They Played Dead With Their Boots On

Scalloped Cowboy

It wasn’t all coonskin caps in the 50’s.  I suspect that most boys (And some girls) who were alive for any part of that decade had a picture taken in cowboy regalia.  Indian headdresses were also very popular.  I had a set of each.

I think I know exactly what I’m doing in this picture with my parents.  There was a new Warner Brothers Western called “Cheyenne,” one of the first hour-long TV dramas to gain any traction.  It starred Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie, one of that breed of lone drifters who populated the post-bellum West, at least according to TV scriptwriters.

Walker stood 6’ 6” tall and was frequently required to show off his manly physique by appearing without a shirt.  It may have been only an illusion owing to a broad chest and slender waist, but at such times he self-consciously seemed to suck in his gut, just as I’m doing here, so severely that I’m in danger of losing my pants.

So, I’m obviously pretending to get ready for a Cheyenne Bodie wood-chopping scene.  That guy chopped an awful lot of firewood during the eight-year run of the series.  You had to earn your keep somehow in the West, when you had no visible means of support.

Dave on the Steps Rotate

Dave Lovewell’s daughter Mandy sent a picture of her dad on the front step of a filling-station/burger-joint in Lovewell, Kansas, circa 1960, “Chester "Jinks" Vanmeter prop.  Best Hamburgers I have eaten to this day,” Dave adds.  Until I saw that picture I had no idea that young Dave Lovewell looked so much like TV-Western character actor Jan Merlin.

In a career that stretches back to his recurring role as Roger Manning in “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” Merlin actually had two specialties, playing a modern-day juvenile delinquent and a juvenile delinquent in the Old West, a sort of Eddie Haskell with six-guns.  If you wanted a smiling young villain with a few notches on his revolver who would spend thirty minutes trying to goad your hero into a street fight, you sent the script to Jan Merlin’s agent.  Without opening it, Jan knew that he would lie bleeding in the dust before the closing credits.

Lately, Merlin has enjoyed a second career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, perhaps best known as the co-author with William Russo of a series of behind-the-scenes books about film and television, including the recent “Frankie Thomas: Eternal Cadet." 

Lounging on the stoop of his favorite burger hang-out, sporting a killer smile and the slicked-back hair of a disaffected young tough, plus a pair of cowboy boots, Dave Lovewell seems to be double-dipping here.  He’s both Jan Merlins at the same time.  Okay, I know, before the Beatles landed on American soil, there were only two standard haircuts for boys, a buzz-cut and an Elvis.  In Vietnam Dave would have a buzz-cut, but here he's wearing an Elvis and the big, sincere grin of a Lovewell boy who’s just enjoyed one of “Jinks” Vanmeter's burgers.

If only I hadn’t grown up watching Jan Merlin flash that same smile as he prepared to back-shoot some honest citizen.  There was nobody else on television who was so good at being bad.

© Dale Switzer 2023