Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Deputy (1961)

Viewers of contemporary dramatic TV series have in a sense become spoiled by the current trend in devising multi-season story arcs narrating a continuous thread over dozens of episodes delineating not only the connected events that comprise a certain character's story but also the development and past history of that character. Critically acclaimed series like Breaking Bad grab and hold our attention specifically by posing and answering the question of why and how an upright, by-the-book high school science teacher could evolve into an amoral drug lord. But that level of character development and sequential narration was unthinkable five and a half decades ago. TV characters may have had multiple personality traits, which could be tested, challenged, and even temporarily changed within the confines of a single episode, but over the course of the series those traits were immutable, and events from one week's episode almost never carried over to any subsequent episodes. When an actor left a series that continued after his or her departure, often their sudden absence was never explained. All of which is prelude to the proposition that The Deputy was one of the best TV westerns of its era precisely because it was ahead of its time.

As recounted in our post covering the 1960 episodes of The Deputy, the series was remarkable because it boasted the most famous movie star then performing a regular television role in Henry Fonda. But Fonda was not the titular character in the series and had agreed to do the series only if he could make minimal appearances in the majority of episodes and get all of his camera work done in a 2-month span so that he could spend the rest of the year on movies and theatrical productions. Nevertheless, Fonda's role as Chief Marshal Simon Fry was crucial in the series' tone and evolution. As we narrated in the previous post, the title role of Clay McCord played by Allen Case begins as a store keeper who gets roped into backing up long-time Silver City Marshal Herk Lamson, who is nearing retirement. McCord is quick with a gun but wary of using it, particularly since his father was killed in a gun battle, so Fry must play upon his conscience to get him to step into a lawman's role that he really doesn't want. After this dynamic had been ridden about as far as it could go, the producers have McCord's store set on fire and burnt to the ground to provide a plausible motivation for him to accept a more permanent deputy position to earn enough money to reopen his store. Fry then adds the enticement of luring McCord into pursuing various outlaws to collect the reward money, only to find a flimsy excuse once the criminal has been captured of awarding the money to someone else and thereby lengthening the time McCord must serve as deputy.

But this scenario of tricking McCord week after week did not descend into the familiar Peanuts comic strip ruse with Lucy offering to hold the football so that Charlie Brown can kick it. Fry extends McCord's servitude so that he can mentor him in the not always obvious or even ethical ways a lawman must sometimes use to serve the cause of justice. And it is this mentorship that we see play out in the 1961 episodes until Fry feels that McCord is his equal. McCord's financial motivation only crops up once more in "The Challenger" (February 25, 1961) when he gets a letter from his sister, now living near St. Louis after being jettisoned from the series when the family store burned down, who needs an extra $20 a week to save the family farm. When McCord tells Fry he is thinking of quitting his deputy post to work a more lucrative cattle ranching job, Fry says he knows he won't be able to wrangle that big a raise out of the governor but is willing to try. Meanwhile, McCord's sidekick Sgt. Hapgood Tasker gets the brilliant idea to win $500 for his friend by entering a boxing challenge against a travelling carnival strongman. The Boxing Match is a much-used, hackneyed plot in early 1960s westerns, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of televised boxing within the confines of the dramatic western, but what makes this version different is the way the story is enveloped in McCord's past history, tied to events portrayed the previous season. The series frequently uses well-worn western plots like this one but manages to make them palatable by framing them with the witty interchanges between Fry and McCord.

Elsewhere in the 1961 episodes we see Clay demonstrating that he has developed the manipulative skills of his mentor, enabling him to turn the tables to solve a problem through devious means. In "The Lesson" (January 14, 1961), a notorious ex-con rides into town and shocks the populace by revealing that their highly regarded school teacher is his wife. The town council can't abide having an outlaw's wife teach their impressionable children, so they terminate her contract. After McCord is unable to get the council members to reconsider, given all the good the school teacher has done for their children during hard times, McCord reminds them of a statute that they enacted requiring all children to attend school every day if there is a teacher available, then promising that he will make sure there is one available. McCord then talks with Fry, who thinks that McCord is naturally the one who must serve as interim teacher, but McCord counters that the children would never accept him as teacher since they are used to calling him by his first name, and that Fry, as the highest-ranking representative of the territory, is duty-bound to fill in as the temporary teacher. As it turns out, McCord's plan works perfectly because Fry winds up instilling in his pupils the teachings of Benjamin Franklin on standing up against those who would curtail their freedoms, and when their lily-livered fathers refuse to oppose the notorious ex-con and his gang of bandits, the children take up arms and shame their parents into fulfilling their duty in capturing the threat to their society. By having Fry teach the children so that they can in turn give their parents a lesson to solve his problem, McCord demonstrates the kind of two-steps-ahead chess move for which Fry is famous.

In "Past and Present" (January 21, 1961) Fry and the rest of Silver City think bank employee Herb Caldwell must have been in on a bank robbery when Caldwell fails to shoot at the bank robbers when he had the chance. But McCord believes that there is more to the story and eventually discovers that Caldwell's brother was the leader of the bank robbing gang, and he hesitated to fire at the robbers because it would have meant killing his own brother. But after confronting his brother and being unable to get him to turn himself in, Caldwell is forced to do what he had avoided earlier, and when McCord later recounts the turn of events to Fry, the latter says that's why he hired McCord in the first place--because he's stubborn enough to do his own thinking.

Fry concedes that McCord is his equal in devising risky schemes to handle tricky situations in "The Example" (March 25, 1961). Faced with the problem of a young man headed down the wrong path, such as forcing the bartender to serve him liquor at gunpoint even though he is under age, McCord decides that the only way to get through to the troubled youth is to enlist the help of his fugitive father who is hiding out in Mexico. When he discusses his idea with Fry, the latter points out the many risks involved if the outlaw father is spotted north of the border but then says that he can see McCord's mind is made up, though he also says that as far as he is concerned their conversation never happened. After McCord rides off to carry out his plan, Fry says to himself that he wish he'd thought of it.

McCord tries another risky move in "The Return of Widow Brown" (April 22, 1961) when he is faced with the return of Amelia Brown, widow of a bank robber whose stolen loot has never been recovered. McCord isn't sure whether Widow Brown knows where the money is, but he figures the only way to find out is to release from prison the only surviving member of her husband's gang and see if he can flush out where the money is, only to get the prison warden to release his prisoner, he has to give him the impression that Fry approved of his plan. After McCord has retrieved the stolen money and recaptured the prisoner, he tries to explain to Fry why a Yuma prisoner is in their Silver City jail by telling him that in order to solve the mystery of the missing money he had to think like Fry, but suspecting that McCord likely had to bend a few laws to do it, Fry tells him he doesn't want to hear the details now or ever. 

McCord again beats Fry at his own game in "The Legend of Dixie" (May 20, 1961) after a notorious loafer is awarded a $2000 reward for the killing of two wanted bank robbers that he didn't actually shoot. After McCord cleverly lets loafer Dixie Miller bask in his unearned glory in order to lure the lone remaining robber into town, where he is shot trying to commit another robbery. Fry is upset that McCord still allowed Miller to keep the reward money when it could be put to better use for various needs throughout the territory, at which point McCord reminds him of the need for a new school house in Silver City and then shows him a check Miller has written for half the reward amount to start a school house fund. Whereas Fry frequently dangled the prospect of reward money before McCord in earlier episodes to get him to do his bidding, McCord in this episode has reversed that tactic, holding on to reward money to finance a local need, showing that he is no longer thinking of returning to his private concern of running a store but is instead the voice of the community.

While the series did not wind up its last episode with anything that today would pass for a finale, at least not literally, it did offer a symbolically satisfying end to the slow education and eventual graduation of Clay McCord from private citizen and storekeeper to permanent Deputy Marshal. In "Lawman's Conscience" (July 1, 1961), McCord suffers a crisis of conscience when he is duped into believing that he incorrectly contributed to an innocent man being sentenced to prison. Though Tasker and Fry attempt to console him by telling him that mistakes are bound to be part of the business, McCord's ability to carry out his duties is jeopardized by his guilt as he bends over backwards to avoid suspecting the released Albee Beckett, the man he had helped convict three years earlier. However, as the evidence begins to mount that Beckett is responsible for a recent string of robberies, McCord is able at least to devise a plan to ferret out the truth by telling Beckett's girlfriend that they suspect him, causing him to bolt and reveal his hideout containing the stolen loot. At episode's end Fry finds McCord camping out one evening on his way to transport Beckett back to Yuma prison. Fry chides McCord for not finishing his report on the affair, and McCord counters that the report is in the mail and that besides that he needs to clear his conscience by returning Beckett where he belongs. Fry offers to join him for the journey and then says he will take first watch while McCord gets some sleep, which McCord accepts because he says that Fry is the boss. This episode provides a satisfactory end to the series because it demonstrates that despite suffering a crisis of conscience and being duped by a faked death-bed confession, McCord's instincts about Beckett were right in the first place and that even though he was temporarily weakened by self-doubt he was able to adjust to mounting suspicion against Beckett and make the right call, leading to Beckett's capture. These traits have all the qualities of a seasoned lawman, showing the progress that McCord has made from the unwilling quick-draw artist to one who can think like his mentor and adapt to changing circumstances. Fry's offer to accompany McCord on the remainder of his journey shows that, while Fry is still technically the "boss," the two men are essentially equals going forward. And McCord's lying down to snooze while Fry takes first watch symbolically puts the series narrative "to bed."

It's unfortunate that such a well-devised and executed series lasted only two seasons. The May 6 issue of TV Guide said only "Henry Fonda and The Deputy are bowing out of the NBC schedule" by way of explanation. In an interview for the web site westernclippings.com Read Morgan, who played Sgt. Tasker during Season 2, suggested that Fonda decided to leave the series because it was too demanding given all of his other projects and that because television operated on such a condensed schedule to provide weekly content the quality was not up to what Fonda was used to when working on feature films. Perhaps so, but the quality Fonda and his castmates produced over two seasons of The Deputy compares favorably to anything turned out by the much more popular westerns of that time.

The Actors

For the biographies of Henry Fonda, Allen Case, and Read Morgan, see the 1960 post on The Deputy.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 2, Episode 15, "Duty Bound": Ron Harper (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on 87th Precinct) plays accused killer Jay Elston. Frank Maxwell (Duncan MacRoberts on Our Man Higgins and Col. Garraway on The Second Hundred Years) plays accused killer Mel Ricker. Pat McCaffrie (Chuck Forrest on Bachelor Father) plays a wounded Army lieutenant.
Season 2, Episode 16, "The Lesson": Harry Lauter (Ranger Clay Morgan on Tales of the Texas Rangers, Atlasande on Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, and Jim Herrick on Waterfront) plays notorious outlaw Lex Danton. Wandra Hendrix (starred in Nora Prentiss, Ride the Pink Horse, Sierra, and Johnny Cool) plays his wife Mary Willis. Steve Darrell (Sheriff Hal Humphrey on Tales of Wells Fargo) plays store owner Mr. Jenkins.

Season 2, Episode 17, "Past and Present": Arthur Franz (starred in Flight to Mars, The Member of the Wedding, and The Caine Mutiny) plays bank employee Herb Caldwell. Murvyn Vye (Lionel on The Bob Cummings Show) plays bank robber Calico Bill Caldwell. Mary Beth Hughes (appeared in Star Dust, The Ox-Bow Incident, Orchestra Wives, Inner Sanctum, Riders in the Sky, and Young Man With a Horn) plays his former fiance Madge Belden. Paul Newlan (shown on the right, played Police Capt. Grey on M Squad and Lt. Gen. Pritchard on 12 O'Clock High) plays mine owner Art Standish. 

Season 2, Episode 18, "The Hard Decision": George Brenlin (Benny on General Hospital and Duke Dukowski on Adam-12) plays convicted killer Jimmy Burke. Marc Lawrence (appeared in The Ox-Bow Incident, Tampico, Key Largo, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Man With the Golden Gun and directed 16 episodes of Lawman) plays his brother Alvy. John Dennis (Dutch Schultz on The Lawless Years) plays Alvy's sidekick Josh. Olan Soule (Aristotle "Tut" Jones on Captain Midnight, Ray Pinker on Dragnet (1952-59), and Fred Springer on Arnie) plays dentist Painless Stoner. 

Season 2, Episode 19, "The Dream": Dick Foran (shown on the left, played Fire Chief Ed Washburne on Lassie and Slim on O.K., Crackerby!) plays landowner Major Quint Hammer. John McLiam (appeared in Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, Sleeper, The Missouri Breaks, and First Blood) plays rancher Ty Lawson.

Season 2, Episode 20, "Shackled Town": Bruce Gordon (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Untouchables) plays Vista Grande Judge Denton. Robert Brubaker (Deputy Ed Blake on U.S. Marshal and Floyd on Gunsmoke) plays Marshal Pecos Smith. Carla Alberghetti (sister of Anna Maria Alberghetti) plays store clerk Carmelita. Ralf Harolde (appeared in Smart Money, I'm No Angel, He Was Her Man, and Murder, My Sweet) plays priest Padre Rafael.

Season 2, Episode 21, "The Lonely Road": Edward Binns (starred in 12 Angry Men, North by Northwest, Heller in Pink Tights, and Judgment at Nuremberg and played Roy Brenner on Brenner and Wally Powers on It Takes a Thief) plays released ex-con Shad Billings. 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) played his wife Meg. Jim Davis (shown on the right, played Matt Clark on Stories of the Century, Wes Cameron on Rescue 8, Marshal Bill Winter on The Cowboys, and Jock Ewing on Dallas) plays mine foreman Trace Phelan. Dick Wilson (Dino Barone on McHale's Navy and George Whipple in Charmin toilet paper commercials) plays the Silver City barber.

Season 2, Episode 22, "The Challenger": Paul Gilbert ("The Duke" London on The Duke) plays carnival promoter Dillon. Stafford Repp (Chief O'Hara on Batman) plays cattle rancher Mr. Collins.

Season 2, Episode 23, "Edge of Doubt": Richard Chamberlain (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on Dr. Kildare) plays pardoned criminal Jerry Kirk. Floy Dean (Laura Spencer Horton on Days of Our Lives) plays his girlfriend Annie Jenner. George Chandler (Mac Benson on Waterfront, Uncle Petrie Martin on Lassie, and Ichabod Adams on Ichabod and Me) plays her father's assistant George Lake. Thomas E. Jackson (starred in Broadway, Little Caesar, and The Woman in the Window) plays store owner Potts.

Season 2, Episode 24, "Two-Way Deal": Ted de Corsia (Police Chief Hagedorn on Steve Canyon) plays bounty hunter Slade Blatner. Billy Gray (see the biography section for the 1960 post on Father Knows Best) plays his son Johnny. Kenneth MacDonald (played the judge 32 times on Perry Mason, played Col. Parker on Colt .45, and appeared in several Three Stooges shorts) plays the Indian Wells sheriff. 

Season 2, Episode 25, "The Means and the End": DeForest Kelley (shown on the right, played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) plays wanted killer Farley Styles. Justice Watson (J.W. Harrington on Holiday Lodge) plays circuit Judge Stokes. 

Season 2, Episode 26, "The Example": Denver Pyle (Ben Thompson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Grandpa Tarleton on Tammy, Briscoe Darlingon 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 fugitive Frank Barton. Rickie Sorensen (Thomas Banks on Father of the Bride) plays Simon Fry's young admirer Kit. 

Season 2, Episode 27, "Cherchez la Femme": Edward Platt (shown on the left, appeared in Rebel Without a Cause, Written on the Wind, Designing Woman, and North by Northwest and played the Chief on Get Smart) plays irate father Noah Harper. 

Season 2, Episode 28, "Tension Point": Jerome Thor (Robert Cannon on Foreign Intrigue) plays gang leader Ben Meadows. William Stevens (Officer Jerry Walters on Adam-12) plays gang member Whip. Bern Hoffman (Sam the bartender on Bonanza) plays gang member Club. John Marley (starred in Cat Ballou, Love Story, and The Godfather) plays dead gang member's father Zeb Baker. Virginia Christine (was the Folger's Coffee woman in commercials and starred in The Mummy's Curse, The Killers, and Night Wind and who played Ovie Swenson on Tales of Wells Fargo) plays his wife Molly.

Season 2, Episode 29, "Brother in Arms": Lon Chaney, Jr. (shown on the right, 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 played Chief Eagle Shadow on Pistols 'n' Petticoats and Chingachgook on Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans) plays mine owner Tom Arnold. Denny Miller (see the biography section for the 1961 post on Wagon Train) plays Clay's childhood friend Bill Jason.  

Season 2, Episode 30, "The Return of Widow Brown": Norma Crane (appeared in Tea and Sympathy, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and Fiddler on the Roof and played Rayola Dean on Mister Peepers) plays widow Amelia Brown. Dennis Holmes (Mike Williams on Laramie) plays her son Tommy. Tom Greenway (Sheriff Jack Bronson on State Trooper) plays prison Warden Binns. 

Season 2, Episode 31, "Spoken in Silence": Sydney Pollack (shown on the left, directed They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Way We Were, Absence of Malice, Tootsie, and Out of Africa) plays outlaw Chuck Johnson. Frances Helm (first wife of Brian Keith) plays deaf/mute Laura Powell. 

Season 2, Episode 32, "An Enemy of the Town": Whit Bissell (starred in He Walked by Night, Creature From the Black Lagoon, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and Hud and played Bert Loomis on Bachelor Father, Calvin Hanley on Peyton Place, and Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk on The Time Tunnel) plays newspaper editor Will Culp. Stephen Roberts (Stan Peeples on Mr. Novak) plays tannery owner Adam Crockett. 

Season 2, Episode 33, "The Legend of Dixie": Stanley Adams (Lt. Morse on Not for Hire and Gurrah on The Lawless Years) plays loafer Dixie Miller. Gregory Walcott (see the biography section for the 1961 post on 87th Precinct) plays bank robber Gar Logan. 

Season 2, Episode 34, "The Deathly Quiet": Johnny Cash (shown on the right, iconic country singer known as The Man in Black) plays Army deserter Bo Braddock. Robert Foulk (Ed Davis on Father Knows Best, Sheriff Miller on Lassie, Joe Kingston on Wichita Town, Mr. Wheeler on Green Acres, and Phillip Toomey on The Rifleman) plays Fort Hastings commander Col. Belknap. Chubby Johnson (Concho on Temple Houston) miner Stonewall Brown. Craig Duncan (Sgt. Stanfield/Banfield on Mackenzie's Raiders) plays mine owner Ed Walsh.

Season 2, Episode 35, "Brand of Honesty": George Dolenz (shown on the left, father of Micky Dolenz, appeared in The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler, Vendetta, Scared Stiff, and The Last Time I Saw Paris and played Edmond Dantes/The Count of Monte Cristo on The Count of Monte Cristo) plays ex-con saloon owner Ramon Ortega. Elisha Cook, Jr. (starred in The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Great Gatsby (1949), and The Killing and played Francis "Ice Pick" Hofstetler on Magnum P.I.) plays card sharp Miller.
Season 2 Episode 36, "Lorinda Belle": Claude Akins (Sonny Pruett on Movin' On and Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo on B.J and the Bear and on Lobo) plays mine owner Jason Getty. 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 hauler Bill Corman. Andy Albin (Andy Godsen on Julia) plays headstone maker Zac Martinson. 

Season 2, Episode 37, "Lawman's Conscience": Russell Johnson (shown on the right, starred in It Came From Outer Space, This Island Earth, and Johnny Dark and played Marshal Gib Scott on Black Saddle, Professor Roy Hinkley on Gilligan's Island, and Assistant D.A. Brenton Grant on Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law) plays convicted killer Albee Beckett. Jason Robards, Sr. (father of Jason Robards, Jr.) plays his former empleyer Rufus Hayden. Roy Wright (Callahan on The Islanders) plays business owner Phil Briggs. Cyril Delevanti (Lucious Coin on Jefferson Drum) plays business owner Ozzie Brandon.