Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Wild West Chronicles— The Bandit Queen

By Christopher RobinsonWMD Senior Editor

Who was Pearl Hart? INSP provides that entertaining answer in their latest installment which brings to life the “Bandit Queen” who history remembers as “one of the most infamous women of the west.”

Bat Masterson’s (Jack Elliott) scant research on the little-known Hart takes him to the home of Joe Boot who he tracks down to get the inside scoop that no one else could provide.

Boot relays to Bat the only side of Hart’s life he knows, detailing her failed marriage and subsequent job serving grub at a mining camp where Boot meets and falls in love with the spunky girl.

A series of disappointments including the closing of the mine and the death of her mother causes Hart to resort to drastic measures and she coaxes the reluctant Boot into planning a stagecoach robbery, the kind of which are rapidly becoming passé.

The headstrong but charismatic fledgling female outlaw makes an immediate impression on her targeted victims, first with her gender and then by returning to them small amounts of cash so they can survive the experience. However, a team of lawmen thwart Hart’s plans and she and Boot are soon captured and tried.

Despite an early prison escape, Boot still displays to Bat his bitterness stemming from Hart’s betrayal which enables her to receive a more lenient sentence than her partner.

A thrilling and enlightening portrayal of the first woman in history to rob a stage, this episode is yet one more in its series that provides western buffs with a heap of action, drama and informative facts.

The Bandit Queen will premiere this Sunday, July 4th at 5:30PM ET and re-air Friday, July 9th at 11PM ET. Find out where to watch. https://www.insp.com/

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Whatever Happened to the Cast of Gunsmoke? A Brief Retrospective

By Christopher Robinson, WMD Senior Editor

As it has been stated numerous times before, TV’s Gunsmoke was one of the longest running prime time dramas, airing weekly on CBS for no less than 20 years. As a highly rated program, it still ranked in the top 30 shows when it left its time slot and was, concurrently, the last representation of the classic western genre on television.

While many believed it could have easily survived for several more years, the network nevertheless chose to put their cash cow out to pasture once its 1974-75 season came and went.

In the years that followed, the series’ former cast members remained busy, in and out of the public eye. They lent their skills to various genres and projects and most of their appearances in other films, shows and media only served to remind viewers of the TV western they had helped transform into the iconic institution it became. I reckon it’s time to take a closer look at those memorable and talented performers and the material they took on after Gunsmoke wrapped its 635th episode.
Perhaps more than any other star, James Arness would have Gunsmoke’s massive shadow cast upon every future activity he approached. As Marshal Matt Dillon, Arness embodied the show’s theme of courage, justice and fairness. After concluding that enduring role, the popular actor was drawn to similar stories and themes while occasionally deviating from the characterization he was then forever associated with.

Remaining in high demand for network television properties, Arness teamed up again with Gunsmoke producer John Mantley for How the West Was Won. A miniseries based on the 1962 MGM epic, the ambitious television event re-introduced Arness as mountain man/army scout Zeb Mcahan who roamed the American frontier of the 1860s, often joining his nieces and nephews as they made their way across the land’s untamed territories. A more raucous and saltier sort than Dillon, Zeb nonetheless reflected his similar principles, standing firmly for what was just and right.

Though Arness continued the role into three subsequent seasons, he often played an intermittent role in many episodes which focused on other members of his family, such as Luke Macahan played by Bruce Boxleitner who had himself guest starred in the very last aired episode of Gunsmoke, “The Sharecroppers.”

Arness remained loyal to television, starring in the police drama McClain’s Law, and TV movies The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory and a remake of Red River in addition to the five Gunsmoke TV movies (two of which we reviewed on WMD: Click Here for more info).

Thanks to his image and charity work, Arness was made an Honorary United States Marshal. After retiring from the industry, the popular screen icon passed away in 2011. His widow, Janet, continues to provide his fans with memories, memorabilia and new items of interest: Click Here to see.

Milburn Stone portrayed Dillon’s friend, the wise and down-to-earth yet often grouchy town physician Galen ‘Doc’ Adams. Notwithstanding seven episodes missed after a 1971 heart attack, Stone was the only star in the cast to remain with Arness for the 20-year run. After that, the veteran character actor retired and lived on his ranch until his death in 1980 in La Jolla, California.

As the Long Branch Saloon’s proprietor and Matt Dillon’s lady companion, Amanda Blake starred in 19 seasons of the series. One interesting reason she had given for leaving was the void she felt that had been left following the death of Glenn Strange who played her loyal bartender, Sam, for twelve seasons.

Blake slowed down her acting career to devote more time to traveling and working as an animal rights activist. Her intermittent film and TV appearances included The Boost starring James Woods as well as guest stints on The Love Boat and Hart to Hart. In 1987, she reprised her role of Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.

Along with her husband, she bred cheetahs on her Arizona property and co-founded the Arizona Animal Welfare League. The Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge in California was named in her honor.

Sadly, Blake passed away from liver failure in 1989 with later reports attributing the death to AIDS.

Dennis Weaver, who memorably played Dillon’s right-hand man Chester Goode left Gunsmoke in 1964 after nine seasons. He starred in the short-lived series Kentucky Jones followed by the family program Gentle Ben lasting two seasons. In 1966 he co-starred with James Garner and Sidney Poitier in the western Duel at Diablo.

During the 1970s, Weaver became president of the Screen Actors Guild and starred in Duel, one of the all-time famous TV movies, about a meek motorist being chased by a murderous unseen truck driver.

It was the title role of NBC’s McCloud that gave him a second iconic character part. He played a displaced New Mexico marshal coaxed into working with the NYPD on tough cases in the Big Apple. The popular show lasted seven seasons although it rotated its time slot with two other programs. (see photo above)

In 1976, Weaver was ‘roasted’ on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast show where roasters included former Gunsmoke co-stars Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake.

Possessing a variety of interests and causes, Weaver was active in everything from music and politics to animal-cruelty prevention and environmental issues, especially the development of energy efficient homes and automobiles.

In 2006, Dennis Weaver passed away aged 81. His final role was on the ABC Family series Wildfire in 2005.

Ken Curtis’s persona would forever be entwined with his character of Festus Hagen, Dodge’s foremost deputy marshal. In post-Gunsmoke years, Curtis essentially took Festus on the road, playing him in a western-themed variety act that included singing and comedy (Curtis was a professional singer before Gunsmoke, having been in Tommy Dorsey’s band in the early Forties and starring in his own singing cowboy series).

He made several television appearances in shows such as The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Vegas, Airwolf, How the West Was Won and In the Heat of the Night. The short-lived The Yellow Rose saw him in a supporting role.

Curtis also appeared in two made-for-TV films, Conagher and Once Upon a Texas Train but he turned down a request to reprise the character of Festus in the Gunsmoke reunion, Return to Dodge. In 1991, the versatile actor Ken Curtis passed away in his sleep at the age of 74. (continued)


If there was an actor who truly ascended to greater fame after their time on Gunsmoke, then that had to be Burt Reynolds. In fact, his subsequent career was so remarkable that few might recall him playing Quint Asper, Dodge’s blacksmith and unofficial assistant to the marshal, at all.

Though he enjoyed playing Quint and had stated he would do so until Gunsmoke ended, Reynolds left the series in 1965. Trying his luck in Italy, Reynolds starred in Navajo Joe, directed by Sergio Corbucci. American westerns Sam Whiskey and 100 Rifles followed, but Deliverance, an action-drama from 1972, brought him the stardom he sought. Reynolds’ charm and brawny charisma would see him cast in a string of mostly action films and comedies throughout the next decade.

Some of his popular films during this era included Hooper, The End, The Cannonball Run, Sharky’s Machine and the classic Smokey and the Bandit. For a five-year period, he was considered the number one box office star in the world.

In 2001, Reynolds provided a foreword to James Arness’s autobiography having penned his own memoirs in 1994 and 2015. The same year he appeared at the Gunsmoke reunion in Dodge City, Kansas alongside series regular Buck Taylor. Three years later Burt Reynolds passed away in Florida aged 82.

For two seasons, Roger Ewing played Deputy Thad Greenwood but the young cast member was dismissed in 1967. Ewing starred in two feature films before resuming a career in photography. Now retired, he lives in Morro Bay, California where, according to the IMDb, he is active in local politics.

The son of western sidekick and character actor Dub Taylor, Buck Taylor became a well-remembered addition to the cast of Gunsmoke in 1967 as gunsmith/deputy/doctor-in-training Newly O’Brian. When cast and crew parted ways in 1975, Taylor worked in an array of theatrical films including The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Gettysburg and Tombstone as well as the TV movies The Sackets, Conagher, The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory and Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.

Taylor is also noted for his western paintings which often depict fellow actors and scenes from westerns he has worked on. Many of them can be seen here: https://bucktaylor.com/

So you see, in some ways the sun never did set on TV’s longest-running western. Gunsmoke’s memories live on, not only in the subsequent work of its incredible cast and crew but in the hearts of every fan who watched, remembered and relived it. Indeed it seems like all roads in Hollywood lead right back into Dodge.

Christopher invites you to view a series of clips featuring the original Gunsmoke cast: Click Here!

About the Author

Western Magazine Digest Senior Editor Christopher Robinson is a writer, filmmaker and musician in New Jersey who has contributed to several magazines and websites.

Robinson also worked as a cameraman, videographer, cable access TV host, teacher and producer. He scripted and produced commercial videos as well as cable television programs for local consumption.

For more info about Christopher, click here.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Wild West Chronicles— Stagecoach Mary

By Christopher RobinsonWMD Senior Editor

In INSP’s latest episode of Wild West Chronicles, the life of Mary Fields (Cammie Middleton)
is presented in a touching and entertaining story highlighted by themes of friendship, perseverance and courage.

Sister Amadeus (Roslyn Gentle) is invited to Bat Masterson’s (Jack Elliott) ‘Chronicles’ office for her unique recollections on Bat’s new subject. She explains how she met Mary and hired her as a nanny and maid at her convent. The nun and the tomboyish former slave begin an unlikely friendship until the day Sister Amadeus is relocated to a Montana mission.

Once word reaches Mary that Sister Amadeus has pneumonia and may not survive, Mary travels to the mission and insists upon caring for her ailing friend, aiding her with a home remedy and staying by her bedside for a week and a half.

To the astonishment and joy of the other sisters at the mission, Sister Amadeus makes a full recovery and attributes it to her friend and her unorthodox ways. But despite the incident and her role in helping build the mission into a success, the authorities dismisses Mary on account of her hard drinking and brawling reputation.

To Sister’s surprise, Mary remains in Montana and takes a challenging job as a U.S. stage line postal carrier. One day she is held up by the same road agents that previously roughed up one of her drinking buddies. The cocky outlaws think Mary will easily hand over a strong box containing a large payroll but— to say they underestimate the spunky driver is an understatement, at best.

An enjoyable and thoughtful look at an incomparable western figure often forgotten by historians. This installment is must-see viewing and a worthy addition to the Wild West Chronicles pantheon. 
It will air Sunday, June 20th at 5:30PM ET.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Wild West Chronicles— The Hunt for Outlaw Bill Doolin

By Christopher Robinson
WMD Senior Editor

Another incredible true tale of the Wild West is detailed to Bat Masterson (Jack Elliott) by his own former deputy, Bill Tilghman who recollects the time he aided in tracking down the outlaw killer Bill Doolin and his notorious Wild Bunch.

Tilghman begins his story with the formation of a posse of marshals in Oklahoma Territory set to bring in Doolin, led by lawman Heck Thomas. Thomas is aggressively reluctant to rely on outside assistance with tensions running high among the uneasy alliance but they soon unite to carry out their shared mission.

A chance encounter in a ‘hot springs’ provides a lone Tilghman with an opportunity to capture Doolin (Joshua Feinman) alive, but only after some tense moments that end with Tilghman getting the jump on the crafty outlaw.

Unfortunately, while Thomas and Tilghman are away from their jail, Doolin overcomes the other marshal and escapes, leading them on another manhunt in the dark cover of night.

The relentless determination and courage of the Old West’s U.S. Marshals is portrayed suitably in a gritty and riveting episode which delivers on action, suspense and historical narrative.

The Hunt for Outlaw Bill Doolin will premiere this Sunday, June 13th at 5:30PM ET and re-air Friday, June 18th at 11PM ET. Find out where to watch. https://www.insp.com/

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Chief Red Cloud's Claim to Fame and His Final Words

By Allan B. Colombo, WMD Publisher

There's a real need for a rightful, truthful perspective when it comes to our nation's history. Because of the many controversies that have arisen over the past few decades involving the American Indian and the specter of racism, it's only appropriate that Western Magazine Digest (WMD) cover the issue in a non-biased manner. 

Of course, there are those who believe it's in the best interest of all concerned not to cover the issue at all. To them, it's enough to cover the various aspects of the Old West that center on Cowboys, Cowgirls, Horses, Cattle, Lawmen, and the various advances made during the years of development. I might even agree with that, other than the fact that there are certain individuals in history that stand out, such as Chief Red Cloud, leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe. 

Chief Red Cloud was born in 1822. Although no one knows the exact day he was born, history has certainly recorded the day he passed on. It was on December 10th, 1909, on a Friday. Famous people born on that day included Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Hermes Pan. Earlier that week 'Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet' by Haydn Quartet was all the rage and 'Beyond the Rockies,' directed by Sinister Cinema, was one of the most viewed movies of the year. 

History records Chief Red Cloud as being one of the greatest American Indian leaders of all time as he led the Oglala Lakota tribe from 1868 to 1909. Along with the Dakota, the Oglala Lakota made up the two factions of the great Sioux tribe. Also called Teton, Chief Red Cloud's Lakota were known to be a hunting and warrior culture. Largely because of the introduction of the horse in the 1700's, the Lakota became the most powerful tribe on the plains by the 1850's. 

Perhaps the Lakota's most significant claim to fame was the defeat of the United States Army in the Sioux Wars, which included the defeat of Brevet Major-General George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Battle). The Lakota's were also involved in several armed conflicts that led up to the Wounded Knee Massacre (The Battle of Wounded Knee Creek). Including the Fetterman Massacre of 1866. He's especially known for 'Red Cloud's War' that took place between 1866 and 1868 in Montana and Wyoming. 

What attracted me to Chief Red Cloud was his alleged farewell address to the Lakota people before his death. I'd like to share it with you: 
My sun is set. My day is done. Darkness is stealing over me. Before I lie down to rise no more, I will speak to my people. Hear me, my friends, for it is not the time for me to tell  you a lie. The  Great Spirit made us, the Indians, and gave us this land we live in. He gave us the buffalo, the antelope, and the deer for food and clothing. We moved our hunting grounds from the Minnesota to the Platte and from the Mississippi to the great mountains. No one put bounds on us. We were free as the winds, and like the eagle, heard no man's commands. I was born a Lakota and I shall die a Lakota. 

Before the white man came to our country, the Lakota's were a free  people. They made their own laws and governed themselves as it seemed good to them. The priests and ministers tell us that we lived wickedly when we lived before the white man came among us. Whose fault was this? We lived right as we were taught it was right. Shall we be punished for t his? I am not sure that what these people tell me is true... Shadows are long and dark before  me. I shall soon lie down to rise no more. While my spirit is with my body the smoke of my breath shall be towards the Sun for he knows all things and knows that I am still true to him.” 
According to Terry Breverton, author of 'Immortal Last Words,' Charles A. Eastman recorded Chief Red Cloud's acclimation: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.” 

In Conclusion, although there is little doubt that the United States Government of that time in history failed to keep their promises to the American Indian, we must all remember that no one alive today was there. No white man alive in this day and age had anything to do with the broken promises that took place at that time, and by the same token, not one American Indian alive today was victimized by anyone during the early days of American history. 

If we are ever to heal the wounds of time that bind us all together as Americans, we must move forward by allowing the things of the past to remain in the past while assuring that history never repeats itself in the future.
Al Colombo

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