TV Guide Article

Robert Crawford, Jr, Robert Fuller, John Smith, Hoagy Carmichael

TV Guide April 23-29, 1960
The Day it Rained at Laramie
A behind-scenes account of a few tense hours of headaches and horseplay
by Dwight Whitney

The day started out ominously cold and gray, the sky the color of putty. About 11 o’clock it began to drizzle in Laramie Canyon, the studio name for the permanent Sherman ranch-house set so familiar to all admirers of NBC’s Laramie. Not really enough rain to warrant getting out the black rain slickers with “Revue Prods.” stenciled in white on the back- but enough.

It was the fifth and last day of shooting a Laramie segment called “Street of Hate” and director Herman Hoffman was under the gun, because in television, you finish up on time or else. And Hoffman didn’t have any time to spare.

He had quite a complicated entourage to deal with, too. First, of course, there was the regular cast: Robert Crawford, 15, who plays Andy Sherman; John Smith as Slim Sherman, his older brother who operates a stagecoach relay station and cattle ranch; Robert Fuller, a drifter who joined forces with them, and Hoagy Carmichael as Jonesy, friend and handyman. Then there were guest stars Dean Fredericks and Charles Bronson, a crew of 25 all the way from cameraman down to the flag man who keeps strangers from dropping into camera view, a school-teacher, a bucking horse named Cheyenne, a bucking-horse rig (which is a barrel, rigged to bounce, for the star to ride in the close-ups), eight regular horses, a stagecoach, a crateful of chickens, a gang boss and three wranglers, and a four-horse relief team in the corral, to name a few. And what with the various sound trucks, dollies, dressing rooms, and motorized units, Laramie Canyon looked as if it had been hit by the Oklahoma land rush.

Hoffman was going like an old fire horse that has heard the bell. Set-up after set-up. He had been shooting in four days of clear, sunny weather. Now he had leaden skies and drizzle. That meant he had to hold all the shots in tight under plenty of arc lights. Not a perfect match for sunshine, but this is television. The budget waits for no man. Get it done or else.

Then it happened. It really began to rain. Pretty soon everyone had those shiny black slickers. And still director Hoffman, looking a little more harried now, shot. Get it done or else.

“Heck,” the old-timer was saying, “this is nothing. I’ve shot in snow and sleet.”

Over by the schoolroom, the company’s two most irrepressible characters, Bob Fuller and Bobby Crawford, were oblivious of the rain.

“It’s a great part I play, this Jess Harper,” Fuller was saying. “I love heavies. This guy is part heavy. Jess has a shady past. It gives dimension. I’d compare him with Shane.”

Young Crawford, the boy who can cry on demand and who won himself an Emmy nomination last year for his Playhouse 90 version of “Child of Our Time,” wasn’t really too interest in his friend Bob’s fancy theories, but he didn’t say so. Instead he said:

“Gee, Bob, where are you going to find me a girl? It’s tough. I don’t go to a regular school, so it’s hard for me to find them.”

“What kind?” grunted Fuller.

“Aw, female of the species,” replied young Bobby precociously.

“Done!” cried Fuller.

Fuller grinned, ignoring the rain. “Twenty-five shows,” he said to no one in particular, “and I still love to come to work.”

After lunch the bottom of Laramie Canyon looked more like a lake. Everyone was bundled up in a slicker or plastic or whatever could be found, and the camera was bundled up tightest of all. And the shots were in tight. And feet were wet and tempers short.

Cheyenne , the bucking horse, caused the next crisis. Everything was all right at first. “He’ll fire real good,” the wrangler assured everybody. And he did “fire”—real good when Fuller’s stunt-man double, Jack Coffer, rode him in the corral and was thrown—just as in the script. The trouble was that Fuller wanted to ride him, too.

“Aw, no, kid,” moaned Hoffman.

“Gotta!” exulted Fuller, flexing his muscles. “It’s a challenge. Like something you don’t know whether you can do till you do it.”

The scowls of the old-timer who has seen everything—almost—matched the mood of the rain, pelting down now.

“Now, listen, kid,” Hoffman said, tough. “All I know is what the front office says. No. I got a picture to make.”

“Let me talk to ‘em,” Fuller said, the rain running down his face.

While the company waited, the cast and crew warmed their hands around the blacksmith’s forge or huddled under the false front of the Sherman ranch house.

John Smith, who used to be a messenger boy at MGM before he got his big chance as the young lover in a movie called “The High and the Mighty,” was trying to explain what vertical appeal was.

It seems that that’s what Laramie has that makes it catnip to audiences—a theory seconded by producer John Champion later.

“Laramie is different from any other Western that’s ever been on the air,” Smith said. “It appeals on all levels. Now you take Hoagy. He gets ‘em at all ages. Bob and I are—well, I guess you might say for the younger set. And Bobby gets the kids and mothers.”

It sounded pretty sure-fire—even in the rain. But weren’t there limitations even on such staple commodities as small boys, dogs, horses and mom’s apple pie?

Hoagy said: “It’s like this. There’s this young boy. He needs protection. When the Indians come to burn down his house, the audience thinks—oh, no; not that house! Any house but that house.

“Besides,” he added, “the two young cowboys are attractive. Between the four of us I think we can take care of just about any scene you write.”

About that time Fuller returned from telephoning, aglow with the prospect of riding the bucking horse. Hoffman scowled darkly and shrugged his shoulders as if to say all producers and production managers are crazy.

It was quite a performance, but it was anticlimactic. Fuller, who began his career as a stunt man, mounted the horse twice, the first time without spurs. The horse quit in seconds. The next time he touched spurs to Cheyenne’s flank, the horse fired—after a fashion—and Fuller hit the dirt.

“Cut and print!” yelled Hoffman with enthusiasm. “Now then, we’ll do pick-up shots in the yard and head for Stage 8…”

Those “few” pick-up shots took an hour and a half and it was nearly 4 o’clock when the company at last found the warmth and comfort of the soundstage. The rain had still not let up. They got it done.

Back to
Soapbox Corral