10 Surprising Facts About YANCY DERRINGER
Fondly remembered today despite a relatively short network run, Yancy Derringer did what many other Western TV shows of the late 1950s couldn’t: it entertained both kids and adults. Young viewers loved the outsized action, as undercover scoundrel Yancy (Jock Mahoney) secretly policed Reconstruction Era New Orleans with his shotgun-toting Native American partner Pahoo (X Brands). Older viewers enjoyed the pulpy crime stories and Runyonesque supporting characters, including pickpockets, pirates, and gambling parlor “hostesses.”
If you’ve ever dismissed 1950s TV Westerns as simplistic or predictable, Yancy Derringer is the show for you. The stories are witty and inventive, and the half-hours zip by at freight train pace. Best of all, Mahoney is an absolute delight as the Rhett Butler-esque antihero. And now, thanks to getTV, a new generation of viewers can enjoy this underrated gem.
Put on your string tie, fire up your riverboat, and enjoy these surprising facts:
1. Yancy Derringer is not really a Western.
During the 1958-59 season, more than two dozen Westerns saddled up in primetime. How to stand out in that glut of gunslingers? Yancy met the challenge with an urban setting that shined a gaslight on crime bosses, drug smugglers, and big city villainy. With its origin in pulp fiction, the series is more historical noir than traditional Western – essentially a post-Civil War private eye show. Think Magnum P.I. 1868.
2. The series was co-created, co-written, and co-produced by a woman.
Pulp writer Richard Sale wrote Derringer - the short story that would serve as the basis for the TV show - in 1938. Two decades later, he adapted it for TV with his wife and writing partner Mary Loos, niece of screenwriter Anita Loos (The Women). Mary Loos would go on to co-produce all 34 episodes of the series and co-write most of them, which may explain the abundance of strong woman characters.
3. Jock Mahoney did all his own stunts.
The 6'4" Chicago native began working as a stunt man at Columbia Pictures following a tour of duty in World War II. Eventually, he moved up to leading man in serials and B-Westerns. By the time he was cast as Yancy, Mahoney had been doing stunts for more than 12 years and he rejected network pressure to use doubles for action scenes. According to Gene Freese’s book Jock Mahoney: The Life And Times Of A Hollywood Stuntman, Mahoney “routinely performed stunts that have never been duplicated.”
4. Yancy lives in a famous house.
Don’t be surprised if Yancy’s family home looks familiar. It’s the white-columned headquarters of Selznick International Pictures, immortalized in Gone With The Wind and countless other films between 1935 and 1956. Yancy Derringer production company Desilu had acquired the former Selznick studio two years earlier, and it continues to function today as the Culver Studios.
5. The series broke ground with respectful ethnic portrayals.
As Miss Mandarin, owner of Yancy’s favorite restaurant the Sazerac, Beijing-born actress Lisa Lu was one of TV’s first Asian-American recurring characters. She’s depicted as a capable, independent businesswoman and Yancy always calls her by her Chinese name, Mei-Ling. While actor X Brands was not Native American, Pahoo is presented as the hero’s partner and equal. In one of the show’s best episodes, Yancy accompanies him to Washington D.C. to lobby for enforcement of a treaty protecting Pahoo’s tribe.
6. Jock Mahoney was Sally Field’s stepfather.
In 1951, Margaret Field guest starred on Mahoney’s first TV series The Range Rider. After a brief courtship, the two actors were married and Jock became stepfather to five-year-old Sally Field. The couple would divorce in 1968, but Sally Field and her former stepfather reunited on Burt Reynolds’ The End in 1978 - the first and only time they worked together on a film.
7. Candice Bergen’s mom was Yancy’s lady friend.
The closest thing Yancy has to a love interest is gambling parlor proprietress Madame Francine, played by Frances Bergen. (Whether there’s more than gambling going on at her club is worthy of speculation.) Frances and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen were the parents of 12-year-old Candice Bergen, who would grow up to be an Oscar nominee and Emmy winner. The Bergen women would work together a number of times, including on Murphy Brown.
8. The show was cancelled due to a business dispute.
Yancy was co-owned by creators Richard Sale and Mary Loos, producers Warren Lewis and Don Sharpe, and Mahoney, with Desilu handling production. Sponsor Johnson’s Wax committed to funding a second season, but negotiations with CBS stalled when the network insisted on taking part ownership. The star and creators refused, and CBS did what no bad guy could: they killed Yancy Derringer.
9. Mahoney was the oldest Tarzan. And he almost died playing the part.
Unexpectedly available again, Mahoney was cast in a role he first auditioned for in 1949: Tarzan. At age 43, Jock became the oldest actor to play the Lord of the Apes when Tarzan Goes To India was released in 1962. And he broke his own record the following year in Tarzan’s Three Challenges. While shooting that film in Thailand, Jock contracted Dengue fever, dysentery, malaria, and pneumonia and lost 40 lbs, but somehow managed to finish the movie. “Anybody else would have died but Jock Mahoney,” co-star Woody Strode wrote in his autobiography. “He was one of the strongest men in the world.”
10. Yancy Derringer rode again 25 years later. Sort of.
In February of 1984, Jock Mahoney appeared on the ABC action series The Fall Guy with fellow Western stars Roy Rogers, Peter Breck, and John Russell. Mahoney rode a horse, roped a bad guy, and threw a few punches. He even got flipped by series star Heather Thomas. Not surprisingly, the 65-year-old did all his own stunts.
For more information, visit the getTV schedule.