Although you wouldn’t know it by today’s cop – forensic investigation - medical drama cornering of the market in television drama, in 1959 westerns were the number one genre for prime time TV.
There were a record 26 different westerns playing each week on the tube at the end the 1950s, and that year three of them made the top 10 list (Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Have Gun, Will Travel).
A pretty good showing, but actually a decline from the previous year, when 7 of the top 10 shows were westerns. While still going strong, westerns were beginning to lose out to more modern and `hip’ dramas like Johnny Staccato, 77 Sunset Strip, and Hawaiian Eye.
With such a large field of similar shows, producers went out of their way to give their production a `signature’, something to set it apart from the crowd.
In The Rifleman, Chuck Connors carried a modified Winchester Model 1892 rifle, tricked out to rapid fire. Don Durant as Johnny Ringo, carried French designed LeMat twin barreled revolver, that could fire a single 16 gauge shotgun shell in addition to .40 ammo.
Perhaps most famous (and certainly the most coveted by my 6-year-old playmates) was the Mare’s leg sawed off rifle carried by Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
It was nicknamed the `mare’s leg’ because of its substantial kick. But it was the ultimate in cowboy cool.
In 1959, Scott Brady (brother of actors Lawrence Tierney and Edward Tierney) took on the role of Shotgun Slade, which ran for 2 years and 78 episodes.
After starting out in poverty row movies, Brady had managed to carve a respectable career as a leading man in movie westerns and assorted TV dramas, appearing in many anthology series of the 1950s.
Like many of the other westerns that year, Shotgun Slade had a gimmick . . . well . . . actually three gimmicks.
First, instead of being a rancher, or a sheriff, a bounty hunter, or a gambler - Slade was a private detective in the old west. With shows like Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn drawing good ratings, making your cowboy hero a detective seemed like a good ploy.
Next came the signature gun, which this time was a over/under shotgun with a .32 caliber single shot rifle paired with a 12 gauge shotgun.
And lastly, instead of incorporating a typical western movie score, the series featured a modern jazz beat, another homage to the increasing popularity of shows like 77 Sunset Strip and Peter Gunn.
The jazz score, admittedly, takes some getting used to. But the end result is an atypical, albeit enjoyable western.
Think Peter Gunn on a horse.
Shotgun Slade – Backtrack
Shotgun Slade | Season 1, Episode 33 | Originally Aired - May 28th, 1960
Shotgun Slade - Crossed Guns
Shotgun Slade | Season 1, Episode 30 | Originally Aired - May 13th, 1960
Shotgun Slade - Flower on Boot Hill
Shotgun Slade | Season 1, Episode 36 | Originally Aired - August 9th, 1960
Shotgun Slade - The Spanish Box
Shogun Slade | Season 1, Episode 32 | Originally Aired - May 27th, 1960
For even more shows (including the ones listed above) you can try this link on Youtube.
Scott Brady worked steadily through the 1960s and well into the 1970s playing tough cops, or cowboys, and the occasional heavy.
His last role was in the movie Gremlins (1984).
Brady died in 1985, at the age of 60, from pulmonary disease.