GUNS OF PARADISE — Lee Horsley Stars In The 1980s TV Western on getTV
The 1980s were a good time to be a Lee Horsley fan. The hunky, 6-foot-3-inch actor was all over TV screens in the ‘80s, from detective shows like Nero Wolfe and Matt Houston to blockbuster miniseries like Danielle Steele’s Crossings and North And South, Book II. But he truly hit his stride at the end of the decade in the Western drama Guns Of Paradise.
Horsley stars as Ethan Allen Cord, a professional gunfighter forced to consider a career change when he unexpectedly adopts four children (ranging in ages from 5 to 13). Originally broadcast on CBS, the three-season series was critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated, and popular with viewers of all ages. And you can see why every Sunday afternoon, as Guns Of Paradise joins getTV’s expanded “Sundays Under the Big Sky” lineup of classic Westerns with two episodes airing Sundays starting at 4p ET.
Named after the real-life Northern California town in which it’s set, Guns Of Paradise (called simply Paradise for the first two seasons) begins with Cord working as a mercenary for the local mine in 1890, guarding a witness in a court case. At the same time in St. Louis, his sister Lucy (Kathryn Leigh-Scott of Dark Shadows) is diagnosed with a fatal illness and unable to continue performing as a music hall singer. So, she packs up her four kids – 13-year-old Claire (Jenny Beck, a standout among the young performers), 11-year-old Joseph (Matthew Newmark), and youngins Ben (Brian Lando) and George (Michael Patrick Carter) — and sends them West, by train, to Paradise.
Ethan, of course, has not shared his unique line of work with his older sister. She thinks he’s a merchant and a “man of property” because he’s posing in front of a hardware store in a picture he sent her. The kids only learn of Uncle Ethan’s profession when they meet him for the first time — in bed recovering from near-fatal gunshot wounds.
“What the hell is this?” Ethan asks, as he awakens to find four rosy-cheeked cherubs hovering by his bedside. “Heaven?”
With the help of his Native American medicine man friend John Taylor (Dehl Berti) and prickly banker Amelia Lawson (Sigrid Thornton of The Man From Snowy River), Cord moves out of his shabby rooming house and rents a small cabin in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But hanging up his gun belt may not be so easy, as Ethan (and the kids) learn when past foes come calling.
With his upbringing in rural Muleshoe, Texas and Colorado, Horsley is a perfect fit as Ethan. In addition to his matinee idol good looks, the then-30-something actor was also a skilled horseman and regular performer in charity celebrity rodeos produced by Oscar-winning actor Ben Johnson.
“You could say I always wanted to be a cowboy,” Horsley told The Washington Post in 1990. “I grew up on [TV Westerns]. I missed them. I liked the code of the West. That’s why I care so much about this show.”
The star’s love for the format and its legacy is also reflected in the show’s casting. Throughout its run, Guns Of Paradise made headlines by shining a spotlight on legendary figures from Western TV history. Hugh O’Brien and Gene Barry guest star as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, recreating their famous 1950s roles. Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford reunite, playing father and son again thirty years after The Rifleman. William Smith of getTV favorite Laredo appears on a first season episode. Robert Fuller (Wagon Train) and Jack Elam (every Western show ever made) also guest, along with Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider as Pat Garrett. There are also a number of actors from Little House On The Prairie, including Matthew Labyorteaux (Albert Ingalls), Patrick Labyorteaux (Andy Garvey), and Richard Bull (Nels Oleson).
Guns Of Paradise has an unusual pedigree for a primetime Western. It was co-created by David Jacobs, the creator of the long-running nighttime soap opera Dallas and its spinoff Knots Landing. There’s no doubt that Jacobs’ skill with longform narrative informs the storytelling on Paradise, particularly regarding Ethan’s gradual transformation from cold-blooded killer to lawman (which happens officially in the show’s third season when he becomes marshal). There’s also plenty of soapy DNA in the love-hate relationship between Ethan and Amelia, which plays out over two seasons before viewers get a resolution.
Ironically, the final season of Guns Of Paradise aired against perhaps the most iconic nighttime soap opera of the 1980s: ABC’s Dynasty. The family drama held its own against the famously flashy soap, once primetime television’s highest-rated show.
“Paradise is very popular in middle America; it’s a family show and I’m very proud of that,” Horsley said in a 1990 interview. “It’s the first thing that I’ve done in my career that I can sit down and watch with my kids. That’s very important to me.”
Two episodes of Guns Of Paradise air every Sunday on getTV starting at 4p ET. For more, visit the getTV schedule.