post Outlaws

January 19th, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:18 am

By Ginny Shook

Where were you on September 29, 1960? Who can remember? At least we know what Don Collier was doing – starring in the very first episode of the series, “Outlaws,” from 7:30PM to 8:30PM on NBC.  The dramatic theme song got the audience’s attention right from the start:

Outlaws!  Runnin’ from the hang rope.
Outlaws!  Runnin’ from the gun.
Outlaws!  Ridin’ through the night trails
Hidin’ from the sun.
But there’s no use hidin’ when the law starts ridin’,
And there’s no use runnin’ when the law starts gunnin’
For the Outlaws!

Don didn’t even have to audition for part of U.S. Deputy Marshal Will Foreman. He did, however, make screen tests for three other series, none of which every made it on the air. The Producer of Outlaws, Frank Telford, saw one of those tests and knew that Don was perfect for the stoic, no-nonsense Deputy, helping to keep law and order in the violent Oklahoma Territory in the 1890’s.

The star of the first season of “Outlaws”, playing U.S. Marshal Frank Caine, was veteran movie & TV actor Barton MacLane (you saw him in The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, G-Men, and hundreds of other classic films).  Even with Barton’s outstanding credentials, it was obvious after the first season of “Outlaws” that the audience wanted to see more of Don. At the closing of the Season One, Marshall Caine is promoted to Governor of the Territory of Oklahoma and Will gets the Marshal’s badge.

Season One of “Outlaws” made this Western one of the most unique Westerns to ever appear on television. Each story was told from the point of view of the outlaws instead of the usual “round ‘em up and bring ‘em to justice” episodes of all the other Western shows. The villain of the story was in a sense the hero and the star of the episode. Of course, Will Foreman always did catch his man. But the focus was on the outlaw – how he thought, his motivation, and just how desperate he’d become to succeed. This gave the series a dark, noir feel to it. It was definitely not a Western to share with the kids. As a matter of fact, “Outlaws” was pulled from British TV after only three episodes; it was just too dark and violent for their taste.

Season Two of “Outlaws” was a very different show.  The darkness was lifted and the focus turned to that of the more typical Westerns of the time. Will Foreman was the new reluctant Marshal and Don Collier got the majority of screen time. Will hires the hot-headed and not-at-all qualified Chalk Breeson as his deputy, mostly to keep Chalk on the right side of the jail cell door.

Chalk was played by handsome (but not as handsome as Don), 6’5” Bruce Yarnell. Not at all a cowboy, Bruce had a resume of Broadway musicals and opera performances as long as he was tall. You can hear his beautiful baritone on the original cast recording of Camelot, Irma La Douce, and in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun opposite Ethel Merman. Bruce was under contract to Paramount Studios and they needed a series for him, so they stuck him on a horse next to Don for his first non-musical role. He brought humor to the role and Chalk made an enjoyable side-kick to the always-serious Will Foreman. Bonanza fans might remember Bruce’s two appearances in “Bonanza” as the Cartwright cousin Muley Jones.

Another important addition to the “Outlaws” cast in Season Two was the character of Slim, played to perfection by Slim Pickens. Slim was definitely the comic relief of the show. While sometimes he could be a bit of a buffoon, Slim Pickens was a fine dramatic actor who brought realism and dignity to serious moments as well. Did you know that Slim began his career as a rodeo clown? He was a true professional with horses. His own horse, Dear John, appeared in the episode “A Horse of a Similar Color” in which Roberto Contreras appeared as an Indian.

Slim altered the words to the song “Back in the Saddle Again” to showcase the tribulations of co-star, horse-novice Bruce Yarnell:
I’m out of the saddle again
I’ve found out my horse ain’t my friend
Everytime he changes gears, I wind up ’round his ears
I’m out of the saddle again

During its two-year run, “Outlaws” had an incredible list of guest stars; already famous actors and actresses and some who would come to fame in a short amount of time. Academy Award-winner Cliff Robertson appeared in two episodes, one which he also wrote and directed (The Dark Sunrise of Griff Kincaid).  Both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in the first season as outlaws, though sadly, not in the same episode. Steve Forrest (Johnny Rondo in the High Chaparral episode of the same name)  opened the series with co-stars Robert Culp and Warren Oates. Jackie Coogan and Gerald Mohr starred in the two-part pilot episode “The Rape of Red Sky.” The first season also had Jack Warden, Cloris Leachman, and Iron Eyes Cody. Jack Lord and Simon Oakland star in a particularly chilling episode titled “The Bell,” a baby-faced Ted Markland AND Roberto Contreras appear alongside their High Chaparral co-star in the episode “The Little Colonel.” Brian Keith starred in “My Friend the Horse Thief” in which Chalk’s old pal is on the wrong side of the law but he can’t see it. Walter Slezak appears as would-be bank robber. Lloyd Nolan plays Chalk’s con-artist father. Dub Taylor, Martin Landau, Sue Ann Langdon, Dean Jones, Edgar Buchanan, Robert Lansing (the Marshal in High Chaparral’s Mark of the Turtle), Dick York, Ray Walston, David Wayne, Ed Asner, Alejandro Ray, Johnny Washbrook, Nancy Culp and Jack Elam made appearances. Two new co-stars of the second season rounded out the talent – Judy Lewis (daughter of Loretta Young) and the dog who starred in the Disney classic “Old Yeller.”

Don Collier enjoyed his time playing Will Foreman and wishes the series could have gone on longer than two years. Though it always did well in the ratings, NBC had made a deal with the famous Ralph Edwards (This is Your Life) to produce a new Western. Ralph demanded Outlaws time slot. His show, “Wide Country” only lasted one season, which just goes to show that the network should have stuck with the success they already had.

Don has nothing but great things to say about everyone who appeared on Outlaws. He particularly enjoyed working with James Coburn, Robert Culp and Cliff Robertson for their professionalism. His most favorite guest star was Myron McCormick, who returned to Outlaws more than once. Myron originated the role of Luther Billis in the original cast of South Pacific on Broadway, and held the record for the most consecutive performances at the time.
Maybe most important of all, Outlaws is the show that forged the friendship of Don and High Chaparral producer Kent McCray. Kent was the associate producer of Outlaws for the first two episodes of the first season, and the production manager for the entire season two. And Don’s pal Bobby Hoy did stunt work on several episodes.

Best episodes? My favorites are “The Bell”, in which a escaped psychopathic criminal holds a family hostage in a church during a blizzard, while Will Foreman’s life hangs by a thread. “My Friend the Horse Thief” has Chalk turn in his deputy’s badge rather than believe his old friend is an outlaw. “Farewell Performance” gives Bruce Yarnell a change to demonstrate his singing ability when a traveling show comes to town. “The Cutups” is a showcase for Slim Pickens when Ray Walston makes it appear that Slim is a crook. In “The Outlaw Marshals,” Will Foreman sees that the law is not always black and white and jeopardizes his job to do what’s right. And last but not least, the final episode of the series,“All in a Day’s Work” – another nail-biter when a hardened criminal Will sent to prison is released and it’s said he wants revenge. Perfect parts of drama, suspense and comedy (in one scene the town undertaker begins to measure Will for his inevitable coffin, so as not to waste time later), in which Don Collier excels.

Unfortunately, this great show has never made it to DVD or even to VHS (except for a boxed set of four episodes). Keep your eye on Ebay and other online sites to get yourself some bootleg copies. YouTube also has several for viewing.
Don will be glad to share his memories of the show during his one-man show ‘Confessions of an Acting Cowboy‘ at The High Chaparral Reunion in March, Tucson.  

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