Thursday, December 17, 2009

They Called Him Bat... Bat Masterson -- A Theme Thursday "History" Post


When I was a little spud -- very late 1950s and early to mid-1960s -- TV Westerns were all the rage. I grew up idolizing characters like the Lone Ranger and Disney's version of Zorro. I also remember liking shows such as The Rebel (featuring Nick Adams as "Johnny Yuma," a character that inspired me to plead with my mom to get me a Confederate cap until she finally gave in) and Have Gun, Will Travel (and its hero, "Paladin," who, it only now occurs to me, might have provided the initial spark igniting my later interest in dressing in black... an interest that pre-dated all the little Goths running around today).

But I was really too young to fully appreciate the so-called "adult" Westerns of that period.

Roughly three years ago, the Encore Western channel showed the entire five-season run of The Rifleman, and all three seasons of Bat Masterson. I loved having the chance to watch both series in their entirety, but I developed a special affinity for Bat Masterson's character, as portrayed by Gene Barry.

As you probably know, Bat Masterson (pictured above) was a real-life figure in the history of the American "Old West." He was a contemporary of Wyatt Earp's.

When it comes to Wyatt Earp, I prefer the depictions of him which look more authentic -- think Kurt Russell in Tombstone -- but I don't mean in any way to slight actor Hugh O'Brian, who portrayed Wyatt on TV in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp!

It should come as a surprise to no one that I own a cane
like the one in the above photo, obtained courtesy of eBay!

When it comes to Bat Masterson, however, I prefer to think of him as he was brought to TV "life" by Gene Barry. What a class act!


In 1991, Gene Barry played the role of Bat once again in the fun-filled, light-hearted memory fest called -- deep breath here, fellow babies! -- The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, starring Kenny Rogers and Reba McEntire. This TV-movie gave cameos and longer parts to many actors -- Chuck Connors, David Carradine, Clint Walker, Brian Keith, Hugh O'Brian, Jack Kelly, and more --who were familiar faces during the 1950s and 1960s on American television. And they all played their original characters! (Well, not exactly in the case of James Drury and Doug McClure... I assume it had something to do with unobtainable rights to their characters from The Virginian, but let's not get into that right now.)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the actors who reprised their earlier, iconic roles in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw are no longer with us. And sadder still, a few days ago, the illustrious name of Gene Barry was added to that list of departed Western stars.

In addition to three seasons as Bat Masterson, Gene Barry appeared in TV series and movies like Burke's Law, The Name of the Game, China Gate (which featured Nat King Cole, Lee Van Cleef, and Angie Dickinson as a Eurasian!), and the incredible, classic The War of the Worlds.

"Which The War of the Worlds?" Why, is there more than one? Heh, heh. (Actually, Gene Barry had a part in the Tom Cruise film, too!)

But to me, Gene Barry will always be Bat Masterson.

Rest in peace, Mr. Barry.

Thanks for your time.

20 comments:

  1. I had no memory of seeing the Bat Masterson series until I saw the photograph and then I remembered. They must have shown the series in the UK back in the 50s/60s.

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  2. very cool...and the gambler returns comes on this week as well...perhaps i will watch to accentuate your history. happy tt silver fox!

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  3. I've been looking for a hat like bat's (one in the middle pic)

    happy tt!

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  4. You speak the truth, my faithful Indian companion.

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  5. The cane comes as no surprise at all! But do you have the hat???

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  6. Add me to the list of people who want that hat!

    I saw the notices about Gene Barry the other day. We weren't Bat Masterson watchers in my family. Maverick and The Wild, Wild West were our style. So I have no fond memories of Gene Barry's performance. I gather I missed something.

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  7. I've never been into Westerns but that was a lovely tribute to TV history; it makes me want to watch some Westerns to see what I'm missing!

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  8. @Betsy: No hat, m'dear, sorry. A bowler hat isn't quite the right "look" for me. And I don't even get any practical use out of the cane, since it's a toy, scaled down for a child.

    @Roy: I was, as my article implied, a bit too young to catch Maverick during its initial run, but I've loved the episodes I've seen in recent years. And The Wild Wild West was a product of the 1960s spy craze on TV, and I avidly watched all of those shows... and that includes a show called Amos Burke, Secret Agent (originally called Burke's Law), starring none other than Gene Barry!

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  9. I loved so many of those westerns.
    Bonanza, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Branded, Swamp Fox (a relative of yours, perhaps?) Gunsmoke, F Troop.
    And of course Bat Masterson.

    Happy TT. Hope your mom is doing well.

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  10. *I* wonder why there is more than one "War of the Worlds", too. There was no need to redo something that was (nearly) perfect in the first place. Your post brought back so many memories of my youth, too. My daddy (who I miss to this day) watched every Western ever made, I think. And he always wanted to "go out west". Unfortunately, he never was able to...

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  11. There were so many good westerns back in those days. Gene Barry WAS perfectly cast as Bat Masterson.

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  12. As I was reading your post, I couldn't help but hum the title song.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRNImRxRNjc

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  13. Okay, I had NO CLUE that Bat Masterson was a real person! Thanks for cluing me in!

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  14. Nice. Oddly enough, I was just reading up on the Wild West. Bat Masterson came up when I was researching Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (who was apparently the only man captured by Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, AND Pat Garrett).

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  15. love that wild west history. Lot of interesting characters in the olden days, and deadly to boot!

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  16. Thanks for the glimpse into television history. I never saw Bat, but I did see a few episodes of Wyatt Earp. Happy TT.

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  17. Well I feel like a total thud here as I have no connection to what you write here having never even heard of any of these people but having only seen the classic War of the Worlds when I was quite young for school project i think it was.

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  18. Nup never seen it but I did enjoy the Lone Ranger . . c'mon what 60's child didn't want a pretty white horse and an Indian as a bestie? Hi Ho Silver!

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