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Pat-Buttram-Gene-Autry-television-series-DVD-photo

Timeless Media Group has corralled all five seasons of The Gene Autry Show (1950-1955) into a single set for release on December 10.

GeneAutryShow_CompleteCEThis blog is not about TV. Other people know a lot more about it than I do and do a much better job covering it than I ever could. But when you’re familiar with the features, seeing how Gene transitioned from theaters to living rooms is fascinating — and in keeping with what happened to Gene’s career, and the Western itself, over the course of the decade.

When Autry stopped making features — the TV series began in 1950, the movies lasted into 1953 — he brought a lot of actors and crew over to the show. George Archainbaud, for instance, directed Gene’s last feature, Last Of The Pony Riders (1953), and TV shows throughout its run. William Bradford, who shot a number of the later features, did all but a handful of the TV shows. (How’d they pull all this off?) Many of the TV writers had also written for the Autry features at some point, including a single episode by brothers Dorrell and Stewart E. McGowan, who’d scripted one of Gene’s best, South Of The Border (1939). (They also wrote one of my favorite films, 1949′s Hellfire).

The shows really have the feel of an Autry feature. Shorter and cheaper, of course, with a plot that’s even more bare-bones than the movies — and usually limited to a single song. Each episode exists as its own entity, too. From one show to the other, Gene is everything from a rancher to a U.S. Marshall, it’s the Old West one week and the Fabulous Fifties the next, and sometimes Gene doesn’t even know his sidekick Pat Buttram. Gene was a great businessman, and he was smart enough to stick with a sure thing — whether it’s a cameraman or a formula.

Making my way through the series, what really struck me was the incredible stream of actors and actresses that turn up from week to week: Denver Pyle, Alan Hale, Jr. (who’s a sidekick for a while), James H. Griffith, Kermit Maynard, John Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, Lyle Talbot, Robert J. Wilke, Tom Tyler, Jack Ingram, Clayton Moore, Chill Wills, Glenn Strange, James Best, Francis Ford, Lee Van Cleef. Gloria Talbott, Nestor Paiva, Peggy Stewart, “Curly” Joe Besser, Tommy Ivo and a million more. (That has to be the longest sentence I’ve ever written.) Autry’s acting leaves a lot to be desired — though he’d come a long way since The Phantom Empire (1936), but he surrounded himself with some real pros, and they do wonders for these shows.

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You can’t help being knocked for a loop by the color episodes. Two first-season shows were done in color as an experiment and the fifth season is color all the way. The type of color isn’t identified — my guess would be Eastmancolor — and it looks pretty weird, a little blown out in spots. But that’s the fault of the original material, not something we can complain to Timeless Media Group about. It’s terrific to see Gene and Roy and Champion in color. These were transfered from Gene’s personal material and are spotless, with supplements like radio shows, photo galleries and commercials — along with an extra DVD that gives you episodes of other shows from Autry’s Flying ‘A’ Productions. Recommended.Gene Autry - GA rehearsing

Gene Autry at work on his TV show. Photo lifted from Steven Lodge’s blog.

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Jack Benny is a real favorite around my house, so I don’t care of this post is a bit of a stretch, Western-wise.

Shout Factory has announced a three-disc set containing 18 Benny episodes — “unseen since their original broadcast — that have been lovingly restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Jack, Don, Mary, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and a constellation of guest stars are all here in this first-of-its-kind DVD collection.”

The guest stars include Gary Cooper and John Wayne, which gives me a real honest-to-goodness reason to put together a post on this.

Sorry for the drop-off in activity. Have one of those “family emergencies” we’re tending to.

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April Fools Day.

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Just remembered that Antenna TV is running Three Stooges shorts all day today. Woulda been a good day to call in sick!

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All this debate about colorization and Shane in 1.66 is making me tired.

So here’s a picture of Eddie Arnold, Roy Rogers and Audie Murphy. We believe it’s from a 1959 episode of The Chevy Show. Eddy Arnold and Audie Murphy were Roy and Dale’s guests. A quick check shows that a copy sits in the Library Of Congress.

Thanks to Mike Richards for sorting this out.

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Here’s Gloria Talbott, Fred MacMurray and the great John Dierkes in The Oregon Trail (1959), which after much speculation and lots of blog-commenting time, is finally available from the Fox Cinema Archives MOD program. As one of the CinemaScope films Lippert Pictures produced for 20th Century-Fox in the late 50s (The Fly was one, too), it’s something I’m looking forward to.

Though I’m thrilled about this release, which has been officially listed as widescreen, I have a gripe. If what you see at  left is indeed what the packaging looks like, I’m disappointed. A quick Google image search turns up better stuff than that — in color, too. Maybe they should reach out to the collector community — namely, us — for access to better material.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

On a completely unrelated note: my daughter and I watched a couple episodes of The Lone Ranger last night — one with James H. Griffith and the other with Hank Worden. What a treat.

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These beautiful Hopalong Cassidy cap pistols (the subject line is what the original box called them) were manufactured by the All Metal Products Co. from Wyandotte, Michigan in 1955. By then, of course, Hoppy was out of theaters (the last of the features was released in 1948) and well-established on TV.

Today, it’s hard to believe kids used to go to the movies wearing these things.

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INSP TV is adding The High Chaparral to its stable of shows, and kicking things off with a marathon on September 15. This has me thinking about Cameron Mitchell, who played Buck Cannon throughout the show’s run.

Mitchell had a pretty incredible career, beginning with offers to pitch for the major leagues — which he turned down to pursue acting — and serving as an Air Force bombardier in World War II. He played Happy Loman in Death Of A Salesman both on Broadway and film. Then there’s his film credits: John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945), Command Decision (1947), House Of Bamboo (1955), Monkey On My Back (1957). Ride In The Whirlwind (1966, a great film) — even the voice of Christ in The Robe (1953).

Henry Hathaway, Mitchell and Susan Hayward at work on Garden Of Evil (1954).

He was very visible in 50s Westerns, too. Man In The Saddle (1951), Powder River (1953), Garden Of Evil (1954) and Tension At Table Rock (1956, above with Richard Egan), to name a few. Then came a busy period in Europe that resulted in Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964), Minnesota Clay (1964) and Knives Of The Avenger (1966), among others.

But it’s probably The High Chaparral (1967-1971) for which he’s best known.

He did some really terrible horror films in the 70s and 80s — The Toolbox Murders (1978) is atrocious — and he worked steadily on TV. (Name a show, and there’s a good chance he was on it at least once.) What always struck me was that he never seemed to walk through a part. He was too professional for that, the perfect example of a working actor. And while it sometimes seems beside the point, he was good. And quite often, as in Ride In The Whirlwind or The High Chaparral, he was excellent.

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As if a day full of cowboys wasn’t enough, INSP TV is giving away a four-day dude ranch trip.

So be sure to enter — and check out that expanded Western lineup.

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INSP TV is expanding their Saturday Western programming — Saddle Up Saturday, beginning at 1pm ET. It’s the better part of a day filled with Bonanza, The Big Valley and more. To celebrate, INSP is giving away a Dude Ranch weekend valued at $5,000. Be sure to enter.

I’d love to see someone from this blog win this. (My wife and I spent our honeymoon at a dude ranch and had a blast.) And wouldn’t you like a pony ride?

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Here in North Carolina, we won’t know what to do without Andy Griffith. He passed away early this morning.

The Andy Griffith Show became a bit of a problem for both Andy and his home state — creating images neither could live up to. But when you ignore all that, his show was one of the best TV ever offered (maybe the best) — and since many episodes were based on his recollections of life in and around Mount Airy, he has to be one of the best story men the medium has ever known.

Andy’s seen here with Julie Adams in a 1962 episode (“The County Nurse”) of The Andy Griffith Show. About a quarter mile from where I type this, there’s a statue of Andy and Opie, a gift to Raleigh from TV Land. Wonder if the flowers have started showing up yet?

Stephen Bowie, another North Carolinian, is as shaken up as I am. Our local CBS affiliate obviously had an obituary in waiting. It covers a lot of ground.

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