterson wore a cane and hat, so that he can rhyme them with Bat, but people obviously don't "wear" a cane. He also rhymes the word "trigger" with "figger," an intentional misspelling for "figure."  In other words, the lyrics are the work of a hack. And to top it off, the song is sung in stilted manner either by Mike Stewart, who recorded a children's album about comic character Pogo two years prior, or Bill Lee, who was a member of the Mellomen with Thurl Ravenscroft--opnions differ as to who the unlucky vocalist really was.



Unfortunately, this is another series that has not been officially released on DVD, but you can view all the episodes from the first two seasons at imdb.com. There are also unofficial "bootleg" versions of the series available on DVD-R that contain all three seasons. 

The Actors

Gene Barry

Barry was born Eugene Klass in New York City June 14, 1919. His father was an amateur violinist, his mother an amateur singer. He took up violin until a football injury ended that pursuit, at which point he switched to singing and won a scholarship to the Chatham Square School of Music. He was a prize winner on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts radio program and pursued a career on the stage in musicals, including an appearance in the Mae West production Catherine Was Great in 1944. He moved to Hollywood and began appearing in films in the 1950s, though the only memorable one was War of the Worlds in 1953. Bat Masterson was his first TV show, but he later went on to star in Burke's Law (1963-66) and The Name of the Game (1968-1971), which featured three rotating stars--Barry, Robert Stack, and Tony Franciosa. In the 1980s, he returned to Broadway and received a Tony nomination for his role in La cage aux folles. He also starred as Richard Nixon in Watergate: The Musical, and appeared as Tom Cruise's father in Steven Spielberg's update of War of the Worlds in 2005. He died December 9, 2009.

Though Barry was the only regular throughout the series, there were a few characters who made repeat appearances as friends of Masterson.

Allison Hayes

Hayes played Bat's lady friend Ellie Winters, who appeared in 7 episodes. Her relationship with Bat is a trifle complicated--there is the hint of past romance as well as jealousy on her part when Bat casts his attention on other women. Hayes is best known for playing the lead role in the 1958 science fiction classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. She also appeared in several horror films, like The Undead, Zombies of Mora Tau, and The Crawling Hand. And she had appearances on many TV shows, including multiple roles on Tombstone Territory and Perry Mason. She died February 27, 1977 at the age of 46.

Howard Petrie

Petrie appeared in four episodes as Bat's clueless friend Hugh Blaine, who always had a problem that he needed Bat to solve, as in the two mentioned above. Petrie appeared in a long list of TV shows in the 50s and 60s and starred as Butch Cassidy in the 1956 film The Maverick Queen. He died March 24, 1968 at the age of 61.

Ron Hayes

Hayes appeared four times as Masterson's real-life friend Wyatt Earp. Hayes' acting career was spent almost entirely in television, from M Squad in 1957 to The A-Team in 1983. He had regular roles as Lincoln Vail on The Everglades in 1961-62, as Ben Jones on The Rounders in 1966-67, as Garth Holden on Lassie in 1971-72, and as Hank Johnson on Dallas in 1980-81. He died October 1, 2004 at age 75.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 2, Episode 13, "The Pied Piper of Dodge City": Donald "Red" Barry (Tarantula and The Grand Vizier on Batman, Lt. Snedigar on Surfside 6, and Jud Larabee on Little House on the Prairie) plays Bat's friend Luke Short, who invites Bat to become a partner in his saloon. William Boyett (Sgt. MacDonald on Adam-12 and Sgt. Ken Williams on Highway Patrol) plays the crooked marshal.

Season 2, Episode 14, "A Picture of Death": Donald Woods (John Brent on Tammy and Craig Kennedy on Kennedy, Criminologist) plays Roger Purcell, who makes a bet with Hugh Blaine about whether a trotter horse lifts all four feet off the ground at once. 

Season 2, Episode 17, "Death by the Half Dozen": Willard Waterman (Mac Maginnis on The Real McCoys and Mr. Quigley on Dennis the Menace) plays clueless Mayor Goodwin.

Season 2, Episode 18, "Deadly Diamonds": William Schallert (Mr. Leander Pomfritt on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show, and Admiral Hargrade on Get Smart) plays gem expert Dr. Dunsmore. Hank Patterson (Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Hank on Gunsmoke) plays cantankerous ex-confederate Soda Smith.

Season 2, Episode 20, "Six Feet of Gold": James Coburn (Jeff Durain on Klondike and Gregg Miles on Acapulco, The Magnificent Seven, In Like Flint) plays gentleman swindler Leo Talley.

Season 2, Episode 21, "Cattle and Cane": Joyce Taylor (Mary McCauley on Men Into Space) plays Jane Taylor, an old friend of Bat's whose family ranch is in trouble. Ted Markland (Reno on The High Chaparral) plays her brother Lem Taylor.

Season 2, Episode 26, "Come Out Fighting": Rhys Williams (Doc Burrage on The Rifleman) plays fining Judge Malachi Brody.

Season 2, Episode 28, "Incident at Fort Bowie": Will Wright (Mr. Merrivale on Dennis the Menace and Ben Weaver on The Andy Griffith Show) plays Bat's injured trail hand Billy Willow.

Season 2, Episode 29, "Masterson's Arcadia Club": Kasey Rogers (Julie Anderson on Peyton Place and Louise Tate on Bewitched) plays Dixie Mayhew, a hostess at Masterson's Arcadia Club.

Season 2, Episode 30, "Welcome to Paradise": Ralph Taeger (Mike Halliday on Klondike, Patrick Malone on Acapulco, and Hondo Lane on Hondo) plays Frank Dexter, a stagecoach passenger arrested for wearing a gun.

Season 2, Episode 32, "Gold Is Where You Steal It": Gloria Castillo (starred in Night of the Hunter, Invasion of the Saucer Men, and Reform School Girl) plays Rosita Anselm, who winds up with stolen bank money. Carlos Romero (Romero Serrano on Zorro and Carlo Agretti on Falcon Crest) plays bank robber Juan Torino.

Season 2, Episode 33, "Wanted: Alive Please": Joe Turkel (starred in The Shining and Blade Runner) plays wrangler Fargo. H.M. Wynant (Frosty on Batman and Ed Chapman on Dallas) plays another wrangler Foster.

Season 2, Episode 36, "Blood on the Money": Len Lesser (Uncle Leo on Seinfeld and Garvin on Everybody Loves Raymond) plays Bat's future casino partner Frank Holloway. 

Season 3, Episode 1, "Debt of Honor": Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe Carson on The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction, Red Connors on Hopalong Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean on Judge Roy Bean, and J.J. Jackson on Cade's County) plays gold prospector Cactus Charlie.

Season 3, Episode 3, "Bat Trap": Lon Chaney, Jr. (starred in The Wolfman, Of Mice and Men, High Noon, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Curse of Dracula, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and many others, and who played Chingachgook on Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans) plays ornery sharpshooter Rance Fletcher. Frank Ferguson (Gus Broeberg on My Friend Flicka, Eli Carson on Peyton Place, and Dr. Barton Stuart on Petticoat Junction) plays gunsmith Dick Pierce. Jack Ging (Beau McCloud on Tales of Wells Fargo, Dr. Paul Graham on The Eleventh Hour, Lt. Dan Ives on Mannix, Lt. Ted Quinlan on Riptide, and Gen. Harlan "Bull" Fullbright on The A-Team) plays young sharpshooter Bill Webb. Maggie Pierce (Barbara Crabtree on My Mother the Car) plays Webb's girlfriend Amber Mason.

Season 3, Episode 5, "The Hunter": John Vivyan (Mr. Lucky on Mr. Lucky and Lepke Buchalter on The Lawless Years) plays famous hunter Sir Edward Marion. Sue Randall (Miss Alice Landers on Leave It to Beaver) plays his niece Elizabeth.

Season 3, Episode 8, "Dakota Showdown": James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays Danny Dakota, youngest member of the Dakota gang. Kasey Rogers (see "Masterson's Arcadia Club" above) plays saloon girl Francie Wallace. 

Season 3, Episode 11, "A Time to Die": Robert Strauss (starred in Stalag 17, Sailor Beware, and Jumping Jacks, and played Sgt. Stan Gruzewsky on Mona McCluskey) plays evil saloon owner Howard C. Smith. 

Season 3, Episode 12, "Death by Decree": Raymond Bailey (Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies, Dean Magruder on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, D.A. John Carvell on The Untouchables, and Mr. Beaumont on My Sister Eileen) plays Justice Bradshaw. Paul Richards (Louis "Louy" Kassoff on The Lawless Years and Dr. McKinley Thompson on Ben Casey and Breaking Point) plays corrupt Sheriff Corbett. Robert F. Simon (Dave Tabak on Saints and Sinners, General Alfred Terry on Custer, Frank Stephens on Bewitched, General Maynard M. Mitchell on M*A*S*H, and J. Jonah Jameson on The Amazing Spider-Man) plays newspaper publisher Harrison Whitney. June Blair (Julie Greer on Two Faces West and June Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) plays his daughter Connie Whitney. 

Season 3, Episode 13, "The Lady Plays Her Hand": William Schallert (see "Deadly Diamonds" above) plays bookkeeper turned system card sharp George Winston. Johnny Seven (Lt. Carl Reese on Ironside) plays his bodyguard Burt Comers. Robert Lynn (Reverend Swain on Father Knows Best) plays Bat's carpenter Zach.

2 comments:

  1. Gentlemen DO wear canes because they are part of their wardrobe and may be hooked on the arm. Canes may also be carried. Both usages are correct. The larger problem is that Bat Masterson carries a walking stick, not a cane. A cane is a walking stick with a crook, therefore, not all walking sticks are canes but all canes are walking sticks.

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  2. Dear Sirs; The Theme song has become quite beloved and brings back many memories from a bygone era. The song is a Classic and the lyrics are tongue in cheek. many people are attempting to find out who was the actual singer of the theme Song. Your comments are in the minority with the throngs of loyal fans of this Great western show.

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