'Johnny Ringo' premiered on the CBS television network on October 1st, 1959, and interestingly, it's star Don Durant appeared a week earlier in the final episode of 'Trackdown', in which he and DeForest Kelley portrayed a pair of brothers who's mother was going senile. Both of these shows, 'Trackdown' and 'Johnny Ringo', I used to watch regularly as a kid and it's been a treat to watch the entire Ringo series again over the past few weeks.
The origin show of the series introduced Johnny Ringo, a noted gunslinger who arrived in Velardi, Arizona attempting to live down his past. After accepting the town's offer to become sheriff at two hundred dollars per month, French gunsmith LeMat fashioned a newly designed handgun for Johnny consisting of a standard six round .45 caliber cartridge with a separate barrel for a .410 shotgun shell. Having fired a .410 I can say that it doesn't have the kind of firepower Ringo's gun seemed to have, which sounded like a cannon when it went off. My recollection of the show from it's single season on air was that there were quite a few stories where Johnny's seventh shot came into play, but that wasn't really the case as I completed the series today, maybe a half dozen all told.
The show had a number of regulars, including Terence de Marney as Case Thomas, an alcoholic Johnny befriended in the first episode who turned into a respectable citizen and general merchandise shop owner afterwards. Case had a daughter Laura portrayed by Karen Sharpe who became Johnny's romantic interest for the first two thirds of the series. Miss Thomas seemed to be more interested in Johnny than vice versa, and I don't recall now if they ever even shared an on screen kiss. Both characters were written out of the show with Episode #24 'Border Town' when Case was killed by a gunman robbing his store and Laura left town because of his murder. Apparently, Ms. Sharpe and series creator Aaron Spelling had a difference of opinion on how her character was to be portrayed. No mention of the Thomases was made for the rest of the series run.
Johnny had a deputy named Cully, introduced in the second episode as Kid Adonis, a carnival trick shot artist and son of a man Johnny killed years earlier. His real name was William Charles Jr., and after working out their issues over the senior Charles death, Cully became a loyal deputy. He was portrayed by Mark Hammond, who's looks remind me a lot of Michael Landon and another TV show deputy, Peter Brown of 'Lawman'. Hammond almost always wore a black shirt and didn't figure very prominently in any of the stories considering how he might have been a significant threat to Johnny starting out.
As with all TV Westerns, a recognizable list of character actors used to show up as guest stars, including Richard Devon, Elisha Cook Jr., Dean Stanton, Royal Dano, John Carradine, Alan Hale and Warren Oates. Occasionally some bigger names appeared like James Coburn in the first episode, Lon Chaney, Burt Reynolds, and Martin Landau. Buddy Ebsen and Wayne Rogers both appeared in Episode #29 'The Killing Bug', and I was surprised to see Diane Cannon in the following week's show, 'Soft Cargo'.
If I had to pick a favorite story, it would probably be 'Killer, Choose a Card', in which Lurene Tuttle plays a raucous saloon owner from Broken Wagon who's been arrested for murder and calls for old friend Johnny to save her from being hanged. The story goes way over the top in sheer audacity when Mamie Murphy (Tuttle) fakes a suicide, and returns as a ghost to trap the real killer. I'm thinking maybe this is a strategy O.J. Simpson could try.
'Johnny Ringo' lasted only one season on CBS, but it lives on in my memory as one of my favorites. On top of that, a highlight for me back in 1960 (I would have been nine years old) was when my Mom and Dad took me to a local movie theater where Don Durant appeared in person. Up till then, that was probably the high spot of my young life. I only recall seeing him on stage from a distance but that was good enough for me. Having just completed watching the entire series in order, that Johnny Ringo tune now keeps running through my head, compliments of Don Durant, the only TV Western cowboy to write the words and music to his own theme song.
One final trivia note: Just as Don Durant appeared in the final episode of 'Trackdown' starring Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, Culp returned the favor by appearing in the finale of 'Johnny Ringo' in a show titled 'Cave-In'.