Johnny Yuma is an angry young former Confederate Army soldier drifting through an apparently meaningless existence in the 1860's Wild West. While in search of his identity, he defends people from hostile Indians, crooked land developers, and evil ranchers. Written by
a lonely confederate veteran named Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams) wanders the west
Character actor Nick Adams was an unlikely choice for the lead on an action TV series, particularly a western, where the genre was dominated by large fellows like Clint Walker and James Arness. The diminutive Adams played Johnny Yuma, a Confederate veteran who after the Civil War wanders the west. But whereas virtually all of the other cowboys who did precisely that on a nearly endless number of shows were simply looking for work, romance, or adventure, Yuma was trying to 'find himself.' He was a writer, and "Johnny Yuma's Journal" always remained a focal point of the series. More interesting still was that the title had three meanings: One one level, Johnny was indeed a rebel in that he was among the defeated Southerners; on another, he was being played by Nick Adams, who had co-starred with James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and ABC made a great deal of the fact that, in an era of adult westerns, this was the first "teenage western" - though Adams was over thirty when he filmed the show, the idea was to bring a James Dean type character to television, if in the context of a western to avoid any possible controversy. Finally, there was at least a hint of Camus's THE STRANGER, a certain existential quailty to the character and the stark situations in which he found himself, that made this show vaguely philosophical, intentionally or otherwise. Much of the action took place at night, allowing this a certain noir sensibility not in evidence on any other western of the era. One wonderful element was the theme song, performed by the inimicable Johnny Cash: "Johnny Yuma, was a rebel; he roamed through the west." The show was a huge hit, particularly with teenagers, but ended up getting canceled when ABC entered into a hostile relationship with the company that produced The Rebel and cut off their nose to spite their face by canceling one of their top rated shows. Unlike most canceled series, which went immediately into syndication, the Rebel was picked up by NBC as a midseason replacement, though all those episodes were reruns. This move may have been an attempt to keep Nick Adams 'live' in the public consciousness, as they premiered his new series, Saints and Sinners (about a newspaperman) in the fall of 1962, though that series was a flop.
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