subversive Western with a dark sense of humour, Maverick
soared to sixth place in the Nielsen ratings during its second season
with a 30.4 share as well as winning an Emmy award for Best Western
Series in 1959. Starring the then relatively unknown James Garner
as footloose frontier gambler Bret Maverick, shortly after joined
by Jack Kelly as brother Bart, this hour-long series followed the
duplicitous adventures and, more often, misadventures of the Mavericks
in their pursuit of money and the easy life.
out as a straight Western drama (the first three episodes, "The
War of the Silver Kings", "Point Blank" and "According to Hoyle",
were directed by feature Western auteur Budd Boetticher), the series
soon developed a comedy streak after writer Marion Hargrove decided
to liven up his scriptwriting work by inserting the simple stage
direction: "Maverick looks at him with his beady little eyes." Other
scriptwriters then followed suit. Garner, in particular, and Kelly
joined in with the less-than-sincere spirit of the stories and
Maverick took a unique turn away from the other, more formal
and traditional Warner Brothers-produced Westerns then on the air
(Lawman, Colt .45, Cheyenne and Sugarfoot).
The series was created by producer Roy Huggins and developed out
of a story (co-written with Howard Browne) in which Huggins tried
to see how many TV Western rules he could break and get away with;
the script, ironically, was filmed as an episode of the "adult"
Cheyenne series ("The Dark Rider") and featured guest-star
Diane Brewster as a swindler and practiced cheat, a role she was
later to take up as a recurring character, gambler Samantha Crawford,
during the 1958-59 season of Maverick. "Maverick is Cheyenne,
a conventional Western, turned inside out," said Huggins. "But with
Maverick there was nothing coincidental about the inversion."
The Maverick brothers were not heroes in the traditional Western
sense. They were devious, cowardly card-sharps who exploited easy
situations and quickly vanished when faced with potentially violent
ones. A popular part of their repertoire for evading difficult moments
was the "Pappyisms" that corrupted their speech. Quoting their old
Pappy, and mentor, as a suitable excuse they were likely to come
out with (when all else failed, for instance): "My old Pappy used
to say 'If you can't fight 'em, and they won't let you join 'em,
best get out of the county'."
the success of Cheyenne on ABC (from its premiere in 1955)
the network asked Warner Brothers TV division to give them another
hour-long Western program for their Sunday evening slot. Maverick
premiered on 22 September 1957, and pretty soon won over the
viewers from the powerful opposition of CBS's The Ed Sullivan
Show and NBC's The Steve Allen Show, two programs that
had been Sunday night favourites from the mid-1950s. With Garner
alone starring in early episodes, Warners found that it was taking
eight days to film a weekly show. They decided to introduce another
character, Bret's brother, in order to keep the production on schedule.
This strategy resulted in a weekly co-starring series when Jack
Kelly's Bart was introduced in the "Hostage" episode (10 November
1957). With separate production units now working simultaneously
Warners managed to supply a steady stream of episodes featuring
either Bret or Bart on alternate weeks. Occasionally, both Maverick
brothers were seen in the same episode, usually when they teamed
up to help each other out of some difficult situation or to outwit
even more treacherous characters than themselves.
series also reveled in colourful characters as well as presenting
wild parodies of other TV programs of the period. During the early
seasons recurring guest characters popped in and out of the plots
to foil or assist the brothers: Dandy Jim Buckley (played by Efrem
Zimbalist Jr.), Gentleman Jack Darby (Richard Long), Big Mike McComb
(Leo Gordon) and Bret's regular antagonist, the artful con-woman
Samantha Crawford (Brewster). Among the more amusing episodes: "Gun-Shy"
(second season) was a send-up of Gunsmoke featuring a hick
character called Mort Dooley; "A Cure for Johnny Rain" (third season)
spoofed Jack Webb's Dragnet with Garner doing a deadpan Joe
Friday voice-over; "Hadley's Hunters" (fourth season) had Bart enlist
the help of Ty Hardin (Bronco), Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot),
Clint Walker (Cheyenne), John Russell and Peter Brown (Lawman)
all playing their respective characters from the WB stable of Western
TV series (and with Edd "Kookie" Byrnes from Warner Brothers 77
Sunset Strip as a blacksmith); and "Three Queens Full" (fifth
season) was a wicked parody of Bonanza in which the Subrosa
Ranch was run by Joe Wheelwright and his three sons, Moose, Henry
and Small Paul. In addition, two other episodes ("The Wrecker" and
"A State of Siege") were loose adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson
stories, albeit translated into the Maverick vein.
1960 actor James Garner and his Warner Brothers studio bosses clashed
when Garner took out a lawsuit against the studio for breach of
contract arising out of his suspension during the January-June writers'
strike of that year. Warners claimed that it was justified in suspending
Garner by invoking the force majeure clause in Garner's contract
due to the writers' strike; the clause, in other words, meant that
if forces beyond the control of the studio prevented it from making
films, the studio didn't have to continue paying actors' salaries.
It had been no secret at the time that Garner had wanted to be released
from his contract ("Contracts are completely one-sided affairs.
If you click, [the studio] owns you," he stated). Finally, in December
1960 the judge decided in favour of Garner. During the course of
the testimony it was revealed that during the strike Warners had
obtained--under the table--something in the number of 100 TV scripts,
and that at one time the studio had as many as 14 writers working
under the pseudonym of "W. Hermanos" (Spanish for "brothers").
then went on to a successful feature film career but returned to
series television in the 1970s with Nichols (1971-72) and the popular
The Rockford Files (1974-80). He appeared as a guest star
along with Jack Kelly in the 1978 TV movie/pilot The New Maverick,
which produced the short-lived Young Maverick (1979-80) series,
minus Garner; he also starred in the title role of Bret Maverick
(1981-82) which he co-produced with Warners. A theatrical film version,
Maverick, was produced in 1994 with Mel Gibson starring as
Bret Maverick and Garner appearing as Bret's father; Richard Donner
directed the Warner Brothers release.
a replacement for Garner in the fourth season of the original series
Warners brought on board Roger Moore, as cousin Beauregard, a Texas
expatriate who had lived in England (a WB contract player, Moore
had been transferred from another Warner Western series, The
Alaskans, which had run only one season from 1959). When Moore
departed after just one season another Maverick brother, Robert
Colbert's Brent Maverick, a slight Garner/Bret lookalike, was introduced
in the spring of 1961 to alternate adventures with Bart. Colbert
stayed only until the end of that season, leaving the final (and
longest remaining) Maverick, Jack Kelly, to ride out the last Maverick
season (1961-62) alone, except for some early seasons' rerun
The series came to an end after 124 episodes, and with it a small-screen
Western legend came to a close. Perhaps the ultimate credit for
Maverick should go to creator-producer Roy Huggins for the
originality to steer the series clear of the trite and the ordinary,
and for not only trying something different but executing it with
a comic flair.
Maverick (1957-1960)........................ James Garner Bart
Kelly Samantha Crawford (1958-1959).............. Diane Brewster
Cousin Beauregard Maverick (1960-1961).... Roger Moore Brent
Maverick (1961).............................. Robert Colbert
Roy Huggins, William T. Orr, Howie Horwitz
HISTORY 124 Episodes
September 1957-September 1961
Sunday 7:30-8:30 September 1961-July 1962 Sunday
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Michael T., and Jack Nachbar. "The Modern Popular Western: Radio,
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Lynn, Robert W. Malsbary, and Robert G. Strange, Jr. Warner Bros.
Television: Every Show of the Fifties and Sixties Episode-By-Episode.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1985.
Gary A. Riding the Video Range: The Rise and Fall of the Western
on Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.