THE TALL MAN – 10 Facts About The Western Series Starring Clu Gulager And Barry Sullivan
“Odds are they’re gonna shoot it out someday,” a character says about Pat Garrett (Barry Sullivan) and Billy The Kid (Clu Gulager) in The Tall Man, a thirty-minute Western series set in the New Mexico territory in the late 1870s.
If you know your history, you know he’s right. Garrett shot Billy in 1881, ending the story of one of the Old West’s most legendary gunslingers. But this light-hearted action series focuses on the duo’s (supposedly) happier days, when they had more of a father-and-son relationship. In this (and other) regards, The Tall Man plays fast and loose with history. But it was all in good fun.
You can see what we mean when The Tall Man moves to weekdays on getTV beginning Monday, April 2! Catch two episodes at 4:40 am and 5:20 am ET, as part of our Wake Up Out West block of classic Westerns. Here are some fun facts about this Western classic.
1. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid were real people.
Garrett (born 1850 in Alabama) was an actual lawman who served as sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico beginning in 1880. (The series is set a few years earlier). “Billy The Kid” – born Henry McCarty in New York City 1859 – was an outlaw who began his career at age 16. Garrett’s pursuit of Billy began immediately after he was elected sheriff and ended with two bullets on July 14, 1881. Pulp writers almost immediately began writing sympathetically about Billy after his death and Garrett countered this with his own (ghostwritten) book. It did little to stop Billy’s second life as a folk hero.
2. Sullivan was already a Hollywood veteran when the series began.
By the time he was cast in The Tall Man, Barry Sullivan had been a working actor for a quarter of a century. The 6’2” New York City native was a football player who began acting on Broadway during college to make money. He made his first film appearance in 1936 at age 24 and went on to appear in dozens of movies, notably The Great Gatsby (1949) with Alan Ladd and the Oscar-winning The Bad And The Beautiful (1952) with Kirk Douglas. He also worked in radio and, beginning in 1953, television. Sullivan earned his first (and only) Emmy nomination in 1956 for a TV adaptation of The Caine Mutiny.
3. Clu Gulager has performing in his blood.
Gulager was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, the son of cowboy entertainer John Gulager and a cousin of actor and humorist Will Rogers. Born William Martin Gulager – the nickname came from clu-clu birds that were nesting in the Gulager home at the time of his birth – Clu pursued acting after serving in the Marine Corps from 1946 until 1948. He worked in live TV in New York City during the 1950s and guest starred on series filmed in Hollywood, including a handful of Westerns. “I loved it,” the 89-year-old living legend said in his interview with getTV. “(New York) is my home.”
4. Gulager auditioned for The Tall Man on the set of Cimarron City.
“(Universal) was doing a series called Cimarron City,” Gulager told getTV. “After shooting one night, they put me on a bale of hay and interviewed me. I gave them my side smile, that I developed over the years for film, and answered the questions the way I thought the character would answer them.” Universal liked what they saw and the actor – then age 32 – was cast to play 20-year-old Billy. “Every young actor in town wanted to play this role,” Gulager said.
5. The Tall Man’s creator is a Star Trek icon.
Samuel A. Peeples began his career as an author of Western novels, before transitioning to TV scriptwriting in the late ‘50s. After penning episodes of Universal/Revue Studios Westerns like Tales Of Wells Fargo, Peeples was hired to create The Tall Man. Later, Peeples wrote for A Man Called Shenandoah and played a significant role in Star Trek history. He was a consulting writer on the first Trek pilot (The Cage) in 1964 and wrote the teleplay for the second in 1965. His title for that episode – Where No Man Has Gone Before – would be immortalized by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the opening sequence of every episode. He went on to write the pilot for the beloved Star Trek animated series in 1973 and developed the initial outline for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the early 1980s.
6. Time slot was key to The Tall Man’s success.
The Tall Man debuted on Saturday, September 10, 1960 at 8:30 pm, immediately following one of TV’s most popular shows: Bonanza. When NBC moved Bonanza to Sunday nights in the fall of 1961, The Tall Man’s ratings suffered. Fun fact: the series that followed it during season one was The Deputy with Henry Fonda, co-created by future television icon Norman Lear!
7. Esquivel did the score.
Partially inspired by the show’s New Mexico setting, producers hired Mexican bandleader and composer Juan Garcia Esquivel to score the series. Today considered one of the seminal figures in so-called “Space Age bachelor pad music,” Esquivel brought his jazzy, quirky style to 74 episodes. “It’s beautiful,” Gulager said of Esquivel’s score. “(It) worked really well for the stuff we had to do.”
8. Nancy Reagan was a guest star.
In the second season episode Shadow Of The Past, Garrett’s girlfriend is played by Nancy Davis, better known as future First Lady Nancy Reagan. According to Gulager, the future president visited the set when his wife was filming and gave him some advice on mounting a horse on camera. (“I said ‘Cut,’ and they cut. And then they’d show me on the horse!” Ronald Reagan told him.) The Tall Man was one of Mrs. Reagan’s final roles; she retired from performing in 1962 after appearing on an episode of Wagon Train. Other guest stars include Leonard Nimoy, Martin Landau, George Kennedy, R.G. Armstrong, Jim Davis, and Harry Carey Jr. Supporting cast members include silent comedy icon Andy Clyde as the always-tipsy Pa McBean and Judy Nugent and Olive Sturgess as his nieces May and June.
9. The series never depicted the violent end to the story.
The final episode - directed by future Oscar winner Sydney Pollack - aired on May 26, 1962 featuring guest star George Macready as the father of a murdered runaway. No mention was made of the fateful day in 1881 when Garrett and Billy would meet for the last time.
10. Barry Sullivan returned to the Pat Garrett/Billy The Kid Universe.
Billy The Kid has been the subject of more than 50 films and countless TV shows in the last century, but Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973) is considered one of the best. A dozen years after The Tall Man was cancelled, Peckinpah cast 61-year-old Barry Sullivan as wealthy cattle baron John Chisum, one of the men who convinced Garrett to do what Sullivan’s character never did on TV. Sullivan’s former role was now played by James Coburn, who had been a guest star on The Tall Man. Kris Kristofferson played Billy, and Peckinpah wraps up their story in his typically graphic style.
11. BONUS! Sullivan and Gulager reunited 13 years later.
Gulager and Sullivan worked together again in 1975 on Once An Eagle, an NBC miniseries set between the aftermath of World War I and the outbreak of World War II. Sullivan also appeared in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man Book II and Backstairs At The White House before retiring in 1987. He died in 1994 at age 81. Gulagher continues to work today; he’s been a familiar face in horror films since the 1980s, most recently in Children Of The Corn: Runaway (2018). And yes, he still does that side smile.
The Tall Man airs weekdays at 4:40 am and 5:20 am starting Monday, April 2. It also continues in its regular Saturday 3:15pm ET timeslot. For more information, visit the getTV schedule.