These fascinating behind-the-scenes photos show a different side of classic TV westerns
When the cameras were not rolling, stars like Clint Eastwood found time for chess and, er, "horseplay."
Images: AP Photo
For any kid who every played cowboy, being on the set of a TV Western must have been the next best thing to being in the actual Old West. Well, honestly, it was probably better than time-traveling to the 19th century. Filmed in majestic ranches and parks in still-undeveloped Southern California, these television sets look as genuine as can be. Plus, they had cars, telephones, televisions, catering and antibiotics. So, advantage 1950s.
The wonderful actors on series like Gunsmoke and Rawhide could have believably thrived in rowdy, dusty 1880s America. Just because Amanda Blake and Clint Eastwood could pass for historical figures, that does not mean they did not like to relax and get their modern kicks when the cameras were not rolling. Icons like Steve McQueen, Eastwood, James Arness and James Garner seemed to enjoy working on television. Heck, McQueen even made eating his lunch look cool, as you will see.
Take a look at some charming pictures from the production of these classic TV shows.
We present them with the original Associated Press news wire text, so you get a sense of how these shows were presented to the public when brand new. You can practically smell the horses. Take a gander.
Karen Sharpe poses with a gun on the set of Johnny Ringo, a series about a gunman-turned-sheriff, in Los Angeles, Sept. 29, 1959.
Australia's Tania Verstak, last year's Miss International Beauty is given a lesson in western marksmanship by actor Lorne Greene during a visit to the set of the "Bonanza" television show in Hollywood on August 12, 1963. Greene will step out of his television role to act as the master of ceremonies for this year's edition of the beauty contest in Long Beach, California. Tania, who recently became Mrs. Peter Young will crown the winner.
Members of the Texas A&M football team meet actor James Arness, center, Marshal Dillon of TV's Gunsmoke, as they visit the set, Oct. 9, 1964, Hollywood, Calif. The team is in California to meet Southern Cal on Saturday night (SC won the game 31-7). Left to right: Jerry Nichols, coach Hank Foldberg, Jim Lindsey; an A&M official, Arness, Melvin Simmons, Jim Willenberg, Jerry Pizzitola and Yancy Bounds.
Actress Betty Hutton, left, goes through a scene with Jim Arness, right, and Ken Curtis, rear, for her appearance on a Gunsmoke television show, March 23, 1965, Los Angeles, Calif.
Three stars of the show Rawhide, the western television series, pictured on the set in Hollywood, Los Angeles, on July 20, 1965. From left are: British actor David Watson, Clint Eastwood, who starred in the series when it began seven years ago, and Raymond St. Jacques.
Italian actress Virna Lisi visits the western set at Paramount studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Oct. 23, 1965, where the popular television series Bonanza is filmed. Miss Lisi is in Hollywood to co-star with Frank Sinatra in Assault on a Queen.
Doc, Kitty and Marshal Matt Dillon, of the television show Gunsmoke, were among stars of Western shows who visited Dodge City, Sept. 27, 1958, Dodge City, Kansas. Seated at a table in a replica of the Old Long Branch Saloon are, left to right, Melburn Stone who plays Doc, Amanda Blake who plays Kitty, James Arness who plays Marshal Matt Dillon, and the real Dodge City Marshal Ramon House. Stars came to Dodge as part of the CBS Return to the Santa Fe Trail trip.
James Arness, right, who plays the part of Marshal Matt Dillon on the weekly CBS-TV Western Gunsmoke is another hero who lets his son, Craig Arness, get the drop on him during an afternoon of play at the Arness home, February 1958, Pacific Palisades, California.
Actor Ty Hardin, left, star of the Cheyenne television series, poses with his wife of several months, Andra Martin, December 30, 1958, Hollywood, California. They are working together for the first time in an episode of the Cheyenne series.
Jim Garner of the TV program Maverick arrives with his wife Lois Clarke at the Emmy Awards, April 15, 1958, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.
James Garner, star of ABC-TV’s new Maverick series, gets some pointers on log-rolling from world champions Eber Peck, left, and Joe King, right, at a sportsmen’s show in Hollywood, September 4, 1957, Los Angeles, California. Despite instructions from Peck on the use of the ten-foot balancing pole, Garner found the nimble-footed experts too fast for him.
Two starring actors in Western thrillers, James Garner, right, and Rex Reason indulge in a bit of pistol talk on a Hollywood set, November 12, 1957, Los Angeles, California. Jim, who has the title role in ABC-TV’s Maverick series, demonstrates how to twirl a Colt .45 while Rex, a plainsman in the films, comments upon his skill.
Clint Eastwood, who’s to take over in the fall as the No. 1 star of television’s Rawhide after a long time as co-star, stops for coffee during filming in Hollywood, July 31, 1965. Eastwood, first spotted as a potential cowboy-type actor when he was a GI, recently became a top star in Italy thanks to his role in a European film widely exhibited in Italian movie houses.
Celebrities in their own right, a trio of American TV performers in the Rawhide series, are interviewed by Japanese reporters, February 27, 1962, at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo. The actors, Clint Eastwood, second from left, Paul Brinegar, fourth from left, and Eric Fleming, seated, extreme right, were making a 10-day personal appearance. The TV series is popular in Japan.
Holding their horses, guest star James Whitmore, right, and featured player Judson Pratt wait while technicians prepare a scene for an episode for CBS-TV's Rawhide, January 30, 1964. The rest of the group is unidentified.
Actor Clint Eastwood, in the role of Rowdy Yates, and Slim Pickens, making a guest appearance as a sheriff in the episode "The Backshooters," are shown on the set of Rawhide in Hollywood, California, June 4, 1965.
It’s not all work and no play for one of TV’s busiest actors, Clint Eastwood who plays the role of Rowdy Yates on the CBS-TV Rawhide series. Away from the studio, he finds rest and relaxation, fun and frolic at his home in Hollywood, April 19, 1960. Here, his wife Maggie refuses Clint’s invitation to try the water in the swimming pool outside their Hollywood home.
Clayton Moore poses as his character the Lone Ranger in front of a large blow-up poster of him in Hollywood, California, on July 4, 1968. Moore starred in the television series The Lone Ranger between 1949–1952, and again from 1954–1957. Moore continues to make personal appearances as the Masked Man.
One of the strangest guns ever designed is seen on the ABC-TV series The Rifleman, but it’s never seen. It’s half pistol and half rifle and was handmade by the special effects man, Bob Gray. The gun is used to fire gelatin pellets containing gray powder. When the pellets hit, they burst open, showering dust, thus simulating ricocheting lead. Gray fashioned the odd-looking gun from a .38 pistol, an old rifle stock, and two lengths of pipe one mounted on top of the other. The upper “barrel” is actually a gas cylinder, into which carbon dioxide is compressed. When the heavy lead hammer is released, part of the gas escapes and discharges the gelatin capsule through the lower barrel. Thus, no explosive charge is involved. Gray gets ready to screw the gas cylinder on the "rifle", November 19, 1958.
Director Don McDougall gets a point over while actor Steve McQueen takes time out for lunch while on location for a Wanted - Dead or Alive episode, August 26, 1959.
Former movie actor Ward Bond has found new success in his TV western show Wagon Train, on the NBC network. Here Bond and actress Agnes Moorehead pause for a chat during a break October 28, 1957, in the filming of "The Mary Halstead Story," which will be broadcast on the Wagon Train series for viewers November 20, 1957. Much of the show's popularity is due to the fact that a 'name' player is featured in each new show.
Radio and TV star Art Linkletter will try his hand as a western character when he plays a role on Wagon Train, shown August 16, 1962, as he is featured with a bunch of kids.
Away from the rough-and-tumble life of a Western TV star, actor Clint Eastwood finds his much-desired rest and quiet in his spacious Hollywood Hills home overlooking the San Fernando Valley, October 25, 1965. He enjoys time in the den, comfortably attired, Clint studies a new camera he has just bought.
Switching from the swift pace of their TV western, actors Michael Ansara, left, and Peter Brown go into the slow motion of a chess game between scenes of Wagon Train, February 28, 1963. The kibitzer is Jose De Vega, also in the cast. They were filming "The Adam Mackenzie Story," the March 27 episode.
A friendly wrestling test gets under way as actor Burt Reynolds, right, visits his friend Robert Fuller on the set, July 28, 1959, where the new TV Western is being filmed. Reynolds is starring in another TV series, Riverboat, being filmed on the lot. Fuller is one of the four co-stars of Laramie.