September 22, 1957 – “Maverick” Blazes a New Trail

Bret and Bart Maverick. Photo: Warner Brothers Television

On September 22, 1957, ABC aired the first episode of a new-fangled Western series, Maverick, starring James Garner as card-playing, bullet-dodging, but good-with-his-fists Bret Maverick, and Jack Kelly as his more conservative brother, Bart Maverick.  Dressed up in fancy black attire, avoiding trouble whenever possible, Bret and Bart represented a new type of hero (some called them anti-heroes) who preferred to outsmart the bad guys rather than risk life and limb.  Venturing into harm’s way also usually required a good chance of financial gain, according to Bret and Bart.  Their consciences, however, led them to virtuous, courageous action and their scrupulous honesty clearly marked them as morally right.

Roy Huggins created the highly popular series which ran from 1957 to 1962, adding two more Maverick brothers along the way.  Smooth Scot Sean Connery was offered and turned down a role; it was Brit Roger Moore, pre-Bond days, who joined the show in 1960 after Garner left due to a contract dispute.  Moore starred as previously disgraced brother Beau, who had been banished to England for accepting a Civil War service medal.  Fourth brother Brent, played by Garner-esque Robert Colbert, was also added to offset declining ratings after James’/Bret’s departure.  Objecting to being cast as purely a Bret clone, Colbert reportedly pleaded with production company Warner Brothers to “put me in a dress and call me Brenda but don’t do this to me!”

Maverick developed such a following that the Kaiser (“quilted” foil) Aluminum-sponsored show often drew a larger audience than time-slot competition behemoths The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show.  A large part of the show’s popularity depended on its quirky humor, its strong slate of supporting actors and actresses, and cameo appearances by other well-known stars.  The comedic aspect of the show was eventually expanded with storylines created to lampoon other prime-time television programming from Gunsmoke to Dragnet.  Big names appearing on the series included Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Joel Grey, Robert Redford, Stacy Keach, Sr., Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Adam West (Batman), Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Ellen Burstyn, Louise Fletcher, and Connie Stevens.

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