Cheyenne Bodie:  Clint Walker  
Smitty:  L. Q. Jones

Perhaps the biggest hit in television history was the Warner Brothers Studios western Cheyenne.  The character looked the way a rugged frontiersman should look…six foot six inches tall, handsome, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped and having a heart as big as a washtub.  Starring Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie, our hero roamed the west just after the Civil War, doing an assortment of jobs as he went.  For the first year, he had a sidekick named Smitty, but for the successive years, Bodie was a loner.

Cheyenne premiered on 20 September 1955 as one of three shows of Warner Brothers Presents, who were just making their first venture into the television market.  The other two shows were Casablanca, based on the 1942 movie of the same name, and King’s Row, a romantic, modern-day soap opera.  From the beginning, it was Cheyenne the viewers wanted to watch.  It zoomed immediately to the top of the ratings, and the other two programs were quietly phased out.  Hour-long westerns were difficult to produce on a once-a-week schedule, however, so the program continued to alternate with other series, first Conflict from 1956-1957, and then Sugarfoot from 1957-1959.

Based loosely on the 1947 movie Cheyenne, starring Dennis Morgan, Cheyenne Bodie was originally a gambler and a mean hombre to cross.  For the television version, he was made into a loner, drifting from job to job, encountering plenty of villains in the process, as well as beautiful girls and gunfights.  He was seen in various episodes as ranch foreman, a trail scout for a wagon train, Army scout, Indian fighter, and a deputized lawman.  During the first season, he had a sidekick named Smitty, but after that, he worked alone.  

Before Cheyenne, Clint Walker was an unknown.  He was born a twin on 30 May 1927 in Hartford, Illinois, and his family moved along the Mississippi River from town to town, following the job market.  By the time he was fourteen, he was working as an experienced river hand.  He joined the Merchant Marine in 1944 and sailed the Great Lakes.  Returning home, he worked as a sheet-metal worker, carpenter, vacuum-cleaner salesman, silver prospector, lumberman, steeplejack, insurance salesman, and truck driver.  He married his childhood sweetheart in 1948, started his family with the birth of a daughter in January 1950, and in an effort to better provide for his ladies, he moved his family to the oilfields of Brownwood, Texas that November.  Disappointed with Brownwood, he worked construction jobs, making ends meet, before working as a cowboy on a Texas ranch.  In December 1952, he moved his family to Long Beach to live with his wife’s sister, where he worked as a bouncer in a nightclub.  Physically perfect, he became a private detective and then an oilfield worker in Long Beach.  When he heard about Las Vegas, he upped and headed there to make his fortune working as a gun-toting Deputy Sheriff…which is where he finally decided to become an actor.  He met Van Johnson, who introduced him to an agent, and the rest is history.  The Walkers moved to Hollywood in July 1954, and when Warner Brothers Studios went into television film production in 1955, Clint was immediately given a long-term contract, being assigned the leading role in Cheyenne.

The behind-the-scenes story of Cheyenne is every bit as interesting as what appeared on the screen.  No series in television history has undergone as much production turmoil and survived.  In 1958, Clint Walker revolted.  He walked out on Warner Brothers after the studio refused to release him from some of the more stringent requirements of his contract, which had been signed before Cheyenne became such a huge hit.  Among other things, he did not want to have to kick back 50 percent of all personal-appearance fees to the studio.  He also wanted higher payment for reruns and wanted permission to make records for labels other than Warners’ own record company.  The studio refused to give one inch, and Clint Walker did not work for a year.  The studio continued the series Cheyenne with unknown Ty Hardin in the lead role of Bronco Layne, Cheyenne Bodie’s country cousin.

In 1959, some sort of settlement was reached, and Clint Walker returned to the role of Cheyenne Bodie, but by this time, Ty Hardin was such a huge success as Bronco Layne that the studio decided to spin off Bronco as a separate series.  Cheyenne then alternated with Sugarfoot and Bronco in 1960 as The Cheyenne Show.  It was on the air for a total of seven years and had 109 black-and-white, hour-long episodes filmed for ABC Television.  Clint Walker became one of televisions biggest stars.

There were something like 25 comic books issued by Dell, and they were all enormous sellers. Today, they are highly collectible and fetch upwards of $15 per comic.  Cheyenne also had its theme song.


Cheyenne, Cheyenne.
Where will you be camping tonight?
Loney man, Cheyenne.
Will your heart stay free and light?

Dream Cheyenne
Of a girl you may never love
Move along, Cheyenne
Like the restless cloud up above.

The wind that blows, that comes and goes, has been your only home.
But will the while you’ll one day see, and you'll no longer roam.

Move along, Cheyenne
The next pasture's always so green.
Driftin' on, Cheyenne
Don't forget the things you have seen,

And when you settle down where will it be Cheyenne?

(Text and photos courtesy of Sandy Sturdivant)

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