Cut ‘Em Off at the Pass

I always loved doing plays. In between films and television, even right up to the time that I got the Nick Barkley role for The Big Valley, I worked the theater circuit whenever I could. One play I did was an adaptation of the original motion picture, We’re No Angels. I played the Humphrey Bogart role and Broderick Crawford played the Peter Ustinov role. I miss old Brod. He was a good actor (He won an Oscar for All the King’s Men!) and a very nice man. The only problem, though, was that ya couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He spoke so fast to start with, and he could hit the bottle pretty good, and he would ad lib a lot. Of course, we had to talk him into wearing his teeth. He just wouldn’t wear ’em. It was tough enough to follow him as he’d rattle off his dialogue as quickly as running water, but to have those words fall from a practically toothless mouth… I had to tell him, “It might help out with your diction just a tad, Brod, if you used your teeth. Take a bite out of the part.” Crawford called me the “Rock of Gibraltar”, because I was the only one who really held my lines down. I had worked with Brod years before, when I first came out to Hollywood and landed a guest shot on his show Highway Patrol in which he played Chief Dan Mathews. Remember that series? I remember this one scene we did—a shootout—between Brod and myself. Unfortunately, and this wasn’t Brod’s fault but just one of those things, he fired his gun at me at close range. Sure, he was shooting with blanks, but the gun was so close to my face that the loud blast knocked the hearing out of my left ear. For several weeks I was completely deaf in the one ear and I was concerned that my hearing would never be recovered. Thank God, in time the problem took care of itself.

It was around this time that I worked in my very first Western. In past columns of Wildest Westerns, I wrote that my first Western outing and my first horse riding experience was the television show, Tombstone Territory. Well, that’s actually not correct. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, research not only brings back a lot of memories but straightens them out a bit. You see, there were so many Westerns being shot in those days and I was doing so many… the fact is, just prior to Tombstone, I worked in John Bromfield’s TV series Sheriff of Cochise, in 1956, in an episode entitled “The Farmers”. We recently lost John Bromfield. I liked John. Believe it or not, he was on the shy side, but he was very nice to his co-workers, particularly to me—an actor just starting out in the business, and a brand new cowboy in Hollywood to boot.

Sadly enough, three other people with whom I worked closely and who became very good friends of mine recently passed away: Kevin Hagen, Leslie Parrish and Lou Rawls. I’m so sick about it.

I had the pleasure of working in TV’s Maverick for a two-year period in a recurring role as Doc Holliday. It was this show that capitalized on my gunplay abilities as opposed to my horse riding, although I did a lot of riding on Maverick.

We had good writers on Maverick and they would say to me, “What have you heard or read about Doc?” and we’d discuss the history—we really researched the real-life Doc Holliday, and we’d put something into the script that reflected some kind of accuracy as far as what Doc’s personality was like. There are so many things about this gunfighter that most people seem to take for granted. We all know that Doc was suffering from consumption, or tuberculosis as we know it better today, but the fact is, Doc didn’t really care too much about life in general because he knew he was dying. It’s not that he contemplated suicide or was apathetic about life, but he was fully aware of his poor health and that his time on earth was limited, which led him to adopt a type of philosophy centered around making the most of life while he’s still here, clearing his conscience by taking care of things he had to take care of before passing, and perhaps go on to be something in death that he never could be in life, whatever it was. And, if demise should befall him outside of his clinical condition, such as getting gunned down in the street, he certainly didn’t welcome it, and he didn’t go after it, but he had no fear of it because he knew where he was headed. Doc’s attitude could change from one day to the next, depending on how he was feeling at the time, both physically and emotionally. But his philosophy never changed. Because death was close at hand, all he could do was live from day to day and take what life had to give him. Now, Doc would never show he was suffering in front of anybody. It wasn’t because he was vain, but because he chose not to embarrass anybody in the room or to draw their sympathy. The wonderful Victor Mature played Doc in My Darling Clementine and he would cough and grunt and spit up, and the real Doc didn’t do that; he would feel it coming and it was like a signal he got, and he’d excuse himself and go out into the alley somewhere and spit up. He did find some peace and some kind of comfort, however, in Tombstone, Arizona because of the city’s dry climate that helped his lungs feel renewed. So he would show up there from time to time during the 1870s, and this was a time when traveling theatre companies would come out from New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Holliday happened to love show business and show people, and he would always show up in the audience while visiting Tombstone. Interestingly, John Wilkes Boothe—the man who shot and killed Lincoln—he was quite an actor (and his brother was an actor also), and anyplace Wilkes Boothe would be, Doc could be found in the audience.

A couple of other items about Doc that a lot of people may not be aware of is that he was quite a humorous gentleman (but subtle in his humor) and he was not prone to show that he was a man of violence. In other words, he didn’t walk into a saloon with his gun hanging all the way down to his knees…………….