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.