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"Hondo" was one of the last attempts by network television to continue the
long list of shows in this genre that dominated TV in the 1950s and early
60s. It really is lamentable that the viewing public had turned its back on
westerns (except for "Gunsmoke", which was on its last legs by 1967.)
"Hondo" represented a somewhat more mature view of this type of show. It was not truly a "western" in the classic sense: none of the characters were cowboys, cattle were seldom seen, and the word "ranch" was never spoken. Instead, the series revolved around a small town run by a Union military post. The captain of this post functioned as the authority of law. While the main character, Hondo Lane, was an interesting variation on the classic western hero--a temperamental loner, wanted for murder he didn't commit, and for which he had been exonerated. Hondo was employed by the Union army as an Indian scout. He had been married to an Indian woman and remained on good terms with her father, the Apache chief.
Most of the 17 episodes are very good, with some excellent acting and interesting guest stars: Nick Adams, Rick Nelson, Charles McGraw, Forrest Tucker, Annette Funicello, among others. Ralph Taeger played the lead character with a touch of detachment that might remind some of Steve McQueen. There were many action sequences, some quite impressive and violent for television of the period. Series predecessors like "Maverick" and "The Wild Wild West" had probably changed audience perception of the western by 1967. "Hondo" had none of the tongue-in-cheek qualities of those shows. It was mainly serious focusing on complex characters in often volatile conflicts. A successful attempt was made to suggest the hard, uncomfortable lives these people led. Yes, there was a lovable, mangy dog. Yes, there was a little boy who idolized the hero. Not all cliches were absent, yet "Hondo" was a good example of a TV genre that is probably lost forever.
John Wayne played Hondo in the 1953 movie. Wayne's production company
Batjac produced this series. Wayne and company may have been hoping for
James Arness had once been under contract to John Wayne, and he even had a role in the movie "Hondo". Arness became a legend as Matt Dillon. Peter Graves, brother of James Arness, was first offered the lead in "Hondo". But Graves turned it down. Graves had already starred in "Fury", "Whiplash" and "Court Martial". Instead of taking the role of Hondo, Graves signed on to replace Steven Hill in "Mission Impossible". Graves started "Mission Impossible" in 1967, the year "Hondo" was on.
Ralph Taeger had starred with James Coburn in "Klondike" in 1960. "Klondike" didn't catch on, but NBC liked the two stars well enough to immediately give them a new show called "Acapulco". Telly Savalas also starred in "Acapulco". The show lasted only eight episodes, despite three marvelous leads and a glamorous setting.
Ralph Taeger got one final chance at series stardom six year later. Taeger made a fine Hondo Lane. Gary Clarke ("Michael Shayne", "The Virginian") was also good as a calvary officer. Delightful Kathie Browne ("Slattery's People") played Hondo's love interest. Movie great Robert Taylor ("The Detectives") guest starred in the pilot.
The producer of this series was Andrew Fenady, who had done a fine job with "The Rebel". Peter Graves had previously played a private detective in an unsold pilot for Fenady called "Las Vegas Beat".
"Hondo" was a big budget, ambitious effort. Like the TV version of "Shane" with David Carradine, "Hondo" was a near miss that had considerable charm.
Many years later, the seventeen episodes of "Hondo" were played over and over on cable. It was such a cult phenomenon that the Wall Street Journal did an article about "Hondo" and Ralph Taeger.
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