TOMBSTONE TERRITORY - 10 Surprising Facts About the Show Too Tough To Die

TOMBSTONE TERRITORY on getTV

If you’re a Western fan, you’re probably familiar with Tombstone, Arizona. The site of the Old West’s most famous shootout has been the subject of movies and TV for almost as long as those media have existed.

Traditionally, stories set in Tombstone have focused on Marshal Wyatt Earp, gunslinger Doc Holiday, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But in the fall of 1957, an inventive TV series made the town the star. Tombstone Territory featured Sheriff Clay Hollister (Pat Conway), a fictional character who resembled the real-life lawman in every way but his name. Episodes were presented as “an actual account” from the pages of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper, narrated by editor Harris Claibourne (Richard Eastham).

With its docudrama format and tales of frontier crime, Tombstone Territory has the vibe of a Western Dragnet. Each half-hour episode is a standalone story, so you can jump in anywhere. Best of all: getTV gives you a chance to visit the “town too tough to die” six days a week! So “whistle me up a memory” and celebrate the 60th anniversary of this classic with these surprising facts:

1. Pat Conway came from Hollywood royalty.

Conway was the grandson of silent film actor Francis X. Bushman, best known as the villain Messala in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur. Pat’s father was Jack Conway, who acted in 100 films and directed 100 more, including A Tale Of Two Cities (1935) and the Oscar-nominated Viva Villa! (1934). Pat got his start on TV in 1951 and was featured in films like The Deadly Mantis and Destination 60,000 before taking on the role of Clay Hollister at age 26.

2. Richard Eastham was Wonder Woman’s boss.

Eastham was 15 years older than Conway and enjoyed success as a singer and stage actor before he was cast as Claibourne. The Louisiana native was a member of the original Broadway cast of South Pacific in 1949, later taking over the male lead opposite Mary Martin. Twenty years after Tombstone Territory, Eastham played General Blankenship, the commanding officer of Diana Prince (Lynda Carter) and Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), on Wonder Woman.

3. Tombstone Territory was based on true stories.

Unlike other TV Westerns that played fast and loose with fact and folklore, Tombstone Territory was committed to historical accuracy. According to the website Western Clippings, producers Andy White and Frank Pittman “researched some 1,500 official documents, letters and all the issues of the Tombstone Epitaph from 1880-1890 on microfilm.” The series also retained the Epitaph’s editor Clayton Smith as an adviser and historian D’Estelle Iszard as a consultant.

4. Why isn’t Wyatt Earp in Tombstone Territory?

Tombstone’s most famous marshal was already the lead on ABC’s popular Western serial The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp, which had debuted two seasons earlier. That series was set in Kansas, only moving the action to Tombstone after ABC cancelled Tombstone Territory in 1959. Plenty of actual historical figures do pop up in Tombstone though, including Curly Bill Brocius (Robert Foulk), Billy Clanton (Tom Pittman), and “Buckskin” Frank Leslie (John Beradino). While Hollister may be modeled on Wyatt Earp, he has a much more cordial relationship with the “cowboys” than Earp did.   

5. Doc Holliday is in Tombstone Territory.

Speaking of real life figures, Doc Holliday was featured in the season one episode Doc Holliday In Durango, portrayed by ubiquitous character actor Gerald Mohr. The episode takes place in June of 1882, when Doc was still caught up in the aftermath of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and his subsequent arrest. Mohr emphasizes Doc’s less attractive personality traits, and does the familiar consumptive coughing that plagued Doc throughout his life.

6. Angie Dickinson plays Geronimo’s girlfriend.

Angie Dickinson guest stars in a season one episode as the mistress of Geronimo (John Doucette), protecting the violent Apache warrior from Hollister in return for pretty trinkets. Dickinson was 26 years-old when she played Dolores and already a Western veteran, with appearances on Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, and getTV favorite The Restless Gun.

7. Michael Landon played two different characters.

Before he became Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza in 1959, Michael Landon played a baby-faced bad guy on Tombstone Territory twice. In the last episode of season one, 21-year-old Landon plays a young man who falls for a gorgeous grifter (Kathleen Nolan) and helps her escape. In April of 1959, Landon returned for the season two episode The Man From Brewster, playing a more overtly villainous character. That episode also features John Carradine.

8. Sam Peckinpah wrote an episode

The season one episode Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride features Myron Healey as the real-life killer and Earp antagonist. Although Ringo’s death in July of 1882 was officially ruled a suicide, this story offers another option. Sam Peckinpah wrote the teleplay, a great example of how Tombstone Territory deftly merges fiction and fact. Twelve years later Peckinpah would score an Oscar nomination for writing The Wild Bunch (which he also directed).

9. It was cancelled three times in three seasons.

ABC did not immediately renew Tombstone Territory after its initial 39-episode season, and the series left the air in September of 1958. Additional episodes were ordered as a mid-season replacement in 1959, and the show was cancelled again in May after 12 broadcasts. Fifty-one episodes were not considered enough to sell the series into syndicated reruns, so production company ZIV Television Programs self-financed the production of a third season – essentially un-canceling the show. Those 40 episodes aired in first run syndication beginning in October of 1959. Tombstone Territory ended for the third and final time on July 8, 1960.

10. Tombstone Territory lived on in a comic book. Briefly.

Two months later, in August of 1960, Hollister and Claibourne returned in the pages of a comic book from Dell Publishing. The single issue of the on-going series Four Color Comics included two Tombstone Territory stories: Printer’s Justice and The Gunman, both written by Paul S. Newman. Newman’s other assignment at the time: Dell’s Wyatt Earp comic.

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