"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Laramie (TV)

Your gray eyes shift warily

And before leaving the subject of Laramie in this blog, I feel we need an earnest discussion of the merits of NBC’s late 50s/early 60s TV series, Laramie. The world needs another discussion of 50s/60s Western TV shows.

Your blogger Jeff was a mere stripling when the series was first aired. To be brutally blunt, though he was an ardent fan of all TV Westerns (and as you know, there were many) he didn’t enthuse that much over Laramie. It was too talky. They talked too much. And while I might have appreciated it now, at that time, callow youth that I was, I did not care one bit for the part in every episode (in the first series anyway; luckily, his contract was not renewed) when Hoagy Carmichael sat on the corral fence and sang another damned song.

Talk about slowing down the action.

You will remember the story: when their father is brutally slain, the Sherman brothers, Slim (John Smith, real name Robert Van Orden, died in 1995 of cirrhosis of the liver) and younger brother Andy (Robert Crawford Jr., born 1944, brother of The Rifleman's son Johnny Crawford), are left to run the ranch. One day a drifter arrives, Jess Harper (Robert Fuller, real name Buddy Lee, born in NY, 1933, later to star in Wagon Train) and he becomes a sort of honorary brother. They make the ranch a stagecoach station.

Various adventures, more or less plausible, ensued. The series ran for four seasons, first in black & white, then color (tho’ Jeff only ever saw it in b&w as we didn’t have a color TV then) from 1959 to 1963 when it was finally axed for low ratings.

Every episode began with the lyrical (hem hem) Laramie theme by Cyril J. Mockridge, deathless lyrics by Bill Olafson:

Stranger ride carefully
Stay 'way from your gun.
There's danger in Laramie
For men on the run.

Your gray eyes shift warily,
There's no room here for you.
Just stay wise, this is Laramie
Keep traveling on through.

Faster guns than yours have made the foolish play
The next time that you draw may be the last.
We're a peaceful town; we aim to stay that way.
Our justice isn't fancy but it's fast.

Schubert would have been proud.

(Actually, did you know that Schubert was a Wild West fan and asked for The Last of the Mohicans to be read to him on his death bed? Not a lot of people know that. Mind, if I had that book read to me on my death bed, it would finish me off. Boy, is it long and boring).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Laramie.

Well, in later series, people just kind of disappeared. Hoagy went off to St Louis to take Andy to boarding school. A sheriff and an orphan appeared (Stuart Randall and Mike Williams, respectively) and also a sensible housekeeper, Daisy (Spring Byington), to bring a feminine touch to an otherwise rather testosterone-ridden farm (and what's wrong with that, I might ask).

Slim and Jess remained, however, along with their mounts Alamo and Hoot. One’s sisters divided up tribally into Slim fans and Jess groupies. It did till Bonanza came along and they could really take sides.

The series was big news, though, and attracted many famous guest stars, including Lee van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Claude Akins, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Edgar Buchanan, Dan Duryea, Ben Johnson, LQ Jones, John McIntire, Jock Mahoney and Robert J Wilke, a veritable Gotha of Western character actors.

The German title of the series was Am Fuß der blauen Berge. Thought you needed to know that.
All in all, though, it wasn’t a patch on Gunsmoke, Have Gun - Will Travel, Cheyenne or Tales of Wells Fargo. Still, it didn’t stop me following it. And I’d watch it again today, all 124 episodes, if it came on TV again in France, where I live. Pigs might fly. Maybe it’s all available on DVD.


  1. I am trying to determine if those lyrics are to the early Laramie song on the one in their later shows..guess I'll figure it out by trying to sing them to both...we watch it 4 times a day now. Thanks for the entertaining and informative info!😀

    1. Now there speaks a real Laramie expert. I'm impressed.
      Do let us know the results of your research.

  2. I love the John Dutton family. They are all great Kevin Costner perform the amazing roll in the series. Looking forward to season 3 and many more seasons after that! Love his outfits that worn in season two Yellowstone Jacket Collection.