Amid the deluge of western series that swept the airwaves during the 1950s and early 1960s, none seemed more destined for obscurity than Lawman, not only for its generic title but also for its lack of a real distinguishing angle. Bonanza told the tale of upholding a family name and its land; Wagon Train described the nation's move west and the people who "settled" it; Rawhide described life on a cattle drive; Wanted Dead or Alive depicted the life of a bounty hunter; and even The Deputy showed one man's struggle between life as a public servant and a private citizen. And while Lawman, like the more popular and longer-running Gunsmoke, had its cast of supporting characters, Deputy Johnny McKay (played by Peter Brown) and saloon proprietor Lily Merrill (Peggie Castle), it really all came down to one man, the Lawman, Marshall Dan Troop, played by Clark Gable-lookalike John Russell. In essence, it's a series that plays off the American trope of the rugged individual, in this case a strong, unwavering individual who can make the difference between lawlessness and law and order. This theme obviously found an audience, as the series placed in the top 30 of the ratings its first three years, reaching a peak of #15 for the 1959-60 season.
The show's debut episode, "The Deputy" (October 5, 1958), has a much rawer tone and Troop's character is more abrasive than the comfort zone the series had reached by 1960, midway through Season 2. This first episode tells the story of how Troop was hired by the town of Laramie, Wyoming to replace the previous Marshal David Lemp, murdered by a family gang living in Laramie, whom the citizens know are guilty but are too afraid to confront or even talk about. When Troop first rides into town from his previous job in Abilene, he encounters McKay burying his predecessor. When he understands the situation he has walked into, he is understandably testy and abrupt with the cowards he has been hired to protect. In a scene reminiscent of High Noon, Troop has to take on two of the brothers while the townspeople watch from their hiding places. McKay's boldness in coming to Troop's aid and helping him gun down the killers earns him the role as Troop's deputy. Thus, in the beginning, the Lawman, an outsider, comes into Laramie to save it from an evil festering in its core.
Though the series frequently makes use of familiar plots seen on many other westerns from the era (some of them recycled from other Warner Brothers series), it also features the occasional story that proves particularly poignant. In "Girl From Grantsville" (April 10, 1960), McKay falls for pretty young Jenny Miles when she rides into town on the stage, failing to see that she is only using him to inspire jealousy in the man she really loves, card dealer Jeff Hacker, which in and of itself is a hackneyed theme of the young man blind to the true character behind a pretty face. But what sets this episode apart is that once Miles meets her tragic end and is exposed in the game she has been playing, McKay simply walks off dejectedly alone and Troop, with Lily by his side, watches with a look of pure agony written across his face, as if McKay were his son and he were vicariously feeling his pain. There is no tidy wrap-up or statement of lessons learned here; the episode merely ends with a pure expression of suffering.
The episode "Thirty Minutes" (March 20, 1960) also proves interesting because the time elapsed in the story nearly matches the time elapsed in the show itself. Having a plot driven by the agonizingly slow passage of time heightened by a rising sense of tension was not unprecedented--High Noon being but one predecessor--but the formula still gives the plot a sense of urgency not often seen in television scripts of the era. On the other end of the spectrum, the series was not above resorting to a little beefcake to goose the interest of female viewers: in consecutive episodes we see McKay and then Troop go shirtless. In "Chantay" (November 13, 1960) McKay is shown sleeping in a back room of the jailhouse, then startled when the title character, a young Native American woman, is found hiding under his bed to escape her pursuers, thereby forcing him to quickly cover up and get dressed. In the next episode, "Samson the Great" (November 20, 1960), Troop strips to the waist to take on burly and bad-tempered fighter Samson in a boxing match. Even though the mighty Samson outweighs Troop by about 100 pounds and has just easily whipped nine other Laramie fighters, he ultimately proves to be no match for the Lawman. And speaking of details involving shirts or the lack thereof, it should be noted that McKay's character wears the same corduroy shirt in every 1960 episode but one, "The Old War Horse," in which he sports a plaid shirt.
Though there are no credits listed for scores of individual episodes, the music supervisors for the Lawman series were another pair of long-time partners Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. Sawtell, originally from Poland, had literally hundreds of film credits, mostly B movies and many westerns, dating to the late 1930s. He teamed up with Shefter in the 1950s and continued his prolific output on films such as The Fly, The Curse of the Fly, It! The Creature From Beyond Space, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Sawtell & Shefter's work on this last film led to music composition duties on the television series it spawned beginning in 1964. The two also served as music supervisors on the same aforementioned Warner Brothers series, as well as Colt .45, Sugarfoot, Maverick, and Bronco. Sawtell and Shefter composed scores for the western series Broken Arrow from 1956-58.
Though it has not been released on DVD as of this writing, the series is currently showing weekdays on the Encore West cable TV channel.
John Lawrence Russell was a native of Los Angeles and attended the University of California while also participating in athletics. He joined the Marines during World War II, initially rejected because at 6'4" he was considered too tall, and was decorated for valor at the Battle of Guadalcanal, later receiving a medical discharge when he contracted malaria. He was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout in a restaurant in Beverly Hills and appeared in his first film in 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Thereafter he mostly served in supporting roles in films such as the first Mr. Belvedere movie Sitting Pretty, Saddle Tramp, and The Last Command before being cast in the lead role for the 1955 action-adventure TV series Soldiers of Fortune, which ran for two seasons. After that show ended, he appeared in B movies such as Untamed Youth and The Dalton Girls as well as the lead role in Hell Bound before being cast as Marshal Dan Troop in Lawman in 1958. During the show's four-year run, Russell also made occasional appearances in films such as Rio Bravo and Yellowstone Kelly.
Born Pierre Lind de Lappe in New York City, Brown's mother, Mina Reaume, was the voice actor for the Dragon Lady in the radio serial version of Terry and the Pirates and provided the inspiration for Brown to pursue an acting career. Brown's father died when he was four, and he took the last name of his step-father Albert Brown. While stationed in Alaska as a member of the Army, Brown wrote, directed, and acted in theatrical productions to entertain his fellow soldiers, and when he left the service he enrolled in drama at UCLA. While working at a gas station on Sunset Strip, he met Jack Warner of Warner Brothers and was signed to a contract with the studio. His first appearances on film were in two 1957 episodes of the TV series Colt .45, and the next year he had his first credited role in a feature film in Darby's Rangers. Though his scenes were deleted from the 1958 Andy Griffith picture Onionhead, Brown caught the attention of producer Jules Schermer, who then cast him in the role of Deputy Johnny McKay when he started Lawman later that year. In his role as McKay, Brown also appeared in other Warner Brothers westerns, like Maverick and Sugarfoot. Brown was one of the more accomplished TV western actors in skills pertinent to the character he played: he won over $2000 in prize money in competitive rodeo events and he won a quick-draw contest staged as a publicity stunt involving other leading TV western actors of the day.
After Lawman was canceled, Brown had multiple appearances on shows like Wagon Train and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in addition to more film roles in Ride the Wild Surf and Ann-Margret's Kitten With a Whip. In 1965 he was cast in the role of Chad Cooper for the series Laredo, which ran two seasons. As with his McKay character, he played Cooper in an episode of The Virginian as well. Sporadic film work in the 1970s was highlighted by his villainous role as Steve Elias in the Pam Grier blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown and repeat appearances as Dr. Greg Peters on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. He continued working steadily in films and mostly TV series through the 80s and 90s, including more recurring soap opera roles on The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. His last appearance on film was in the 2005 western reunion feature Hell to Pay, which also included The Virginian's James Drury, Lee Majors, and Stella Stevens.
After the show ended, she effectively retired from show business, making only a single appearance on The Virginian in 1966. She developed a problem with alcoholism and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 45 on August 11, 1973.
Born in Boise, Idaho, Cooper appeared in 35 productions on Broadway before venturing into film, starting with several uncredited roles in High Sierra, Double Cross, and They Died With Their Boots On. He appeared in over 100 feature films in a career that spanned from 1938-62. Most roles were minor, often unnamed characters and frequently uncredited but included Pride of the Yankees, The Thin Man Goes Home, State Fair, Mildred Pierce, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Pickup on South Street. He began work in television on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show in 1951 and appeared in over 200 episodes, the last being an episode of Sanford and Son in 1972. But his turn as bartender Timmo McQueen in 15 episodes of Lawman was his only recurring role. He died at age 68 on June 14, 1975 in Hollywood.
Cheshire's career in film began playing a character named Harry "Pappy" Chesire in five movies, starting in 1940 with Barnyard Follies. Throughout the late 1940s he had a string of roles playing judges, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers, ministers, wardens, and other official titles. His first television appearance was on The Gene Autry Show in 1950, followed by five appearances on The Range Rider, and finally a recurring role as Judge Ben Wiley on Buffalo Bill, Jr. in 1955-56, the longest-running role of his career. He appeared 15 times as Judge Traeger on Lawman and thereafter had only an uncredited appearance as a policeman in the Jerry Lewis film The Patsy in 1964 before passing away at age 76 on June 16, 1968.
Notable Guest Stars
MyThree Sons) plays the man he's after, Lance Creedy.
Season 2, Episode 15, "The Stranger": Ian Wolfe (starred in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, The Magnificent Yankee, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and played Hirsch the Butler on WKRP in Cincinnati and Wizard Traquil on Wizards and Warriors) plays vengeful father Jason Smith. Larry J. Blake (the unnamed jailer on Yancy Derringer and Tom Parnell on Saints and Sinners) plays barfly Chuck Slade.
Season 2, Episode 16, "The Wolfer": Archie Duncan (Inspector Lestrade on Sherlock Holmes, Little John on The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Biskett on Mess Mates, and Capt. Dan Cassidy on Orlando) plays Reese, the wolfer. Gilman Rankin (Deputy Charlie Riggs on Tombstone Territory) plays rancher Ed Fuller.
Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, and The Brady Bunch) plays trailhand Roy Grant. Paul Carr (Bill Horton on Days of Our Lives, Casey Clark on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Ted Prince on Dallas, and Martin Gentry on The Young and the Restless), plays store clerk Gilly Stuart. Robert Armstrong (starred in King Kong, The Son of Kong, Framed, Dive Bomber, Blood on the Sun, and Mighty Joe Young and played Sheriff Andy Anderson on State Trooper) plays Roy's father Lacey.
Season 2, Episode 18, "To Capture the West": Warren Stevens (starred in The Frogmen, The Barefoot Contessa, Deadline U.S.A., and Forbidden Planet, played Lt. William Storm on Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers, and was the voice of John Bracken on Bracken's World) plays painter Frederick Jameson. Henry Brandon (starred in Secret Agent X-9, Drums of Fu Manchu, and The Searchers) plays his sidekick Tall Horse. George Kennedy (shown on the right, starred in Charade, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke, and The Naked Gun and played MP Sgt. Kennedy on The Phil Silvers Show, Father Samuel Cavanuagh on Sarge, Bumper Morgan on The Blue Knight, and Carter McKay on Dallas) plays arm-wrestler Burt. Mickey Simpson (Boley on Captain David Grief) plays townsman Connors.
Season 2, Episode 20, "The Kids": Bart Braverman (Bobby "Binzer" Borso on Vega$, Roy on The New Odd Couple, and Dr. Bhandari on Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book) plays one of the kids, Dennis Deaver. Tom Drake (starred in Meet Me in St. Louis, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, and The Sandpiper) plays their uncle Luke Evans.
Season 2, Episode 22, "The Truce": Robert McQueeney (Conley Wright on The Gallant Men) plays former Confederate officer O.C. Coulsen. Ed Prentiss (Carl Jensen on The Virginian) plays Governor Campbell.
Season 2, Episode 26, "Belding's Girl": Emile Meyer (starred in Shane, Drums Across the River, Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Smell of Success, and Paths of Glory and played Gen. Zachary Moran on Bat Masterson) plays rancher Ben Belding. Susan Morrow (starred in Gasoline Alley, Problem Girls, and Cat-Women of the Moon) plays his daughter Meg. Don "Red" Barry (played Red Ryder in the movie serial The Adventures of Red Ryder, and played Lt. Snedigar on Surfside 6, The Grand Vizier and Tarantula on Batman, Capt. Red Barnes on Police Woman, and Jud Larabee on Little House on the Prairie) plays ranch-hand Jim Gaylord. Rush Williams (Roy Hondine on Hawaiian Eye) plays his brother Frank. Doodles Weaver (shown on the right, see "The Thimblerigger" above) returns as hotel clerk Jack Stiles.
Season 2, Episode 27, "Girl From Grantsville": Suzanne Lloyd (Raquel Toledano on Zorro) plays flirtatious newcomer Jenny Miles. Burt Douglas (Jim Fisk on Days of Our Lives) plays card dealer Jeff Hacker. Roy Barcroft (Col. Logan on The Adventures of Spin and Marty and Roy on Gunsmoke) plays an unnamed stagecoach driver. William F. Leicester (wrote teleplays for 21 episodes of Lawman plus multiple episodes of Tales of Wells Fargo, Colt .45, Bonanza, and The High Chaparral) plays an unnamed stagecoach guard.
Season 2, Episode 30, "The Lady Belle": Joan Marshall (Sailor Duval on Bold Venture) plays bank robbery gang leader Lady Belle Smythe. Slim Pickens (starred in The Story of Will Rogers, Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and The Howling and played Slim on Outlaws, Slim Walker on The Wide Country, California Joe Milner on Custer, and Sgt. Beauregard Wiley on B.J. & the Bear) plays stagecoach driver Calvin. Vinton Hayworth (Magistrado Carlos Galindo on Zorro, Mr. Sutherland on Hazel, Dr. Faber on Green Acres, and Gen. Winfield Schaeffer on I Dream of Jeannie) plays bank president Oren Slauson. Orville Sherman (Mr. Feeney on Buckskin, Wib Smith on Gunsmoke, and Tupper on Daniel Boone) plays an unnamed bank clerk. Doodles Weaver (see "The Thimblerigger" above) returns as hotel clerk Jack Stiles.
Season 2, Episode 32, "The Judge": John Hoyt (starred in My Favorite Brunette, The Lady Gambles, and Blackboard Jungle and played Grandpa Stanley Kanisky on Gimme a Break!) plays criminal Judge Grant. Randy Stuart (Louise Baker on Biff Baker, U.S.A. and Nellie Cashman on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays his wife Rose. Diane McBain (Daphne Dutton on Surfside 6 and Pinky Pinkston on Batman) player her sister Lilac Allen.
Season 2, Episode 33, "Man on a Wire": Gustavo Rojo (starred in Tarzan and the Mermaids, Luis Buñel's The Great Madcap, Alexander the Great, and The Miracle and starred in several Mexican TV series since the late 80s) plays high-wire performer Giuseppe Soldano. Karen Steele (starred in Marty, Westbound, and The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond) plays his wife Laura.
Season 2, Episode 35, "The Swamper": J. Pat O'Malley (Judge Caleb Marsh on Black Saddle, Duffy on Frontier Circus, Harry Burns on My Favorite Martian, Mr. Bundy on Wendy and Me, Herbert Morrison on A Touch of Grace, and Bert Beasley on Maude) plays swamper Jim Phelan. Luana Anders (starred in Reform School Girl, Dementia 13, and The Last Detail) plays his unruly daughter Ellie.
Season 2, Episode 37, "Fast Trip to Cheyenne": King Calder (Lt. Gray on Martin Kane) plays murder suspect Frank Saunders. Suzanne Storrs (Janet Halloran on Naked City) plays his wife Amy. William Fawcett (Clayton on Duffy's Tavern, Marshal George Higgins on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and Pete Wilkey on Fury) plays relay station operator Charlie Greer.
Season 3, Episode 2, "The Go-Between": Paul Comi (Deputy Johnny Evans on Two Faces West, Chuck Lambert on Ripcord, and Yo Yo on Rawhide) plays kidnapper Cole Reese. Larry J. Blake (the unnamed jailer on Yancy Derringer and Tom Parnell on Saints and Sinners) plays his accomplice Jennings. Gary Conway (Det. Tim Tilson on Burke's Law and Capt. Steve Burton on Land of the Giants) plays eager posse organizer Sam Carter.
Season 3, Episode 4, "The Old War Horse": Lee Patrick (starred in Saturday's Children, The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, and Pillow Talk and played Aggie on Boss Lady and Henrietta Topper on Topper) plays former showgirl Bess Harper. Arch Johnson (starred in Somebody Up There Likes Me, G.I. Blues, and The Cheyenne Social Club and played Cmdr. Wivenhoe on Camp Runamuck) plays scheming private investigator Jason McQuade. Grady Sutton (later played Ben Toomey on Lawman) plays hotel clerk Stiles.
Season 3, Episode 5, "The Return of Owny O'Reilly": Joel Grey (see "The Salvation of Ownie O'Reilly" above) returns as diminutive youngster Owny O'Reilly. Lee Van Cleef (see "Man on a Mountain" above) plays outlaw Jack Saunders. William Fawcett (see "Fast Trip to Cheyenne" above) plays general store proprietor Mr. Jenkins.
Season 3, Episode 8, "The Post": Don Megowan (Captain Huckabee on The Beachcomber) plays fugitive Rafe Curry. Bernard Fein (Pvt Gomez on The Phil Silvers Show) plays Concordia, New Mexico Sheriff Sabin.
Season 3, Episode 10, "Samson the Great": Mickey Simpson (see "To Capture the West" above) plays traveling brawler Samson the Great. Walter Burke (starred in All the King's Men, Jack the Giant Killer, and Support Your Local Sheriff! and played Tim Potter on Black Saddle) plays barker Jimmy Fresco.
Leave It to Beaver) plays second son Charlie May.
Season 3, Episode 12, "The Catcher": Robert Armstrong (see "The Hardcase" above) plays sheepherder Frank Fenway. Claudia Barnett (starred in Robot Monster) plays his wife Missie. James Coburn (see "The Showdown" above) plays foreman Lank Bailey. Med Flory (played clarinet in the Ray Anthony orchestra and founded and plays alto sax in the group Super Sax, appeared in Gun Street, The Nutty Professor (1963), and The Gumball Rally) plays drover Catcher. Steve Mitchell (Starkey on The New Phil Silvers Show) plays drover Ory Task.
The Untouchables) plays notorious gunslinger Jed Barker. Guy Wilkerson (played Panhandle Perkins in 22 westerns) plays nosy townsman Phillips.
Season 3, Episode 14, "The Escape of Joe Killmer": Ken Lynch (starred in I Married a Monster From Outer Space, Anatomy of a Murder, and Dead Ringer and played Lt. Thomas Brand on Checkmate, Det. Lt. Tom Handley on Arrest and Trial, Lt. Barney Keller on Honey West, and Police Sgt. Grover on McCloud) plays criminal brother Al Killmer.