Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Horn Section Salutes: Leslie H. Martinson (1915-2016)

Labor Day Weekend brought sad news to all classic television fans with the report that prolific director Leslie H. Martinson passed away on Saturday, September 3 at the age of 101.

Boston-born Martinson actually started out as a newspaper columnist for his hometown Boston Evening Transcript, but migrated to the West Coast in 1936, starting out in MGM's mail room.  From this inauspicious Hollywood beginning he worked his way up through the ranks, becoming a script supervisor for such classics as THE YEARLING (1946) and EASTER PARADE (1948) and eventually ending up in the director's chair for the first of many, many times on a 1952 episode of COWBOY G-MEN. 

Mickey Rooney in THE ATOMIC KID (1954)

While Martinson ended up helming a number of features, starting with the 1954 Mickey Rooney starrer THE ATOMIC KID, it was on television that he made his greatest impact.  In a career that spanned four decades, "Les" lent his steady hand to everything from MANNIX and CHEYENNE to THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO and HEY, MULLIGAN!  But here at The Horn Section, Leslie H. Martinson is revered as the most prolific MAVERICK director of them all.

Martinson directed a whopping 18 of the 124 MAVERICK episodes; runnerup Douglas Heyes was responsible for 13, with Richard L. Bare (who also made it to age 101 before he passed away last year) and Arthur Lubin guiding 11 apiece.  No disrespect to the others, but for my money, I'd also pick Martinson as the greatest MAVERICK director of them all: for starters, he handled both Gun-Shy and Shady Deal at Sunny Acres--arguably the top two MAVERICKs among the series' most ardent fans.

For the former, Martinson delivered a pitch-perfect parody of GUNSMOKE from a marvelous Marion Hargrove script, breezily lampooning everything from its iconic opening credits "shootout" to Marshal Dillon's weekly contemplations at Boot Hill.  Fifty-seven years later, it is still the gold standard for television parody in any genre, rarely even approached, much less equaled.

Shady Deal at Sunny Acres was perhaps the quintessential Bret/Bart teaming.  It was co-written by Heyes, who usually directed his own teleplays, but Martinson handled this timeless "sting" flawlessly: it remains as fresh and funny today as it was in 1958.

Garner and Moore in The Rivals

Martinson was the go-to guy for the often wonderfully warped teleplays of Marion Hargrove, also helming the memorable The Rivals (the only MAVERICK to feature Garner, Kelly and Roger Moore) and The Belcastle Brand (James Garner's favorite segment).   The top MAVERICK according to A.C. Nielsen Co.?  Martinson brought that one home as well: The Saga of Waco Williams scored a 35.3 rating and 51 share in February 1959.

While most of the creative minds that drove MAVERICK into the top 10 left along with Huggins in 1959 (most notably Heyes and Hargrove), Leslie H. Martinson continued to guide installments during the Coles Trapnell era: The Ghost Soldiers, A Tale of Three Cities and the memorably wild Hadley's Hunters were among the director's later efforts.  Triple Indemnity, Martinson's final episode, introduced Peter Breck's Doc Holliday as a recurring foil for Bart Maverick.  It would be the series' last successful attempt to do so: Breck ended up appearing five times during the final season.

Meriwether as Catwoman

With the success of Martinson's television work, it is perhaps fitting that the feature he is best remembered for is the 1966 big-screen version of television's BATMAN.  In addition to the challenge of stretching a thirty minute series to feature length, Martinson had to film with a new Catwoman as Lee Meriwether took over for unavailable icon Julie Newmar.  (Nothing against Ms. Meriwether, but it was a thankless task for any other actress in 1966.)  Martinson was more than up to the tasks: given his deft handling of Batman's bomb disposal and the rehydration fiasco at the U.N., it's a real shame that he only handled two episodes of the actual series (and none after the first season).

Just can't get rid of that damn bomb!

I could go on, but you could sum it up by simply saying that on television, he did it all and he did it well--I'd say he even made something of his final assignment, SMALL WONDER, which is no small feat.  R.I.P. Mr. Martinson.  More of Leslie H. Martinson's sublime work for MAVERICK to come on future installments of MAVERICK Mondays, and more reviews of all kinds to follow here at The Horn Section

Thursday, August 11, 2016

F TROOP Fridays: TV GUIDE, August 13-19, 1966

Once again lifting what is a regular feature by Mitchell Hadley at his excellent blog It's About TV, I'm going to take another excursion into his territory for this week's edition of F Troop Fridays with a look back at another classic issue of TV Guide.

It was 50 years ago Saturday that the great Larry Storch became the second star of F TROOP to make the cover of the venerable U.S. television weekly (with co-star Melody Patterson). 

F Troop was riding high at the end of its first season, the first ABC show to survive the time slot on Tuesdays at 9 PM ET opposite CBS' seemingly invincible Red Skelton Show since The Rifleman accomplished the feat in 1961.  Michael Fessier Jr. profiled the man producer Hy Averback called "our gravy comedian" for The World of Larry Storch.

Fessier caught up with Storch and the rest of the F Troop cast during filming of the second season opener, The Singing Mountie. Fessier notes that the comedian seems to have it made at age 43: "a berth on a hit series, an $85,000 dream house, a lovely and devoted wife". 

Forrest Tucker, profiled by the magazine the previous December, has the memorable quote about his lifelong friend and co-star: "Larry lives in a world belonging to Larry Storch; when you get lucky he lets you in."  Fessier goes back to Storch's show-biz beginnings as a boy impressionist in New York, noted for his ability to do character actors of his youth like Guy Kibbee and Charles Grapewin; later, Storch could approximate radio star Frank Morgan so well that he often did the show for Morgan while the star was nowhere near the studio!

The year 1960 is listed as a "career nadir" for Storch, with a stalled career and a problem with alcohol--something that Tucker would also battle with years later.  (It was a rare year without imdb credits for Larry, save for WHO WAS THAT LADY? which was shot in 1959.)  Enter Norma Booth, credited with "shaping him up", taking over management of his career, and marrying Larry in 1961. 

L to R: Larry Storch, Melody Patterson and Norma Storch in 2003

(Incidentally, there's no mention of Norma Storch's bi-racial daughter June Cross in the article, no doubt a sad sign of the turbulent era.  Ms. Cross told her story in the 1996 Frontline documentary Secret Daughter, which she later turned into a book.)

There is, however, an interview with another lifelong Storch friend, Tony Curtis, then still riding high in Hollywood and a co-star with his old Navy friend in four features, including the prior year's THE GREAT RACE and the aforementioned WHO WAS THAT LADY?, mentioned in the article. 

Storch in THE GREAT RACE (1965) as Texas Jack

The second feature article is Edith Efron's TV Game Shows: America's Great Spectator Sport.  Just eight years after the infamous quiz show scandals, all appears to be forgiven, with 32 hours of programming weekly, mostly during daytime.  Predictably, Efron laments the failure of more "intellectual" programs like The Young Set in daytime and 1963-64's East Side/West Side in prime time.  Her article, featuring comments by mainstays like Match Game's Gene Rayburn, Allen Ludden of Password and producer Mark Goodson, isn't a flattering one, but fifty years later, it's safe to say that the venerable game show still isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Picture feature They're In the Air--As Well as On It profiles the numerous prime time stars who own and fly their own airplanes.  Robert Lansing of Twelve O'Clock High and Lansing's successor, Paul Burke, both fly, as does Daniel Boone icon Fess Parker.  James Franciscus, late of Mr. Novak, owns a $35,000 twin engine Piper. 

This isn't a "males only" club, we learn that Peyton Place star Susan Oliver is a licensed pilot who sees flying as "a nebulous escape from this world we live in".  The four page feature has one glaring exclusion: Bob Cummings, whose flying was featured prominently in three of his series.  A flight instructor offscreen, Cummings' acrimonious departure from My Living Doll in 1965 ended his long run as a prime time sitcom star. 

At 29, singer Nancy Wilson is already a Grammy winning chart topper away from the tube and a frequent variety guest on it, and Singing Fashions features her in four outfits designed by Chuck Howard for those appearances. 

Of course, I have to give Nancy Wilson an extra picture. 

You're welcome.

Another nice surprise is in store on page 36: two pages on Professor Jerry McNeely, who teaches TV writing at the University of Wisconsin and is also Moonlighting for Fun and Profit.  In this case, "those who can't do, teach" is obliterated: McNeely is a decade into his run as one of TV's busiest writers.  His career started in 1956, the same year he joined UW's faculty.  Ten years later, TV Guide is crowning him "television's numero uno writer in Madison, Wisconsin and a radius of a thousand miles in any direction therein".   

Professor Jerry McNeely with students in 1987
A high-minded intellectual writing for "a maligned TV wasteland" (the writer's words, not mine or McNeely's, and this article isn't credited)?  McNeely admits that he yearns for "more challenging" opportunities, but takes the ones TV has to offer and does the best he can.  From my vantage point, ya did quite well, Teach!  McNeely's work for The Twilight Zone, The Eleventh Hour, and Mr. Novak is mentioned, as is the fact that he contributed more scripts to Dr. Kildare (in its final weeks on the air) than any other solo writer. 

McNeely resigned from UW in 1975 to write fulltime and kept selling teleplays, including the TV movies SOMETHING FOR JOEY and FIGHTING BACK: THE STORY OF ROCKY BLEIER.  His career was cut short by a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in the 1990's: he died in 2014.


It's mid-August, so the listings are full of reruns, sports.....and the premiere of a highly acclaimed documentary from a legendary screenwriter and his Emmy-winning brother:

Both The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace air this week, so let's follow the example set by It's About TV and compare lineups:

Hollywood Palace: Victor Borge is your host, with comic professor Irwin Corey (who, incidentally, just turned 102 on July 29th!), choreographer-dancer Peter Genarro, the Kim Sisters and the Kim Brothers, and Irish trapeze artist Gale Shawn.

Ed Sullivan: as you can see above, Ed welcomes Jimmy Durante, comic Myron Cohen, Petulia Clark, contortionist Gitta Morelly, Franco Corelli, Dorothy Kirsten, and the Animals (featuring, of course, Eric Burdon).

While Professor Corey is legendary, so was the great Myron Cohen, who appeared on Sullivan's show 34 times.  Doesn't make him Wayne and Shuster, but obviously, Ed liked him.  (Cohen died in 1986 at age 83.)  I probably would take Borge over Durante, but it's close there too.  It isn't so close elsewhere IMO: Sullivan wins with a considerable overall edge in star power. 

A fitting rerun for a week that featured Larry Storch on the cover, as El Diablo gets an encore on Tuesday's F Troop.  The first of three episodes to give him multiple roles, with five show-stopping Storches this time out--two of them female roles.  I haven't gotten around to reviewing this installment yet; nice to get the reminder that I still have 54 F Troop Fridays to go.

Just in case you were thinking that summer was all reruns: earlier on Tuesday the 16th, at 7:30 ET, NBC aired The Angry Voices of Watts, with A FACE IN THE CROWD writer Budd Schulberg narrating and his brother Stuart producing.  Budd had established the subject of the documentary, the Watts Writers' Workshop, in the wake of the August 1965 Watts Riots.  Jimmy Sherman and Sonora McKellar were among the poets presenting their work.

 A legacy still celebrated, four decades later

A short time after The Angry Voices of Watts aired, contributor Harry E. Dolan Jr. sold a teleplay for NBC's fall premiere, The Hero.  This initial sale kick-started Dolan's career as a TV writer; his original drama Losers Weepers (starring a young Yaphet Kotto and also produced by Stuart Schulberg) soon followed in Febuary 1967.  Dolan kept writing and selling scripts until his untimely death in 1981; his later credits included multiple teleplays for Diahann Carroll's hit Julia.  Johnie Scott also benefited from prime time exposure: his article My Home Is In Watts made the October 1966 issue of Harper's magazine.

There's plenty of sports amidst the reruns, with major league baseball teams gearing up for the stretch run and plenty of exhibition football from both the NFL and the AFL.  Friday night finds Johnny Unitas' Colts (coached by Don Shula) battling Charley Johnson's Cardinals.


Goodson-Todman Productions reportedly has six shows pending with NBC for 1967-68, but it doesn't appear that any of them eventually made the prime time schedule.  The only one listed is Uncle Helen, starring My Favorite Martian star Ray Walston.

With The Dick Van Dyke Show ending its run, Morey Amsterdam is guesting on a Daktari in the fall.  The episode, The Chimp Who Cried Wolf, aired on December 27th.  We can safely assume that DON'T WORRY, WE'LL THINK OF A TITLE hadn't done much for his big screen prospects.

Unsold pilot The Two of Us airs August 29th on CBS.  Billy Mumy and Barry Livingston (My Three Sons) star.  Pat Crowley is also listed in the cast; I would assume that this was filmed long before 1966, since Crowley was starring in Please Don't Eat the Daisies for NBC from 1965-67.

Milton Berle is lining up the guest stars for his comeback series for ABC in the fall.  A closer inspection reveals the star studded lineup is heavy with Uncle Miltie's fellow ABC stars: Phyllis Diller (The Pruitts of Southampton), Adam West (Batman), David Janssen (The Fugitive) and Van Williams (The Green Hornet).

Finally, it wouldn't be a 1966 magazine without a cigarette ad!

And, Nancy Wilson, one more time:

This wraps up the F Troop trilogy of cover articles, but it won't be our last retro TV Guide review.  Pinky swear.  There's plenty of non-cover profiles of series stars (Melody Patterson, Edward Everett Horton) left to explore, and other TV Guide cover articles for our other ongoing classic TV episode guides here at the Section. 

'Til next time, do remember that you can get your vintage TV Guide fix weekly (every Saturday, as a matter of fact) at It's About TV.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "The Fallen Idol" (1956)

LOVE THAT BOB: "The Fallen Idol" (Original Air Date: March 8, 1956) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Lyle Talbot as Paul Fonda, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Robert Ellis as Joe Depew, Sylvia Lewis as Sylvia, Elaine Edwards as Julie, Jeff Silver as Jimmy Lloyd.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and William Cowley.  Directed by Rod Amateau.

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link. 

When you're swanky, sophisticated man about town Bob Collins, you can sometimes be too sought-after for your own good.  Case in point: the arrival of two corsages tips Bob off that he's double-booked himself for dates with Julie and (unseen) Pamela for Friday the 9th.  Sister Margaret balks at Bob's initial back-up plan, which is to ease one of his dates over to Margaret's planned date for the evening--"that wolf" Paul Fonda.

An impossible choice between two beautiful models: all guys should have such troubles, eh?  But our ace photographer has more complicating factors: an early Saturday shoot with swimsuit model Sylvia, and nephew Chuck's promises to his friends that his "rough, tough fighter pilot" of an Uncle will help them build a model plane for a contest.  When busy Bob can't do it, they become fonder of Fonda, and Bob becomes the titular fallen idol inside his home.  Outside it too, once Julie realizes she isn't the playboy shutterbug's only girl.

Don't listen to him, Baby!

From the still-formative second season (its first contained only 17 installments) of THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW, The Fallen Idol provides many notable contrasts with the wilder and faster-paced 1957-59 episodes which are more readily available on DVD today.  For starters, older sister Margaret is much more tolerating of Bob's playboy ways than she would become.  She's much gentler in her attempts to awaken him after a night of carousing, and doesn't even assist her son and his pals as they beseech Air Force Colonel Collins for help with their project. 

Amazingly, Margaret even shrugs off Bob's blatantly stated attempt to pull a switcheroo that would jeopardize her Friday night date with his old war buddy Paul Fonda, and only mildly protests her brother's (hypocritical, no?) characterization of Fonda as a wolf.  Margaret's objections would accrue an edge in segments to come (notably in Bob Plays Margaret's Game), but her only protest here is a weak sabotage of the lines thrown out by the real Wolf of Mulholland during his telephone calls to the ladies he is juggling.

With Chuck still a high school junior, he isn't yet trying to horn in on his popular Uncle's Friday night action.  Young MacDonald is far too awed by "Uncle Bob" to even think about it, hyping his WW2 achievements to buddies Joe Depew (named, of course for the show's assistant director who would go on to helm nearly 150 BEVERLY HILLBILLIES episodes for Henning) and Jimmy Lloyd.  The lads are far more interested in building a model plane on Friday night (for a contest, to be fair) than chasing girls at this stage, so Margaret isn't nearly as concerned about Uncle Bob's bad influence as she would become barely a year later (Bob Gets Out-Uncled).  Chuck is genuinely crushed when Bob's double dating duty renders him AWOL when it is time to construct their entry.

Paul Fonda--our new hero?
Not that you won't recognize THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this early stage; helmed capably by Rod Amateau, it is already one of the few truly subversive shows of its era.  Bob Collins keeps both dates, with his nocturnal activities not only affecting his home life (he skips out on Margaret's pleas to assist with carport planning in addition to stiffing the nephew who idolizes him) but also his job, since he is late for his Saturday shoot.  Once he's there, even the stunning Sylvia can't keep him awake.

Must have been one Hell of a Friday night!

It was, Hal, it was!!

But does Uncle Bob pay for his transgressions?  Negatory.  All he needs is a Saturday afternoon nap, and he's ready to correct the well-meaning Paul Fonda's mistakes on the inanimate model and his own on the human model--Julie, at least.  (We never follow up with "pudgy" Patricia the day after.)  By the end of the episode, the "fallen idol" has risen again.  Chuck is rewarded for his loyalty and has saved face with his friends: both are completely won over by finally witnessing Colonel Collins' expertise.  His newfound standing is only enhanced when the fellows meet Julie, the reason Bob couldn't help them the night before.

Reason enough, guys?

Later installments like Colonel Goldbrick hinted at the following decade's youth revolution, but Bob Collins is still the cat's meow in The Fallen Idol.   Paul Fonda is quickly supplanted by episode's end, and the high schoolers drool over Uncle Bob's date for the evening, but defer to their new hero and get lost when Julie shows up.  Julie, meanwhile, is impressed by Bob's "dedication to his family" after a chance to think it over.  So the redemption is somewhat genuine, but still, for a 1950's TV show, Bob Collins was getting away with a lot of transgressions against society norms without much comeuppance, even at this early stage for the show.   With he and Julie presumably headed up to Mulholland (she likes the sweaty, greasy mechanic look) Bob may well be looking like this again on Sunday morning:

Sylvia Lewis later choreographed sitcoms into the late 1980's (MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN) and would figure prominently in this episode's semi-sequel, The Wolf Who Came to Dinner.  Elaine Edwards is best known for horror films of the era, most notably THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN and THE BAT.


No one, really, which would be all but unheard of in later segments.  Margaret's feeble effort and Paul Fonda's disinterest in stopping Colonel Collins are both eyebrow raisers, and even Schultzy doesn't try to interfere with Bob's nocturnal activities for once.  The super-assistant is even benign about doing all the work on a Saturday.  Yep, for once Bob is actually penetrating the blockers' version of a prevent defense.


We don't hear much about his Thursday date with Joi Lansing's Shirley Swanson (unseen this time), and there are mixed signals concerning Friday night.  True, Bob is dead to the world at 10 AM and stays that way, but despite this promising sign, he did end up in his own bed and Julie is mad at him.  He is also inexplicably too tired to try to make personal time with Sylvia during their shoot.  It does appear, though, that the fallen idol is literally rising again at episode's end:

While The Fallen Idol milks the gags about Bob's morning-after lifelessness a little too much and Collins' path to redemption seems a little too easy, it's a typically amusing, if average entry.  Emmy-nominated Rod Amateau laid the foundation for Cummings' more hyper, crazy directorial style to follow, and Amateau would subsequently turn that up a notch further with his own wild work on over 100 episodes of DOBIE GILLIS.  If The Fallen Idol is indicative of this show's "B" game, well, LOVE THAT BOB's B game is still pretty damn funny.  (**1/2 out of four)

The Fallen Idol is available for viewing on YouTube, titled as "My Uncle Bob".
It is also available on DVD under that title at Shokus Home Video.

Monday, July 04, 2016

MAVERICK Mondays: "Prey of the Cat" (1958)

MAVERICK Mondays: Number 20

MAVERICK: "Prey of the Cat" (1958 ABC/Warner Brothers TV) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Wayne Morris as Pete Stillman, Patricia Barry as Kitty Stillman, Barry Kelley as the Sheriff, Yvette Duguay as Raquel Morales, William Gordon as Fred Bender, William Bryant as Chase.  Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes.

After making the acquaintance of jovial cattleman Pete Stillman on a cold, windy night in Woodstone, Bart suffers a broken right leg when his horse is spooked by a mountain lion.  Since Maverick faces several weeks' healing before he can ride again, Pete insists that the stranger convalesce at his Star Trail Ranch.

During his extended recuperation (which includes the Christmas holiday), Bart learns that Pete's wife Kitty is a Chicago transplant who isn't especially happy at Star Trail or with her marriage.  When he realizes that Mrs. Stillman has designs on him, Bart resolves to leave as quickly as possible--but he meets resistance from the unsuspecting Pete.  Mr. Stillman insists that Maverick come along and help hunt for the mountain lion that has been menacing his cows since Bart's accident.  It's a hunt that proves fatal for the rancher, and the gambling newcomer is an easy target for blame by the suspicious Sheriff.  Then Bart learns that it was a bullet fired by Kitty that killed Pete--and her shot was intentional.

Douglas Heyes wrote and directed a noir-ish segment for each Maverick brother during the highly acclaimed second season.  Garner's was Escape to Tampico, in which Bret also makes a sympathetic but doomed new friend.  While Escape to Tampico is much more of a "straight" western than the typical Garner outing, it's positively light-hearted compared to what Heyes had in store for Jack Kelly.  Prey of the Cat is the grimmest MAVERICK episode, bar none, with a situation going completely against Roy Huggins' oft-stated guideline for the show: it is deadly serious in addition to being as hopeless as usual.

The opening scene induces a few smiles, as Bart tricks ranch foreman Bender out of a chair next to the wood stove.  Your jaw will stay tightened after that: Prey of the Cat turns as cold as the temperature on that windy night.  It's a story with three tragic figures all ruined by unrequited love: the Stillmans and Raquel ("Rachel", Pete teases) form the real triangle in Woodstone. 

All three love someone who doesn't reciprocate the feeling, though only Pete Stillman is doing so unknowingly.  The rancher chose the fair-skinned lady from Chicago over the Hispanic woman who truly loves him: the end result for Pete was a wife who accepted his proposal despite indifferent interest in him and his ranch.  Kitty is calculating (note how quickly she does math in her head) in more ways than one, but she's just as delusional about Bart's feelings for her as she was about her own feelings for Pete.  Mrs. Stillman "can never truly love something" unless she "makes it her own". 

Raquel is also hiding her true feelings: she's devastated to have lost the man she has always loved to an outsider.  We see hints that Pete--despite his public proclaimation that Kitty is his "smartest choice" ever--might subconsciously regret the marriage.  Note the contrast between the humorless, awkward dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Stillman and the effortless rapport Pete still has with Raquel in what seems like daily banter.  Raquel asks him why he isn't "home with his wife" in the opening scene, and it's a good question: it's a freezing night outside, yet Mr. Stillman is in front of a wood stove in town with his bunkhouse workers and his ex. 

Loyal, generous, fair and good-natured, Pete Stillman's misjudgment of Kitty's interest level is his fatal flaw.  He's allowed her to slowly take over the ranch in all but name in an effort to keep her happy, and everyone thinks he's succeeded.  Caught in the middle, innocent Bart Maverick almost becomes a fourth tragic casualty in Prey of the Cat, with the Sheriff joining all of Pete's loyal employees who blame the outsider for their boss' death.

Patricia Barry (Two Beggars on Horseback) is up to the challenge of playing what has to be the most disturbing and unhinged female in the series' run.  Kitty is stunningly beautiful (and aware of it) and highly intelligent, yet bitter about giving up Chicago for this impressive but remote town with a man she doesn't truly love.  Her attraction to Maverick reveals that she has bad boy syndrome--Pete is simply too nice a guy for Kitty.  Bart Maverick, a self-described "drifter and gambler", excites Kitty, and the "edgy" outsider gets her--she thinks, anyway.  Kitty shows increasing psychosis triggered by Bart's rejection but she remains sane enough to use the situation to ensnare him.

In short, Kitty is one scary lady.  Only poor Maverick has seen the unmasked Mrs. Stillman: she has the entire town snowed ("No two people were ever as good together as those two!" the Sheriff asserts.) to the point that the lawmen and other seemingly civilized people like Bender and Chase are turned into a bloodthirsty lynch mob as a result of her machinations.

Somewhat surprisingly, Prey of the Cat is not a script recycled from a more conventional WB series.  Despite the lack of levity, Heyes wrote it specifically for MAVERICK, and avoids some of the errors made by others who attempted "straighter" installments.  Epitaph for a Gambler (for example) had Bart Maverick doing way too many things that were out of character to engross the show's audience: Heyes' script, while unrelentingly solemn, is sermon-free and faithful to the Bart we've come to know.  The writer-director was only one of the many top-notch creative minds (Huggins, Hargrove, Hughes) sorely missed after that landmark 1958-59 season.

Wayne Morris was fated for an early demise less than a year after Prey of the Cat aired.  The World War II hero and rising Warner Brothers star of the pre-War years was as busy as ever (nine credits during 1959 alone) when he died suddenly of a heart attack on September 14, 1959.  He was only 45.  Heyes usually cast fellow writer William D. Gordon as an actor in his MAVERICK and TWILIGHT ZONE projects, and Gordon makes a solid impression as the ranch's loyal but guarded right-hand man.  The episode also marked one of the last acting roles for stunning Fifties starlet Yvette Duguay, who was 28 when she retired from the screen in 1960.


Despite all those ranch hands at the bunkhouse and all that time convalescing, Bart finds no time for real poker.  He relieves his boredom by teaching Mrs. Stillman a few basics of the game while staying off his broken leg, almost losing a lot more than just valuable table hours through no fault of his own.


Only the revelation that Bart made him two promises: he'd never hold a drink or a steady job.  Stillman tries mightily to keep Bart around for the latter after he heals, so one of Pappy's proverbs heard that we hear two seasons later (in The Ice Man) applies here: "Never impose too long on a man's hospitality.  He's liable to put you to work."


It is understandable that this unapologetic melodrama is disappointing to many fans and is considered a rare second season dud by some, but I think that assessment is off the mark.  Prey of the Cat isn't what one expects from MAVERICK by any stretch, but it is intriguingly acted, directed and written--a successful stab at much sterner subject matter than the series was usually mining by this time.  Pretty courageous of Heyes to put this blatantly dour effort on Huggins' desk, if you ask me--and hey, the show's creator didn't reject it, did he?  (*** out of four) 

MAVERICK currently airs Saturdays at 4 PM Eastern, 3 PM Central and Sundays at 4 AM Eastern, 3 AM Central on Cozi-TV.