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"Laramie" when it premiered in 1959 attempted to do something far more intriguing: the series focus on two brothers in the Wyoming territory in the mid-1800's that consisted of young Slim (John Smith)who was the lead,and his confused kid brother(Robert Crawford,Jr. whose younger brother Johnny Crawford played Chuck Connors son Mark on "The Rifleman"). Their relationship was unheard of and not quite like anything else on a Western series at that time with lead to many unexpected and intriguing plots throughout the series entire run. Also that made this show stand out was the two other main characters one of them was Jess Harper(Robert Fuller)who was the unpleasant loner that wanders in the area and was accepted,with qualifications,as part of the group even though the brothers couldn't quite understand his personality whom they first thought of him as a notorious gunslinger at first,but came to accept him as part of the family. Also added in was the secondhand assistant(Hoagy Carmichael)who was part of the operations. During its first season the show didn't quite take off,but only had mediocre ratings as NBC had the decision to either canceled it or "reimagine" it. If they have done this the other way, the overall status of "Laramie" would have not survived due to competition from the other networks. Instead, NBC kept it on the air but made major changes that included everything that made this show special. By the show's third season,the overall changes were done and this time around the series would be produced and filmed in color. Gone were Robert Crawford,Jr. and Hoagy Carmichael but kept John Smith and Robert Fuller as the two leads. Added to the cast were Spring Byington and Dennis Holmes. Byington's character was portrayed as the sweet old lady who cared for them and Holmes was added in as the young orphan permitted to live with them on the Sherman Ranch.
"Laramie" premiered on NBC's prime-time schedule on September 15, 1959 and lasted four seasons on the network until the final episode on May 21, 1963. Out of the 124 episodes that this series produced, a total of 64 episodes of the series were in black and white from September 15, 1959 until June 13, 1961. A total of 60 episodes were produced and filmed in color for its final two seasons from September 26, 1961 until May 21, 1963. "Laramie" was Robert Fuller's first foray into series television and this was the series that made him a major star. Out of all the cast members that were associated with this series, only two actors Robert Fuller and John Smith were the only two cast members that stayed on throughout its entire run. Robert Crawford was in Season 1 and midway through Season 3(as a guest star). Spring Byington and Dennis Holmes were with the series through Seasons 3 and 4 only. Hoagy Carmichael appeared in Season 1 of the series while actors Stuart Randall and Eddy Waller(who was the stagecoach driver in 19 episodes)appeared during Seasons 1 thru 3 only. The guest star roster who appeared on "Laramie" consisted of some Hollywood heavyweights and newcomers ranging from Brian Keith, Dan Duryea, Adam West, Everett Sloane, Anita Sands, Warren Stevens, Thomas Mitchell, Arthur Hunnicutt, to Harry Dean Stanton, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q Jones, Morgan Woodward, to Claude Akins(who appeared four times in various episodes), Julie London, Vera Miles, Ernest Borgnine, John Anderson, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Denny Miller, Rod Cameron(who appeared six times in various episodes),Ron Harper, Jan Merlin, John Lupton, Gregory Walcott, Edgar Buchanan, Dennis Patrick, Lee Van Cleef, Russell Johnson, Gary Clarke, Harry Lauter, George Macready, Alex Cord, Joanne Linville, Lloyd Nolan, Ellen Burstyn, Parley Baer, Ray Danton, Carolyn Jones, Richard Devon, to future Star Trek DeForest Kelley, Lottie Harris, Ed Nelson, to also another future Star Trek Leonard Nimoy, and future Hogan's Heroes Ivan Dixon,and future Green Acres Eddie Albert not to mention future Dallas star Jim Davis and future Dukes of Hazzard Denver Pyle not to mention future Tarzan Jock Mahoney along with future teen heartthrob Tommy Sands.
After the success of "Laramie" actor Robert Fuller went on to star in "Wagon Train",but his biggest success was yet to come in 1972 when he starred opposite Julie London, Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe in one of the most successful television dramas of the 1970's "Emergency!" that was produced by Jack Webb.
It was a tough go for the Sherman Brothers and the family cook Jonesy who was played by Hoagy Carmichael. But in that pilot episode a lone Shane like gunfighter Jess Harper showed up. The Shermans took him in and he became a family member with roots at the ranch. After that only fools messed with the Shermans especially if they knew that they had Robert Fuller to mess with as Jess Harper.
Laramie was one of many towns founded as a rail depot of the Union Pacific. But into the hinterlands of Wyoming still one of our most rural states you got some place on horseback or by stage. And the Shermans had a franchise way station at their ranch which I'm sure supplemented their income during a lean year for cattle. It allowed for a whole range of stories combining the stagecoach way station with the ranch.
Laramie had a respectable run of four years. Carmichael and Crawford dropped out and housekeeper Spring Byington and orphan Dennis Holmes joined the Sherman ranch. Bob Fuller went on to a good career, a stint on Wagon Train after Laramie was canceled and later a long run on the Jack Webb produced Emergency.
John Smith had done a few films before Laramie and got a second lead in the John Wayne film Circus World. He dropped out of sight after that and some thirty years later I read in an obituary that he had died of cirrhosis of the liver. There's probably one awfully tragic story there.
But I prefer to remember John Smith as Slim Sherman zealously guarding home and hearth with Jess Harper to back him up. Maybe we'll get to see Laramie again some day.
Very masculine, very rugged and very-very entertaining, Laramie was definitely a real action-packed TV show that easily ranks, in my books, as the ultimate epitome of the "near-perfect" cowboy-fantasy saga.
Featuring plenty of guest stars and an excellent cast of regulars, headlined by Robert Fuller, as Jess Harper, and John Smith, as Slim Sherman - Laramie proudly showcased these 2 strapping and husky, young dudes who literally lived and breathed the true "Code of the West", a set of values which existed, just as they existed, in absolute accordance with the belief in loyalty, morality, and personal pride.
Set (during the 1870s) on the very edge of a vast and spectacular frontier within the Wyoming Territory, Laramie was a serious and often good-natured show. It never skimped on the violence when it came to depicting the many hardships that were encountered by those pioneers who faithfully strove to tame the wildness of the great, old west.
Filmed in b&w (with each episode running approx. 50 minutes), Laramie is definitely a show that I highly recommend to anyone who really appreciates a superb TV Western that stands tall above all the rest.
Looking back at both in other movies or TV shows, it seems that John was more able to be a different person for each role. Bob put a lot of Jess in so many of the characters he played. Even as a doctor, he had a few rough edges (apparently from his boyhood) and could stand up to a fight. Yes, he did play each character differently, but I always saw a little Jess in him, even those movies before there was a Jess. I think it's just Bob putting Bob into every role, really, and like he says, he's really Jess :)
Both of our heroes were equally talented and did things somewhat differently, but both portrayed the characters they were playing to the hilt, both equally believable in their roles.
I wish back then the censors weren't so radical. Okay, they're too loose now, but a little more use of their talents, there could have been some really hot scenes! You could see it in the scenes where they were limited to showing much fire. Could you imagine Laramie today? I wonder if we would appreciate it as much? It might have been those censors that helped keep it a quality show, maybe a bit too tame, but always pointing toward a good lesson learned.
I was attracted to the superficial aspects of Laramie as a child. I was just going into my teens and I guess I was at that stage where girls go through liking "the bad boy" and Jess sure fit my bill. He was a good, bad boy. If you have to fall for a bad boy, it's great that he has some redeeming characteristics, Jess had that. I think I pretty much identified with Andy at the time. Admired Jess and felt Slim as more like a big brother. And yes, Slim was so very handsome. I'm sure I noticed back then, but my eyes were only for Jess at the time.
Yeah, I have to say, trying to make a comparison of both of their abilities, they played their roles in their own particular ways, neither one better than the other, just different.
Okay, I babbled long enough. I think I need a Laramie fix.