What’s Wrong with This Memory?

Rawhide" Incident of the Pale Rider (TV Episode 1963) - Photo ...

Growing up as a member of America’s first TV generation, I have many memories of what I saw on that black-and-white screen. And one of my most vivid memories was this:

An episode of a classic Western series, Sugarfoot, circa 1959, in which Albert Salmi plays a hired killer, dressed in black, who softly sings “Streets of Laredo” as he stalks his victims. Now, how would a 10-year-old kid ever dream up something like that? And it creeped me out but good, too.

But now, now (!) I know that it wasn’t Sugarfoot, but Rawhide, it wasn’t 1959 but 1963, and Salmi’s character was not a hired killer but rather an enigma–as in, Is this guy even real? flesh and blood? what the devil is he? He does dress in black, though, and sing “Streets of Laredo.” If you’re interested, the Rawhide episode is called “Incident of the Pale Rider,” and we watched it last night on Youtube. Superb! And it was cool to see what Albert Salmi could do as an actor, when given the chance.

But really–why was my memory so far off the track? Now I have to worry about my other memories. Are they all off-base? I doubt it; but then why should this one have been so badly off-target?

Well, there were an awful lot of TV westerns back then, and I watched most of them, and this one with Albert Salmi, I only saw once. His character impressed itself deeply on my memory, but the details got mixed up.

Good thing I wasn’t a witness in a court case!

Bonus Video: Clint Eastwood Sings

Before he was a movie star, Clint Eastwood co-starred in Rawhide, a classic TV Western, vintage 1960 and thereabouts. The song he sings here, Beyond the Sun Over the Mountain, was auxiliary theme music for the show–and I always thought it was a mighty fine song. I only just found out it was composed by Russell Garcia, whose music soundtrack for The Time Machine (1960) is some of the most haunting movie music ever written.

You might want to try this one as a lullaby. I’ll bet it’ll work.

P.S.–The two guys assisting Eastwood in the scene were among the best character actors ever–Buddy Ebsen (Beverly Hillbillies) and Paul Brinegar. Now that was television!

Memory Lane: ‘Flying Purple People Eater’

I will not write about the election today! Or the debate, either–and you can’t make me.

I was nine years old when this song came out, and my friends and I quickly acquired toy Flying Purple People Eaters to add to our collections of Miller Space Aliens. Imagine my surprise, years later, when I learned that Sheb Wooley, who wrote and sang The Purple People Eater, was on TV every week as a regular member of the cast of Rawhide.

Oh, it seems a different world! Hard to believe that world ever existed. A world where Eisenhower was president and everyone respected him, and where harmless nonsense could push you right up to the top of the charts without any mention of any kind of sex.

Don’t blame me for calling it back to mind. Those of you who are young, you don’t know what you missed. But I’m here to tell you that an awful lot of it was very, very good.

‘Incident of the Druid Curse’

How cool were 1950s TV Westerns? “Incident of the Druid Curse” was an episode from Season #2 of Rawhide, vintage 1960. You’re driving cattle from Texas to the market in Sedalia, Kansas, and you run into… an archeologist and his daughter (Byron Foulger and Luana Patten) searching for evidence that Druids were here, 2,000 years ago.

Just another ol’ day in the Old West, right? Try to work around the fact that the daughter 100% believes in all this Druid stuff, but it’s too late to send her back home to Boston. And throw in a little gang of bad eggs, led by Claude Akins, who are too ignorant to recognize metaphor and hyperbole when they hear it, and decide to kidnap the archeologists and force them to reveal the location of this fabulous ancient treasure that does not, in fact, exist.

Thanks to youtube, my wife and I watched this episode a few nights ago and greatly enjoyed it. At one point, even though I knew what I was going to see, I still got a bumper crop of genuine gooseflesh when I saw it. No, I’m not going to tell you what it was: that would spoil it. Suffice it to say that this is a very eerie story, brilliantly written, brilliantly performed, and most definitely not what you’d expect. I’m amazed by the skills of TV screenwriters of that era, how much action, dialogue, and insight they could pack into just 50 minutes of air time–without ever seeming to be rushing things, or jamming too much into it, or leaving out information that they ought to include.

Rawhide–best remembered now for giving Clint Eastwood his big break in acting, and Frankie Laine’s rendition of the theme song–was just another one of dozens of great TV programs from that period. Come to think of it, it also gave actor Sheb Wooley, one of the cowhands on the show, the opportunity to score with a hit record, The Flying Purple People Eater (“It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people-eater…”)

[ Here is the Miller Company’s classic rendition of Sheb Wooley’s Flying Purple People Eater. Are any of you old enough to remember these great toys?]

There’s always the chance that when you look back on things you used to enjoy, long ago in life, you’re looking through rose-colored glasses and remembering things as a lot better than they really were.

Thanks to youtube, I’ve been able to confirm that those old shows that I thought were so great… really were so great!