Clint Walker got on and off a horse as well as anybody and better than most.
Will Rogers once asked John Wayne why he was so glum. Wayne said his career was going nowhere, just one crummy B-western after another. Will replied, “Duke, just keep gettin’ on and off that horse.” Duke, who wasn’t crazy about horses, said, “When you get on a horse 100 things can happen, 99 of which are bad.” But he kept gettin’ on and off that horse. So did Clint Walker.
Clint helped trail-blaze the way for over 135 TV westerns. He put Warner Bros. TV on the map. He never overdid, he never underdid—he just got on that horse and rode off to another adventure.
Like Cheyenne Bodie, Clint has the wanderlust. Got it from his dad, who was a restless hombre and kept the family moving from river town to river town. Clint began his own wandering at 16, when he quit school and began a long succession of jobs leading to “Cheyenne” and beyond.
Warner Bros. made the movie “Casablanca” and they tried to make a successful TV series out of it. Ditto “King’s Row”, “Conflict” and “Cheyenne”. Only “Cheyenne” was a hit. It was originally a feature western starring Dennis Morgan. Critics can be cruel. One wrote, “Mr. Morgan enters the saloon through the swinging doors, preceded by his stomach.” Ouch!
Well, you sure couldn’t say that about Clint Walker. Why, his abs have abs. Worked out with him once. He had put together a make-shift gym in the backlot in a dusty shed, brought his own weights. He took off his shirt—Cinemascope shoulders—he looked like a hairy wall. I kept my shirt on—never went back.
Boy, Clint was immense. Felt sorry for his horse. Felt sorrier for his leading ladies. There they’d be in the ranch house, puttering about. A knock at the door, enter Clint, camera tilts up. For the rest of the scene all you can see of the leading lady is her head, bobbing about at the bottom of the screen like a buoy in a storm.
Ol’ Clint made me feel right at home when I started “Sugarfoot”. Invited me out to his house and sold me his Vespa motor scooter. L.A. drivers are not unlike Kamikaze pilots, so I confined my scootering to riding out to the Warner backlot from the make-up department in the morning. Didn’t want Vespa services held in my memory, you know. Hard to start in the early cold. Had to push it most of the way before it revved up properly. Good exercise. Hmmm, yep, there was a smattering of the horse trader in Clint… There was a lot of the hero in him.
We’ve all heard the epic tale of when he survived a horrifying skiing accident. I asked him about it. He was skiing alone. Something happened. He found himself impaled in the chest by a ski pole. What saved him? His devout belief in the great Kahuna Polynesian religion. He felt his life draining out of his body and soul. With all his might and heart he summoned the Kahuna to help him restore his forces and get him back to base camp. The great Kahuna responded. ‘Course, Clint’s lifetime history of healthful living didn’t hurt either.
Clint’s not only a skier; he’s a hiker too. Why, he once took one of Hollywood’s most famous hikes out of Warner Bros.—during a dispute he repaired to California’s mother lode and prospected for gold in a river. Gold is where you find it, and he couldn’t find it at Warners. (Clayton Moore was lucky—he found silver—‘neath his saddle.) Money wasn’t all of it. Clint objected to the way the suits rewarded him for his success by cutting down on the budget of his show. Same thing happened to me. After the first five shows or so we started shooting down in the low rent district of the western street, and the scripts got pretty atrocious—but I was more than equal to the challenge—my acting was every bit as atrocious.
Later, Clint returned to the fold, and he, Ty Hardin and I made one of my favorite shows, “Duel At Judas Basin”, sort of like the Three Mesquiteers. I thought we had a good blendship. We three could do one of those TV reunion shows: “Cheyenne, Bronco and Sugarfoot Get Hip Replacements”.
Eventually, cabin fever hit all of us bargain basement buckaroos, and we went stir crazy out in that cramped back lot. We got on our horses and rode off in all directions. I see Clint Walker from time to time and think of him more often that that. Lonely man, Cheyenne, where will you be camping tonight?