Bodie: Clint Walker
Smitty: L. Q. Jones
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where will you be camping tonight?
Loney man, Cheyenne.
Will your heart stay free and light?
Of a girl you may never love
Move along, Cheyenne
Like the restless cloud up above.
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.
The next pasture's always so green.
Driftin' on, Cheyenne
Don't forget the things you have seen,
you settle down where will it be Cheyenne?
(Text and photos courtesy of Sandy Sturdivant)
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