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October 15, 2019

30 Facts about Iconic Western TV Series Fans Might Not Know

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Cool cowboys became popular on television during the 1950s and 1960s. The genre thrived in series like "Laredo," "The Virginian," "The Rifleman," "Bonanza," and "Gunsmoke," as favorite cowboys galloped, fought, and charmed the ladies throughout the great Southwest.

However, there are some lesser-known and surprising facts about these popular television series fans will find interesting, let's have a look.


Title card for the television Western series "Laredo." | Source: Wikipedia.


The band of three Texas Rangers in this western emplored comedy while continually getting themselves in and out of trouble. The series ran for 56 episodes from 1965 until 1967, wherein Peter Brown, Neville Brand, William Smith, and Philip Carey played the lead roles.

1. Both Peter Brown and Philip Carey became soap opera stars after television westerns went out of fashion. Peter spent eight years on "Days Of Our Lives," and also starred in "The Young & The Restless," "Loving," and "One Life To Live."

Philip became the patriarch Asa Buchanan on "One Life To Live" at the beginning of 1979, and portrayed the role for almost thirty years.


2. "Laredo" is a spinoff of "The Virginian," whereby the ranch hand, Trampas travels to Mexico during the third season finale. He passes through the town Laredo and encounters the three Texas Rangers, who ended up with their own series.


3. "Laredo" and "The Virginian" shared a filming lot, and therefore shared a cast of almost 350 crew members, directors, writers, stuntmen, and actors with credits on both programs.

4. Neville Brand became a war hero before his time on "Laredo." After enlisting in the National Guard in 1939, Neville served in the Army throughout World War II. He earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star after almost dying during combat and studied acting after the war, which led to his first credited role in the 1949 film "D.O.A."

5. Philip Carey served the Marines during World War II and the Korean War, and he made his first appearance in a western with "Cattle Town" in 1952.


6. Western Publishing printed a Laredo comic book with art by Alberto Giolitti in June 1966. While the cover sported a color photo of the cast, only one issue of the comic book got produced.


Publicity photo from the television program "The Rifleman" with Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Crawford, and Chuck Connors in 1962. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.



The Rifleman

" followed the

adventures of a Wild West rancher

, Lucas McCain, and his son Mark. The series, which ran for five seasons from 1958 until 1963, became a massive hit on television and made Chuck Connors a revered actor.

1. It became the first prime-time television show about a widowed parent, and Lucas McCain's strong moral compass while he taught his son honest and tough life lessons, became a big draw for the program.

2.  A gifted athlete, Chuck Connors formed part of the first-ever Boston Celtics squad in 1946. After that, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers before he played first base for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. Chuck also got drafted by the Chicago Bears and became the first professional player to shatter a backboard.


3. "The Rifleman" came from a rejected script for "Gunsmoke." Written by Sam Peckinpah, they didn't see the content fitting even though Sam based many of the characters from his experience growing up on a ranch.

Photo of Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain from the television program "The Rifleman." | Source: Wikimedia Commons.


4. In the initial script, Chuck's character didn't have a son or the same name. The original character, John McCain, became Lucas McCain with a son named Mark.

5. Johnny Crawford, who played the role of Mark, went on to have a successful music career and recorded five Top 40 hits during the 1960s.

6. Lucas McCain sports a nifty modified Winchester Model 1892 with a large ring lever that enables him to cock the gun while spinning hit. The thing is, the show takes place during the 1870s and 1880s.


Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty), James Arness (Matt Dillon), Milburn Stone (Doc Adams), and Burt Reynolds (Quint Asper) in "Gunsmoke" in 1963. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.




" is set in the wild west town of Dodge City, where Marshal Matt Dillon often has trouble keeping its unruly inhabitants in line. From cattle rustling to gunfights, the series had it all. It ran for an impressive twenty seasons from 1955 until 1975 and received 19 awards.

1. Apart from its twenty-year run, the series was out of this world for another reason. All four senior officers in "Star Trek" appeared on the popular series as Scotty, Bones, Spock, and Kirk pop up in various episodes.

2. James Arness, who starred as Matt Dillon, and Milburn Stone, who portrayed the role of "Doc" Adams, are the only two actors that appeared throughout the show's entire run.

3. It had a radio series as well, and it lasted until 1961, with over 400 episodes produced.


James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon, Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen, and Milburn Stone as "Doc" Adams. Seated: Amanda Blake as "Miss Kitty" Russell in "Gunsmoke" in 1967. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.

4. Dennis Weaver appeared in the first nine seasons as Chester Goode and won an Emmy for his role in 1959. However, he is the first actor that producers cast in the show, and they only found their main star later.


5. Britain's Daily Express ran a daily comic strip from 1957 to 1978 named "Gun Law," which featured the same characters.

6. For sixteen years, Milburn's character only went by "Doc" Adams, before producers allowed him to pick a first name. Milburn settled on the name Galen, inspired by a revered doctor and personal physician to emperor Marcus Aurelius in ancient Rome, Claudius Galenus. 


Roberta Shore (Betsy Garth), Clu Gulager (Emmett Ryker), Doug McClure (Trampas), Randy Boone (ranch hand), and James Drury (The Virginian) in "The Virginian" in 1964. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Set in the Wyoming Territory during the 1890s, "The Virginian" followed the relationships of the various owners of the Shiloh Ranch. The series won three awards during its run from 1962 until 1971, during which it became a popular staple on television.

1. The classic Western series is based on a novel, "The Virginian," written by Owen Wister in 1902.

2. The series became the first 90-minute Western on television when it premiered on 19 September 1962 in the US.

3. As the third longest-running Western series with 249 episodes, "Bonanza" came in second with 430 episodes, while "Gunsmoke" ran for a whopping 635 episodes.


James Drury in "The Virginian." | Source: Wikimedia Commons.

4. The series had many guest-stars, and only James Drury, who starred as The Virginian, and Doug McClure, who portrayed the role of Trampas featured in the entire series.


5. The series inspired the production of three motion pictures, and the best known of the trio is the 1929 version starring Walter Huston and Gary Cooper.

6. James Drury's character never revealed his real name and is only known as The Virginian throughout the series.


Dan Blocker (Hoss), Michael Landon (Little Joe), Buck (Lorne Greene's horse in series), and Lorne Greene (Ben) in "Bonanza" in 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Ben Cartwright and his sons ran their Nevada ranch on the award-winning series "Bonanza" from 1959 until 1973, during which they braved the Wild West and helped the surrounding community. 

1. Lorne Greene portrayed the role of Ben Cartwright, but initially, he worked as a radio announcer during World War II for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Because he often delivered stressful news with a booming voice, Lorne became known as "The Voice of Doom."

2. Dan Blocker filled the role of  Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, and became a record holder in Bowie County, Texas, by becoming the largest baby ever born there on December 10, 1928, and weighed in at a hefty 14 pounds.


3. The popular buffet chain of restaurants called Bonanza is not only named after the television series but also founded by Dan Blocker in 1963. By 1989, the restaurant chain boasted stores in 600 locations.

Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and Pernell Roberts in "Bonanza" in 1962. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.


4. Michael Landon, who starred as Joseph "Little Joe" Cartwright, has the birthname of Maurice Orowitz and used a phone book to pick his stage name.

5. From the fourth season of the series, the Cartwrights wore the same outfit on every episode. It made it easier to supply stunt doubles with duplicate clothing and also made it possible to reuse stock footage.

6. When the series approached its final years on television, Dan Blocker, Lorne Greene, and Pernell Roberts had to wear hairpieces to hide their naturally thinning hair.

Moreover, the series, set during and after the Civil War, also helped launch the careers of well-known stars in Hollywood.

All three of Ben's sons, played by Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon, went on to have very successful acting careers that lasted decades.