"James Butler Hickok, mister" our hero would announce to all and sundry before his sidekick would elaborate, "That's Wild Bill Hickok, mister! The bravest, strongest, fightingest U.S. Marshal in the whole West!" In the 1950s the number of Western series on US television seemed to multiply on a weekly basis. This series began as a syndicated programme for local broadcast. Hickok was a folk hero of the American Old West. His skills as a gunfighter and scout, along with his reputation as a lawman, provided the basis for his fame. Hickok worked at different times as a stagecoach driver, Pony Express rider, Union Army scout, as well as a scout for General Custer. He also took up the post of Marshal of Abilene, Kansas - all of which he combined with his passion for gambling which would eventually cost him his life at the age of 39 years. The hand that Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back of the head - a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights - became known as Dead Man's Hand and appears variously in popular culture even to this day.
Playing the title role was Hollywood matinee idol Guy Madison, born Robert Ozell Moseley in California in 1922. Madison did not set out to be an actor but was talent spotted on a visit to Hollywood and signed up for David O. Selznick's newly formed Vanguard Pictures by talent agent Henry Wilson, who was widely known for his stable of good-looking, marginally talented actors. He immediately cast the rechristened Madison in a bit part in Selznick's Since You Went Away. Following the film's release in 1944, the studio received thousands of letters from fans wanting to know more about him. Madison was signed by RKO Pictures in 1946 and began appearing in romantic comedies and dramas, but his wooden acting style hurt his chances of advancing in films. In 1951, television came to the rescue of his faltering career when he was cast in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.
Hickok's sidekick was Jingles, played by US character actor Andy Devine who was known for his distinctive raspy voice. Born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1905, Devine had definite ambitions to be an actor. Although it was first thought that his peculiar voice would prevent him from moving into talkies, it became his trademark. He appeared in more than 400 films and enjoyed the rare ability to move with ease from B-Westerns to A-pictures. His notable roles included ten films as Roy Rogers sidekick, Cookie, and several appearances in films with John Wayne, including Stagecoach (1939), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Devine and Madison also portrayed their roles on radio at the same time and during the 1950s, several episodes of the show were spliced together and released as feature movies. The series ran for eight seasons from 1951 through 1958. The Screen Gems series began in syndication, but ran on CBS from 1955 through 1958, and, at the same time, on ABC from 1957 through 1958.
Published on November 27th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.