Whispering Smith

Tom “Whispering” Smith:  Audie Murphy  
George Romack:  Guy Mitchell  
Police Chief John Richards:  Sam Buffington    

Although it was plagued with all sorts of problems from the outset, Whispering Smith was a neat little sleeper of a western set in Denver in 1870.  It was loosely based on the Alan Ladd movie of 1948, and it premiered on NBC on Monday, May 9, 1961 with the episode “The Blind Gun.”  In this episode Jan Merlin plays bandit Thad Janek, who becomes blinded in a gunfight while robbing a train.  Desperate to see again, he agrees to turn over his booty in exchange for reward money to finance the operation on his eyes.  It is up to Whispering Smith, a railroad detective, to locate the other members of the gang.  The series ended on September 18, 1961 with only 20 episodes being shot, but it was a great little series filled with action and violence as befitting the rugged city of Denver in its heyday.

The entire premise of this show based itself on the adventures of the first police detective to bring modern methods of analysis and tracing technique to the practice of apprehending outlaws in the West.  Actual cases from the files of the Denver Police Department provided the basis for the episodes, and Whispering Smith and George Romack were the railroad investigators intent on protecting the railroad from fraud, robberies, and murder.  It was originally scheduled for the 1959-1960 fall season, but co-star Guy Mitchell fell from a horse and broke his shoulder with only seven episodes completed, and executives decided to postpone its release to the summer of 1961, thus never really giving it a chance to catch on with the audience.

Whispering Smith was Audie Murphy’s only television attempt.  He was a top star in western films at the time, but he was not particularly impressed with the television system.  He didn’t like the way the production was handled, he complained about the scripts, the directors, and the crew, and when Guy Mitchell became hurt, Audie was all for abandoning the project.  Right on Mitchell’s injury, Sam Buffington committed suicide and had to be replaced.  Immediately after the first episode aired, the Senate Juvenile Delinquency committee filed charges claiming the show was too violent.  The show was eventually dropped at the mutual consent of all involved.

Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in United States history, died in a place crash near Roanoke, Virginia, on May 28, 1971.

(Text and photo courtesy of Sandy Sturdivant)

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