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'Cheyenne' Rides Again

19 May, 2006 By: Brendan Howard

“He's a gentleman at all times, a man who opens doors for women. He's always saying, ‘Howdy, ma'am.' He's an old-fashioned kind of guy. He's always the guy that Cheyenne was.”

Susan Walker may be biased when it comes to her husband, Clint Walker, but his gentlemanly qualities probably helped him get noticed by talent agents — that and his 6'6” height, a bodybuilder's torso and a healthy head of hair.

It's all on display in the Warner Home Video June 6 release Cheyenne: The Complete First Season (five-DVD set $39.98). Walker played wandering hero Cheyenne Bodie for seven of the show's eight seasons on CBS, righting wrongs and trying to keep the peace in an Old West full of love affairs, cattle wrangling and forced labor.

Some say he was perfect for the role, but Walker said his start was just a “fluke-y thing.”

“I didn't get into acting until I was 25,” Walker said. Clint Walker, born Norman Walker in Illinois, had made his way west in his 20s to see the “deserts, mountains and tall pine trees” of Western films. Once he got there, he never left. A job in security at The Sands in Las Vegas was his unlikely first contact with Hollywood. TV and film star Van Johnson noticed him in the crowd.

“He said, ‘I don't know if you're interested, but one of Hollywood's biggest agents would like to talk to you,’ Walker said. “I didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings, so I agreed. [The agent] Henry Wilson told me, ‘If you decide you're interested, I can't promise you anything for sure.’

Walker did the math in his head — “in Hollywood, they get paid a lot better, and the bullets aren't real” — and decided to make his way further west, to Hollywood. Walker eventually scored an audition with Cecil B. DeMille for The Ten Commandments. That day didn't start well, though.

“I was heading to Paramount when I saw a lady trying to fix a tire,” he said. “I did it for her. She asked, ‘How much do I owe you?' I said, ‘You don't owe me a thing.' So, I was five or 10 minutes late, and I went in, and DeMille is imposing and said, ‘You're late, young man.' But it just so happened that was his secretary, and she'd told him everything.”

Walker ended up with only a non-speaking part, but he still learned: “I got to see the greats and found out even they make mistakes.”

Two auditions later, Walker found himself cast in “Cheyenne,” an hour-long show to rotate with others on “Warner Brothers Presents.”

“Cheyenne” ran from 1955 to 1963.

The work on the show was different from his turns in such films as The Dirty Dozen and None but the Brave.

“We did more with less money in less time,” he said. And when Westerns took off and started populating Paramount's backlot, there were conflicts.

“One day we were doing ‘Cheyenne' next to a grave site, with somebody giving a eulogy,” he said. “Then, from ‘Maverick,' come a bunch of soldiers. I thought a couple of directors were going to get into a fistfight.”

The appeal of Westerns has always been obvious for Walker.

“Westerns had people you care about, people you like, and some real bad guys to compete with,” he said. “And there's always something to be learned from a good picture.”

Walker appreciates how important TV and films are to fans and kids.

“I had my heroes,” he said. “If I was in doubt about something, I'd ask, ‘What would Flash Gordon, Hopalong Cassidy, Tarzan do?' I got the chance to do the same for a lot of young people.”

That's another reason Walker is glad the show's coming to DVD. Some fans thought he was dead before he set up his Web site (www.clintwalker.com) and started making appearances at Western film festivals. One fan spent $500 for “Cheyenne” on poor-quality bootlegged VHS.

“People want to go back to a lot of the old shows,” he said. “They don't care about a lot of the stuff they're showing now. The Westerns now, they've got a lot of bad language, four-letter words, and they don't teach anything.”

At 78 years old, Walker still hopes to act in a couple more Westerns.

“I keep in good physical shape,” he said. And he's still got the hair.

“One woman said, ‘Shame on you for wearing a toupee and dying your hair,’ he said. “But it's just B vitamins. Good genes.” >

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