Akron Beacon Journal, September 9, 1962
Scene: a smoke-filled room on the Old Frontier. The assembled politicians had resorted to using a beautiful woman in an attempt to sway a popular hero.
"We want you to be our candidate," cooed the woman, cuddling up to the hero.
The hero was impressed, but not convinced. "I do not choose to run," he finally declared.
CALVIN COOLIDGE? No, the reluctant candidate was Bart Maverick and the scene was typical of the way television's most entertaining Western poke fun at life. "Maverick" glorified the slow draw and the fast wit.
Brothers Bret and Bart Maverick preferred cards and women to horses and gunplay. If forced into battle, the Mavericks actually aimed their guns before shooting. Often they missed their targets. Their first choice, of course, was to con someone else into doing the fighting for them.
"There was a lot to be proud of in the 'Maverick' series," said Jack Kelly — alias Bart Maverick. "People will be talking about the show for years."
Kelly is in Canal Fulton today, wrapping up a week as star of "The Moon Is Blue." His five-year association with "Maverick" ended last spring when ABC-TV canceled the show.
"Maverick" was unheralded when it made its debut in 1957. James Garner, then an unknown actor, was all alone at the poker table when he startled critics by beating Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen, his Sunday night ratings rivals.
The work of filming a 60-minute Western on a weekly basis made it impossible for Garner to do the job by himself. A co-star was needed, one who would carry the show every other week.
"I was in Hong Kong at the time, making a film," said Kelly. "I had never heard of 'Maverick' until I returned to Hollywood and my agent said Warner Brothers was looking for someone to play Bart. I learned about the show and got my job in the same afternoon."
GARNER AND KELLY were a perfect team for nearly three years until Garner packed up his cards and left the show. He was missed, but Kelly's popularity sustained ratings that ordinarily would have been high enough to keep the show on the air.
"ABC didn't like the show because the didn't own enough of it," Kelly said. "They weren't sorry to see us go because they'll have a better financial arrangement with their new Sunday schedule."
Kelly claimed ABC didn't even notify stations last fall when the 'Maverick' time slot was changed from 7:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. "I had friends calling me at 7:31 asking me when my show was taken off the air."
The actor was further annoyed when he learned his show had been given the ax. "But I guess it's good to leave the air when the show is still popular," he rationalized.
KELLY'S WIFE, former actress May Wynn, mentioned something that added to her husband's disappointment:
"Jack felt the 13 shows they filmed last year were so good that 'Maverick' would have no trouble being renewed."
Kelly back up the statement: "The worst one of those 13 was better than anything we did the first year."
Which might have been true. One of the things that contributed to the success of "Maverick" was its novelty. As the novelty wore off, so did the program's appeal, though Kelly was correct about the ratings — they remained high enough to warrant renewal . . . most of the time.
Kelly has turned down all television offers since "Maverick's" death. "I'm going to New York to talk about a possible Broadway play. It will give me a chance to sharpen up as an actor."
He performed in three plays this summer — "The Music Man," "Under the Yum Yum Tree" and "The Moon Is Blue."
"I couldn't make up my mind which one to choose, so I did them all."
KELLY ALSO refuses to do guest shots on television, thinking he might wear out his welcome if he does too many inconsequential roles.
"I see actors plunge into guest shots after their series are canceled. Every time I turn on my TV set, I see them . . . for weeks. Pretty soon I stop seeing them. They have no more places to work.
"Naturally I'm looking for another series. Something light, but with dramatic substance. I haven't seen any good ideas yet. The medical show is the craze today, but I'm not sure it will last.
"I don't intend to take Bart Maverick and put him in another setting," said Kelly, who added that he would draw from the formula that made "Maverick" such a huge success.
"We got that formula by accident," he said. "We had well qualified writers and they introduced interesting characters . . . such as Samantha Crawford, Dandy Jim Buckley and Gentleman Jack Darby.
"These characters were so colorful we had to work them into stories again and again. We were able to use them to continue little jokes for several weeks. If I ever have another series, I'll make sure we have a similar group of characters.
"IN FACT, the best 'Maverick' show — in my opinion — was 'Shady Deal at Sunny Acres' and we used all of our oddball characters in that one."
"Shady Deal" had Bret Maverick being swindled out of $10,000 by a banker. Bret spent most of the show whittling wood in front of his hotel, while Kelly and his friends swindled the banker. Brother Bret got his money back without leaving the rocking chair at the hotel.
"We had great writers," said Kelly, "but the trouble was our budget. We'd find a young writer with a great story and buy it from him at a low cost. That show would be a hit and the writer's price would go up so much we couldn't afford him anymore. We used between 15 to 20 writers during the five years."
Mrs. Kelly wrote three scripts for "Maverick," but was unable to sell them.
"I couldn't understand it," said Kelly. "Those scripts were all very good. One of them is so good that a producer is thinking of making it into a movie."