"BOOTS AND SADDLES"
The historic 5th Cavalry came to TV in the Fall of ‘57 as “Boots and Saddles” picked up the exploits of the 5th in 1871 at Fort Lowell in Arizona Territory, even though the series was filmed entirely—except for interiors—around Kanab, UT, utilizing the stockade originally built for “Pony Express” with Charlton Heston in ‘52.
The real 5th had served in the Civil War with the Army of the Potomac and afterwards in Kansas and Nebraska against Cheyenne and Sioux. Its proud ranks once included Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee and Buffalo Bill Cody as chief scout.
In the series, Lt. Col. Graham Wesley Hays (Patrick McVey), a West Pointer with 30 years experience, is assigned to Ft. Lowell to break the backbone of Apache resistance. The true star of the series was Captain Shank Adams (John Pickard). Other recurring members of the evolving cast were John Alderson as Sgt. Bullock, whose Irish determination often kept the men together; Dave Willock as 2nd Lt. Ed Binning, an inexperienced new officer; Michael Emmett as Corp. Britt Davis, a former Confederate officer; Michael Hinn as civilian scout Luke Cummings; Gardner McKay as Lt. Dan Kelly; James Dobson as the cook, Pvt. Hatfield and Johnny Western as Pvt. Curry.
In 1991, Tennessee born John Pickard (billed Jack Pickard in the series) recalled for us, “These were good guys. ‘Course Pat was an old time stage man. He’d been in lots of
“One more that was learning at the time, that didn’t always know his lines, Gardner McKay. Gardner was under contract to 20th. He (came to us) because he was supposed to be the romantic character…handsome, young, that sort of thing. He was tall and thin and had a very good face on him, photographically, but he had big feet. He’d trip over his feet, that sort of thing. And he was not a very good actor. It isn’t that he didn’t try. It just didn’t work out. I think his mother was a socialite or something like that. That’s the story I got years ago. You couldn’t learn much from Gardner because he wouldn’t reveal anything. He also wanted to do photography. He took some pretty good pictures of me and everybody in the cast. Afterward, he was writing reviews of plays and things for the L.A. TIMES for a while. I wish him well. He did the best he could.” McKay died November 21, 2001.
“The company itself, CNP, California National Productions, was a fully owned subsidiary of NBC. There was sort of a change in higher echelons along about the end of the first year. Executives were leaving and new people were coming in. We were syndicated and had a high rating all over the country, knocking around in fourth, fifth and sixth place all the time. The producer in the early part of the show was Robert Levitt, who at the time was married to Ethel Merman. He came out to see us on location in Kanab. Trouble was, we were shooting in black and white; and to not take advantage (in color) of the scenery was just sickening. Levitt died and shortly after that we had a couple of guys, Bob Stillman and George Cahan as producers. (Cahan, exec. prod. at CNP, later became a TV director. He died in ‘91 at 72.) The talk was real good toward the end of the first season. NBC was going to buy us, put us on prime time and convert to color. RCA was crying for color. What happened in the meantime was, a man walked in with his story about an old rancher and three sons. It was called ‘Bonanza’. And it was indeed. Plus the fact California National was going to be sued for plagiarism; some people claimed ‘Boots and Saddles’ was their idea. So maybe that held us back a little when word got around. Anyway, we only went one season…39 shows. I did 37 of them. The last two I was away on personal appearances in Atlanta and Louisville.”
John Pickard died in a freak accident with a bull on his farm in Tennessee 8/4/93.
Singer/actor Johnny Western’s total recall memory tells us much about the series and the men who worked in it. “I was in the first 13 episodes. So about the time Gardner McKay came to replace Michael Emmett, who was referred to as the great stone face, we went back to town and did interiors for that bunch. When they went back up, I was no longer in the show. The interiors were done at California National on Melrose, down the street from Paramount. John Pickard was a tremendous physical specimen. He worked out, had a tremendous physique…big shoulders, little waist, looked great in his uniform.”
Johnny called Patrick McVey “really easy to get along with. No ego at all.” McVey began his film career, after becoming a successful Broadway actor, in 1941’s “They Died With Their Boots On”. From ‘50-‘54 he was editor Steve Wilson on TV’s “Big Town” and later played another newspaperman on Victor Jory’s “Manhunt” (‘59-‘61). He died in New York in 1973 at 63.
As to what became of Michael Emmett when he was replaced by McKay, Western thinks, “Somebody told me he went into the insurance business. When Gardner McKay came in, the very first episode Gard did, he’s in a ditch out in the boonies with Indians attacking. The close up is on Gard giving two or three guys some orders. There’s a little dialogue and a lot of shooting. Director Bill Hole gets ready to do the thing and Gard holds up his hand, and with this real New York look on his face, says, ‘Excuse me Mr. Hole, before we start shooting, what is my motivation for these lines?’ Hole was just incredulous! He looked at him, and I quote exactly, ‘Gardner, your motivation is I’m gonna kick your ass right up between your shoulder blades if you don’t say those lines. Now get back in the ditch.’ All the stunt guys just fell apart. Gardner was no horseman either. He was just handsome. He found his niche on ‘Adventures in Paradise’.”
“Jimmy Dobson, who sometimes did comedy, was my roommate for awhile. After the whole thing was over, I find out Dobson is gay, although he never made a move on me.” (Dobson died in ‘87 at 67.)
“Michael Hinn was an extra first, then a scriptwriter. Michael also directed and produced the short subject, ‘Night Rider’, with Johnny Cash, Dick Jones, Eddie Dean, Wesley Tuttle, Whitey Hughes and myself. That was actually a pilot for a docudrama to be based on a different song each week. Then he made a pilot called ‘Mustang’, which he wrote, produced and directed about P-51 pilots in WWII.” Hinn was later seen in “Escape From Red Rock”, “Gun Fever”, “Valdez Is Coming” and “Bounty Killer”. He died in ‘88 in his 70’s.
Western smiles, “John Alderson was the clown in the group. He was the greatest storyteller…dirty limericks and these little British goodies…he kept us royally entertained. He was a funny guy.” Alderson, born in England in 1916, died August 4, 2006. Among his many credits are “Shootout at Medicine Bend”, “No Name On the Bullet” and “Last Stagecoach West”.
When we interviewed Alderson he told us, “There were two pilots made (both with John Pickard as star) prior to its acceptance by CNP. They had to replace me for the first six shot in Kanab because I was working in Paris on ‘Young Lions’ with Marlon Brando. CNP insisted on using me, so I was concerned with all future episodes. Pat McVey was eased out after the first 12 simply because the powers that be wanted to bring more youth to the show, hence the introduction of Gardner McKay. No reflection on Pat’s ability. He was a great guy and had more experience than anyone. Gardner’s advent into the series was a disaster. I was the recipient of all his lines whenever he was featured. (Director) Bernie Kowlaski would come to me the day before shooting and say, ‘I can’t go with Gard so I’m switching all his lines over to you as sergeant.’”
“On the other hand, Gard did alright with ‘Adventures in Paradise’. I guested on three episodes. Unfortunately, his big feet were his undoing. In one episode, despite me telling him he was standing too close, he hauled off and punched me plum in the face and broke my nose pretty badly. Gard was sincere enough in his own way. He came over to my place the following day and presented me with a new copy of something he knew I adored…THE OXFORD BOOK OF ENGLISH VERSE.”
“I used to meet with John (Pickard) at Santa Anita. I miss him enormously. ‘Boots and Saddles’ was a big success in England. It was shown twice on the BBC. In fact it got me a job. The very popular ‘Dr. Who’ hired me to play Wyatt Earp in two consecutive episodes. Kids over there greeted me as Sgt. Bullock.”
The series employed top stuntmen for the dangerous riding and Indian fighting—Henry Wills (who also played trooper Benedict), Al Wyatt, Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan (with his horse Hot Rod who did all those great falls), Fred ‘Krunch’ Krone and Earl Parker (Vic Morrow’s longtime double).
Most of the scripts were written by prolific actor turned writer Tony Barrett, although Gene (“Star Trek”) Rodenberry contributed several.
Directorial reins were in the alternating capable hands of William “Bill” Hole and Bernard Kowalski. Hole later helmed “Four Fast Guns” w/James Craig and low budget fare such as “Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow”. Kowalski also garnered a rep as a director of low budget horror schlock (“Attack of the Giant Leeches”, “Night of the Blood Beast”) but fared better on the tube, directing hundreds of hours of episodic TV— “Rawhide”, “Broken Arrow”, “Wild Wild West”, “Monroes” as well as “Baretta”, “Rockford Files” and other non-westerns.