HONDO — 10 Facts About the 1960s Western TV Series Based On The John Wayne Film
At the end of Hondo, the Oscar-nominated 1953 Western, John Wayne’s title character rides off with his bride-to-be and her son after escaping a hostile Apache tribe. It’s a happy ending for two characters who both lost spouses to violence, and one that suggests new beginnings.
But when MGM Television and writer/producer Andrew J. Fenady brought Hondo to TV fourteen years later, they chose to re-tell the film story rather than continue it. Considering the iconic nature of the source material — Hondo is often cited as one of Wayne’s best films — it was a bold decision. But it turned out to be the right call for what became a distinctly different take on an iconic classic.
Ralph Taeger stars as a younger, angrier Hondo Lane, the former Confederate soldier who was the “best scout and spy on either side” in the Civil War. Kathie Browne is Angie, the widowed object of his affections. Buddy Foster plays her son Johnny, who calls Hondo by his Apache nickname Emberato (“bad temper”). Noah Beery Jr. (The Rockford Files) takes over for Ward Bond as Hondo’s wisecracking wingman Buffalo Baker. And William Bryant and Gary Clarke are the commanding officers at Fort Lowell, the U.S. Cavalry base in Arizona where the show is set.
With its gorgeous location photography, big name guest stars, and continuing storyline, Hondo has a more contemporary feel than other primetime Westerns of the era. But it also has a distinctly 1960s vibe, particularly in Taeger’s moody anti-hero. That narrative spin alone makes this version of Hondo a must-see for Western fans. Here are some fascinating facts about a series that has become a favorite for getTV viewers:
1. Hondo was born on the printed page.
Before Hondo Lane became a Western icon, he was the subject of the Louis L’Amour short story The Gift Of Cochise, published in Collier’s in 1952. After the movie, Hondo became a Louis L’Amour novel that adapted both his original story and James Edward Grant’s screenplay. (The author liked Grant’s dialogue so much he included much of it in the 1953 novel. Grant also came up with Hondo’s canine companion, Sam.) Oddly, L’Amour received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, which he rejected when he reminded the Academy the story had first appeared in print.
2. The movie was in 3-D. And John Wayne was not supposed to be in it.
The film version of Hondo was made during the 3-D craze of the 1950s, which explains why people are constantly throwing things at the camera. That distraction aside, it’s an excellent, seminal Western that scored an Oscar nomination for co-star Geraldine Page. Wayne — whose company produced the film — originally cast Glenn Ford as Hondo Lane, but Ford stepped away after clashing with director John Farrow on Plunder Of The Sun (1953), which was also a Wayne co-production.
3. Hondo (1953) vs. Hondo (1967)
The film version of Hondo includes some of the most quotable lines of Wayne’s career, courtesy of Grant’s screenplay. (“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.”) So, it’s fascinating to see The Duke’s philosophizing, old sage re-imagined as an angry young man for television. With his floppy hair and bad boy attitude, Taeger’s 31-year-old Hondo is the closest thing to a counter-culture hero you’ll find in the Old West of 1870. “When I saw (Taeger) in The Carpetbaggers, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him,” producer Andrew J. Fenady told getTV. “He was built like Tarzan, he looked like Randolph Scott, and he had a voice like Humphrey Bogart. If that guy wasn’t a television star, I never met one.”
4. Star Ralph Taeger was an athlete-turned-actor.
Taeger was born in Queens, New York in 1936 to parents of German ancestry. Baseball was his first love, and he was signed to a minor league contract by the Dodgers before a leg injury ended his sports career. He switched his focus to performing and enrolled in in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Early roles included Tombstone Territory, The Twilight Zone, and the lead in the 1960–61 action series Klondike with James Coburn.
5. An actor from the movie reprises his role on TV.
In the movie, Hondo’s (un-seen) deceased wife was an Apache squaw. On TV, she was also the daughter of Apache chief, making the Native leader Hondo’s father-in-law. Michael Pate, who played the chief in the movie, was the only actor to reprise his role for television. Giving Hondo a family connection to the Apaches makes the Army hiring him as their emissary more logical. They need him more than he needs them, a fact he reminds them of in every episode.
6. Changes were made for TV.
The pilot episode reimagines many key moments of the film, including Hondo’s first meeting with Angie, his reunion with Buffalo Baker, and his abduction by the Apaches. But the biggest changes come in regard to Angie’s husband. In the film, Ed (Leo Gordon) is a drunken homesteader who ends up getting shot by Hondo in self-defense. On TV, Ed (John Smith) runs the mercantile at the Cavalry base and is killed by the Apaches before Hondo shoots him in self-defense. It’s a Liberty Valance-style twist that removes a major impediment to Hondo’s relationship with Angie and her son.
7. The pilot had famous faces.
To launch the series with a bang, producer Andrew J. Fenady filled the first episode with movie stars. Gary Merrill (All About Eve) plays real life Army officer General Philip Sheridan, the man who hires Hondo in return for dropping all outstanding charges against him. Robert Taylor (Waterloo Bridge) plays Gallagher, the shady owner of the nearby mine. And Michael Rennie (the alien in The Day The Earth Stood Still) is Randall Tribolet, owner of the base’s trading post. None continued with the series beyond episode two, though Glenn Langan joins the cast in episode seven as Victor Tribolet, the brother of Rennie’s character.
8. A Brady Bunch star plays a pivotal role.
The death of Hondo’s wife and their unborn child during an Army raid is a primary motivating force for the character, and the genesis of his mistrust in the organized military. The TV series expands upon that story by introducing the former soldier who led the raid that killed her. In episode four we meet Frank Davis, a surveyor who comes to the post to investigate reports of gold. Hondo recognizes him, and the two men relive the night Hondo’s wife died. Davis is played by Robert Reed — who would be cast as Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch a year later. He gives one of the show’s best performances.
9. The series evolved.
The characters of Angie and Johnny move to the background after the pilot, as the series evolves into a sort-of Old West police procedural. Hondo is the young cop who plays by his own rules, Buffalo Baker is his older mentor/partner, and Captain Richards (Gary Clarke) is the by-the-book chief who yells at everybody. Hondo couldn’t save Angie week-in and week-out so, when storylines took him off the post, there was limited opportunity for the two characters to interact.
10. Western legends were guest stars.
If you’re a Western fan, you’ll enjoy the familiar faces in every episode. John Ford supporting player Hank Worden has a cameo as a miner in the pilot. Jim Davis (Dallas) plays the recurring role of Krantz, a local trouble-maker. Pat Conway (Tombstone Territory) guest stars as the head of a telegraph company. Don “Red” Barry plays a soldier in search of a bounty. John Carroll (Go West) is Col. Jack “Buckeye” Smith, a corrupt general. John Smith (Cimarron City, Laramie) plays Angie’s husband Ed. Nick Adams (The Rebel) is the young brave known as The Apache Kid. Forrest Tucker (F-Troop) portrays real-life colonel William Quantrill. Ricky Nelson and John Agar are Jesse and Frank James. David Brian (Dawn At Socorro) guests as Angie’s father-in-law. And look for Claude Akins, Denver Pyle, L.Q. Jones, Jack Elam, John Carradine, Royal Dano, Pedro Gonzales Gonzales and others in guest starring roles.
11. Bonus! Captain Kirk and Gomer Pyle killed Hondo Lane.
When Hondo premiered on ABC on Friday, September 8, 1967 at 8:30 p.m. it was up against tough competition: Star Trek in its second season on NBC and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C in its fourth. At the time, Pyle was the third-highest rated series on American television. Hondo struggled in the ratings and aired its final episode on December 29. But the Old West adventure lives on on getTV!
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