Wanted:  Dead or Alive

Josh Randall:  Steve McQueen  
Jason Nichols:  Wright King (1960)  


This television series had its premier on Saturday nights on CBS.  It began on September 6, 1958 and ran in the time slot of 8:30-9:00 pm for two years.  Season Three saw the show moved to Wednesday night in the same time period, where it remained until its demise at the end of that season.  There were a total of 94 episodes.

The character of Josh Randall was introduced on the television western Trackdown, starring Robert Culp, in the episode called “The Bounty Hunter,” which aired on March 7, 1958.  In this episode Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman decides to investigate a bounty hunter with a reputation for capturing wanted criminals and bringing them to justice to collect the rewards offered for them, instead of killing the criminal, as was the case with most bounty hunters.  Josh Randall was played by Steve McQueen, and he generated so much fan mail that Four Star Productions decided to spin off that Trackdown story into an entirely new series called Wanted: Dead or Alive. The star, of course, was Steve McQueen reprising the role of Josh Randall.

Wanted: Dead or Alive was set in the frontier of the 1880’s when it was common for bounty hunters to make a living from the rewards offered for capturing wanted criminals.  Since bounty hunters were not hampered by the constraints that confronted lawmen, they did pretty much as they pleased.  Many of them acquired a reputation for bringing back the wanted man dead, which did not endear any of them to either the lawmen or the town citizens.  This antagonism didn’t seem to faze Josh Randall, who took it upon himself to apprehend anyone having a price on his head wanted by the law.  In the very first episode, he witnesses the murder of a town sheriff, and when the outlaws escape, he sets out to bring them to justice.  In successive episodes, he would ride into a town, check out the wanted posters, and the hunt was on. 

Over the course of the series, Josh Randall came to be known by all to be as honest as the day was long.  He was a man of few words, but a man of integrity, often acting upon his own code of ethics, which sometimes didn’t agree with the law. Lawmen all over the Southwest and as far north as Wyoming knew him.  Often, lawmen would send for him to track down a particularly bad hombre that they themselves were unable to bring to justice.  Toward the end of the Second Season, he acquired a young sidekick named Jason Nichols, who mysteriously disappears by the start of the Third Season.

Not all of Josh Randall’s work was tracking down outlaws for the reward monies.  He would often hire out to protect citizens, find missing people, hunt for hidden gold, deliver ransom money, solve differences between families, even act as shotgun for stage lines.  In one episode, he set out to prove his former Army commander’s innocence.  And, he never refused children.  He was a man of many talents, all of them good. 

One of the most interesting features to Josh Randall was his “Mare’s Laig,” a custom-made .30-.40 caliber, sawed-off Winchester carbine, which he wore on his side like a handgun and which could be fired with blazing speed.  This gun is now a legend in the annals of television western lore.

This series drew some top names in Hollywood as guest stars.  Among them were Michael Landon, DeForest Kelley, Nick Adams, Warren Oates, James Coburn, Victor Jory, Clu Gulager, Jay Silverheels, Lee Van Cleef, Dyan Cannon, John Carradine, Mary Tyler Moore, and Cloris Leachman,

Steve McQueen died November 7, 1980.  

(Text and photos by Sandy Sturdivant)

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