Tuesday, March 9, 2004

“…the gun-toting frontier doctor who roamed the length and breadth of the old Indian territory, friend and physician to white man and Indian alike…”

In several past blog entries, I have written about many of the adult westerns that became a staple of radio programming during the 1950s, shows like The Six Shooter, Frontier Gentleman, and Gunsmoke. Last night at work, I sampled episodes from two additional western programs that were also heard in that same period: Dr. Sixgun and Fort Laramie.

“Dr. Sixgun” was the nickname applied to Dr. Ray Matson (Karl Weber), a physician practicing in the small town of Frenchman’s Fork. This “legendary figure” was referred to in the program’s opening credits as “the symbol of justice and mercy in the lawless west of the 1870s.” The small-town medico not only healed wounds but inflicted them as well, seeing as he was mighty handy with a snub-nosed derringer he carried along with his doctor’s bag. (Perhaps it’s just me, but you would think drumming up your own business would violate the Hippocratic Oath.)

Matson’s faithful sidekick was a wandering gypsy named Pablo (William Griffis), who served as narrator of the doc’s exploits, often through flashback. Pablo, in turn, had a sidekick of his own—a talking raven named Midnight (quoth the Ivan, “You gotta be kiddin’ me…”). Midnight sort of takes center stage in the episode I listened to last night, an undated AFRS rebroadcast titled “Trial For Willie the Mouse” (which sort of sounds like a Gangbusters entry, doesn’t it?). O’Shea (William Keane), the resident bartender at the Bull Run saloon, is experiencing a small rodential problem which is quickly taken care of by Midnight the Wonder Raven. One night, a Texas cowpoke named Brazos Charlie (Tom Holland) is knocking back a few drinks with his friends, and by evening’s end discovers that his pet mouse Willie (which he kept in his pocket—let the punchlines commence!) is dead. Brazos later witnesses Midnight’s amazing mice-killing feat, and becomes convinced that the raven is responsible for Willie being dispatched to that big mousetrap in the sky. The bird is kidnapped and put on trial, which forces Doc Matson to defend the raven with some stirring oratory that melts the heart of Brazos and his fellow cowpokes.

This is the first—and only—episode of Dr. Sixgun that I’ve ever listened to, and though I hesitate to make a judgment on shows after hearing only one example, if this is an indication of what the series was like it’s not surprising that NBC tanked it after one season (September 2, 1954-October 13, 1955). Matson has a line in this episode that goes: “Because this is undoubtedly the most ridiculous thing I ever did in my life.” (My response: “I’ll bet the writer felt the same way.”) This script was written by NBC staffer Ernest Kinoy who—along with fellow scribe George Lefferts—wrote the scripts for Sixgun, Rocky Fortune, Dimension X, and X-Minus One. I guess John Dunning’s observation (in reference to The CBS Radio Workshop) that “to be good an artist must have the freedom to be bad” is in definite play here.

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