Friday, January 21, 2011

Jack Kelly: TV's Top Guns Sound Off! :)

All aboard!

Let's take the Wayback Machine to 1962:

The place? A conference room in Los Angeles, California, where writer Jim Goode has corralled the stars of five popular western series--"TV's Top Guns"--to "talk intimately about their profession" for Show Business Illustrated, a lively but short-lived magazine published by (gasp!) Hugh Hefner.

The top guns? Well, you might recognize them, especially the hombre on the far left:

Yep, it's our own JK, "the sharp-faced cardsharp from Maverick", joined by Clint Eastwood, "the gangling dogie drover of Rawhide"; Dale Robertson, "trouble-shooter employed by Wells Fargo"; Lorne Greene, "the stentorious sagamore of Bonanza"; and Robert Horton, "outrider for Wagon Train" (and JK's erstwhile Kings Row co-star).

Mr. Goode was searching for the secret of the TV westerns' popularity:
"What keeps the oaters up there? What is the reason for their remarkable staying power? Is there benefit or harm in the tinseled image they offer? Does the denouement of the typical western--the triumph of good--justify the means, which is violence? Is the folklore, in short, worth preserving?"He turned to the cowboy quintet for the answers to his high-falutin' questions. I've included JK's incisive and well-spoken answers here, although I wish I could transcribe the entire article because all of the actors' responses are very interesting:

Q: ...What is a western? How does it differ from other shows on television?
JK: ...On Maverick we have chosen to imagine if we took the western clothes off the Maverick actors and set them on Park Avenue, we would have a modern story.
Q:...Are westerns the best example of what the American character is? There was a tradition in the United States which is fading rapidly, of nonconformism, that is, an unwillingness to compromise. The point of Arthur Miller's movie and short story 'The Misfits' was that he thought he had found in actuality a man living near Reno who had held out the longest of anybody in the United States. This was the last man who hadn't compromised, as far as Arthur Miller was concerned. Is he worth presenting? Does he take enough into account of society as it is?
JK: Let's identify what we're discussing. Did the last question take on a sociological flavor that I am not in a position to defend as a purveyor of western entertainment on television? My show Maverick has very little if any to do with any sociological preservation whatsoever. My show does not represent anything that is good for America or is representative of America. On the other side of the coin, it does not represent anything that is bad for America. My show is merely damn strong entertainment. It has nothing to do with the reality of the west or the historical value of the west. Our most humorous, effective Maverick stories were based on the most unsavory gutter-type characters that permeated the west.

Q: [Lorne Greene] has said that a great many of the ['Bonanza'] segments [he] has done were morality plays.

JK: I have a peculiar feeling that in every piece of entertainment, depending on the attack, from the origination of the screenplay, the novel or the short story, there's a moral automatically built in. In my show a writer is saddled with a character study, which he must employ to the fullest extent in whatever format his submission happens to have. But, dramatically speaking, and automatically built into that story, at the end of that story, there has got to be a moral. The good guy perseveres over all, and the bad guy gets cut off somehow.

Q: Do you think that any of the people whose business it is to review what happens on television have taken a serious look at westerns?

JK: Fashionable* is a real unusual term as to whether or not one should criticize an endeavor affirmatively or negatively. In five years, I don't remember Maverick being reviewed more than twice. Both of them were reviews of particular satires. One of them was a satire on Bonanza and one of them was a satire on Gunsmoke.

[*B27: Clint Eastwood had responded that it was "fashionable" for the TV critics of the day to "bum-kick" westerns.]

Incidentally, this top gun gabfest lasted for five hours--until 2:00 AM!--so Mr. Goode hopefully found the answers he'd been looking for.