Nicholas Aloysious Adamshock was the son of a Nanticoke, PA, coal miner. At 5'8" he wasn’t tall enough or handsome enough to be a leading man, but his stubborn determination as Nick Adams and his personal refusal to recognize anything as impossible eventually paid off. With no experience, only a desire “to be somebody”…an actor…a chance meeting with Jack Palance led to a role in a NY stage presentation of “Tom Sawyer”. From there he hitch-hiked to Hollywood in January 1950 and worked at all sorts of odd jobs.
In ‘52 the Coast Guard shanghaied him until ‘55. Back in Hollywood, his sheer pluck landed him a role in Mervyn LeRoy’s “Mr. Roberts” (‘55), which then led to parts in “Rebel Without a Cause”, “Last Wagon”, and “Fury at Showdown” among others, as well as TV guest shots on “Wanted Dead or Alive”, “Cimarron City”, “Yancy Derringer”, “Trackdown” and others, all from ‘55-‘59.
Andrew J. Fenady of Toledo, OH, a handsome, black-haired, 30 year old actor turned writer/producer and his partner, Philadelphia’s Irvin Kershner, 35, a soft-spoken former photography instructor at USC and documentary maker, had just completed a sleeper hit, “Stakeout on Dope Street” (‘58), and were under contract to Paramount. Adams knew Fenady and at a ‘58 New Year’s Eve party began pressuring the producer to write a series for him. Consequently, Fenady came up with “Young Johnny Yuma”. The premise—after fighting on the losing side in the Civil War, Johnny Yuma sets out to find himself and his values in the western frontier. He got involved with people, solved problems and brought justice to some bad guys along the way. All the while, keeping a journal of his experiences.
Irvin Kershner was advised he was now director and one-third owner of a half-hour TV series about the wanderings of an ex-confederate soldier, a young writer trying to find himself in the aftermath of the Civil War. As Fenady told TV COLLECTOR in ‘92, “My conception of ‘The Rebel’ was Jack London in the west. (London) was adventurous, he wanted to be a writer, and he couldn’t write unless he lived it. That’s what set him apart from all the other (TV) pistolleros. He went to war, learned the value of life and learned what it was like to be licked. A lot of his identity was due to that (Rebel) cap he was wearing.”
Johnny Yuma was a man proud of the remnants of his rebel uniform and was often forced to defend himself against slurs directed at him and the bitter defeat of the South. Using both his fists, a Civil War style Dragoon pistol in a cut-off Cavalry-flapped holster and what Yuma called his “scattergun”, (a sawed off double barrel shotgun altered at both ends, formerly owned by his father—usually strapped to his leg) Adams projected an intensity that belied his slender frame.
Originally accepted by Dick Powell at Four Star, Goodson-Todman were shopping for a Fall western and learned of the script. They liked it and offered to finance the series in return for half ownership. Powell released Fenady/Kershner/Adams and they formed Fen-Ker-Ada Inc. to produce the series which began on ABC October 4, 1959, a date that was also Fenady’s 31st birthday and Kershner’s first wedding anniversary. As Fenady explained, “The first episode laid the groundwork for what we were to know of Yuma’s background. Two years after the war is over, he goes home to the fictitious town of Mason City, AZ. His only family was an aunt and his father, the sheriff, whom he finds has been killed by a band of outlaws (led by Dan Blocker), who have taken the town hostage. Incidentally, that was the last thing Dan did before he did the pilot of ‘Bonanza’. Yuma’s extended family (was) newspaper editor Elmer Dodson (played by John Carradine). Unlike some leading men who’d be self-conscious at a five-foot-eight stature,” Fenady recalls, “Some of these guys we would cast were pretty big. And I’d say, listen Nick, this guy’s six feet.’ He says, ‘I don’t care. The bigger they are the harder they fall. I’m The Rebel, I can lick anybody!’ He wasn’t like some of these guys who are afraid to have a tall guy next to him; he didn’t care.”
Nick soon married actress Carol Nugent, a blonde who appears in a black wig as an Indian on the third episode, “Yellow Hair”. ^ ^
“The Rebel” replaced “Colt .45” in its Sunday night 9-9:30 ET timeslot, moving “Colt .45” back to 7-7:30. With “Colt .45”, “Maverick” and “Lawman” as its Sunday night lead-in, Nick Adams’ “The Rebel” did well in the ratings opposite “G. E. Theatre” on CBS and “The Chevy Show” on NBC. 76 b/w half hour episodes were aired over two seasons through June 18, 1961 (with reruns until Sept. ‘61). It was a sponsor mixup that ended “The Rebel”, replaced by “Bus Stop” in Sept. ‘61.
Justifiably proud of “The Rebel”, Fenady said, “In almost all the episodes I snuck in a little something from the Bible, a historical quote, we tried to put in just a little bit of philosophy, a little poetry. In one episode (“Ballad of Danny Brown”) Tex Ritter played a sheriff who was afraid when a gunfighter was gonna come back (after release from) prison, that he would lose his nerve and not be able to stand up to him. What happened was, when the gunfighter came back, instead of being like Miller in ‘High Noon’, he was a broken old man; there was nothing to be afraid of. My favorite episodes are the pilot; ‘Yellow Hair’—that’s the one where he got that eagle claw he wore around his neck. It was given to him by Satanta, (an Indian chief played by Rudolph Acosta) and it protected him in Indian territory. My third favorite was ‘Johnny Yuma at Appomattox’. Johnny Yuma wanted to prolong the war by assassinating General Grant. He hid upstairs in an attic, took aim at him while Lee was surrendering, but when he heard the gracious and generous terms Grant had allowed Lee, he broke down and cried and said, ‘The war is over, we are all brothers again.’ They don’t make half-hour movies like that anymore.”
Another classic episode is “Night on a Rainbow”, about Civil War-related drug addiction. It was so controversial that it was at first pulled from the air, but finally was broadcast to overwhelming reaction on 5/29/60.
Filming for “The Rebel” was done at Thousand Oaks, Corriganville, Bronson Canyon and on the Paramount backlot (sharing space with “Bonanza”).
As to the well-known original three-quarter time themesong to “The Rebel”, A. J. Fenady wrote the “fightin’ mad, rebel lad” lyrics to Dick Markowitz’s music that was sung by Johnny Cash. Sadly, the song has been replaced in recent years by a generic instrumental and Cash’s credit spliced out. The syndicators at Worldvision, who have syndication rights to the series in perpetuity, had to switch to a public domain tune to avoid continual renegotiations with Warner Bros. music who wanted too high a fee for too short a term when the show aired on The Westerns Channel a few years ago. (Incidentally, the Cash Columbia record version is different, done in 2/4 time at Johnny Western’s suggestion as Cash did not like the ¾ time.)
Nick Adams’ death on February 5, ‘68, at the young age of 36, brought forth the usual suicide rumors. Fenady does not agree with the speculation. “He was taking medication prescribed for him. I think he had taken a bunch of the stuff, tried to get to sleep, woke up in the middle of the night and just reached in and grabbed another handful and took too many and it killed him. I’m sure that it was not intentional. Nick was a relatively happy guy and he was very close to his kids, Jeb and Allison, and (although divorced) he still saw his wife.”
Fenady went on to write and produce TV’s “Branded” with Chuck Connors and “Hondo” with Ralph Taeger as well as “Chisum” (‘70) with John Wayne, among others.
Kershner’s career saw him later direct “Face In the Rain” (‘63), “Flim Flam Man” (‘67), “Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back” (‘80) and James Bond’s “Never Say Never Again” (‘83).
Asked what it was that made audiences take to Nick Adams, Kershner once replied, “I think it is because he gives freely of himself. Tell him you want to break his neck in the next scene, and he says, ‘Sure, just be sure you’ve got a doctor.’ ”