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R.I.P. Ty Hardin, star of the TV Western 'Bronco'

The actor took his stage name from Old West outlaw John Wesley Hardin.

Image: The Everett Collection

The theme song to Bronco was one of the catchier tunes from the world of TV Westerns. "Born down around the old panhandle, Texas is where he grew to fame," the song proclaimed. Bronco Layne differed from your typical Hollywood cowboy. His placid, gentle nature enabled him to calm any spirited beast. "There ain't a horse that he can't handle, that's how he got his name."

The actor behind the character was Ty Hardin, who was born Orison Whipple Hungerford, Jr., far from the Texas panhandle in Manhattan. While shopping for a Halloween costume, he was discovered by a talent scout. When Warner Bros. later bought out his contract, they changed his name, taking his surname from the Old West outlaw John Wesley Hardin.

His big break came in Cheyenne, after the star of the show, Clint Walker, walked out due to a contract dispute. The studio plugged Hardin into the Western as Bronco Layne. After the character clicked with audiences and boss Jack L. Warner, Bronco got his own show. 

The spin-off began in September 1958, alternating weeks on the air for four seasons with Cheyenne and Sugarfoot. Bronco was in some ways the Zelig or Forrest Gump of the Wild West, as the character encounters real-life figures such as Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Theodore Roosevelt… and John Wesley Hardin, of course. Bronco also appeared on another hit Warner Bros. Western, Maverick, in the epic cowboy crossover episode "Hadley's Hunters."

On August 3, 2017, Ty Hardin passed away in Huntington Beach, California, according to The New York Times. He was 87. 

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