Unsold pilot for NBC series, 1955
Among the many TV shows that might have been – but never were – was an entertaining 1955 pilot not taken up by NBC, Luke and the Tenderfoot, starring Edgar Buchanan in fine fettle.
Two episodes were made, The Boston Kid and The John Wesley Hardin Story. The first was actually aired, much later, by CBS in 1963. Both are available now on YouTube and, in their limited 50s TV way, quite watchable.
It was produced and written by Steve Fisher, a pulp writer whose career had been helped by Frank Gruber and who wrote for many of the well-known TV Western shows and quite a few big-screen oaters too, including one we reviewed recently, Woman They Almost Lynched.
There’s a comedy vibe suitable to Buchanan. He plays Luke Herkimer, a traveling peddler and rascally if inept conman who in a dusty Western town comes across a young fellow from Boston, Pete (Carleton Carpenter). Edgar was at the height of his powers. After debuting in Westerns with a highly entertaining prologue and epilogue in When the Daltons Rode and an equally amusing part as dubious Judge Bogardus in Arizona, both in 1940 (and of course he was to make rather a thing of dubious Western judges) he appeared in many big-screen oaters, often with his pal Glenn Ford. But he was well known on TV having been Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Red Connors from 1952 – 54, and after this failed pilot he would be Judge Roy Bean for 39 episodes.
Actor, songwriter and novelist Carleton Carpenter, born 1926 and still going strong as far as I know, was rather good as Hewie in Vengeance Valley in 1951 and later appeared in half a dozen different TV Westerns. He copes with the part of naive Easterner in the West with some skill.
He joins up with Edgar in The Boston Kid, in which the rogue merchant comes up with some nonsense about the boy being a famous Massachusetts pugilist and they find themselves railroaded into a prize fight by the town bully, two-gun Lee Van Cleef, on fine form as heavy. The young man has to fight three rube brothers, one of whom is Michael Landon. We also got Leonard Nimoy in the first one and John Dierkes in the second. The guest stars in these shows were quite good ones.
In what would have been season 1, episode 2, we meet Charles Bronson as the Texas murderer John Wesley Hardin (joining the ranks of actors who had portrayed the gunman, Randy Quaid, Rock Hudson, Jack Elam, John Dehner, et al). Bronson had made his Western debut (as Chas. Buchinski) in The Roy Rogers Show in 1952, had a small part in Vera Cruz in ’54, then had increasingly big roles later that year in Apache, Riding Shotgun and Drum Beat. So some Western fans would have recognized him but he was certainly not yet a big star. Actually, he is rather good as the loathsome killer Hardin.
With fellow swine Richard Jaeckel (and by the way, I feel a Jaeckel-o-rama coming on, so come back soon) he takes over a saloon, demanding to see his estranged wife Stella, in a plot very reminiscent of the 1950 Gregory Peck movie The Gunfighter. Buchanan offers to smuggle him out under the noses of the armed townsmen in his wagon but there is only place for one to hide so Hardin calmly shoots Jaeckel dead, proving that he is even loathsomer.
All in all it was a pity the series didn’t launch. I think it would have been rather good.