6 Westerns Mary Tyler Moore appeared in early in her career

She mostly played dramatic roles but got to show her funny side on a few occasions.

For most actors starting out in the Fifties and Sixties, TV Westerns were a steady source of work. Along with well-known favorites like GunsmokeThe Rifleman and Bonanza there were dozens of short-lived shows that tried to put their own spin on frontier stories.

Before she broke out on The Dick Van Dyke Show and became a household name with her own sitcom in the Seventies, Mary Tyler Moore was just another young actor trying to make it in Hollywood. She played a commercial mascot along with many uncredited background roles before gaining more substantial parts in Westerns and detective shows.

Here are the six Old West shows Mary Tyler Moore appeared in before hitting it big. There are a few you may have heard of but others are likely unknown to even the biggest classic TV fans!

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1. Bronco

Like Cheyenne and many other late-Fifties TV Westerns, Bronco followed a squared-jawed hero who travels the Old West taking odd jobs and helping those in need. One episode sees Bronco Layne working as a foreman on a large ranch. The wealthy ranch owner wants only the finest things in life for his daughter, Marilee, played by Mary Tyler Moore. It was one of her first credited screen roles, something other than “Student #1” or Happy the elf mascot for Hotpoint appliances. 

2. Overland Trail

Mary Tyler Moore’s second Western role came in the short-lived Doug McClure series Overland Trail. Moore played a headstrong rancher’s daughter who flirts with (and knocks to the ground) McClure’s character, Flip Flippen. It’s an early glimpse of the tenacity and humor that would make MTM an icon. 

3. Wanted Dead or Alive

Speaking of humor, Mary Tyler Moore’s small but memorable role in the Wanted Dead or Alive episode “The Twain Shall Meet” is silly and fun, even if she’s telling a sob story. The episode revolves around a Boston reporter, Arthur, who teams up with Steve McQueen’s bounty hunter Josh Randall to write a story about the dangerous profession. Moore plays a woman in a saloon who pours out her sad, if a little inconsistent, life story to Arthur. He dutifully pays for her drinks but doesn’t believe a word she’s saying. Coincidentally, another woman from Wanted Dead or Alive almost became Laura Petrie!

4. Riverboat

Before he bought a risqué leg lamp in A Christmas Story, or stalked paranormal creatures as Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin traveled up and down the Mississippi piloting the titular vessel in the short-lived Western Riverboat. The show also cast Burt Reynolds in one of his first regular roles. Mary Tyler Moore appeared in two episodes, first in an uncredited background role and second alongside Jody Fair (pictured here) in “Trunk Full of Dreams.” Fair is best known as the star of multiple low-budget teen horror flicks with names like The Brain Eaters and Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.

5. The Deputy

The Deputy starred Henry Fonda as Marshal Simon Fry and Allen Case as his deputy, and the focus of the show, Clay McCord. It lasted two seasons from 1959-1961 and along with Mary Tyler Moore, featured other future stars like James Coburn and Robert Redford. Moore guest starred in the dramatic episode “Day of Fear” about a small town fearful of a smallpox outbreak.

6. Stagecoach West

Mary Tyler Moore’s last Western role before she became Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show was a part in Stagecoast West. The one-season wonder (it aired a whopping 38 episodes from October 1960 to June 1961) starred Wayne Rogers a decade before he played Trapper John in M*A*S*H. The episode involves Rogers’ Luke Perry helping a distraught Moore tend to her father who was shot by outlaws. 

 
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CLLewis 1 month ago
I enjoyed MTM in Change of Habit with Elvis, Dick Van Dyke and her own show.
tvnutt 1 month ago
She was also very good in the episode of Thriller. William Windom played her boyfriend. He tries to save her from a man with evil intentions. However you can't judge a book by its cover.
JHP 1 month ago
my 2 cents OP

MTM wasnt all that funny - she was a rich mans version of HELLen Crump on DVDyke

of course the "curious thing about women" Ep was golden
CLLewis JHP 1 month ago
MTM was funny. I'm no fan of Helen Crump. MTM does not compare to her. My two cents.
Pacificsun JHP 1 month ago
Agreed.
In DVD think about the 2 emotions she played. Sticky sweet or whining which came from her excessive worrying.

My hunch is, Shelly Long stole that approach to her Cheer's role.

Not that they shouldn't have been characters in those Shows. The lack of range can be tiring if it wasn't for the rest of the ensemble.
JHP Pacificsun 1 month ago
Bullseye!
Pacificsun JHP 1 month ago
Last night I watched the DVD episode that was set with a Western theme. It was hilarious! And worked because of their incredible timing. Even AB was good. But I was floored by how they used the guns. For the end of a decade that becoming acutely aware of (so-called) too much TV violence, like how did they get away with making it funny (which they did).
JHP Pacificsun 1 month ago
some older shows carry high "parental guidance ratings" (for what they are worth nowadays:)
Pacificsun JHP 1 month ago
Yeah, but that was a Prime Time family sitcom. If the overzealous monitors were looking at anything, they also focused on the 10:00pm slot, because it was about the Show itself. So I've answered my own question, meaning DVD didn't have a pattern of violence and that one got by, probably on the sake of comedy. And that (common-sense) people would think it wasn't being taken seriously anyway.
retro6 1 month ago
The link is not working for me on the woman from Wanted Dead or Alive who almost became Laura Petrie. Does anyone know who this was? I’m curious😬
LoveMETV22 retro6 1 month ago
The link goes to a story MeTV did in 2021:

https://metv.com/stories/the-actress-in-the-wanted-dead-or-alive-premiere-was-meant-to-be-laura-petrie

Hope that helps.
retro6 LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Thanks! Never heard of her before!
Pacificsun retro6 1 month ago
Jennifer Lea was the first actress marked to play the role of Laura Petrie.
ElwooodBlues 1 month ago
The Old Man Parker(Darin McGavin) did not buy the “risqué” leg lamp. He won it in a contest. Please do a little more research when referencing other movies and/or TV shows.
MichaelSkaggs 1 month ago
Until I saw the closing credits I thought she was on an episode of The Rifleman. The one where the former outlaw tries his hand at running a general store. The lookalike was his wife on the episode.
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Interestingly, she also got to play a Western character on DVD! It was the last shot episode where Rob was a cowboy and Laura was a saloon girl in a dream sequence!
AgingDisgracefully 1 month ago
She also survived the 77 Sunset Strip/Hawaiian Eye vortex.
And lived to play Beth Jarrett, a truly familiar and scary individual, in Ordinary People (1980).
She wasn't just Laura and Mary.
Don't miss Change of Habit!
Andybandit 1 month ago
I never heard of any of these shows that she was in except WDOA with Steve McQueen.
justjeff 1 month ago
So Wayne Rogers played a character names Luke Perry? Someone should write a script where Luke Perry could play a character named Wayne Rogers!
MrsPhilHarris justjeff 1 month ago
I think Luke Perry died. 🤔
Moverfan MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Several years ago--he had a stroke, as I recall.
justjeff MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Yes, he did. I had forgotten about that - and no disrespect was meant... I just was thinking of the irony of the name play... my bad...
MrsPhilHarris Moverfan 1 month ago
Yes that’s it. He was working on Riverdale or whatever the Archie Andrews’ show was called.
MrsPhilHarris justjeff 1 month ago
Your mea culpa made me laugh. 😂. I’m not sure why.
justjeff MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
You were looking at my avatar...
MrsPhilHarris justjeff 1 month ago
Oh stop! 🤣
ELEANOR 1 month ago
These westerns and other shows gave Mary Tyler Moore and many others the time to hone their craft. Even though she was young, she did a lot of shows often with other young and up and coming actors. Since nobody was famous, they could work on their timing, line memorization, and when required, horseback riding skills.

As a note: their was one episode of Adam-12 where, oddly enough, they had to leave their squad cars and jump on horses. They all mounted and rode with nary a hitch in their giddyap, most likely they all had many horseback riding classes under their belts.
LoveMETV22 ELEANOR 1 month ago
Excellent point . I wonder though on some of the shows that have horse back scenes, if they use stunt people for the more dangerous scenes. Surely the actors have some training in that area though. Some of those shows list stunt people in bios about the show.
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