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Monday, 21 February 2011

Those Maverick Boys

Mention the TV series, Maverick and most people will think of James Garner, for he has become the actor most associated with the name Maverick, but in fact the series used a number of actors in the starring role as one or other of the Maverick clan. Maybe it was the fact that Garner later starred in the 1981 series, Brett Maverick and because this was the only Maverick show filmed in colour it tended to be repeated the most on television. I must confess that even I, a long time western fan, thought that James Garner was the only Maverick when I was growing up. Each time I saw the series it was always James Garner in the title role. And it was only in later years, with re-runs and videos,  that I discovered the other actors who had starred in the show.

Right from the off the series was unique in that in alternate shows a different actor as a different member of the Maverick clan would take the lead role. One week we'd have Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick and then the following week it would be James Garner as Bret Maverick and then on other weeks we'd have Roger Moore as Beau Maverick and later on we also had Robert Colbert (cast because he looked similar to James Garner)  as Brent Maverick. It was a startling concept, a different lead actor each week but the show was also different in the way it presented the hero. Series creator Roy Huggins inverted the usual screen-cowboy customs familiar in television and movies at the time by dressing his hero in a fancy black broadcloth gambler's suit, which underscored the character's streetwise perspective, but was also a time-honored stereotype for villains. The Mavericks would typically fall prey to precarious scenarios, weighing a financial windfall against a moral dilemma. More often than not, their consciences trumped their wallets. Bret Maverick was realistically (and vocally) reluctant to risk his life, though he typically ended up forcing himself to be courageous, usually in spite of himself. He frequently flimflammed adversaries, but only criminals who actually deserved it. Otherwise he was scrupulously honest almost to a fault, in at least one case insisting on repaying a large debt that he only arguably owed to begin with (in "According to Hoyle")

Watching the show these days I am struck by how many shows owe a debt to this ground-breaking series and many of these are not even westerns. The British TV classic Minder is, on the face of it, a million miles away from Maverick but if you look at the way the storylines were structured and indeed the situations of these stories then the shows do not seem that far apart. And that is only one example - I'm sure I could think of several more.

Initially there were only two Mavericks, Bret and Bart, though James Garner starred in the first eight episodes, and together they turned the TV western on its head - the Maverick boys didn't react to problems in the way James Arness, Steve McQueen or Clint Walker did. Confronted with someone in trouble they would run off to find the sheriff or ask, 'what's in it for me?'. This allowed for some subtle comedy that was not over the top in the style of say Blazing Saddles. It found itself able to spoof other TV westerns - Gunsmoke was spoofed in the episode called Gunshy and later episodes also spoofed Bonanza.

"Maverick was a hero who didn't like being an hero," series creator, Roy Huggins.

The show was a massive success and Garner grew tired and left at the end of the third series - even although he was offered the then biggest ever contract to stay on. Roger Moore was brought in as English cousin Beau Maverick but he only lasted 15 episodes before Robert Colbert was brought in as the previously unmentioned third Maverick brother, Brent. However the Brent character didn't really gell and was only ever given two episodes in the starring role. He left at the end of season four.

Season five featured only 13 episodes, all featuring Jack Kelly in the lead role, but these were rotated with reruns of Garner episodes to try and boost flagging ratings. However that was it and the series ended at the end of the season at episode 124.

The show was revived in 1978 but didn't make it past the pilot - both Garner and Kelly returned for the pilot, Young Maverick which starred  Charles Frank. The series came back again in 1981 under the title of Brent Maverick and starring James Garner, Kelly appeared in one episode as Bart. The actor was to return full time for a proposed second season but this was never made.

James Garner did return to the role one more time in the Mel Gibson Maverick movie. Many had expected a disaster here but the movie is both good natured and fun - everything the TV series was famed for, in fact.

From time to time a new version of Maverick is mooted but as of yet nothing has come to fruition - perhaps its just as well - maybe it's best to leave this particular classic alone.


Linda J. Alexander said...

Decent blog on "Maverick." I'm happy to see you included Jack Kelly as an equal partner. Though James Garner began the series, Jack was as popular, & in many cases, more so, than James Garner. Numerous issues came to pass to bring about the resulting general imbalance in today's world as to who "starred" in Maverick. Jack starred in more shows, & lasted longer, than James Garner. Thank you for giving a direct view of the talent that made this show such a resounding success ... & yes, a groundbreaker.

~ Linda J. Alexander
author, "A Maverick Life: The Jack Kelly Story" due out November, 2011

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Linda - get in touch at my email - it would be great to do an interview about your book. Please put Maverick Book in the subject line so I know it's not spam.