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Culp interview
TV Chronicles

TVC:
Let's begin by discussing your career prior to the advent of TRACKDOWN.

RC:
I had had a tremendous amount of pure blind luck as an actor when I first went back there was Howard Lindsay (Life Without Father). He gave me a job out of the goodness of his heart carrying a spear, so to speak, in a play called "The Prescott Proposals," about the first woman ambassador from the United States to the United Nations, and Katherine Cornell played this role. I think it was the last thing she ever did. Lorne Greene came down form Canada for his first job in the United States. He played an Edward R. Morrow-type person who came to interview her, they fell in love, there was a murder, and a lot of folderol. It didn't do well, lasted about three months on Broadway. Out of that I got enough unemployment to write my first play. Then I entered this period of just terrible nothingness -- My wife was supporting us -- and one day I read in the newspaper that some gink in the village was casting the minor Russian classic "He Who Gets Slapped" by Leonid Andreiev. I had seen this play in college done by somebody else and I said "My God, that's my part!" And I had lusted after this part ever after, and I just tucked it away, saying "Boy, if I ever get the chance ..."

Well, I found out that this guy had not cast. He was doing the equivalent of "Hamlet," on a lightweight level, and he had no cast! It takes place backstage in a one-ring circus, family-owned circus outside Paris. I think it's just before the First World War; either just before or just after it, I can't remember which. In any case, I bent heaven and earth. Everybody I had known; my teacher, Herbert Berghof; Uta Hagen, his wife; everybody at the Studio; their Studio, not the Actors Studio, where I had been studying for the past year. I marshaled all my forces and everybody called this poor guy and said "You gotta see this actor." Anyway, lap dissolve ... I went in, I read, I blew 'em away. Got the role, and we were in rehearsal -- we were having some arguments about my interpretation -- and he said, "The only reason I ever saw you was to get these people to stop calling me." I had gotten his theater started with this play. I was putting in seats, for Christ sake, the night before we opened.

This put me on the map. I had met a guy, whose name is Hillard Elkins. Hilly became my manager with this play. I'm still with him. It's forty-something years later, and we're still together. Hilly brought everybody in town down to see this thing. I got tremendous reviews, and it kick-started my career. I went from that to doing "Diary of a Scoundrel" at the Phoenix ... the whole world of off-Broadway began to open up for me. I'd already done Broadway. It was a strange world then. There was no off-off Broadway. That hadn't been created yet. It was simply on-Broadway and off-Broadway, all delineated by Equity. How many seats were there in the house? That simple. Circle in the Square was off-Broadway, across the street from us. We were the Actors Playhouse, and it's still there, by the way, and so is Circle in the Square, but Circle in the Square was always more successful. Anyway, I got 'em started.

All of a sudden, everybody wanted to give me a job. It's one of those things that happens when an actor gets hot, and I was hot. I said, "I don't care where it is. I don't care who it is. If they're gonna pay me, I'm gonna go do it. I'm starving to death. Give me some money!" So I came to Hollywood for the first time.and ... there was a thing called "Matinee Theater." This tiny little man -- He was a very handsome, very small man who ran "Matinee Theater." It was one hour, every day, "live" at noon! It was an hour show, like the "United States Steel Hour," every day at noon. I did two of those, and sandwiched in -- I got a call from New York, from Hilly. He said, "Go over and see these people at Four Star." I said, "What's Four Star?" He said, "It's a little company, you know. It's a little company produces this little TV show. They do this thing called "Zane Grey Theater." They want to see you about doing one."

"Zane Grey Theater" was a staple of television; a very high-class staple of television for its time, and it was hosted by Dick Powell. He was my first contractual boss, and a finer gent never drew breath. We had crossed paths once before. I walked in and met this very, very nice grey-haired gentleman who was producing the show, and his first question to me was "Do you ride?" And I said, "Do I ride? Come on, ask me a real question." And I didn't at all. And I walked out of the place with the job. I suppose someone mentioned to me that it was a job with special qualifications, but I didn't pay any attention. I just wanted to get in, get out, and on with it, back to New York. They quickly saw that I couldn't ride, so they faked that with a double in the few scenes in BADGE OF HONOR so that it wasn't too embarrassing. The riding part of it is terrifically important doing a western. Your identity is based on how well you ride. And I didn't at all. I got back to New York and the thing was on the air, but before it was on the air I got a call from Hilly - No, I got a call from the Morris office, he didn't want to call me. Somebody at the Morris office says, "Pack your bags. Your going to California to do a series." I said, "I am not! What the hell are you talking about?" He said, "Don't be silly, man. You did a pilot. They sold the pilot. You're gonna go do it."

TVC:
You weren't aware that it was intended as a pilot when you did it?

RC:
I said, "What's a pilot?"

TVC:
Oh, I guess not.

RC:
Well, I sort of knew what a pilot was. I wasn't altogether stupid, but they were rare and nobody did 'em and they all happened on the West Coast and I wasn't ... And I was not gonna leave Broadway. Everybody was starting to say if I stayed in New York, I would "own" Broadway! I was that rare a bird in those days, 'cause my base was very broad. So finally the guy said, "Look, you're going to California and you're gonna do this thing, or ..." I said, "What are my options?" He said, "Well, there one. You can go to England, because they'll f---in' sue you. You won't be able to work here."

So I packed my bags very begrudgingly, and I said, "Okay, I'll give 'em six months. I'll o and do one year, and I'll make some money and then that's it." Well, I got out here and walked in the door to meet the producer of "Trackdown," and the cat had leather shoes on, and he had them both crossed up on his desk, facing me at the door when I walked in. I'm a fairly astute judge of body language. I walked in the door and I said, "I'm in a "lot" of trouble with this dude." He was mean as a snake, this bird, and hated the sight of me when I walked in the door. And he was right, because we really were fire and water.

He had been given a mandate by Powell, the network, and John Robinson, who created the series, who created "Dragnet," that this was a western "Dragnet," up to and including the cadences of speech. That didn't even occur to me in the pilot. You could feel the rhythm, but it didn't mean much to me and I didn't pay much attention to it, because if there's one thing I will not take, it's the equivalent of line readings, from anybody. I learned that early, long before I went to New York.. It has to do with the first adage, which is "Don't adopt anyone else's rhythm."

It is the first no-no you learn from the first director you get. And I was passionately an adherent to this notion about rhythm, because I know what rhythms are. For example, no one has ever been able to imitate me. You can imitate almost any actor, but nobody has ever successfully imitated my voice. Can't be done. Because I don't have a set cadence. My speech now is pieces of a lot of other people that I've picked up. I mean, you and me talking, you will hear Cosby in voice, for example, but at that point I was pure, blind, naked me, and I wasn't gonna take John Robinson's line readings. I'd change 'em. I'd turn 'em around every time. Well, that meant that the producer and I -- He was gonna take flack for it from somebody, somewhere, and he was gonna try to pass it on to me, and that's where we really loggerheads. This guy, how he got to be producer I will never know. The point was, we were really -- We didn't like each other. We didn't talk.
TVC:
I do remember reading in a "Starlog" interview you did during "Greatest American Hero" that there were significant, shall we say, "creative differences" on TRACKDOWN.

RC:
In the first couple of episodes, there were tremendous differences of opinion about wardrobe. I started out with a half-duster which hit me mid-thigh. I found out it was in my way all the time, and I didn't like the way it sat on me when I was on a horse. By the way, when I came back out for the series, I had, I believe, a week and a half before we started to shoot. Maybe two weeks. Fat Jones Stables supplied all the horses for all of the shows at Four Stars. I went out to Fat Jones Stables, and they put me up on several different horses, and I would come home and my soon-to-become wife; second wife, with whom I had four children, but we weren't married at that moment. She took one look at my backside: "Oh Jesus, Honey ..." And she didn't know any better; she put alcohol on it.

TVC:
Whoa.

RC:
Oh man. I jumped about ten miles. My ass was raw hamburger. By the time we were shooting the first episode. I was in pretty good shape. I was a trained athlete since junior high school. I had a good image of what I'm doing in my head. I was a pole vaulter. You have to be able to see pictures in your head to be a pole vaulter. You have to be able to see pictures in your head to be a pole vaulter, or high jump, which was my second event. On horseback, you gotta be good at it. Also, I was out to impress my grandfather. He was still alive then, and I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of him. So by the time I finished the series, the guys who were in the know around the stables said, "You set a horse better than anybody in this business today, except Joel McCrea. Joel McCrea can outride you, but you're up with the rest of them, nose to nose."

TVC:
I understand you bucked the trend in the selection of your gun.





RC:
There were two. We only had two, the whole damned series. Once I knew I wasn't gonna use that gimmicky thing with the thong on the end of it that we had in the pilot, I didn't know exactly what I was gonna use as my gun. I was resisting the idea in my own mind, although nobody discussed it with me, about using a Peacemaker, which is the weapon of choice on every other television show. Long barrel, short barrel, whatever, it's kinda boring. Well, I never said anything to anybody, but the prop man came up to me one day, and said, "Come here, I wanna show you something." And he took me over to his prop box, and pulled out this gun.

He said, "This is different from any gun that anybody else is carrying on television. It's legitimate. A lot of guys carried it. Although most of them carried .44s, this is a .38." The .38 was what caused the gun to be made in the first place and given as a gift to Grand Duke Alexei of Russia, who appeared, as a matter of fact, in last summer's "Maverick." That character appeared. He really did exist, and the Grand Duke Alexei hunted throughout the west and traveled with a big entourage. It was a Smith & Wesson Model #3. They called it the Russian Model because it was the one that had been made with very fancy engraving and given a brace of them, to the Grand Duke Alexei as publicity for S&W. It was a top brake. That was what made it very special. Also it made it somewhat undependable, because that top break, through normal wear and tear, sometimes would come loose on you and cause the gun to explode.





TVC:
Top break, meaning that the top of the gun opens forward ...

RC:
Yeah, instead of the cylinder coming out to the side the way it does on a Colt, on a Peacemaker, or a Pioneer. So I carried those all the way through.

TVC: I read in Gary Yoggy's book "Riding the Video Range," that you practiced on your own private shooting to become proficient, and that you even had the gun modified.

RC:
Yes. An extra piece of metal was welded on the hammer to make it flatter, so I could get to it. You couldn't fan the regular hammer on a Russian Model #3. It was so stiff. You could scarcely get it back, and you certainly could never fan it, and I did a lot of that. I think I'm the only guy I know of who in the course of business could fan three and make it sound like one. I did that. It's on film. Somewhere. It's in an episode. To draw and fire and fan the next two, one with your thumb and one with your little finger, and make it sound like one shot, that's fanning three. It's not really fanning, but you do one normally, and then fan right on top of it, two, three. I did it once, only once. I spent the next ten takes trying to get it in closeup, but I couldn't do it. I could not do it with regularity. I have done it more than once, but not on film.
TVC:
So now you're filming TRACKDOWN. You're riding, you've got your gun, what next?

RC:
Another thing that will endear a producer to an actor and bind them together with hoops of steel is for the producer to walk up to the actor and say, "I just came from the dailies. You walk like a fag!" I had two choices. I could either punch the bastard or ignore him, which is what I usually did. I simply ignored people and went my own way. But I got home that night, and I said , "Jesus, it's a stretch. I know it's a stretch. I'm really reaching for it physically. Maybe I've gone too far."

So I tripped back in my head. I said, "I've gotta find something quick. I gotta find it overnight." And I'm walking back and forth across this stupid little apartment that my wife and I had, and trying stuff out, and I hit one. And she said, "What's that?" And I said "That's Marlon in "Waterfront." There's one scene where he walks across the roof to the pigeons, and he had this incredible walk that he had picked up which was a fighter's walk. And it works if I've got the Cuban heels on. The boots had Cuban heels. It doesn't work if you had, like tennies on, ordinary shoes. But raising your foot up just that much further ... It has to do with scuffing your heels and rocking on the balls of your feet at the same time. It's as complicated as moonwalking. Sammy Davis never could do it, and he could do anybody. He tried to imitate my walk from TRACKDOWN. He never could. But I will tell you that, years after, Cosby said, "Boy you had yourself a walk in that TRACKDOWN." So I said , "Nobody can fault me on this one. I've seen Marlon do it. I'm gonna do it." So that became my walk. And it worked. I had one other I used, which was modified John Wayne, when I was mad at somebody, but most of the time it was Marlon on the roof. It's a very laid back, slouchy kind of thing, which really became the key to the character.

TVC:
About how far into the series did you hit upon this?

RC:
It was about the third episode.

TVC:
It sounds as though your transition from stage to camera happened so quickly that it gave you little opportunity to adjust your acting style accordingly. How did you weather that?

RC:
Guy Rowe was my cameraman. Guy Roe taught me how to act for film. One day, we were about halfway through the first season, they called lunch, and Guy came over to me and put his arm around my shoulders. He said "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I said, "Sure Guy. What?" He took me behind the set. Everybody else was gone, the stage was empty, and we sat there. I don't know what he said, but what he said was less in more. I mean, that's basically what the man said, "Less is more. You are from the stage. I still see it." He was right. He could see the wheels. I mean, essentially, that must be what he said to me, although he was very, very kind, because he liked me, and I revered him and he knew it.

Once, we had this rapport, he and I, I began to look through the camera more and more. It was parallax view in those days, so you didn't have to look through the lens. You had this little box on the side, which gave you pretty much the picture, but it wasn't exact. And he began to teach me. Why the light was over here instead of there, and why the light only went up so far on the wall instead of all the way to the ceiling, and so forth, and so forth, and little by little I began to fall in love with the camera, which really was the last clearing away of all the obstacles about me and writing, and, finally, directing.

TVC:
You got along with the crew, but not with the producer. How about Dick Powell?
RC:
As with every television series beginning its first year, you shoot a bunch of episodes, praying to God you're doing the right thing and that you're on track with the material, and then comes the opening of the season, maybe as much as three to four months later, after you've done shooting. That has not changed. It's the same today as it was then, although you don't get on an airplane, a rubber band airline, and fly all over the country to local radio and television stations and newspapers to do your PR work the way they did then. Now, all of that is brought to "you" by the network. In those days, however, you covered three or four or five markets, max, because you were plumb tuckered out by that time. And you would travel from city to city. I got to Boston, I think, first, with a woman publicist whom I did not know well, and I guess she assumed that I knew what I was doing. And I didn't. And so I was candid, and my candor came out extremely negative when it was printed.

I'd never been much interviewed for anything before in my life. Certainly not to try to give my own feelings about, or my own criticism of, some projects that I was in. Well, this stuff hit the press, and before it even reached Los Angeles, the PR woman called Four Star PR, Four Star PR called up to Mr. Powell, and Mr. Powell called me.

I don't know exactly what he said to me on the phone, the he in effect tore me a brand new *sshole. But the fascinating part of it to me is not that I had made a mistake, not that he bawled me out for it and set me straight ... You never do that. You only talk on safe ground. You, for God's sake never, before the fact, issue anything that can be interpreted as a negative edict that someone can even twist further when they print it. Not only is it not done, it's suicidal. And he explained this to me :"forcefully," like a Commanding Officer. And rather than get angry with him, rather than lose my temper with him the way I did with Vince Fennelly, because Fennelly's attitude toward me was unreasoning ...

This was reasoned; it made utter sense. And I felt like a total idiot, and I simply said, "Yes, Mr. Powell. No, Mr. Powell, and I will "never" do it again. I'm terribly sorry. It was inadvertent." And his relationship and mine never grew into anything, you know, close, but it was one of mutual respect from that point forward. It took a terrible mistake on my part to cause us to share as much caring and intelligence as we had about the project and about Four Star in general. And about him. He was terrific. What a guy. What a man. I think probably everybody who knew him who is still among us will say the same thing about him. When he was gone, nobody could say anything but superlatives about him. He was one of the finest executives that ever lived. Imagine that from a band singer.

By the time we finished the first year, Fennelly and I had worked the relationship whereby we both knew we hated each other, so to get the job done, we simply avoided one another. The scripts for TRACKDOWN were a cut above most. Among them as I'm sure you've seen, was one by Peckinpah. At that time, I'd never met him. It's called "The Town." He wrote it, handed it in, and we did it, and the name didn't mean anything to me, and I didn't pay any attention one way or another until much later.

When you get to the hour form, there really isn't very much difference between the hour form and a feature film. It's different now, but in those days, pre-Steve Bochco, if you were gonna do an hour, you were still expected to come up with a story. Not six little stories, one strong story big enough to carry the hour. It's very hard to do. Bur for half an hour, all you need is one scene. It's just like a comedy. All you need is a lot of folderol, and then one punch line; essentially that is the structure. It isn't much, but it's all we've got, folks.

I went to John Robinson's house and talked to him a couple of times to try to get his mindset on all of this. I was trying to talk him out of doing this "Dragnet" sh**. Not the "Dragnet" isn't terrific. It's wonderful for Joe Friday, not wonderful for Hoby Gilman. I couldn't do that and live with it, because I can't live inside that limitation. He provided good punchlines, John Robinson ... and he did write an awful lot of them for the first year. Eventually all the "Dragnet" stuff went out the window. I just kept stepping on the rhythm 'til everybody else gave up. The second year there were more and more writers that came in, until John only did a few, because he was busy with other stuff.
Anyway, by the time we were hitting the end of the first year, Hilly Elkins, who is no dummy, sprung it on me that he was arranging to bring in McQueen, and would he be okay with me. And what was I gonna say, anyway? 'Cause I knew Steve in New York, and I was one of the few people in the world when said "then" "This guy's gonna be a movie star." And I said, "Well, good luck." So he came in and did two. The first one, THE BOUNTY HUNTER .... was, I believe deliberately set-up as a pilot.





The second one (THE BROTHERS) was just to fill in with, to give him a little more experience on film or doing westerns, playing the two brothers. I don't remember either one of them very well. By the time we were in the second year, Steve was starting his first year of WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, Inasmuch s we were doing half-hour shows, what happened in the second year of TRACKDOWN was, we used the same WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE photographic unit. Same camera crew, same crew in every way, and the same western streets, as a matter of fact.

We would shoot three days, then the same unit would shoot three days on WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. And then I'd come back in and we would do three more days of TRACKDOWN. An episode was three days. That was the schedule for the second year. The first year, we shot straight through, broke early, and the second year, obviously took much longer. We shot the first year in half the time. So I had a long period off between the first and second year.

TVC:
And that's when you became acquainted with the Texas Rangers?

RC:
That was rather like a week-end. I was invited to go down and participate in some stuff. I went down twice. Once I went to a celebration of some sort. It was a Sunday morning breakfast kind of thing out on the trail, which was actually somebody's ranch. On that morning, we did go out and shoot together, this guy who was their deadliest dude, the one they were all afraid of. I sat and talked with him and I drew with him. I had blanks, and he had live ammo. I'm not gonna be wandering around some party with live ammo in my gun,. for God's sake, but I wasn't gonna go without blanks so that I could fool around.
Once in awhile I would do gun tricks and stuff for some benefit or something, because I was very good at that.

Two things that I remember vividly; one is I taught McQueen when he showed up and asked me to help him with fast draw. I taught him a couple of the basic gimmicks, exercises I guess you'd have to call them, that were taught to me by Rod Redwing and Aarvo Ojala, the two fastest guns in Hollywood. Rod was working off-and-on as a gunsmith and stuff for Stembridge, which was the big gun rental house in town.

TVC:
Right. It was James Stembridge who customized the rifle for THE RIFLEMAN.

RC:
Yes. And Ojala was a little teeny Swede, of all things. The man was five foot if he was an inch. I taught McQueen the basic rules and exercises, three or four of them, no more, that Aarvo and Redwing taught me, and I said, "Go away and practice." Two days later , he showed up and could outdraw me. Well, he outdrew me once, but that's when I gave him the nod. I said, "You draw first. You go for it , and I'll see if --" and he beat me to the draw. But there was n ammunition and o forth, and he never did it again. When I was finished with TRACKDOWN, I went over and had a second rig built in '59 -- this was the third rig Aarvo built for me, and with the old TRACKDOWN rig that I had bought along with me to Aarvo's shop. we practiced together and he had a dummy rigged up at 30 feet, and a clock, and I could draw and fire and hit the target dead in the heart in 18 hundredths of a second. By the way, Aarvo Ojala was the man with his back to the camera, who drew and fired and missed for 20 years in the opening teaser of GUNSMOKE against Jim Arness.

TVC:
Let's talk a little about the format change in TRACKDOWN late in the first season.

RC:
Ellen Corby came in toward the end of the first year as the feisty little newspaperwoman, and she was terrific. She was a joy to work with, and she had a rush on me, and said so, finally. And we both kidded about it and so forth 'cause I was married and had a child. Anyway, I had seen Ellen in several different films. Ellen has a lovely little role in :It's a Wonderful Life." She's one of the people who comes to the bank, in the run on the bank that George finally stops. She's one of the people who goes along with him and only takes a certain amount of money. Anyway, Ellen came in as the newspaperwoman. The woman who ran the hotel was Gail Kobe. Also in the first year was the barber, which was Jimmy Griffith, and int the second year, two things happened. On, I got a "Chester." In other words, Matt Dillon's Chester. I got a guy to run the jail for me while I wasn't there in Porter. The whole thing was supposed to be set in Porter, Texas, starting the second year.

TVC:
You're referring to Norman Leavitt's character, Ralph.

RC:
Yeah, Norm Leavitt. Norm Leavitt played a sort of dimwitted dude who cleaned up around the jail. Norm really did play him that way, as opposed to Chester. Chester was a wily nitwit on GUNSMOKE, who had more sense than anybody gave him credit for, but Leeds was brought in ("Enter Tenner Smith") as an itinerant gambler. I think he bought a part interest in the saloon. He was good with his little Derringer, but he didn't pull it out very much. Primarily, he was there as a source of information, and pressure to put on Gilman. Peter was an absolute joy to work with. This was such a pressure cooker. I donít know who was responsible for it, whether it was the material itself. I guess it was me.

TVC:
Well, with your extensive actor training, and also having been a writer, I'm sure you had a much firmer vision of the dramatic elements than what they were used to dealing with in terms of "cowboy" actors. So many of them ....

RC:
Very easygoing.

TVC:
Yeah.

RC:
Just hit the marks and deliver the words. But I was trying to make this thing better. Yes, the pressure came from me, obviously, when I think back on it now. Peter Leeds had done a lot of comedy, and I'd done a lot of comedy, but I didn't do any in TRACKDOWN. There was just very little opportunity to do anything that was funny. Doing a television series at all is like politics. It really is the art of the possible. What can you do with the material that you're given? I SPY is a perfect example, because we had no place to go. Everything that made I SPY terrific was an accident of putting Cos' and me together, because the material was mediocre, 99% of it. Okay, 98. I wrote two percent. I wrote more than that. I wrote seven episodes. I wrote the pilot, and six.

TVC:
Let me ask you about that, because you refer to it ("So Long Patrick Henry") as the pilot, which I know was the first episode to air, but I was defining pilot as the first episode produced, Wasn't that "Affair in T'Sien Cha"?

RC:
That was the first one produced, and it was so bad the network was going to pass on the series or replace Cosby.

TVC:
Really?

RC:
Until Sheldon Leonard finally showed the network one of mine. "So Long, Patrick Henry," that was in post-production. It wasn't even finished. The key to I SPY's success was that Sheldon was gonna shoot thirteen, period. He had the money. He wasn't gonna put it in his pocket or in the bank. He promised me he was gonna shoot thirteen, so I went home a could. The two guys who were the writer producers, not Sheldon ...

TVC:
Morton Fine and Dave Friedkin.

RC:
... Friedkin and Fine were the two writer-producers. They knew right from wrong. They could read a script, for Christ sake. Also, they didn't want to fight with me. At that point, I was a star waiting to do his next television series. I was hotter than hell, and everybody was asking me to do their television pilot. The guy who gave me my first real important break, on the U.S. STEEL HOUR, live, his name will come to me in a second ... a lovely, sweet man, created MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. for me.

TVC:
Oh, Norman ...
RC:
Norman Felton. Norm Felton created MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E for me, and I refused. I turned it down. I wouldn't do it, because I knew it was going to be gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks. The second I heard the idea for I SPY, I said, "This is it! This is the one!" We were so lucky to get Bill. Sheldon was lucky to get me, and then he was lucky to get Bill. It was the goddamdest confluence of luck I've ever heard of in my life. Bill couldn't act then, and I couldn't carry the load. I couldn't do it alone. I couldn't make this thing work alone. It had to be what it was. It had to be fifty fifty. It wasn't designed to be that. It was supposed to be Marshall Dillon and Chester. And at the first read-through, I ran around to the producers' offices and I said, "Boys, it's fifty-fifty or it doesn't work. That's the structure. You know Bill's gotta come up." Which meant I had to go down. Bill knows this. I'm not telling anything out of school. I had to scale back what I would normally do, and stay close with Bill. What that did as weld us together. In other words, Bill has said many times in the press, "Bobby could have buried me, because he was an actor and I wasn't, then."

But we stayed so close together that we began to realize who we were, and we loved each other. I mean I love that man, and he loves me, to this day. And that's where if fell into place, and it was off of that that the comedy began to spring, because, God knows, Bill can find something funny in a bush! So that was a perfect example of material dictating what we did, because there wasn't anywhere to go except it had to be up, because the material was terrible, most of it. Except for the pieces I wrote. I wrote stories. When I had written seven, I turned to Bill and I said, "I'm done, Babe. I can't do it again. I'm out. I'm out of gas! I'm tired." In the three years we shot I SPY, we has twelve days off.

TVC:
Wow.

RC:
Twelve days off in three years, by actual count. I counted them.
TVC:
How about TRACKDOWN's guest stars? Does anyone really stand out in your mind?

RC:
I had to come to the conclusion, looking around, as guys will do, as "writers" will do, all their lives as professionals ... Good ones try to pit themselves against the best dead writers or the best of the really good writers that are writing contemporaneously "with" them. You certainly get that feeling very strongly from the old-timers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Faulkner and so forth. They were constantly comparing work of guys who were working then to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, and so forth. Actors do the same thing. I thought I had it pretty well sewn up. Clint Eastwood hadn't come along yet. He and I are exactly the same age, but he hadn't shown up yet. I donít know where he was, but he was gettin' ready. And I looked around while I was doing TRACKDOWN, and I felt very sanguine about what I saw, because I knew what I could do.

And I knew that, as an actor, I had the broadest base going. I came from farce comedy all the way to Shakespeare, and Ibsen, and Chekhov. There wasn't anything at that point, any form, that I hadn't played well. One day, shooting a TRACKDOWN, a guy walked on the set who was taller than me, his shoulders were wider than mine, he had a funny walk to him, very, very different, very special, and he had just enough of a ... interesting, goofy face that it was not normal, not regular, certain collar ad, but still extremely handsome. And that was James Coburn. And I said, "Oh-oh. Look out. New kid in town."

TVC:
That would have been "Hard Lines," with Beverly Garland and DeForest Kelley.

RC:
The thing that tickled me the most. but it was in the first year, toward the end of the first year ... In that same, U.S. STEEL that I did for Norman were two other actors that were gong to be pivotal in my life: Paul Mazursky, not as an actor but as a director, later would write and direct BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE; and Warren Oates, I also met Warren on the US STEEL HOUR and discovered before the two week of rehearsal were up that we were cousins. We didn't have proof of it, but it was almost inescapable because we both had immediate ancestors, Shannons, from Tennessee. It's not possible that we weren't related. So Warren and I kind of, like, stayed in contact in New York.

Warren didn't know what to do about New York vs. California, because ... Just prior to this by a couple of years ... all live production, almost all of it, in New York went to film. They did that to avoid kinescopes, obviously. So they shot 'em on film and found a way to broadcast film successfully that was -- We're still talking black and white, here. Then almost immediately, everybody went to Los Angeles. YOU ARE THERE went to Los Angeles. And at that point, all the actors in New York, young guys like myself, Warren, and so forth were saying "Well, Jesus, should I stay here, because the stage is here, or should I go to Los Angeles? I don't know what to do?"

So I kept saying to Warren on the phone -- We talked all the time on the phone during the first year of TRACKDOWN. And I said, "Listen, I think you ought to come out here. I'm serious. I mean, I know I can get you on this show, but I think this is really where it's gonna happen for television," and, you know, for movies, obviously. So he showed up, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to get around Vince Fennelly. I wasn't gonna hit him head-on with Warren. I wanted to be damned sure that I got him the right role and I kept trying to get advance copies of the scripts and stuff, so I could find something for him that he'd really be right for. Well, one did finally show up, and he got the part, and he became almost a regular. Warren did four or five TRACKDOWNs.

And now we come to the piece de resistance. This business of writing had gotten more and more urgent with me, and I said if I can get around Vincent at all ... I found it very difficult to butter him up after all the grief I had caused him. Also, you know, Steve walked in. The second Steve walked in, oh, they assigned Fennelly to Steve McQueen. He was producing TRACKDOWN and WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE simultaneously. He didn't know who to hate worse, Steve or me. I was difficult. Steve was impossible! Steve was impossible!

TVC:
There was one script of yours produced on TRACKDOWN ("Back to Crawford"). Did you submit others?

RC:
No. I wrote that early on; halfway through the second year, handed it in. Finally, we were coming down toward the end of the season, and I was really getting ants in my pants, and I was furious with Fennelly, as usual. I said, "What the hell? You haven't even given me the courtesy of response, for Christ sake?" He said "It's on the schedule." I said, "What do you mean it's on the schedule?" "It's on the schedule. We're gonna shoot it." And then he gave me some sort of a kiss-cuff, backhanded compliment. He said, "It's that good." This man had a tremendous ego, I wasn't making it easy. Then I started to narrow in.

I said, "There's only one thing. I want Warren to play the part of so-and-so, and I wrote the guest star role ... for my wife!" Fennelly just said, "Okay." And then I just took a deep breathe and held it, hoping that the goddam thing would work, because nothing of mine had ever been shot before. I must tell you that there isn't anything like the thrill of seeing something that you've written "work" onscreen. It was the best TRACKDOWN we made. It guest-starred my wife of 10 years, Nancy, and Warren Oates, who was nothing short of wonderful, made the picture work.
TVC:
How do you view the place of TRACKDOWN in the panorama of TV westerns?

RC:
There's something you should know. PR forms itself. It formed itself then. In those days, also, there was a tremendous problem separating one western from another because at one point there were 36 of them on the air. When I was doing TRACKDOWN, it was up over 30. Unbelievable. Anyway, the thing that differentiated TRACKDOWN from the others in terms of PR was that Gilman was "the method cowboy." He was dubbed "the method cowboy," and TRACKDOWN was "the thinking man's western." That's the way the PR goes down and those were the little catch words that stuck - "the method cowboy: -- kiss of death.

TVC:
I think that's actually what appealed to me when I first saw some of the episodes. There's an intensity to your performance that you just don't get from the other cowboy stars of the day.

RC: No, you don't. I never could explain. I felt, and I still feel, that compared to the rest of the 36 westerns that were on the air, that the guy I see in TRACKDOWN is more attractive in terms of appeal to an audience than 90% of the rest of what is seen., and yet it was only on two years and we never had numbers.

TVC:
What was the immediate impact of TRACKDOWN's cancellation?

RC:
I was 27 when we started, and we shot the series for two years. I thought I was a star. I had every reason to believe I was a star. I knew I was terrific. There he was up on the screen every week. This happens to everybody, by the way. Then, you come off of the series, and you try to get your next job. And it took me a solid year of absolutely nothing. I couldn't get a hob in my chosen profession for a year after TRACKDOWN. I was down to doing fairs and rodeos. There was a guy then who regularly wandered the halls of the Morris office talking to actors, especially the actors who were in westerns. He was a booker for fairs and rodeos. That was his business. And I signed with him. A lot of guys signed with him.

My series was not on the air anymore, but it was still in syndication, still running. And I was doing fairs and rodeos. It was humiliating -- I was an actor, for God's sake. I'm telling you, the first time I did it ... I'm never afraid of anything, never "have" been afraid of anything. And I got on the airplane to go to this gig, and I saw the palms of my hand sweat. Never done that before. Or since.

I finally got a guy to teach me to trick ride, so I could add that to add that to my act. I told stupid stories and did gun tricks. Good gun tricks. "That" I was good at. I finally called Elkins and said, "Get out here." He came out from New York. I gave him the plane ticket,and I was broke. I had a family coming long, and we were living from hand to mouth. And I said to him, "Something's happened. Nothing can explain this."

Hilly started poking around town, trying to find out what the hell had happened. I mean, I was hot "before" the goddamned series, coming off of Broadway. What he discovered was that Vincent Fennelly had so poisoned the ground all over this city, which was much smaller then, that nobody wanted to hire me. That simple.

So I went to writing instead. That's when I really sat down and started to write. Seriously. I knew I could do it, because I had done it on TRACKDOWN in that one episode, "Back To Crawford," and it was arguably the best episode that we did. I thought so, and a lot of other people did, too. It wasn't as pure a TRACKDOWN, but always the best shows we did were not pure TRACKDOWN. They were always anomalies, as was this one.

Anyway, the guy had gotten his revenge for my being a recalcitrant young actor filled with hubris. He got his revenge, and I paid for it, boy did I ever. Shortly after that 1959 dry spell, I began to work again, and as I did, people forgot about Vincent Fennelly, and I began to build my career as an actor. I got a new agent, who got me three pictures, back-to-back, which was very influential, and I built myself a career doing difficult character roles on other people's television series, which you allegedly weren't supposed to do if you were trying to have a career in film in those days. Today people go back and forth if they are character people, and it doesn't make much difference.

But still, leading actors and actresses are not supposed to do episodic television. You're just not supposed to. I became the highest paid actor still doing other people's television series until I SPY finally showed up.