In my quest to find TV worth watching I have settled into viewing Wagon Train and Gunsmoke in the evenings. Ward Bond, John McIntire, and Robert Horton, along with a strong supporting case, make the old West come alive on Wagon Train. There are cowboys, Indians, good guys, bad guys, strong men, strong women, crooks, cheats, cowards and heroes. The storylines on Wagon Train provide unique insights into the human condition.
But my favorite is Gunsmoke. Premiering on CBS in September 1955 and completing its network run September 1975, Gunsmoke is the longest-running dramatic series in the history of TV. And there is little wonder. The foursome of Milburn Stone as “Doc, Amanda Blake as “Kitty,” Dennis Weaver as “Chester,” and James Arness as “Matt Dillon” are unmatched in television history if you ask me. I know that “Festus” and “Newly” came along later, but the four originals made the show great.
I noticed in the earlier episodes that Matt and Miss Kitty were more open in showing their affection for one another. As the series evolved though years their relationship took on more of a mystique. The chemistry between them proved to be both intriguing as well as refreshing.
And, of course, Doc’s and Chester’s “jawing” with each other is priceless.
I suppose Chester was always short of money, but “Marshall Dil-lern” never seems to run out of patience.
As the story begins to unfold in an episode I viewed recently, Chester comes upon a young cowboy who is breathlessly close to being horse whipped. A “religious” man has tied the young man to a tree; and, with whip in hand, is ready to proceed in “purging” the young man’s sins to save him from eternal damnation.
Chester intercedes, stops the horse whipping, and unties the would-be victim. This raises the ire of the religious man who vows Chester will pay for “interfering with the Lord’s work.”
Later in the story, Chester is captured by the religious man and his two sons. Their plan is to cut off Chester’s hand for his misdeed. Fortunately, they put it off until the next morning. During the night, one of the son’s comes to realize his father “has gone ‘round the bend” and rides to Dodge City for help. The next morning, he and Marshall Dillon arrive at the scene just in time to save the day. In the course of the ensuing gun battle, Chester – and his hand – are saved and the religious man is shot dead. (As it turns out one of his sons fired the fatal bullet.)
Of course, the turn of events leads to questions and philosophizing at the end of the show.
“Mr. Dil-lern,” says Chester. ‘I just can’t understand why a man would try to do something like that.” (Or something to that effect.)
“Well, Chester,” says Matt, “The Bible says ‘And what does God require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.’ I guess that man never read that.”
I could not believe my eyes and ears. There was Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall and federal government employee quoting, Micah 6:8 right straight out of the Holy writ. And he was on the job, mind you!
In today’s world where the founding father’s concept of “separation of church and state” has been so misinterpreted and so misapplied, Marshall Dillon would have been in some real trouble.
The conversation would have gone something like this:
“Why, Mr. Dil-lern, you can’t quote the Bible while in the line of duty. You work for the federal government and that’s a violation of the separation of church and state. Why, you could lose your job!”
Matt, always straight forward and practical, would answer, “Chester, did you say separation of church and state? It doesn’t say “separation of state and God.”
If Matt were around today, I’m afraid he would be sadly disappointed.
Copyright 2016 by Jack McCall