Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bat Masterson (1961)



As detailed in our post about its 1960 episodes, Bat Masterson was a western series that tried to distinguish itself from the plethora of other western fare by featuring a more refined, erudite protagonist who also happened to be a real historical figure, though one that bore little resemblance to his TV embodiment. However, in a genre that often featured multiple killings in each episode while the TV press and other media critics decried the amount of televised violence, there were other heroes who claimed to prefer avoiding gunplay, such as the reluctant Clay McCord of The Deputy and Paladin of Have Gun -- Will Travel. The latter character is perhaps Masterson's prototype in his display of cultural sensitivity and philosophic musings despite offering his services as a gun for hire. Masterson, by contrast, has no stated occupation, though like the real Masterson he sometimes works as an Army scout or may oversee the construction of a railroad line, but most often he goes where he is sought, whether by friends or their relatives or by official enterprises such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency in "The Marble Slab" (May 11, 1961). In this way he is similar to other wayward western heroes, such as Cheyenne, Bronco, and The Texan, knights errant in a lawless time. Nor is Masterson the only historically based TV hero: his real-life friend Wyatt Earp debuted on the small screen 3 years before Bat on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and The Tall Man presented a highly fictionalized portrayal of the relationship between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. By attempting to combine traits from a gaggle of other westerns, Bat Masterson fails to stand out from the crowd. The plots are largely derivative from the rest of the fare being televised at the time, and even Masterson's character is hardly unique either.

Still, a few episodes from 1961 are worthy of consideration. As mentioned above, the amount of violence on television was a great concern at the time, at least in the pages of TV Guide and other periodicals, even if viewers continued to flock to westerns and crime dramas like The Untouchables. The episode "Tempest at Tioga Pass" (January 5, 1961) deals with the issue directly and a bit sarcastically in its depiction of two henchmen for corrupt real estate agent Clyde Richards.  Henchman Hunch is a trigger-happy psychopath who wants to shoot Bat on site, as soon as he steps off the stage, even though his boss has brought Bat west to try to convince the last land-holding holdout to allow access to his mining road for the completion of a railroad line through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Henchman Motto, by contrast, argues against being hasty and adds that he who lives by the gun also dies by the gun. As his name implies, Motto is forever spouting aphorisms and uses them to guide his behavior. This proves to be his salvation at episode's end when the impulsive Hunch is gunned down while Motto is spared by his book of mottos he keeps in his chest pocket, which absorbs the bullet that would have otherwise pierced his heart. Though he hardly comes across as an intellectual, Motto survives because he chooses to live by passed-down wisdom rather than be ruled by violent impulses. He is an allegorical figure who demonstrates that wit bests brute force.
Masterson's character often lives by the same principal. Though he is a faster draw and more accurate shot than anyone he comes up against and can use the element of surprise to swat away a gun with his cane before his assailant knows what's coming, he often triumphs by enticing the guilty to undo themselves. One of his favorite tricks is pretending that a corpse is still alive to fool the murderer into trying to rekill the dead. In "Dagger Dance" (April 20, 1961) Masterson, working as an Army scout, rides into Fort Logan, Colorado with a message for the fort commander, Colonel Downey, not to attend a planned peace conference the next day because there is an Indian ambush waiting for him, which almost killed Bat on his way to the fort. But as he is taken off for medical care, he accidentally drops the note containing the message, and politically ambitious Major John Whitsett, second in command, picks it up and burns it so that Downey never gets the message and rides right into the ambush. Masterson suspects Whitsett, but to prove his guilt he retrieves Downey's body and with the cooperation of the fort doctor tells Whitsett that Downey is in a coma, prompting Downey to try to sneak in at night and finish Downey off with his sword. Masterson is, of course, waiting for him and catches him in the act. And in "Meeting at Mimbres" (April 13, 1961) Masterson gets to Mimbres just after informant John Corley is murdered by the sons of Jobe Crail, who is suspected of kidnapping and selling Shoshone women to instigate an Indian war. Masterson again conspires with the local physician to get the word out that Corley is still alive and hides the body in an ice house on the edge of town to lure the Crail gang into a stand-off that ends in the death of Crail's sons and the capture of the guilty patriarch. Once again Masterson has used the criminals' own blood-thirstiness to bring about their own demise.

However, it is not only hardened criminals who are undone by their own violent tendencies. In "The Prescott Campaign" (February 2, 1961) Bat answers the call of an old fighting buddy, Marshal Ben Holt or Prescott, Arizona. But Masterson finds his old friend a changed man, too quick to gun down anyone who offers even the least resistance. He eventually gets his old friend to reveal a deep-seated jealousy for those who have become more financially successful than he, and when Masterson cannot dissuade Holt from planning a raid on the ranch of Prescott's richest citizen, Holt gets his just desserts when he is trampled by stampeding horses after firing a shot at Bat. In "No Amnesty for Death" (March 30, 1961) Masterson is sent to Las Tables, Texas to give the local marshal William McWilliams a pardon for three men about to be hanged for their role in the Lincoln County War. But McWilliams is bent on revenge since his twin boys died during the war, and rather than letting the courts hand out justice when the three are caught robbing a stagecoach, McWilliams draws them into a shootout that costs him his life, though he claims to be satisfied in seeing the ring leader shot dead before he himself expires. In these and other episodes Masterson is the voice of the rule of law, and while justice may achieve the same violent end with a hanging rather than a shooting or a lynching, it appears more dignified when draped in a cloak of civility rather than blind rage.

Though it failed to garner top ratings in its three-year run, Bat Masterson rode off into the sunset with a parting shot at one other western in its penultimate episode, "The Fatal Garment" (May 25, 1961). The series brought back Masterson's real-life friend Wyatt Earp, the subject of the above-mentioned competing series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. On his own show, Earp is depicted as a beacon of justice and the rule of law, just as Masterson is on his series. But in his portrayal by actor Ron Hayes on Bat Masterson, Earp is gullible in refusing to believe that Mexican cantina owner Elena is in cahoots with the Rainbow Gang, foolhardy in spurning Bat's advice to put $13,000 in the bank, and vainglorious in telling newspaper reporters that he was the one who captured the gang's leader when it was actually Masterson who did the capturing. In short, though Earp is one of the good guys, he is also a boob. Ironically, both series were canceled in the spring of 1961 as the herd of westerns that ruled the airwaves during the 1950s was being thinned. In the case of Bat Masterson its cancellation was a happy occasion in that viewers would no longer have to hear perhaps the worst theme song in television history, as already discussed at length in our post on the 1960 episodes.

The complete series has been released on DVD by TGG Direct.

The Actors

For the biography of Gene Barry, see the 1960 post for Bat Masterson.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 3, Episode 14, "Tempest at Tioga Pass": Hank Patterson (shown on the left, played Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction and Hank on Gunsmoke) plays miner W.T. Smith. George Macready (Martin Peyton on Peyton Place) plays real estate agent Clyde Richards. Jack Reitzen (Chopstick Joe on Terry and the Pirates and Flores on Not for Hire) plays his henchman Motto. 

Season 3, Episode 15, "The Court Martial of Major Mars": John Anderson (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays accused U.S. Army Major Liam Mars. Dick Wilson (Dino Barone on McHale's Navy and George Whipple in Charmin toilet paper commercials) plays former Indian agent Tobias Tinker. Peggy Knudsen (appeared in The Big Sleep, Humoresque, and The Bottom of the Bottle, played April Adams on So This Is Hollywood, and was the voice of Cleo on The People's Choice) plays stage passenger Lottie Tremaine. Glen Gordon (Dr. Fu Manchu on The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu) plays stage driver Jake Sims.

Season 3, Episode 16, "The Price of Paradise": Kenneth McDonald (the judge 32 times on Perry Mason, Col. Parker on Colt .45, and appeared in several Three Stooges shorts) plays rancher Sam Jansen. Dyan Cannon (shown on the right, starred in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Shamus, Heaven Can Wait, Revenge of the Pink Panther, and Deathtrap and played Judge Jennifer Cone on Ally McBeal and Ally and Honey Bernstein-Flynn on Three Sisters) plays his daughter Diane. Richard Arlen (starred in The Virginian, Dangerous Paradise, Gun Smoke, Island of Lost Souls, and Alice in Wonderland) plays Paradise Sheriff Dan Rainey. John Dennis (Dutch Schultz on The Lawless Years) plays gambler's gunman Finch. 

Season 3, Episode 17, "End of the Line": Liam Sullivan (Major Mapoy on The Monroes, Dr. Joseph Lerner on The Young and the Restless, and Mr. Willis on Knots Landing) plays railroad foreman Dick Jeffers. Denver Pyle (Ben Thompson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Grandpa Tarleton on Tammy, Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show, Buck Webb on The Doris Day Show, Mad Jack on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays railroad foreman Walsh. 

Season 3, Episode 18, "The Prescott Campaign": John Dehner (shown on the left, played Duke Williams on The Roaring '20's, Commodore Cecil Wyntoon on The Baileys of Balboa, Morgan Starr on The Virginian, Cyril Bennett on The Doris Day Show, Dr. Charles Cleveland Claver on The New Temperatures Rising Show, Barrett Fears on Big Hawaii, Marshal Edge Troy on Young Maverick, Lt. Joseph Broggi on Enos, Hadden Marshall on Bare Essence, and Billy Joe Erskine on The Colbys) plays Prescott Marshal Ben Holt. Philip Ober (appeared in From Here to Eternity, North by Northwest, and Elmer Gantry) plays Prescott kingpin General Silas Guild. Valerie Allen (appeared in The Joker Is Wild, The Five Pennies, Bells Are Ringing, and Pillow Talk, and played Verna Mason on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Anne Banner on The Texan) plays his daughter Catherine. Emory Parnell (Hawkins on The Life of Riley and Hank the bartender on Lawman) plays general store owner Ira Ponder. Wally Vernon (Joey Perhaps on Damon Runyan Theater)plays the town bartender.

Season 3, Episode 19, "Bullwhacker's Bounty": Jack Lambert (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Riverboat) plays renegade leader Wancho Tully. Rayford Barnes (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays gang member Ed Twister. Will Wright (Mr. Merrivale on Dennis the Menace and Ben Weaver on The Andy Griffith Show) plays Army scout Billy Willow. Jan Shepard (Nurse Betty on Dr. Christian) plays saloon girl Jody Reese. Ken Christy (Bill Franklin on Meet Corliss Archer) plays the train station agent.

Season 3, Episode 20, "A Lesson in Violence": Richard Eastham (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Tombstone Territory) plays cattle rancher Oren Dilts. Virginia Gregg (starred in Dragnet, Crime in the Streets, Operation Petticoat and was the voice of Norma Bates in Psycho and Maggie Belle Klaxon on Calvin and the Colonel) plays rancher's widow Nora Grant. Larry Darr (makeup artist on The Love Boat) plays her son Page. 

Season 3, Episode 21, "Run for Your Money": Gerald Mohr (narrator on 19 episodes of The Lone Ranger, Christopher Storm on Foreign Intrigue, and voice of Mr. Fantastic and Reed Richards on Fantastic 4) plays ex-banker Crimp Ward. Dennis Moore (Deputy Lee on Tombstone Territory) plays his henchman Hacker. Ray Hamilton (Al Casey on King of Diamonds) plays wagon driver Terry Bowen. Tom London (starred in Six-Shootin' Sheriff, Song of the Buckaroo, and Riders in the Sky) plays bartender Eddie. Harry Woods (Doc Cunningham on Tombstone Territory) plays Denver physician Dr. R.W. Armstrong.

Season 3, Episode 23, "Episode in Eden": Bek Nelson (shown on the left, played Dru Lemp on Lawman and Phyllis Sloan on Peyton Place) plays former Eden resident Martha Yale. Robert Bice (Police Capt. Jim Johnson on The Untouchables) plays Eden bully San Shanks. Ken Drake (Bragan on Not for Hire) plays his henchman Ron Daigle. Quintin Sondergaard (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Tombstone Territory) plays henchman Luke Flamm. Robert Shield (deputy Jimmy on Tombstone Territory) plays timid resident Ray Platt.
Season 3, Episode 24, "The Good and the Bad": Jeanette Nolan (starred in Macbeth (1948), The Big Heat, Tribute to a Bad Man, and The Reluctant Astronaut, did voicework for Psycho, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound, and played Annette Devereaux on Hotel de Paree and Holly Grainger on The Virginian) plays mission mother superior Sister Mary Paul. Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand on Star Trek) plays stage passenger Louise Talbot. 

Season 3, Episode 25, "No Amnesty for Death": R.G. Armstrong (Police Capt. McAllister on T.H.E. Cat and Lewis Vendredi on Friday the 13th) plays Las Tables Marshal William McWilliams. Robert Blake (shown on the right, played Mickey in over 30 Our Gang shorts and Little Beaver in 23 westerns, starred in Black Rose, Pork Chop Hill, The Purple Gang, In Cold Blood, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, and Electra Glide in Blue, and played Det. Tony Baretta on Baretta and Father Noah Rivers on Hell Town)plays his son Bill Bill. DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) plays condemned renegade Brock Martin. Billy Wells (college and professional football player voted player of the game in the 1954 Rose Bowl) plays condemned renegade Dobie Tunstall. 

Season 3, Episode 26, "Ledger of Guilt": Jack Hogan (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 Meeker Marshal Johnny Dillon. Barry Kelley (starred in The Asphalt Jungle, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Love Bug and played Mr. Slocum on Pete and Gladys and Mr. Hergesheimer on Mister Ed) plays henchman Frank Williams. Robert F. Hoy (Joe Butler on The High Chaparral, Detective Howard on Dallas, and Cliff on Our House) plays henchman Hyde Pierce. James Nusser (Louie Pheeters on Gunsmoke) plays saddle tramp Elmer. 

Season 3, Episode 27, "Meeting at Mimbres": Warren Oates (shown on the left, starred in In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and Stripes and played Ves Painter on Stoney Burke) plays renegade's son Cat Crail. 

Season 3, Episode 28, "Dagger Dance": Ken Mayer (Maj. Robbie Robertson on Space Patrol) plays ambitious Army Major John Whitsett. Byron Morrow (Capt. Keith Gregory on The New Breed and Pearce Newberry on Executive Suite) plays his campaign manager Amos Judd. William Tannen (Deputy Hal Norton on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays the Fort Logan doctor. Tom Greenway (Sheriff Jack Bronson on State Trooper) plays traveling water salesman Ben Pick. 

Season 3, Episode 29, "The Fourth Man": Kevin Hagen (shown on the right, played John Colton on Yancy Derringer, Inspector Dobbs Kobick on Land of the Giants, and Dr. Hiram Baker on Little House on the Prairie) plays poker cheat Ace Williams. Dehl Berti (Vittorio on Buck James and John Taylor on Guns of Paradise) plays his accomplice Gant Barth. George Kennedy (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 Cavanaugh on Sarge, Bumper Morgan on The Blue Knight, and Carter McKay on Dallas) plays Lordsburg Sheriff Zeke Armitage. Audrey Dalton (appeared in Titanic (1953), Separate Tables, and Kitten With a Whip) plays his wife Cally. 

Season 3, Episode 30, "Dead Man's Claim": Stefanie Powers (shown on the left, starred in Experiment in Terror, Stagecoach, The Boatniks, and Herbie Rides Again and played April Dancer on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Toni "Feather" Danton on The Feather and Father Gang, Jennifer Hart on Hart to Hart, and Jane Powers on Doctors) plays boarding house manager Ann Elkins. Tyler McVey (Major Norgrath on Men Into Space) plays land registrar Vernon Ellwood. Charles Maxwell (Special Agent Joe Carey on I Led 3 Lives and the voice of the radio announcer on Gilligan's Island) plays claim jumper Harvey Mason. Craig Duncan (Sgt. Stanfield/Banfield on Mackenzie's Raiders) plays claim jumper Clay Adams.

Season 3, Episode 31, "The Marble Slab": Marvin Miller (appeared in Blood on the Sun, Johnny Angel, Deadline at Dawn, and The Golden Horde, was the voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, played Mr. Proteus on Space Patrol and Michael Anthony on The Millionaire, and was the narrator on The F.B.I., Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and Police Squad!) plays Blackwater kingpin John Kelso. Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley on Dallas) plays his henchman Macy. Robert Bice (see "Episode in Eden" above) plays Pinkerton agent Bledsoe. 

Season 3, Episode 32, "Farmer With a Badge": John Agar (Shirley Temple's first husband, appeared in Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Sands of Iwo Jima, Woman of the North Country, Revenge of the Creature, The Mole People, and Attack of the Puppet People) plays farmer/marshal Sam Phelps. Jackie Loughery (Letty Bean on Judge Roy Bean and was once married to Jack Webb) plays his sister Martha. King Calder (Lt. Gray on Martin Kane) plays criminal casino operator Denny Cave. Gregory Walcott (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1961 post on 87th Precinct) plays his henchman Lou. Ken Drake (see "Episode in Eden" above) plays henchman Scratchy. Dehl Berti (see "The Fourth Man" above) plays henchman Lank. Frank Warren (Officer Simpson on Highway Patrol and Art Crowley on The Andy Griffith Show) plays an unnamed henchman. 

Season 3, Episode 33, "The Fatal Garment": Ron Hayes (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Bat Masterson) plays Bat's friend Wyatt Earp. Lisa Gaye (Gwen Kirby on How to Marry a Millionaire) plays Mexican cantina owner Elena. Ed Nelson (Michael Rossi on Peyton Place and Ward Fuller on The Silent Force) plays gang leader Browder. 

Season 3, Episode 34, "Jeopardy at Jackson Hole": Larry Pennell (shown on the left, appeared in Seven Angry Men, The Space Children, and The FBI Story and played Ted McKeever on Ripcord, Dash Riprock on The Beverly Hillbillies, Keith Holden on Lassie, and Hank Pulaski on General Hospital) plays land office manager Cal Beamus. Paul Dubov (Michel on The Ann Sothern Show) plays his henchman Tom Fulton. Ron Foster (Officer Garvey on Highway Patrol) plays Jackson Hole Sheriff Buck Simpson.

No comments:

Post a Comment