RICHARD BOONE

U.S. Actor

Richard Boone was one of the television acting profession's gladiators, a craggy, determined and almost menacing figure among the actors and directors who worked with him. His uncompromising commitment to his work often brought him into conflict with his fellow players and was as well a constant source of frustration to the directors and producers who tried to control him. That his work for television eventually brought him critical acclaim and viewer popularity while he simultaneously alienated certain sections of the industry may be, perhaps, the hallmark of his genius.

In 1947 he travelled to New York and joined the well-known Actor's Studio (where his classmates included such then unknowns as Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint and Julie Harris). He got his growth as an actor in some 150 live TV shows in New York between 1948 and 1950, after which he returned home to California. He is also reported as being a regular on the CBS children's program Mr. I. Magination in 1947 (when the program was a local New York show) and also appeared as one of the reporters in The Front Page series (1949-50) during its early days. Back in Los Angeles he was put under contract to 20th Century-Fox and his first feature film was Halls of Montezuma, directed by Lewis Milestone in 1950 (Milestone would later be invited to direct episodes of Have Gun-Will Travel and The Richard Boone Show). While at Fox he was also working for Jack Webb in his radio Dragnet when, still as an unknown bit player, around the summer of 1950, he did a single radio drama called The Doctor (written by Dragnet writer James Moser). This radio show turned out to be the forerunner of Boone's first starring TV role, Medic.

By 1954 his Dr. Konrad Styner, host, narrator and frequent participant of Medic (1954-56), which had been created and written by Moser, had made him a household name. Medic employed a dramatic-documentary style, factual and educational in content but with a dramatic impact that few if any physician centered programs achieved until the advent of Ben Casey in 1961. With Moser writing and generally steering the series, Medic developed a highly effective semi-documentary technique similar to TV's popular Dragnet. The program took its stories from the files of the L.A. County Medical Association, real medical case histories showing inherent drama. Boone's stolid underplaying heightened the dramatic force of the series but there were critics and viewers at the time who thought his character too dour and gruff. When Medic came to an end Boone found other parts elusive; although this had been his first real doctor role casting directors had come to see him as a "doctor" character and his strong screen association with the role of Dr. Styner left him typecast in the "he always plays doctors" file.

His most memorable TV role, however, was set in a completely different genre and featured Boone as a 1870s San Francisco gentleman-adventurer who hired himself out as a mercenary gunslinger. As the impassive troubleshooter Paladin in the post Civil War West of Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-63), Boone helped push the series to top-ten positions in the Nielsen ratings (numbers 3 and 4) during its first four seasons. The part was originally offered to Randolph Scott, who at the time had other commitments. After first turning down Boone for the role, CBS made a five-minute test film for New York executives still prepared to type-cast him as a physician--and then signed him to a five-year contract. While Have Gun, Will Travel and Boone's popularity rose in the ratings and in the esteem of fans, his standing among people in the industry dropped significantly. His strict dedication to his work, which he also demanded of everyone around him, saw him all but legally take over the CBS production; scripts, actors, directors, even costumes, all had to receive his personal approval. From 1960 onwards Boone was particularly active in the series' director's chair, directing almost one in four episodes himself. "When I direct a show, I'm pretty arbitrary," he commented to TV Guide magazine in early 1961. "If I have a fault, it's that I see an end and go for it with all my energy; and if I'm bugged with people who don't see it or won't go for it, it looks as though I'm riding all over them."

During this time of course he also continued appearing in multiple TV plays. Notable performances during this period came with David Shaw's acclaimed "The Tunnel" (1959; for Playhouse 90), in The Right Man (1960), for which he delivered a fine performance as Lincoln, and with his work as narrator for Stephen Vincent Benet's Pulitzer Prize-winning poem John Brown's Body (1962).

The Richard Boone Show repertory theatre idea was first proposed by Boone in 1960 to CBS. When CBS executives suggested that they might find a slot for such a program among their Sunday afternoon schedules Boone put the idea on a back-burner until he had acquired his "go-to-hell money", as he put it, from the millions he made during his years in Have Gun, Will Travel, and to a lesser extent from Medic. It was not until his idea received the enthusiasm and support of the distinguished playwright Clifford Odets, the Goodson-Todman production company and NBC president Robert Kintner that the television repertory company series started becoming a reality. The Richard Boone Show (1963-64) featured a workshop of ten actors whom Boone considered the best in the business: Robert Blake, Lloyd Bochner, Laura Devon, June Harding, Bethel Leslie, Harry Morgan, Jeanette Nolan, Ford Rainey, Warren Stevens and Guy Stockwell. Boone himself, of course, starred at times and served as the regular host. With Odets as the program's script editor the series' prestige was almost guaranteed. Unfortunately, after completing much of the preliminary work for the series, Odets died in August 1963. Before the 24 episodes had completed their run (and despite having just been voted "the best dramatic program on the air" in the 15th Annual Motion Picture Daily poll) the program was cancelled in January 1964. Boone took the news hard. It had after all been a very personal project and--the result of a premature NBC press office release--he learned of his program's demise in a morning trade paper. Still, his anger was tempered by the knowledge that he was by that time already receiving $50,000 a year for 20 years after selling out his interest in Have Gun, Will Travel; he was also to receive a reported $20,000 a week for his now-defunct show, also on a deferred payment basis.


Richard Boone

From 1964-1971 he lived a very comfortable life with his family in Honolulu, travelling to the mainland only for the occasional movie such as Hombre (1966) and The Kremlin Letter (1969). He also helped induce producer Leonard Freeman to film Hawaii Five-O in Honolulu instead of the intended San Pedro; Freeman even offered him the leading part of McGarrett which he declined.

In 1971 Boone was offered the lead role in Universal TV/Mark VII's Hec Ramsey (1972-74) series (two seasons as one of four rotating 90-minute TV-movies). The program, about a grizzled turn-of-the-century lawman with a fascination for the new science of criminology, was in its way, perhaps, a gentle monument to Boone's earlier TV performances: Hec Ramsey was Paladin grown older, with an accumulation of artfulness and astutness along with a stockpile of barely contained impatience.

The latter part of his career was taken up with such diverse made-for-TV movie plots and themes as the elaborate murder set-up of In Broad Daylight (1971), the espionage tale of Deadly Harvest (1972), the period private-eye spoof Goodnight My Love (1972), the Depression-era drama The Great Niagra (1974) and the rather sorry fantasy adventure The Last Dinosaur (1977).

With his dedication to his work in television Boone always gave an extraordinarily commanding performance, always straightforward, always the centre of interest.

-Tise Vahimagi

RICHARD (ALLEN) BOONE. Born in Los Angeles, California, U.S., 18 June 1917. Education: Military school; Stanford University, 1934-37. Married 1) Jane Hopper, 1937 (divorced, 1940); 2) Mimi Kelly, 1949 (divorced, 1950); 3) Claire McAloon, 1951; children: Peter. Served in U.S. Navy, 1941-45. Oilfield worker, 1930s; painter and short story writer, 1930s; after World War II, studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and Actors Studio; studied modern dance with Martha Graham; stage debut as soldier, and as understudy to John Gielgud's Jason in Broadway staging of Medea, 1947; toured with The Hasty Heart, also late 1940s; acted in radio drama The Halls of Montezuma, 1950; led to role in the movie version, 1951; film actor 1951-79; starred in television series Medic, 1954-56; starred in CBS Television's Have Gun-Will Travel, 1957-61; developed and directed repertory theater-style television series, The Richard Boone Show (also host and often the lead) 1963-64; in Hawaii, after The Richard Boone Show cancelled, established movie company Pioneer Productions, and taught acting; starred in NBC Television's Hec Ramsey, one of four rotating series comprising the Sunday Night Mystery Shows, 1972-73; lectured on acting at Flagler College. Member, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Recipient: American Television Critics Best Actor (3 times); five-time Emmy nominee. Died in St.Augustine, Florida, 10 January 1981.

TELEVISION SERIES

1954-56 Medic
1957-61 Have Gun-Will Travel
1963-64 The Richard Boone Show (and directed)
1972-73 Hec Ramsey

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1971 In Broad Daylight
1971 A Tattered Web
1972 Goodnight, My Love
1972 Deadly Harvest
1974 The Great Niagra
1977 The Last Dinasaur

FILMS

The Halls of Montezuma, 1951; Call Me Mister, 1951; Rommel, Desert Fox, 1951; Kangaroo, 1952; Return of the Texan, 1952; Red Skies of Montana, 1952; Way of a Gaucho, 1952; Man On a Tightrope, 1953; City of Bad Men, 1953; Vicki, 1953; The Robe, 1953; Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, 1953; The Siege At Red River, 1954; Dragnet, 1954; The Raid, 1954; Man Without a Star, 1955; Ten Wanted Men, 1955; Robbers' Roost, 1955; Battle Stations, 1956; Star in the Dust, 1956; Away All Boats, 1956; Lizzie, 1957; The Garment Jungle, 1957; The Tall T, 1957; I Bury the Living, 1958; The Alamo, 1960; A Thunder of Drums, 1961; Rio Conchos, 1964; The War Lord, 1965; Hombre, 1967; The Arrangement, 1968; Kona Coast, 1968; The Night of the Following Day, 1969; The Kremlin Letter, 1970; Madron, 1970; Little Big Man, 1970; Big Jake, 1971; The Big Sleep, 1971; The Last Dinosaur, 1971; The Shootist, 1976, Winter Kills, 1979.

RADIO

The Halls of Montezuma, 1950; The Doctor, 1950

STAGE

Medea, 1947; Macbeth, 1948; The Man, 1950; on tour, The Hasty Heart, 1959; The Rivalry, 1959.


See also Anthology Drama; Have Gun, Will Travel; Medic