CBS-TV's Gunsmoke (1955-75) was one wild ride. The 1971 episode "The Legend" guest stars Kim Hunter as Bea Colter, the matriarch of an infamous clan of outlaws who is trying to live down the family name.
Gunsmoke's The Legend: Cast & Credits
Calvin Clements Jr. wrote the teleplay for "The Legend," with Philip Leacock directing the action. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:
- Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
- Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
- Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
- Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor)
- Beatrice "Bea" Colter (Kim Hunter)
- Travis Colter (Jan-Michael Vincent)
- Virgil Colter (Greg Mullavey)
- Clayton Colter (Richard D. Kelton)
- Dr. John Chapman (Pat Hingle)
- Nathan Burke (Glenn Strange)
- Slim (Michael Greene)
- Slater (Lloyd Nelson)
- Eddie (Read Morgan)
- Mr. Palmer (Bryan O'Byrne)
- Farmer (Ken Mayer)
- Bull (Victor Izay)
- Prairie Scavenger (Patrick Dennis-Leigh)
- Carrot (Red Currie)
- Workman (Dick Cangey)
- Townsman (Bert Madrid)
Kim Hunter (1922-2002) from her early Hollywood years - Universal Pictures
The Legend: Episode Synopsis
Beatrice Colter and her 18-year-old son Travis have come to Dodge City. The Colter name is toxic, with one of Mrs. Colter's sons having been hanged by the law and the other two roaming the West as gunslingers and robbers. Nathan Burke, the manager of Adams Express Co., reluctantly agrees to hire young Travis Colter at $7 a week. However, when a district supervisor named Farmer hears of the hiring, he strongly advises Burke to get rid of the lad.
On Travis' 18th birthday his two older brothers, Virgil and Clayton, show up after dark. They are laying low in an old shack located about five miles out of Dodge. Following his firing from the freight company, Travis later pays a visit to his brothers, asking if he could maybe borrow $700 in order to purchase a farm and livestock. Virgil and Clayton don't have the money, with Travis proposing that he ride with them in order to get some easy cash. The two older Colters are strongly against that idea, stating that Travis is not cut out for their kind of nomadic life.
Travis mentions that the express office in Dodge might be an easy target. Virgil and Clayton ride in one night and blow the safe. The ensuing explosion injures Travis, who had seen their horses and looked into the express office window just as the dynamite charge detonated.
A wounded Travis is tended to by Dr. Chapman, but later escapes from the deputized Burke when he creates a diversion. Travis, who has a piece of deadly glass still embedded near his lung which Dr. Chapman plans to remove, tries to join his brothers who are being pursued by Marshal Dillon, Newly and Festus.
The Legend: Air Date & Competition
"The Legend" was broadcast over CBS on Monday night, October 18, 1971, in the 8-9 PM (ET) time slot. Network competition was the sitcom Nanny and the Professor and local programming (ABC) and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).
The Legend: Analysis & Review
Kim Hunter (1922-2002) shines in "The Legend," playing the long-suffering Bea Colter, the lone surviving head of a notorious family who spawned three outlaw sons. Mrs. Colter tries to make ends meet for her and 18-year-old son Travis, selling her husband Aaron's life story to sensationalistic dime novel publishers and working as an aging saloon girl at the sleazy Bull's Head in Dodge City. Her departed hubby Aaron had apparently stood up to the railroad and attained martyrdom for his trouble, with Bea singing his praises in a well-received folk song titled "Aaron at the Gate."
Jan-Michael Vincent (1944-) plays the 18-year-old Travis Colter. (Yeah, the then-27-year-old Vincent looks a lot older than the teenager he's portraying.) In 1971, Vincent was just emerging as a TV and second-tier movie star, with such films as The World's Greatest Athlete (1973), Buster and Billie (1974), White Line Fever (1975) and Baby Blue Marine (1976) on the horizon.
Greg Mullavey (1939-) appears as outlaw Virgil Colter. Mullavey does a credible job, but one almost can't help laughing as the actor later "shot" to stardom playing Tom Hartman in the bizarre TV serial Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-78). Okay, it's Greg Mullavey here but where is his omnipresent red baseball cap?
"The Legend" features a fair story and some good action, beginning with a street brawl between Travis Colter and an aggrieved citizen. Travis had tried to buy a peppermint stick for some wide-eyed kid, with the boy's father objecting to Colter and his notorious ilk. Other memorable scenes include the express office explosion and Dr. Chapman's surgery aftermath in which he informs Bea Colter that her boy will be okay, as he has successfully removed the shard of glass.
Virgil and Clayton Colter surrender to Matt Dillon and his deputies, where they will be transported to Hayes City for trial. As for Travis Colter, he is informed that his record remains clean, as Festus swears that Travis had nothing to do with the robbery.
"The Legend" comes from Gunsmoke's 17th season and is episode #545 of 635 in the TV western series. "The Legend" was preceded by "New Doctor in Town" (10/11/71) starring Pat Hingle.
- Ken Curtis, left, and James Arness in Gunsmoke - CBS-TV
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.