Maverick: Legend of the West

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Jim Colyer
I reviewed this book.


This book was published in 1994, the same year the Maverick movie starring Mel Gibson came out. Ed Robertson provides a synopsis and a cast list for each of the 124 episodes. Maverick debuted on television, September 22, 1957. It aired for five seasons. The final episode aired, April 22, 1962. Roy Huggins created the series.

At first, there was only Bret Maverick played by James Garner. As early as the eighth episode, called "Hostage," Bret's brother Bart was introduced, played by Jack Kelly. Kelly went on the star in more shows then Garner as Garner left the show in 1960 over a contract dispute with Warner Brothers.

Saturday nights would find me glued to the TV at 11pm for the one show which appealed to me: Maverick. It was entertaining down to its theme song: "Natchez to New Orleans, living on jacks and queens, Maverick is a legend of the west."

The James Garner episodes had the most humor. The Jack Kelly ones tended to be more serious, even sinister at times. But Kelly had a sense of humor also. He was more of a ladies' man. The best episodes featured both brothers, usually working together to pull off a scam against some scalawag who tried to hoodwink them. "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" was a good example.

In black & white, Maverick is dated by modern standards which is what makes it good. There is no guilt over what the white man did to the "Injuns" or anything like that.

There was some competition between the brothers. And there was never trust between them and their women. If Samantha Crawford or Melanie Blake could make off with money that was not theirs, they would generally do it. Samantha and Melanie were female versions of the Mavericks, and they exhibited the weaknesses of their gender.

Dandy Jim Buckley and Gentleman Jack Darby were the Maverick brothers without the scruples. They were con men in the true sense. Even though Bret and Bart lived by their wits and avoided fights whenever possible, they knew the difference between right and wrong and rose to the occasion when they had to.

As an actor, James Garner came across as likeable. He was a natural for the role of Bret Maverick. Easy-going, looking out for number one and making a living by playing poker, Bret had little in common with Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke or the Cartwrights of Bonanza.

Garner was born in Oklahoma in 1928. He served in the Korean War and received two Purple Hearts.

Jack Kelly as Bart was almost a mirror image of Bret. Kelly was born into a show business family in 1927. Like Garner, he was drafted but served in Alaska.

Bret and Bart drifted through the American west, conning those who tried to con them. They did not cheat at cards. They did not have to. Bart often showed up in the nick of time to help Bret out of a scrape as he did in "Duel at Sundown" by posing as John Wesley Hardin. Part of the show's appeal was the way the brothers drifted from town to town. They would be in Denver one week and Virginia City the next. Maverick is what a western should look like. I like the old stage coaches. The show won an Emmy in 1959. Its first two seasons were the strongest.

Robertson devotes space to "Gun-Shy." This was the lampoon of Gunsmoke and the law-and-order ethic of Mort Dooley. Adele Mara, the girl in "The Spanish Dancer," was Huggins' wife.

Bret and Bart constantly alluded to advice given by their pappy. It added to the laid-back humor: "Flattery is like perfume. It is okay to smell it, but don't swallow it."

Money was a key element. It had to be since the brothers were professional gamblers.

Bret and Bart roamed the west, immaculately dressed and in their prime. They sidestepped one mess after another. Their characters were impossibly romantic, but I was 13 and enjoyed the escapism.

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