Perhaps the first series to feature a handicapped character in the lead role, Tate was a summer replacement western that ran for only 13 episodes, filling in for the second half of the regular-season Perry Como Show. The series, which aired on NBC, was sponsored by Kraft Foods and produced by Como's Roncom Productions. The title character, played by David McLean, who was then appearing in Marlboro cigarette ads as one of the early versions of the Marlboro Man, is a Civil War veteran who was shot in the left arm during the Battle of Vicksburg, rendering him lame in that arm. He keeps the arm covered in a black leather glove and sleeve up to his elbow and wears a sling to support it. Despite this handicap, Tate is an expert marksman and faster on the draw than anyone else he encounters. He loans himself out as a gun for hire, though never an assassin, and has been compared elsewhere to the character of Paladin on Have Gun -- Will Travel, though Tate, who goes only by his last name, is not a foppish dandy with Shakespearean pretensions. Instead, he wears corduroy and carries a Bible.
We learn his back story in the series' opening episode, "Hometown" (June 8, 1960), in which Tate returns to his unnamed hometown after a 10-year absence that began when the Civil War broke out, placing the timeframe in 1871. (Two other episodes--"The Mary Hardin Story" (June 29, 1960) and "The Gunfighters" (August 31, 1960)--specifically mention in their openings that they are set in 1871.) He has returned at the request of Sheriff Morty Taw, who needs his gun as a backup so that he can hang convicted murderer Joey Jory, whose brothers and friends aim to rescue him. Taw takes Tate out to the gravesite where his wife Mary is buried. Oddly, this is the first time he has been to her grave. Being a widower gives Tate a sympathetic past, showing that he is capable of love and being loved, while allowing him to roam free to pursue any and all employment opportunities. In various episodes, he takes assignments in Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, and Texas. The remainder of the "Hometown" episode plays out like High Noon in which Tate and Taw are the only ones brave enough to stand up to the Jory gang.
In other episodes, Tate is hired as a bounty hunter who then must answer the challenge of a young gun eager to establish a reputation ("Stopover," June 15, 1960), fend off a bounty hunter himself hired by a vengeful young man whom Tate is forced to kill in self-defense ("The Bounty Hunter," June 22, 1960), defend a widow from a land-grabber who refuses to acknowledge her right to her property via the Homestead Act ("The Mary Hardin Story," June 29, 1960), and help a group of farmers get what they're owed from a double-crossing cattle rancher ("The Gunfighters," August 31, 1960). In other words, each episode presents a different problem that usually can be resolved only with a gun, or so the narrative would have us believe. However, the episode "Reckoning" (August 24, 1960) ends with Tate not having killed anyone nor made good on his assignment. He is originally sent to bring back Abel King for killing the son of the man who hires him, but after King rescues Tate from sickness brought on by drinking contaminated water, Tate decides to delve deeper into the case and learns that King had killed the man's son to defend the honor of his daughter, who got the reputation of having had intimate relations with the son. But Tate is able to determine that the rumors were only that, spread by King's hired hand Luke Corey to ward off rival suitors. Once Tate uncovers what really took place, he allows Corey to merely walk away, perhaps convinced that the shame he has brought on himself will be a harsher punishment than anything the law could hand out.
As this episode shows, Tate is a man driven more by principle than monetary interest. He is willing to forget the bounty he was promised for King because he comes to believe that King was justified in his behavior (whether we agree with it or not). Likewise, he isn't above thwarting the interests of his employers if they conflict with his morals. In "A Lethal Pride" (July 20, 1960), Tate is faced with a similar position: he is hired by Mexican father Arriaga to bring justice to privileged young white man Clay Barton for taking liberties with his daughter Carmela. But Tate refuses to turn over Barton to Arriaga to exact his revenge, insisting that he be taken to the legal authorities for any warranted punishment. Arriaga has a hard time accepting this because, as a Mexican, he expects not to receive justice from the white legal system and is too eager to believe that Tate plans to conspire against him with the other whites. In "Comanche Scalps" (August 10, 1960) Tate has no problem providing backup for his old war friend Amos Dundee when he meets him in a Montana town to shoot down the man Dundee says killed his younger brother. But when Dundee receives word that his other brother Tad has married the woman he loves while he was away, he is determined to go back home and kill his own brother. However, Tate refuses to stand aside, even after being paid. He goes with Dundee, urging him the entire way not to seek vengeance against his brother, and finally draws his pistol against Dundee when the latter bull-whips Tad, who refuses to fight back. But Tate is spared the task of gunning down Dundee because a band of Indians come by at that moment and fatally shoot him with an arrow. Still, we get the sense that Tate would not have allowed Amos to kill Tad.
Since Tate's physical handicap is so unusual for the era, it is remarkable that it is not more central to the plots. He occasionally is insulted, called half a man or "one wing," but these incidents are never the driving force of the narrative. He does not seem particularly offended by such remarks because he seems to feel that he is not at a disadvantage, despite the loss of one arm. Occasionally his lame arm is a kind of identifying badge, as in "Hometown" where two of Jory's cohorts find him camping outside town and ask what his name is. When he refuses to provide it, one of them asks him to step out into the light and once they see his arm in a sling, Joss Jory immediately recognizes him as Tate. Whereas it would have been easy to use the handicap as a means for eliciting more sympathy for his character, that never seems to be the intent. Even when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, Tate more often than not holds his own, even though the scenes where he pushes another man clear across the room with his good arm strain the show's credibility. Rather than a man pitied by women, Tate is more often seen as desirable, as the wife of one of the aforementioned farmers considers him a man of action who is willing to fight, while she sees her husband as a coward who has to hire someone else to fight his battles. And in "Reckoning," the sullied young woman Lulie Jean King is disappointed that Tate intends to leave after her reputation has been restored because she has become infatuated with his worldliness. All of these elements combine to depict Tate as a man who refuses to be limited or defined by his handicap. As such, the series is considerably ahead of its time in providing a positive role model for the disabled without resorting to cheap emotionalism.
Though there are no credits for the theme song or individual scores, musical supervision is credited to Irving Friedman, whose biography can be found in the post for Father KnowsBest.
The complete series has been released on DVD by TimelessMedia Group.
Born Eugene Joseph Huth in Akron, Ohio in 1922, McLean began his acting career on the stage in Ohio, eventually moving to Los Angeles, where he continued his stage work and broke into credited screen work on the TV western Sugarfoot in 1957. Other than an uncredited appearance in the 1955 TV movie Captain Fathom, this was his only documented film work before being cast as Tate in the series of the same name. However, he had developed a national identity as the Marlboro Man in both print and television ads. While trying to launch his acting career, McLean worked as a cartoonist and sketch artist. He also was said to be an accomplished woodworker.
His lead work on Tate led to four film appearances and a TV guest spot the following year, most notably an uncredited role in Irwin Allen's film version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which preceded the TV series of the same name. McLean's other film roles were in B movies, like the sci-fi classic X-15, which also included Charles Bronson, Mary Tyler Moore, Stanley Livingston of My Three Sons, and narration by Jimmy Stewart. Guest appearances on a host of TV shows continued throughout the 1960s, despite the fact that McLean was diagnosed with cancer in 1964 due to his heavy smoking. McLean then became an anti-smoking advocate, going before the board of Philip Morris to plead with them to limit television advertising and joining the campaign that eventually took cigarette ads off the air. Meanwhile, he continued his acting career and had a recurring role as Craig Merritt on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives in 1965-66. TV guest roles continued into the mid-70s and at the end of the decade there was more B movie work in films like Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and Deathsport (1978), his last work. In 1985 he began suffering from emphysema and had a tumor removed from one of his lungs in 1994. He died the following year on October 12, and after his death his widow and son filed a wrongful death suit against William Morris. This sequence of events was dramatized in the book and subsequent film Thank You for Smoking.
Notable Guest Stars
Season 1, Episode 1, "Hometown": James Coburn (shown on the right, starred in The Magnificent Seven, Charade, Our Man Flint, and In Like Flint and played Jeff Durain on Klondike and Gregg Miles on Acapulco) plays convicted killer Joey Jory. Hank Patterson (Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction and Hank on Gunsmoke) plays his friend Charlie Simms. Royal Dano (appeared in The Far Country, Moby Dick, and The Outlaw Josey Wales) plays hometown sheriff Morty Taw.
Season 1, Episode 2, "Stopover": King Calder (Lt. Gray on Martin Kane) plays Tate's target Ben Tracy. Robert F. Simon (Dave Tabak on Saints and Sinners, Gen. Alfred Terry on Custer, Frank Stephens on Bewitched, Uncle Everett McPherson on Nancy, Capt. Rudy Olsen on The Streets of San Francisco, and J. Jonah Jameson on The Amazing Spiderman) plays the local sheriff. Vaughn Taylor (starred in Jailhouse Rock, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Psycho, and In Cold Blood and played Ernest P. Duckweather on Johnny Jupiter) plays an unnamed bartender. Peggy Ann Garner (appeared in The Pied Piper, Jane Eyre, Daisy Kenyon, and Thunder in the Valley) plays saloon girl Julie.
Season 1, Episode 3, "The Bounty Hunter": Robert Culp (shown on the left, starred in Sunday in New York, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and Breaking Point and played Hoby Gilman on Trackdown, Kelly Robinson on I Spy, Bill Maxwell on The Greatest American Hero, and Warren on Everybody Loves Raymond) plays bounty hunter Tom Sandee. Robert Redford (starred in Barefoot in the Park, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and All the President's Men) plays Sandee's employer Torsett. Robert Warwick (starred in Alias Jimmy Valentine, The Supreme Sacrifice, The Heart of a Hero, and Against All Flags) plays Irish poet and station master Sean McConnell. Louise Fletcher (starred in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Exorcist II, and The Cheap Detective and played Kai Winn on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) plays his wife Roberta.
Season 1, Episode 4, "The Mary Hardin Story": Julie Adams (starred in Creature From the Black Lagoon and played Martha Howard on The Jimmy Stewart Show, Ann Rorchek on Code Red, and Eve Simpson on Murder, She Wrote) plays widow Mary Hardin. Mort Mills (Marshal Frank Tallman on Man Without a Gun, Sgt. Ben Landro on Perry Mason, and Sheriff Fred Madden on The Big Valley) plays land-grabber Tetlow.
Season 1, Episode 5, "Voices of the Town": Paul Richards (appeared in Playgirl and Beneath the Planet of the Apes and played Louis Kassoff on The Lawless Years and Dr. McKinley Thompson on Breaking Point) plays townsman Will Ragan. William Mims (Editor Dameron on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays an unnamed hotel clerk. Wendy Winkelman (younger sister of Michael Winkelman of The Real McCoys) plays the younger sister of a woman Tate shot.
Season 1, Episode 6, "A Lethal Pride": Gregory Morton (Mr. Wainwright on Peyton Place and Walter Williams on Ben Casey) plays proud Mexican father Arriaga. Marianna Hill (Rita on The Tall Man) plays his daughter Carmela. Ted de Corsia (Police Chief Hagedorn on Steve Canyon) plays wealthy landowner John Barton. Kelton Garwood (Beauregard O'Hanlon on Bourbon Street Beat and Percy Crump on Gunsmoke) plays a scamming preacher.
Season 1, Episode 7, "Tigero": Martin Landau (shown on the right, starred in North by Northwest, Cleopatra, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Ed Wood and played Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible!, Commander John Koenig on Space: 1999, Dr. Sol Gold on The Evidence, Bob Ryan on Entourage, and Frank Malone on Without a Trace) plays sheepherder John Chess. Robert Brubaker (Deputy Ed Blake on U.S. Marshal and Floyd on Gunsmoke) plays local kingpin Abel Towey. Warren Vanders (Chuck Davis on Empire and Ben Crowley on Daniel Boone) plays his brother Mannen. Ted Markland (Reno on The High Chaparral) plays his other brother Bill. Harry Swoger (Harry the bartender on The Big Valley) plays an unnamed bartender.
Season 1, Episode 8, "Comanche Scalps": Frank Overton (starred in Desire Under the Elms, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fail-Safe and played Major Harvey Stovall on 12 O'Clock High) plays Tate's friend Amos Dundee. Robert Redford (shown on the left, see "The Bounty Hunter" above) plays his brother Tad. Leonard Nimoy (shown below, played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Paris on Mission: Impossible!, and Dr. William Bell on Fringe) plays the leader of the Comanches.
Season 1, Episode 9, "Before the Sun-Up": Warren Oates (starred in In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and Stripes and played Ves Painter on Stoney Burke) plays troublemaker Cowpoke. Peter Whitney (Sergeant Buck Sinclair on The Rough Riders and Lafe Crick on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays town bully Clay Sedon. Richard Whorf (starred in Midnight, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Chain Lightning and directed 18 episodes of Gunsmoke, 37 episodes of My Three Sons, and 67 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies) plays Doc Emmett Ealy. John Qualen (starred in The Three Musketeers(1935), His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, Angels Over Broadway, Casablanca, Anatomy of a Murder, and A Patch of Blue) plays restaurant proprietor Sam.
Season 1, Episode 10, "Reckoning": Bing Russell (Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza) plays hired hand Luke Corey.
Season 1, Episode 11, "The Gunfighters": Jack Hogan (shown on the left, starred in The Bonnie Parker Story, Paratroop Command, and The Cat Burglar and played Kirby on Combat!, Sgt. Jerry Miller on Adam-12, Chief Ranger Jack Moore on Sierra, and Judge Smithwood on Jake and the Fatman) plays farmer Cromley. Ken Mayer (Maj. Robbie Robertson on Space Patrol) plays farmer Lathrop.
Season 1, Episode 12, "Quiet After the Storm": Hampton Fancher (Deputy Lon Gillis on Black Saddle and co-wrote the screenplay and was executive producer on Blade Runner) plays unfaithful husband Coley. Cathy O'Donnell (starred in The Best Years of Our Lives, They Live by Night, Detective Story, The Man From Laramie, The Deerslayer, and Ben-Hur) plays his wife Amy.
Season 1, Episode 13, "The Return of Jessica Jackson": Patricia Breslin (shown on the right, played Amanda Peoples Miller on The People's Choice and Laura Brooks on Peyton Place) plays stolen wife Jessica Jackson. John Kellogg (Jack Chandler on Peyton Place) plays her husband Milo. Henry Corden (Carlo on The Count of Monte Cristo, Waxey Gordon on The Lawless Years, and Babbitt on The Monkees and did voicework on The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, The Atom Ant Show, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Return to the Planet of the Apes) plays his employee Leroux. Jon Lormer (Harry Tate on Lawman, various autopsy surgeons and medical examiners in 12 episodes of Perry Mason, and Judge Irwin A. Chester on Peyton Place) plays an Indian chief.