Wanted Dead or Alive is a Western that aired from the late 1950s to the early ’60s. The show starred the now iconic film star Steve McQueen in one of his early roles. Check out this post to find out little-known facts about the show, information about Steve, and other actors who featured in the beloved series!
Wanted Dead or Alive
Wanted Dead or Alive is an old Western television show starring the legendary actor Steve McQueen. Steve’s character was a bounty hunter and Confederate Civil War veteran named Josh Randall. The show aired back in 1958 and remained on air for three seasons until 1961.
Most of the show was shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch in California and it was filmed in black and white. In the late 1980s, the show was the first ever to be colorized and reshown on TV. This show effectively launched Steve McQueen’s career. Later, Steve became a major movie star all thanks to the show. Actually, he was the first television star ever to cross over into movie star status.
Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, was the star of Wanted Dead or Alive. Steve became one of the major movie stars in the 1960s. Although he had roles previous to Wanted, this was his main starring role.
He later completely crossed over into film and was known for movies like The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, and The Magnificent Seven, to name a few. While he was in high demand, he was also known to constantly get in fights with his directors and producers which caused a lot of drama on set. However, it certainly didn’t stop him from getting cast in movies.
Steve’s Alcoholic Father Left His Mother
Steve McQueen’s father, William Terrence McQueen, was a stunt pilot with the circus and his mother, Julia Ann Crawford, was a troubled alcoholic. She got pregnant shortly after meeting William and soon after that Steve’s father left his mother. She, unable to cope, left Steve as a young child with his grandparents to raise during The Great Depression.
They soon moved in with Steve’s great uncle Claude on his farm. He stayed until he was eight years old and his mother came to get him with her new husband. He was close to his Uncle Claude who gifted him with a pocket watch that bore the inscription “To Steve – Who has been a son to me.” Steve also struggled with dyslexia and was also deaf in one ear due to an ear infection he had as a young boy.
Things Got Even Harder for Steve
As soon as Steve returned home with his mother and her new husband, he began having difficulty with his new stepfather. Steve ended up running away from home at the young age of nine after his stepfather was beating him up. He later joined gangs and started engaging in unsavory behaviors like petty theft. He was shuffled back and forth between his mother’s home and his Uncle’s farm until his mother ultimately had him remanded to a boys’ home called The California Junior Boys Republic.
He kept a connection with the boys’ home for the rest of his life and even visited when famous to speak to the boys who lived there. After he reached legal adulthood, he drifted from various drops including at a brothel, at a carnival, and even as a lumberjack. He later joined the Marines and remained enlisted until 1950.
Wanted Dead or Alive wasn’t the first time the character Josh Randall appeared on television. The tough bounty hunter character first appeared several years earlier in the television show Trackdown.
Trackdown was yet another Western that starred Robert Culp. In the show, Culp played a Texas Ranger, who was the precursor to the kind of cool that was later substantiated by Steve McQueen. The character was a rough and tumble cowboy that also kept his cool about him, which is what Steve McQueen became known for. Steve also appeared on the show in two other roles playing the brothers Mal and Wes Cody.
The Famous Gun Wasn’t Quite Authentic
Steve’s character Josh Randall’s gun was called “Mare’s Leg” on the show. The gun was always strapped to his right leg. Then, toy guns were often desired by boys playing “cowboys” across the country and this one was often attempted to be mimicked. The gun was certainly an amazing prop and a really cool weapon for the star to have. However, as many gun enthusiasts know, the gun would not have existed in real life as it was completely unrealistic.
The gun was “cut-down” version of a Winchester Model 1892. The show actually took place pre-1892 so the gun would not have existed at the time. This was pretty commonly done on TV at the time, including on the show The Rifleman. The character Josh Randall also adorned his look with .45-70 rounds draped around his waist. However, that kind of ammunition wouldn’t have even fit in the gun. All of the props done on the show were pretty much just because they looked cool. Although, nowadays you can even purchase your own version of a working “Mare’s Leg”. Henry Rifle Manufacturers sells a .44 version of the rifle for $975.
All Kinds of Arrests
At the beginning of the show, Josh Randall rode a horse named Ringo. While the character is supposed to be a “bounty hunter” he really falls along the lines of being the hero of the show. Throughout the various episodes, he also helps families that are fighting, helping those who are unrightfully accused of crimes, helps to find missing people, and in one episode even Santa Claus!
In the episode called “Eight Cent Reward,” a little boy implores Josh Randall to help him find Santa Claus. The kid even pays him with eight pennies! Steve’s character ends up dressing up a local bar patron Ben Hatch as Santa, but of course, things don’t go so well which was to be expected as Ben was regularly inebriated.
Throughout 1960, there were several episodes which featured Josh Randall with his very own sidekick named Jason Nichols. Jason was played by Wright King. Jason was originally a sheriff but later turned into a bounty hunter alongside Josh. Audiences actually really responded to the duo but by the end of the third season, Jason had disappeared.
Fans of the show point to the episode called “The Partners” as the cause for the departure of the character. In the episode, Jason killed several men and Josh Randall thought they should have been taken alive. However, this was not the last episode for Jason to appear in and he actually appeared on the show for quite a few more episodes following it.
Wright King was the actor who played Jason Nichols. Wright was a trained actor but then served in the Navy during WWII. When he returned he first appeared on a TV show called Captain Video and His Video Rangers. Wright often appeared on both shows in the United States and the United Kingdom.
In addition to Wanted Dead or Alive, he might be best known for his role in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire which starred Marlon Brando and Vivian Lee. In the 1970s he took a notable role as the United States Senator Richard B. Russell Jr. in a film version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wright later retired from acting in the late 1980s but is still alive today at the age ninety-four!
Fake Car Crash… Allegedly
Towards the end of the series, starring actor Steve McQueen was ready to depart for bigger pastures; that is, he was ready to be a movie star. He ended up getting offered the film The Magnificent Seven, however unfortunately for Steve he was already committed to Wanted Dead or Alive.
Steve apparently knew how big the film role would be for his career and had to figure out a way to be able to take it, despite his other commitments. He was allegedly beginning to get restless to move on from his TV role. According to a story written about in Marc Eliot’s Steve McQueen biography, Steve allegedly rented a Cadillac and then ran straight into the Bank of Boston. Shortly thereafter, he showed up on the set of Wanted Dead or Alive decked out in a new accessory – a neck brace – which halted production temporarily. He was then free to go shoot the film until filming on Wanted resumed. Clever.
A car crash is certainly not something that Steve would be afraid to do as he was actually also a pretty good stunt man. This was something he must have inherited from his biological father who was actually a stunt pilot in the circus. Steve was both into motorcycle racing and car racing and almost considered becoming a professional race car driver at one time.
Anytime he had the chance to drive in a film, he jumped at the opportunity and often performed his own stunts. He did some of the famous car chase in Bullitt as well as the motorcycle chase in the film The Great Escape, which have both gone on to become iconic scenes. In the Great Escape, the fence jump was done by Bud Ekins because the studio didn’t want their big star at risk of getting injured. He was seen as an extremely skilled motorcycle rider and car driver.
McQueen So Happy He Danced a Jig?
Because Steve McQueen was so ready to leave television and become a bonafide movie star, he was ecstatic when the show was finally canceled. In the biography by Marc Eliot, he wrote that on the last day on set, Steve was so excited that he “celebrated his last scene onset by doing a jig in front of everyone.”
Sometimes journalists and fans would bring up his old role and ask if there was any chance that he would ever play Josh Randall again. Steve’s response was always that Josh Randall had been killed by “the bad guys”. Obviously, he wasn’t too keen on reviving the role.
A Sequel Exists?
Steve said that Josh Randall died while fighting bad guys a sequel still exists. How could this be? Well the seque, made in 1987 stars his fictional descendant named Nick Randall. Nick is played by Dutch actor (who has often played the villain over the years) Rutger Hauer.
In the sequel, Nick is an ex-CIA operative hunting a terrorist. The terrorist is oddly played by KISS singer and bass player Gene Simmons. Sounds like it’s almost time for Hollywood to start producing yet another reboot of the iconic series. Another funny fact about the original show is that when translated into German the title is Der Kopfgeldjäger which literally means “The Head Money Hunter.”
Who Didn’t Love Jean Willes?
While Steve McQueen was well loved by the ladies in real life, a host of beautiful women also appeared on Wanted Dead or Alive. Once such actress was the beautiful Jean Willes. Jean is well known for appearing in three separate Three Stooges short subjects.
She also appeared as one of the four queens opposite of the iconic Clark Gable in The King and Four Queens. She also appeared in the film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She later appeared in another Western called Maverick opposite of James Garner. Jean continued acting until the late 1970s, she died a decade later in 1989 at the age of sixty-five.
Gloria Talbott Was a Scream Queen
Gloira Talbott was another actress who possessed girl-next-door good looks and appeared on the show Wanted Dead or Alive. Gloria got her start as a child actress in films like Maytime and Sweet and Low Down. As she grew up she continued appearing films throughout the 1950s including alongside Humphrey Bogart in We’re No Angels.
She then became known as a “scream queen” when she appeared in what would be considered B horror films in this day and age. Some of the movies include The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, The Cyclops, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, and The Leech Woman. Gloria appeared in her last film in 1966 which happened to be a Western, before marrying her third and final husband who was a doctor.
Olan Soule as the Bartender
Olan Soule was a well-known character actor who also did a lot of voiceover work over the years. In Wanted Dead or Alive he played the role of the Bartender; he appeared in six episodes over the few years it was on the air.
Olan also appeared in other Western television shows over the years including in The Real McCoy’s and Rawhide. He also appeared in I Love Lucy, Dragnet, and Perry Mason. On the voice side of things, Olan was well known for providing the voice of Batman which he did over an astounding period of fifteen years. Olan continued to appear on screen until 1991. His last role was in the film Homicide which starred Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy. It was his last role before his death in 1994.
Mort Mills Was a Great Bad Guy
Mort Mills appeared in Wanted Dead or Alive as the bad guy to Steve McQueen’s good guy. The character was a greedy bounty hunter who was of course at odds with Josh Randall. Mort was a super recognizable actor who often had roles in Westerns where he played lawmen or authority like figures.
He appeared in other shows like Man Without A Gun, Big Valley, and Perry Mason. He also appeared in two iconic films directed by Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho and Torn Curtain. In Psycho, he plays the cop who pulls over the lead character played by Janet Leigh. He also appeared in a film made by iconic actor and director Orson Welles called Touch of Evil, which also starred Janet Leigh alongside Charlton Heston.
Virginia Gregg Passed Away from Lung Cancer
Virginia Gregg was another gorgeous actress who appeared alongside Steve McQueen in Wanted Dead or Alive. Virginia was a character actress who appeared in countless shows throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. She once said of her work on television, “I work steadily, but I have no identity. When casting people have a call for a woman who looks like the wrath of God, I’m notified.”
Like Mort Mills, she also has a connection the iconic film Psycho. Virginia supplied the voice of Mrs. Bates, Norman’s mother, although she was never seen onscreen. She continued acting throughout the 1980s until her death in 1986 from lung cancer.
Kasey Rogers Lived Until the age of 80
Kasey Rogers is another actress who appeared in a couple episodes of Wanted Dead or Alive. No women had long standing roles on the show, interestingly enough. Kasey got her start in the late 1940s, and she was already quite seasoned by the time she accepted a role alongside Steve McQueen.
Kasey appeared in many shows over the years including Perry Mason and Peyton Place. One of her most memorable roles that is still seen by audiences today is as Louise Tate is Bewitched. The last film Kasey appeared in was in 2000’s TV movie Swiss Family Robinson: Lost In the Jungle. She died only years later in 2006 at the ripe old age of eighty.
The Theme Song Changed
The first theme song heard in the show was written by William Loose. William did music for many other shows over the years including shows like The Hollywood Squares and later in his career The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. His musical cues were even used in the 1990s cartoon The Ren and Stimpy show.
After the first season, Loose’s theme was replaced by music by Herschel Burke Gilbert. He was well versed in providing music for Westerns including the theme song for Rifleman. Herschel also did music for film, some of which include the iconic It’s A Wonderful Life, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, and Comanche. His musical cues have also been used in a number of television programs including Gilligan’s Island and Leave It To Beaver.