The dark, sober, downbeat half hour black and white western series about a one-armed gunfighter, “Tate”, premiered on June 8, 1960, as a summer replacement for the second half hour of NBC’s popular “Perry Como” variety hour. The title role of Tate went to stern-looking David McLean, a former Ohio architect before entering the acting profession.
“Tate” was created and often scripted by Harry Julian Fink, a former New York tuxedo salesman and camera store clerk who became one of the top TV western script providers. Fink developed “Tate” along with executive producer Alvin Cooperman of Perry Como’s RonCom Productions. They envisioned an uncommon western hero with a unique element to his gunfighter character. Tate’s wife and child had been killed during the Civil War, while his left arm was smashed into uselessness by an explosion during the battle of Vicksburg. Carrying his left arm in a black leather sling, Tate found it nearly impossible to find work after the war, so he became a wandering gunfighter—although never yielding to bitterness and retaining his strong sense of justice.
Perry Como introduced David McLean to the TV audience on his June 1 show with the first episode of the series, “Home Town”, broadcast a week later. The long-forgotten sitcom, “Happy”, with Ronnie Burns, occupied the first half hour of the summertime Como time slot.
Even with introspective, personal-story scripts from the always excellent Fink and good casts populated by James Coburn, Royal Dano, Robert Culp, Louise Fletcher, Robert Redford, Paul Richards, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, Peter Whitney, Chris Alcaide, Cathy O’Donnell, Pat Breslin, Mort Mills, Ted DeCorsia, Julie Adams and others, the 13 episodes of the surly gunfighter failed to catch-on with viewers, finding strong opposition from “I’ve Got a Secret” on CBS and “Wednesday Night Boxing” and “Hawaiian Eye” on ABC. Sponsored by Kraft, the series ended September 21 and Como returned to his time-slot in October ‘60.
Akin to the best of “Have Gun Will Travel”, “The Westerner”, “The Loner” and “The Rebel” scripts, “Tate” deserves a second viewing (if not a first if you missed it in ‘60) as an overlooked western gem.
Born Eugene Joseph Huth in Akron, OH, May 19, 1922, after architect and cartooning work, McLean began acting in small stage productions in Ohio. After WWII, he came to Hollywood and eventually landed the role on “Tate”. He went on to work on “Thriller”, “Laramie”, “Perry Mason”, “The Fugitive”, “Gunsmoke”, “Bonanza” and others, including a 10 year stretch on “Days of Our Lives” soap (‘65-‘76). He was also seen as the Marlboro Man on TVmercials. Leaving acting in ‘78, he returned to architectural design until his untimely death in Culver City, CA, from cancer October 12, 1995.