Outlaws

    

Slim Pickens as "Slim" and Don Collier as "U.S. Deputy Marshal Will Foreman"

 

Text and photos courtesy of Sierra

Life in the Oklahoma Territory in the 1890's was never easy. Flooded overnight by tens of thousands of homesteaders in the great land rush of 1889, it became a magnet for all sorts of outlaws. Land grabbers, train robbers, thieves and murderers...the local peace official was hard-pressed to maintain any semblance of law and order. More often than not, outlaws would strike and run, escaping into territory so remote that danger lurked around each corner. No ordinary town sheriff could handle the devious badmen, and people like Bill Doolin, the Daltons, and Sam Bass eluded capture for many years.

What was needed was a drastic change in the Territorial judicial system, and President Grover Cleveland took action. He appointed Frank Caine (Barton MacLane) as Chief United States Marshal. Caine's two deputies were Will Foreman (Don Collier) and Heck Martin (Jock Gaynor). Since Guthrie was the Territorial capital at the time, it became center stage for the Office of the Marshal Service, a sort of home base to tie all the stories together.

Outlaws premiered September 29, 1960, and by the time it went off the air on September 13, 1962, two seasons later, fifty episodes had been shot. During the first season, the emphasis was more on the outlaws, rather than the marshals, giving the show a dark, edgy, almost "film noire" feel to it. As the marshals wove in and out of each episode, the story-telling was taunt with compelling and tight scripts. It was highly entertaining to see how criminals thought, how they managed to talk themselves into whatever devious deed they plotted, how they cringed when they were caught.

Watching U. S. Marshal Will Foreman outwit them was half the fun. The show commanded the coveted 7:30-8:30 NBC Thursday night lineup. Arriving on the heels of such popular western shows as Gunsmoke, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Have Gun, Will Travel, and Maverick, shows which depicted the good guys in the spotlight, Outlaws, with its novel approach to law and order, just about turned badmen into hero worship. Season Two changed the tone and theme to one which was lighter and more focused on the marshals. Leaving the darkness behind, it took on many of the more familiar aspects of television Westerns. The office also moved from Guthrie to the fledgling town of Stillwater. Only Don Collier of the original cast returned in his role of Will Foreman. He got a promotion to Chief United States Marshal, which he didn't particularly want, and he also got his own office, his own hot-headed deputy marshal, and a deputy-hating dog, which Will characteristically named "Bill Doolin." There was bitingly funny dialog, a love interest of sorts, and a town character guaranteed to create havoc at the most inopportune times, played by that great character actor, Slim Pickens.

Throughout the series, there was no lack of outstanding guest stars. Some of the talent included Jack Lord, Vic Morrow, Dean Stockwell, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Evans, Ray Walston, Warren Oats, Simon Oakland, Jackie Coogan, James Coburn, Robert Culp, Steve Forrest, and William Shatner. Even little Johnny Washburn had a starring role as a twelve-year old orphan in one of the episodes. Before one gets the idea that all the guest spots were designed for men, some of the leading ladies of Hollywood made an appearance. Stars like Sue Ann Langdon, Pippa Scott, Anne Helm, Phyllis Thaxter, Jean Allison, Diane Foster, and Patricia Barry had prominent parts. 

From the very first episode, Don Collier was the voice of Outlaws. He gave the overview of each episode, explaining what life was like in the Oklahoma Territory, and the story would build from there. Many of the episodes were darkly brooding in nature with danger and death around each corner, as the marshals hunted all sorts of desperadoes and brought them to justice, but there were just as many stories about ordinary folks caught up in the ordinary frustrations in towns on the fringe of bandit territory...people like trail bosses, homesteaders, and store clerks. Some of the stories were played strictly for laughs. Always, the tales were true-to-life and exciting.

For more information, visit: Don Collier Web Site

 

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