I read this on Henry's Western Round-up, about a new book about Jeffrey Hunter and the Warner Bros. series Temple Houston:
HOUSTON ran for just one
season, just 26 episodes, in 1963, and it was very enjoyable – I remember it
fondly, nearly fifty years after its brief run.
Starring Jeffrey Hunter and Jack Elam, it was modeled on the son of Sam
Houston, who was a very prominent and successful Wild West attorney. This book by Glenn A. Mosley is subtitled, ‘A
Story of Network Television,’ and it is that as much as it is the story of one
series and one actor. It is a story of
what goes wrong in television, why it goes wrong, and its implications and
lessons reach far beyond the one show.
It’s a cautionary tale that anyone looking to work in television,
especially in the writing and producing end, should read.
To begin with, someone has a smart idea: create a Western
law series about a real lawyer, Temple
Houston. Base the plots on his real cases. A studio, in this case Warner Brothers
Television, decides to develop it. Their
first move? Throw out everything they
liked about it in the first place: the real cases, and the real personality of Temple Houston
the man. Next step? Supposedly base the plot on the Philip
Lonergan story ‘Galahad of Cactus Spring.’
Why? Because they already owned that story – they had since the silent
days! – and thus they wouldn’t have to give the new writer a ‘Created By’
credit, which would get him payment for every episode thereafter.
Warner Brothers Television was in a tough way in 1963. Once the king of TV Westerns with MAVERICK, CHEYENNE, SUGARFOOT,
BRONCO and LAWMAN, those shows were mostly gone. Warner Television had a new President,
DRAGNET creator and star Jack Webb, and he was determined to re-dominate
prime-time TV. His first series to be
scheduled was THE ROBERT TAYLOR SHOW, with Taylor starring as a special assistant to the
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
When the network got a hint that some of the stories would cast a
jaundiced eye on some of their sponsors, cigarette makers among them, they
pulled the plug, and the TEMPLE
HOUSTON folks, just
starting to develop the series, were told they were going on the air in a
matter of weeks, to fill the ROBERT TAYLOR spot.
In a way, they never recovered, and the book tells of all
the various approaches the producers and writers tried, from serious and
lawyerly to broadly comic. The book also
tells about the career of Jeffrey Hunter, a talented actor and a favorite of
John Ford – he has a great role in THE SEARCHERS – who some believe was a
victim of the ‘Jesus curse’ after starring in KING OF KINGS. Many actors believe it’s fatal bad luck, career-wise,
to play Jesus, and Hunter certainly joined the long list of actors whose career
went downhill after that role.
Sadly, it’s not currently possible to take a new look at the
series. It’s not available on any
format, except for the 54 minute pilot, which was released theatrically as THE
MAN FROM GALVESTON. That’s available
from the Warner Archive.
The book, entertainingly written, is exhaustively
researched, but must, like its short-lived subject, be brief. It’s only 139 pages long, counting the index,
and one does sense a bit of padding – it not only includes descriptions of all
TEMPLE HOUSTON episodes, and unwritten episodes for the second season that
never happened, it also includes a list of unrealized Jeffery Hunter projects,
and an episode guide to the ROBERT TAYLOR SHOW, none of which ever aired. On the other hand, when you finish the book,
I seriously doubt you’ll have any lingering unanswered questions about TEMPLE HOUSTON. And you may have new insights into how
television works, and how remarkable it is that anything half-way good ever
gets on the air. JEFFREY HUNTER AND
TEMPLE HOUSTON is $14.95 from Bear Manor Media, at www.bearmanormedia.com, which also
published Glenn A. Mosley’s earlier book, HENRY FONDA AND THE DEPUTY: THE FILM
AND STAGE STAR AND HIS TV WESTERN.