Sunday, March 25, 2012

When the West Was Fun-1979

I mentioned in a previous post that my Dad was a big fan of TV westerns--movie westerns, too! In 1979, I was 20 years old and still living at home. During those twenty years, my father had introduced me to the fun B westerns, the big screen color Oaters, the frivolous TV westerns, the comedies, the dramas, the anthologies. But by the late seventies, nearly all of that was in the past as Westerns had seemingly run their course in popular culture.

ABC chose that moment to serve up some TV cowboy nostalgia with what was billed as the world's first Western reunion, a one hour special entitled WHEN THE WEST WAS FUN.

WHEN THE WEST WAS FUN is an odd animal to say the least. All the actors appear as themselves--in a way--and yet they're all dressed as their characters. Nearly half of the show consists of clips of their old series with much of the rest an uneasy mix of nostalgia and mostly unfunny comedy skits. But none of that matters. What's important here is just seeing so many old friends. And in 1979, to me, that's exactly what they were. Whether I had caught them in first run or in reruns, there were very few of the folks on this show that I didn't know and it was so nice to spend a little more time with them after all those years.

Essentially, the show is set in an Old West saloon with F TROOP's Larry Storch as the bartender. Movie and modern TV cowboy Glenn Ford (CADE'S COUNTY) was the host. IMDB is sadly lacking in the names of other actors who appeared so let me share just a few here:

Lee Van Cleef--at the time a huge star throughout the world in spaghetti westerns except in the US
Chuck Conners and Johnny Crawford from THE RIFLEMAN
James Drury and Doug McClure of THE VIRGINIAN
Ken Curtis and Milburn Stone, GUNSMOKE's Festus and Doc
John Russell and Peter Brown, LAWMAN and his deputy
Jack Kelly's Bart MAVERICK
Clayton Moore's LONE RANGER
Also Jock (O') Mahoney, John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan, Guy Madison, Neville Brand, Keenan Wynn, Will Hutchins (with whom I would later perform onstage), Iron Eyes Cody, Denver Pyle, Dan Haggerty, Pat Buttram, Slim Pickens, George Montgomery and, believe it or not, still a lot more!

Conspicuous by their absence were such stars as RAWHIDE's Clint Eastwood and MAVERICK's James Garner and Roger Moore (all probably overpriced and overbooked) but with a familiar Western face everywhere one looked, it was easy not to notice who WASN'T present.

Throughout the show one character, described in the credits as the "Old Prospector" and seemingly an amalgam of all the old Gabby Hayes/Fuzzy Knight sidekicks, keeps asking where "Roy" is. (This character is played by Fred Putman, the show's writer.) Toward the end, we find out where Roy is when Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys himself, shows up with his cowgirl spouse Dale Evans to do some campfire singing.

There's even a shoutout from Glenn Ford to John Wayne, sadly then on his deathbed but who was expected to be watching.

If you've never seen and enjoyed a TV horse opera, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. If you, like me and so many others in 1979, had grown up with all of these cowboys in your living'd have loved this TV special.

Years later, Will Hutchins hosted a smaller scale but similar made-for-video feature and VANITY FAIR magazine did a wonderful photo-reunion.


  1. Yes, this was a lot of fun and I'd love to have it on DVD.
    The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (Gambler IV)kinda tops this special by having the Western actors actually reprise their old roles; each for a scene. I am happy to have this movie on DVD.
    Even Brian Keith shows up as The Westerner!

    It's in a package with Gambler V -- which I cannot recommend.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Steve. I hadn't seen this special before. I would have loved to see it despite the cheesy skits. It would be worth it just to see Roy and Dale!

    I appreciate the heads up on the Gambler movie, Alan! I'd given up on them after the second one. I'll have to seek this one out.