Hey there, friends. Long before you got to know me as The Big Valley’s Nick Barkley, or even before that, as Black Saddle’s Clay Culhane, I was predominantly performing on the stage, and becoming a cowboy was the farthest thing from my mind.
I grew up in Rochester, New York. Sure, that’s the hometown of Western legend Buck Jones, too. But this one commonality didn’t make me a cowboy. Not by a long shot. After all, I had never really been around a horse before I came to Hollywood, nor had I ever owned a pair of cowboy boots. In fact, I wasn’t raised all that much on Westerns, although I did take a liking to singing cowboys when I was younger, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers who heroically cut the villains off at the pass. Later, I grew to enjoy the strong, silent type like Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, and John Wayne whose mere presence was a threat to whomever was wearing the black hat; and even Glenn Ford and Ben Johnson who always impressed me with their riding ability. And one of the highest compliments this writer-rider has ever received, came from Ben Johnson who said, “There are three men in Hollywood that can sit a horse well — Glenn Ford, Peter Breck, and myself.”
Becoming a cowboy came about when I came to Hollywood in the late 1950s. I was a single, young actor, fresh out of theater. I had just performed in a play called Man of Destiny — a story about Napoleon Bonaparte — at the Washington Arena Stage in Washington D.C. I was getting ready to play the part of……………..