Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Wanted Dead or Alive (1961)

Our post on the 1960 episodes of Wanted Dead or Alive already covered the show's origins and trajectory. By 1961 the series was on its last legs, much to the delight of its star Steve McQueen. McQueen had already had his fill of television work by 1960 and was looking to make the great escape to the big screen as a lead actor. We had speculated in that earlier post that because of his career ambitions, McQueen would likely not have welcomed a partner when actor Wright King was brought aboard to play former deputy Jason Nichols in 9 episodes from 1960. But according to an interview with King posted on the web site westernclippings.com, just the opposite was the case--McQueen saw King as his future replacement, providing an escape hatch, so he was eager to help King transition into the role only to be undone by a writers' strike that year, which ultimately led the producers to jettison King's character after Season 2.

However, they still managed to play into McQueen's plans by changing the program's time slot to Wednesday evenings opposite The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Price Is Right, the #8 rated show for 1959-60, one spot higher than Wanted. As a result, Wanted tumbled out of the top 30, and the series was canceled after only 26 episodes in Season 3, with 12 of those airing in 1961. According to metv.com, McQueen was looking to torpedo the series after being offered his part in The Magnificent Seven. Because his prior contract for Wanted made scheduling feature film difficult if not impossible, McQueen staged an intentional auto accident and came to work in a neck brace as if he could not work. Though he would later credit the series with helping hone his craft, he celebrated wrapping his final episode of the series by dancing a jig on set. The February 4, 1961 issue of TV Guide reported on the series cancellation thusly:

"As far as its network is concerned, Wanted--Dead or Alive isn't wanted. It expires the end of next month. Star Steve McQueen said this about the show's departure: 'I'm delighted. I'll have no limitations, no time schedules fouling up picture offers. I have two films set--"The Golden Fleecing" and "The Great Escape." Onward and upward.'"

Note: "The Golden Fleecing" to which McQueen refers would be released as The Honeymoon Machine, based on a play by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. of Batman fame.

Regardless of McQueen's machinations, the series had long since exhausted the bounty hunter premise and made the character of Josh Randall more of a Paladin figure, a gun for hire who will entertain any offer he considers within his wheelhouse. Assignments include tracking a lost pet sheep in "Baa-Baa" (January 4, 1961), looking after a deaf-mute girl while her father is away on business in "The Voice of Silence" (February 15, 1961), helping a New York photographer find and photograph legendary Mexican bandito El Gato in "El Gato" (February 22, 1961), and helping a jilted Japanese woman track down the man who promised to marry her in "The Long Search" (March 15, 1961).

But whereas Paladin accepts or rejects assignments based on his sense of honor or justice, Randall is portrayed as a bit more mercenary and is accused of such in "Dead Reckoning" (March 22, 1961). Josh is lured to the town of Woodstock by a telegram he believes was sent by Sheriff Art Hampton but which was actually sent by the wife of wanted man Paul Decker, who has a $300 reward on his head for an alleged murder. Decker's wife summons Josh because she thinks he is her best chance of bringing her husband back alive, which she believes will allow him to clear his name in a case of self-defense. Josh has to ward off the revenge-driven Taggart brothers, whose brother Decker killed. After gunning down both Taggarts in self-defense, Josh brings a wounded Decker back to Woodstock but still demands the $300 reward from Hampton, even though his prisoner was cleared of the charges against him. When Hampton offers to buy Josh a drink for a job well done, Josh declines, saying he won't be charmed out of the reward, and that he can pay for the drinks himself.

He draws the line, however, when asked to escort express office clerk Charlie Glover with $10,000 in stolen money in "Monday Morning" (March 8, 1961) until he learns that Glover intends to return the money before business opens after the weekend. This is one of several episodes in which Josh is recruited by a coward. In Glover's case, he is afraid of being waylaid by an accomplice named Sam Vickers who cooked up the caper but didn't actually help remove the money from the company safe. While Vickers claims to be opposed to violence, he is accompanied by black-clad sadistic gunman Joseph Richards, so mild-mannered clerk Glover needs Josh for protection. In "The Last Retreat" (January 11, 1961), Josh is hired by attorney Jim Lawton to protect his wife Sarah, whose testimony helped convict bank robber Clem Robinson, now escaped from prison. When Lawton explains his situation, Josh asks him why he doesn't protect his wife himself, to which Lawton replies candidly that he is a coward, a fact that is a point of tension between he and his wife. Though Josh is the one who finally shoots Robinson dead, Lawton makes enough of a stand at a critical time to win back a little of his dignity and presumably the approval of his wife. On the comic side, Josh is enlisted in "Detour" (March 1, 1961) by lovesick coward Clayton Armstrong, who plans to elope with Jane Fairweather but is afraid of her brusque father as well as the heights required in climbing ladders up to second-story windows. While this episode affords us the opportunity to see actor Howard Morris display his comic gifts before being cast as Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, it also demonstrates that McQueen is much more suited to taciturn tough guy roles than he is to slapstick, a fact also borne out in the aforementioned episode "Baa-Baa." Likewise, when people mention McQueen's best work, The Great Escape is at the top of the list, whereas The Honeymoon Machine comedy is not worthy of mention. 

More in keeping with the original premise of the show are episodes such as "Bounty on Josh" (January 25, 1961) in which Josh is stalked by the daughter of one of his early captures, "Epitaph" (February 8, 1961) where Josh is summoned by the new sheriff of the generically named Border City to bring back his predecessor, a man with whom Josh has a history but who was led astray by a double-dealing femme fatale, and the final episode "Barney's Bounty" (March 29, 1961) in which Josh visits Barney Durant to rent a pair of horses for two captives he is taking to Nevada, only to have them escape with Durant's horses, thus thrusting the old pals to go bounty hunting together whilst discussing Barney's difficulty in raising his son. But even in each of these episodes the bounty hunting profession is merely used as a framework to address other human conflicts--revenge, delusional love, and parenting. Granted, Wanted was no more disingenuous than other western series in capitalizing on the faddishness of the genre while actually wanting to deal with more timeless themes. But without McQueen in the starring role, the series probably would have merited no more attention than, say, Black Saddle or Outlaws

The Actors

For the biography of Steve McQueen, see the 1960 post on Wanted Dead or Alive.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 3, Episode 15, "Baa-Baa": Dave Willock (shown on the left, starred in Let's Face It, Pin Up Girl, and The Fabulous Dorseys and played Lt. Binning on Boots and Saddles, Harvey Clayton on Margie, and was the narrator on the animated Wacky Races) plays sheep owner George Goode. Hollis Irving (Mrs. Woodley on Blondie and Aunt Phoebe on Margie) plays his wife Helen. Stuart Randall (Sheriff Art Sampson on Cimarron City, Al Livermore on Lassie, and Sheriff Mort Corey on Laramie) plays cattleman Watkins. Robert Easton (renowned voice coach, played Brian McAfee on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and voiced Lt. George Lee Sheridan on Stingray) plays sheep-herder Jeff. Wally Brown (appeared in Notorious, The Left Handed Gun, and The Absent-Minded Professor and played Jed Fame on Cimarron City and Chauncey Kowalski on The Roaring '20's) plays a bartender. Joe Devlin (Sam Catchem on Dick Tracy) plays barfly Larry. Judith Rawlins (second wife of singer Vic Damone) plays saloon girl Hazel. Frank Gerstle (Dick Gird on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays a sheep processing foreman. Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (Pedro Vasquez on The Texan) plays troubadour Pedro Hernandez.
Season 3, Episode 16, "The Last Retreat": Ross Elliott (Freddie the director on The Jack Benny Program and Sheriff Abbott on The Virginian) plays attorney Jim Lawton. Constance Ford (starred in A Summer Place, Home From the Hill, All Fall Down, and The Caretakers and played Ada Lucas Davis Downs McGowan Hobson on Another World) plays his wife Sarah. Warren Oates (shown on the right, starred in In the Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and Stripes and played Ves Painter on Stoney Burke) plays escaped convict Clem Robinson. William Hudson (Ranger Clark on Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and Special Agent Mike Andrews on I Led 3 Lives) plays the Victory City sheriff.
Season 3, Episode 17, "Bounty on Josh": Michael Greene (Deputy Vance Porter on The Dakotas) plays Holbrook Sheriff Willis. Rhys Williams (shown on the left, played Doc Burrage on The Rifleman) plays physician Dr. Thomas Peterson. 
Season 3, Episode 18, "Hero in the Dust": Ralph Bell (Capt. Roderick Turner and Miguel Torres on The Edge of Night and Brandon Spaulding on Guiding Light) plays bounty hunter Phil Richards. Audrey Caire (mother of actresses Doran Clark and Louise Caire Clark) plays saloon owner Polly. 

Season 3, Episode 19, "Epitaph": Richard Anderson (shown on the right, appeared in Forbidden Planet, Paths of Glory, and Seven Days in May and played D.A. Glenn Wagner on Bus Stop; Lt. Steve Drumm on Perry Mason; Chief George Untermeyer on Dan August; Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman; and Buck Fallmont on Dynasty) plays former sheriff Jim Kramer. Bart Burns (Capt. Pat Chambers on Mike Hammer) plays his successor Sheriff Walt Sommers. Lewis Charles (Lou on The Feather and Father Gang) plays bounty hunter Hoyt Larson. 

Season 3, Episode 20, "The Voice of Silence": Roy Barcroft (Col. Logan on The Adventures of Spin and Marty and Roy on Gunsmoke) plays ranch owner Frank Hagen. Charles Bail (directed multiple episodes of CHiPs, Dragnet (1989-91), and The New Adam-12) plays bank robber's son Wally Brice. 

Season 3, Episode 21, "El Gato": Noah Beery, Jr. (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Riverboat) plays notorious bandito El Gato. Olan Soule (Aristotle "Tut" Jones on Captain Midnight, Ray Pinker on Dragnet (1952-59), and Fred Springer on Arnie) plays New York photographer Archie Warner. Roberto Contreras (Pedro on The High Chapparal) plays federale Jimenez. Bernie Gozier (King Moses on Bold Venture) plays El Gato henchman Butera.

Season 3, Episode 22, "Detour": Howard Morris (shown on the right, appeared in Boys' Night Out, The Nutty Professor, and High Anxiety, played Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, and voiced Beetle Bailey, Gen. Halftrack, Otto, and Rocky on Beetle Bailey, Breezly Bruin on The Peter Potamus Show, Mr. Peebles on The Magilla Gorilla Show, Atom Ant on The Atom Ant Show, Jughead Jones, Big Moose, and Dilton Doiley on The Archie Show and Archie's Funhouse, Frankie, Wolfie, and Dr. Jekyll on Sabrina and the Groovie Goulies, Cousin Ambrose on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and The Hamburglar on McDonaldland) plays love-struck coward Clayton Armstrong. Howard Smith (see the biography section for the 1961 post on Hazel) plays his fiance's father Martin Fairweather. Melinda Casey (Linda Kelly on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) plays his fiance's sister Patience. Byron Foulger (Mr. Nash on Captain Nice and Wendell Gibbs on Petticoat Junction) plays the Littlefield minister. 

Season 3, Episode 23, "Monday Morning": Richard Carlyle (shown on the left, played Casey on Crime Photographer) plays express office clerk Charlie Glover. Bill Quinn (see the biography for the 1961 post on The Rifleman) plays his boss Porter Fairchild. Ralph Bell (see "Hero in the Dust" above) plays Glover's accomplice Sam Vickers. Craig Duncan (Sgt. Stanfield/Banfield on Mackenzie's Raiders) plays Traceyville Sheriff Frank. 

Season 3, Episode 24, "The Long Search": Lynette Bernay (was the costumer on Miami Vice, Undeclared, and Burn Notice) plays saloon girl Kitty. Olan Soule (see "El Gato" above) plays a hotel clerk. Stanley Clements (Stanislaus "Duke" Coveleskie in 6 Bowery Boys feature films) plays drifter Krebs. 

Season 3, Episode 25, "Dead Reckoning": Jimmy Lydon (shown on the right, starred in Tom Brown's School Days, Little Men, Joan of Arc, and 9 Henry Aldrich features and played Biff Cardoza on Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, Andy Boone on So This Is Hollywood, and Richard on Love That Jill) plays wanted man Paul Decker. Roy Engel (Doc Martin on Bonanza, the police chief on My Favorite Martian, and President Ulysses S. Grant on The Wild, Wild West) plays Woodstock Sheriff Art Hampton. 

Season 3, Episode 26, "Barney's Bounty": Noah Beery, Jr. (see "El Gato" above) plays horse trader Barney Durant. Jonathan Bolt (wrote 19 episodes of Ryan's Hope) plays his son David. Bill Quinn (see "Monday Morning" above) plays bartender Mitch. Bill Hart (Red on Stoney Burke) plays outlaw Frank Garth. Richard Alexander (Nils/Nels Swenson on The Rifleman) plays blacksmith Nels Svenson. Jan Arvan (Nacho Torres on Zorro and Paw Kadiddlehopper on The Red Skelton Hour) plays Pedro the bar patron.

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