The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Lawman, and Sugarfoot were being put out to pasture, new series were still being developed to take their place. For a glimpse at the changing landscape for westerns, one need only compare the Nielsen viewership ratings for 1961-62 with those for 1962-63: in 1961-62, the top three programs were Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke; for 1962-63, they were The Beverly Hillbillies, Candid Camera, and The Red Skelton Show, with Bonanza dropping to 4th, Gunsmoke to 10th, and Wagon Train to 25th. Another former top 3 program, Have Gun--Will Travel--dropped all the way to 29th, and the lavishly produced and much-publicized new western epic, The Virginian, debuted only at number 26, all of which demonstrates that the old west series was fading. (Bonanza proved to be the exception, topping the ratings for three straight seasons from 1964-67.) Enter the contemporary western, and in particular Stoney Burke, which was one of two modern-setting westerns based on the rodeo circuit (the other being The Wide Country) to debut in the fall of 1962. Rodeo was on the upswing in popularity as a sport. The first National Finals Rodeo was held in Dallas, Texas in 1959. The following year CBS broadcast the event on television. In 1961 the National High School Rodeo Association was formed to extend rodeo interest and participation to a younger demographic. In 1962, the National Finals Rodeo was moved to Los Angeles, placing the event and its fans smack in the middle of the film community, and the College Finals Rodeo was broadcast that year on ABC's Wild World of Sports. The sport was also the subject of 1962 episodes of Dr. Kildare in "The Bronc-Buster" (March 1, 1962) in which Kildare meets and tries to help his rodeo rider cousin, and Route 66 in "A Long Piece of Mischief" (January 19, 1962) in which Tod and Buz come to the aid of a rodeo clown being tormented by a pair of cruel rodeo riders. Given this environment, it was perhaps inevitable that someone, or multiple someones, would decide to create an entire series on the rodeo. Perry Mason territory when Stoney has to exonerate himself and then Ves Painter from charges of murder. In "Spin a Golden Web" (November 26, 1962) Stoney has to resist the temptation of easy wealth and a life of leisure when an uber-wealthy financier tries to make him part of his collection, the same temptation Buz Murdock of Route 66 has to resist in the 1962 episode "You Never Had It So Good" (February 23, 1962). "Five by Eight by Eight" (December 10, 1962) is your typical desperate convict takes hostages thriller also seen on Route 66 in 1962 in "Welcome to the Wedding" (November 8, 1962). "Cousin Eunice" (December 24, 1962) borrows the chauvinistic, worn-out story of a tomboy who has to be shown how to be a feminine woman by a man--see, for example, Frontier Circus, "Stopover in Paradise" (February 22, 1962). And "The Wanderer" (December 3, 1962) plays like an episode of Dr. Kildare when Stoney gets embroiled in helping an old friend who is pregnant and about to deliver while her self-absorbed husband has gone AWOL, similar in tone and subject matter to the Dr. Kildare episode "Gravida One" (September 27, 1962). In short, for a hot young writer like Leslie Stevens, who rose to fame on his scripts, the series is lacking in original plot development, trying to rely perhaps too heavily on the novelty of its rodeo trappings or on Jack Lord's charismatic good looks and Stoney Burke's moral purity. The series is still well regarded by its ardent fans, and Stevens would find greater success with his next series, The Outer Limits (despite its similarity to The Twilight Zone), while Lord finally became the big star he had always wanted to be on Hawaii Five-O. And Warren Oates and Bruce Dern, who left the series after the first 17 episodes, didn't fare too badly either. Stoney Burke, however, left the arena after only a single season of 32 episodes.
But Frontiere really struck it big composing and scoring for Stevens' next series, The Outer Limits. His combination of music and sound effects was considered innovative and ahead of its time, paving the way for a long career composing and scoring for television and feature films. He would go on to compose the themes for Branded, The Rat Patrol, 12 O'Clock High, Iron Horse, The Invaders, The Flying Nun, Search, Chopper One, Vega$, Matt Houston, and Trade Winds. In feature films he worked again for Stevens on Hero's Island but had his greatest success with Clint Eastwood's Hang 'Em High, whose theme became a top 10 hit when covered by Booker T & the MGs. Among his many film credits are Chisum, Freebie and the Bean, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, The Gumball Rally, and The Stunt Man, for which he received a Golden Globe. In the 1970s he was head of the music department for Paramount Pictures and composed and/or orchestrated for Dan Fogelberg and Chicago, as well as writing the title theme for the film Modern Problems that was performed by The Tubes. In 1980 he married Georgia Frontiere, owner of the Los Angeles Rams NFL team which she inherited from her previous husband Carroll Rosenbloom when he died in 1979. But in 1986 Dominic was convicted of tax evasion for scalping some 16,000 tickets to the 1980 Super Bowl, which he had acquired through his wife, to gross half a million dollars, which he failed to report as income on his taxes. He served 9 months in prison and paid a fine of $15,000. Upon his release, Georgia filed for divorce, which was finalized in 1988. Other than composing the theme music for Trade Winds in 1993 and composing and conducting for the 1994 Bruce Willis feature film Color of Night, Frontiere's career in Hollywood was largely finished. He retired to New Mexico, reportedly worked on electronic computer-generated music, and died at age 86 on December 21, 2017.
The complete series has been released on DVD by Timeless Media Group.
Gunsmoke, Have Gun---Will Travel, and The Untouchables along with supporting roles in feature films such as God's Little Acre, Man of the West (again with Gary Cooper), and The Hangman. He finally got his first starring role in a feature film in the 1960 James Clavell-based old western Walk Like a Dragon and was the first to play James Bond ally Felix Leiter in the original bond film Dr. No in 1962. But when Lord then demanded a co-star credit, more screen time, and more money to return as Leiter in Goldfinger, director Guy Hamilton replaced him with Cec Linder. Turns out Lord got his star vehicle on television when creator, writer, and director Leslie Stevens plucked him to play the title character in his new 1962 rodeo western Stoney Burke. Wagon Train and Ben Casey was that he was given 25% ownership of the series, and in a 1969 interview by Jack Major for the Providence Sunday Journal, Lord still bragged about how quickly the show went into syndication after its cancellation and that he was still receiving royalties for it. Even as late as 1975 when Lord had finally become the big star he had always wanted to be on Hawaii Five-O he was a little bitter about ABC canceling Stoney Burke, as Major quotes him from a later interview: "If ABC had had more guts at the time, that show would still be on the air," said Lord. "Stoney was a peaceful hero in a violent setting, a man way ahead of his time on television. And look at the other actors on that series – Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Look at how far they've come since then." Meanwhile, Lord turned down the role of Napoleon Solo on Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Capt. James Kirk on Star Trek after demanding 50% ownership of the series, according to William Shatner. He limited himself to 10 guest star spots a year, remarking that more than that would have been overexposure and that the limitation also gave him time to travel and paint. He filmed a pilot for a western-themed series called Cutter's Trail for CBS in 1967, but the network decided to pick up Cimarron Strip instead. Lord eventually got his true star vehicle with Hawaii Five-O beginning in 1968. Again, according to Major, it's first season was a bit rough with poor ratings and complaints from Hawaiian locals about its depiction of their state as a source of crime. The series appeared to be headed for cancellation when a time-slot change and the success of the theme song on the record charts resuscitated it. Lord also ingratiated himself with the locals by insisting on casting native Hawaiian actors in supporting roles instead of the usual Hollywood crowd. Lord and his wife also settled in Hawaii, living in a condo in Kahala. The show ran for 12 seasons, and when producer Leonard Freeman, with whom Lord battled frequently over scripts and other production details, died in 1974, Lord took on the role of executive producer, giving him greater control over content, though he refused to be credited on screen. During the series' final season, Lord filmed a pilot for another Hawaii-based drama, M Station: Hawaii, but the series was not picked up for production and was aired only as a TV movie, the last film credit of Lord's career. He and Marie lived out the rest of their lives in Hawaii, and in 1990 Lord was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and became something of an invalid. He passed away from congestive heart failure on January 21, 1998 at the age of 77. When Marie died in 2005 at the age of 100, their estate, valued at $40 million, was bequeathed to the Hawaii Community Foundation.
Warren OatesHave Gun--Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Tombstone Territory, and Trackdown with friend Robert Culp. While working on his first episode of The Rifleman in 1958 Oates first met director and screenwriter Sam Peckinpah, who would have a profound influence on Oates' career. Though his first feature film appearance was an uncredited role in the James Garner army yarn Up Periscope in 1959, Oates then met director, screenwriter, and Stoney Burke creator Leslie Stevens while working on the 1960 feature film Private Property. After appearing in one episode of Peckinpah's short-lived TV series The Westerner, Oates found a supporting role in Peckinpah's first feature masterpiece Ride the High Country in 1962. Just as Stoney Burke was debuting on television, Oates appeared in another Stevens feature Hero's Island, which also featured Stevens' wife Kate Manx and future Stoney guest actors James Mason and Harry Dean Stanton, another Kentucky native who would be a lifelong friend of Oates. The Twilight Zone, and Stevens' next creation The Outer Limits, but his work began to transition more to feature films in the later 1960s. He worked with Peckinpah again on Major Dundee in 1965 and first worked with another cult director Monte Hellman on The Shooting, starring Jack Nicholson, in 1966. In 1967 he had his first truly iconic role as voyeuristic deputy Sam Wood in In the Heat of the Night, a role for which he was disappointed that he did not receive an Oscar nomination. Oates recognized that he did not have the looks or demeanor of a Hollywood leading man, which may have contributed to his decision to decline the leading role in Support Your Local Sheriff!, which eventually went to James Garner, and instead went with Peckinpah to Mexico to film The Wild Bunch despite the fact that, as his wife later commented, he had gotten very sick the last time he shot on location there. But besides assuaging some of the pain from his Oscar snub, the film allowed him to work alongside his acting idol Ben Johnson. In 1970 he-costarred with Lee Van Cleef as a psychotic villain in Barquero, followed the next year by Hellman's cult classic Two-Lane Blacktop, Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand, and the lead role in a private eye thriller Chandler opposite Leslie Caron. In 1973 he appeared in five features: supporting Ryan O'Neal and Jacqueline Bisset in The Thief Who Came to Dinner, his first and only musical Tom Sawyer, alongside Dennis Hopper and Peter Boyle in Kid Blue, playing the title role in Dillinger again with Harry Dean Stanton supporting, and in Terrence Malick's Badlands. The following year had him lead again in what some consider to be his and Peckinpah's crowning achievement, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. He continued getting lead roles or sharing them with Peter Fonda in films such as Cockfighter, Race With the Devil, 92 in the Shade, and Dixie Dynamite during an era when character actors shone as leading men. He would reprise Humphrey Bogart's role in a TV movie version of The African Queen in 1977 and then do the same for John Wayne's role in the 1978 TV movie True Grit: A Further Adventure. He worked with Steven Spielberg in the 1979 John Belushi vehicle 1941 and supported another Saturday Night Live alumnus, Bill Murray, two years later in Stripes. But despite more success than most character actors ever see in a lifetime, Oates eventually fell prey to hard living, in particular heavy drinking and chain smoking. His womanizing led to three failed marriages, and he eventually had a falling out with Peckinpah such that his fourth wife Judy Jones tried to keep him away from the volatile director when the two were neighbors in Montana. Oates died of a heart attack while taking a nap at home on April 3, 1982 at the age of 53. Two more feature films, Blue Thunder and Tough Enough, which were filmed in 1981, were released posthumously and dedicated to him in 1983. In 1993 a documentary about his life, Warren Oates: Across the Border, was released with interview snippets from Culp, Fonda, Hellman, Johnson, Stanton, and Oates' children. In 2009 author Susan Compo, whose father had met Oates when he was working at the club 21 in New York in 1954, published a biography about Oates titled Warren Oates: A Wild Life.
Route 66. In 1961 he began getting more TV guest spots on series such as Naked City, Sea Hunt, Thriller, and Cain's Hundred before landing his first recurring role as chute boss E.J. Stocker on Stoney Burke.
WagonTrain, The Virginian, The Fugitive, and 12 O'Clock High in addition to single appearances on several other programs. But like Warren Oates, as the 60s wore on, Dern began getting more work in feature films. He did his first work for low-budget exploitation director Roger Corman in the 1966 Peter Fonda biker flick The Wild Angels and the following year The Trip, written by longtime Dern friend Jack Nicholson. In fact, it was Nicholson who coined the phrase used to describe Dern's trademark ad-libs as "Dernsies" which Dern would later describe as essential to his approach to acting. He prefers to call his craft "behaving" because he wants as little separation as possible between himself and his character, and having lived as that character, he feels he sometimes comes up with better dialogue and behavior than a screenwriter who hasn't inhabited that character. Dern became the go-to for psychos and weirdos and has been much in demand ever since, racking up credits for over 100 films, including Hang 'Em High, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Cowboy (in which he got to kill John Wayne), Silent Running, The Great Gatsby, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, Black Sunday, Coming Home (for which he received his first Oscar nomination), That Championship Season, The 'Burbs, Django Unchained, Nebraska (for which he received his second Oscar nomination), The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. Late in his career he also returned to television, playing Frank Harlow on Big Love from 2006-2011, John Rothstein on Mister Mercedes in 2019, and Frank on Goliath in 2021. According to imdb.com, as of this writing he has one feature completed but not yet released, five films in post-production, another one currently filming, and four more in pre-production. He has said that he plans to continue acting, or behaving, until he is 100 because there is nothing else he can do. His daughter Laura Dern, from his marriage to actress Diane Ladd, is an Oscar winner and been nominated two additional times.
Bill HartThe Deputy, Death Valley Days, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. His first credited part came in a 1961 episode of the latter series. He first worked with Leslie Stevens on his 1962 feature film Hero's Island and was then hired as stunt coordinator and cast member for Stevens' TV series Stoney Burke.
George MitchellGunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, and Riverboat, before finally landing his first recurring role as rodeo stock manager Cal Bristol on Stoney Burke. During this period he also had occasional feature roles, including The Wild and the Innocent, Kid Galahad with Elvis Presley, and the uncredited part of Father Matthieu in Birdman of Alcatraz. The Twilight Zone, Death Valley Days, The Fugitive, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also had significant roles in the features Twilight of Honor and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In 1966 he originated the role of Matthew Morgan on the horror-themed soap opera Dark Shadows but was replaced by Thayer David after only three appearances. It would be his last recurring television role, though he continued getting guest spots on Bonanza, The Time Tunnel, Daktari, and The Virginian. His later feature film credits included Jack Nicholson's Ride the Whirlwind with wife Katherine Squire, The Flim-Flam Man, The Learning Tree, and The Andromeda Strain. He returned to Broadway in 1970 to star in Indians. At the time of his death he was in Washington, D.C. to play the role of Senator Strom Thurmond in Conflict of Interest when he died in his sleep at the age of 66 on January 18, 1972. He appeared posthumously in the 1973 TV movie Honor Thy Father. His obituary in The New York Times mentioned that he was a contributor to their paper as well as Life magazine and Vanity Fair, without specifying in what capacity, and that he was an editor for the humor magazine Judge. He was an honorary member of Actors Equity and a member of the Screen Actors Guild, served as chairman for his local branches of the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and was an instructor at the Pasadena Playhouse.
With a common name like George Mitchell, he has been mistaken for others of the same name on various web sites. For example, in researching this biography I found that tcm.com had attributed work from the 1990s and as recently as 2015 to this actor George Mitchell, who died in 1972. Likewise, the Rotten Tomatoes web site illustrates his biography with a photo of the politician George Mitchell.