In 1959, television reached its Western peak. There were 26 network Westerns airing in primetime that season. In one particular week in March, eight of the top ten shows on TV were cowboys series.
Rewind the clock half a decade, and the landscape featured far less tumbleweed. In 1955, of course, there was The Lone Ranger, but the grittier take on the Western kicked off in part thanks to Cheyenne.
Cheyenne was a small-screen adaptation of the 1947 film of the same name. Warner Bros. attempted to launch three movie reboots in the fall of '55 — Casablanca, Kings Row and Cheyenne. ABC cycled through the three shows on Tuesday evening, between Kukla, Fran and Ollie and another new Western, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
Only Cheyenne clicked with audiences. Much of the appeal and success was due to Clint Walker, a rugged, towering (he stood 6', 6") actor with a blue-collar background. Some dubbed him the "man-mountain." Born in downstate Illinois, Walker had previously pounded sheet metal, bounced in a nightclub, toiled on a riverboat, and stood as a doorman in a Vegas casino before hitting it big in Hollywood.
Cheyenne used Walker's talents to the fullest, showing off his athleticism, and even showcasing his soothing baritone singing voice. Warner Bros. released a Clint Walker country album to capitalize on his fame. The show aired for eight seasons. Over that run, the studio put Walker into some of its other hit series, such as Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip.
After Cheyenne, Walker transitioned to movies. Frank Sinatra cast him as the lead in None but the Brave, the only film Ol' Blue Eyes ever directed. More likely you remember him from The Dirty Dozen or The Great Train Robbery.
Television called again in 1974, when Walker starred as the title character in Kodiak, a short-lived series about an Alaskan trooper.
As reported by The New York Times, Walker died on Monday at his home in Northern California. He was 90 years old.