Back in the day, TV was heavily censored. Even married TV couples had to sleep in separate beds (Luuuuuuucccccyyyy!). But characters could shoot at each other with reckless abandon, if the spirit moved them. And move them it did; there was a fair amount of gunplay in old television shows. Westerns were big, with at least one climactic firefight per week—usually more—to keep things interesting. Some of the more “action-packed” programs were based upon World War II themes. The basic recipe was the same: somebody bad was going to get ventilated. That said, the early TV programs were still subject to strict violent image restrictions. The Powers That Be prohibited graphic depiction of the real physical damage. Most of us young ‘uns grew up believing that a gunshot wound was little more than a scratch. Anyhow, here are five famous weapons from TV’s “Golden Age.”
One of the most interesting weapons was The Rifleman’s modified Winchester Model 1892 rifle. The lever action rifle provided a rapid-fire custom trigger release that allowed Lucas McCain an opportunity to shoot very fast and ask questions later. It also meant that the opening sequence to the program was a very intense moment as the rangy hero moved forward behind a spray of bullets.
Josh Randall in the western series ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ also owned a modified Winchester rifle. The king of ultra-cool Steve McQueen played the lead, bring ice cold cool to cowboys—-who were already plenty damn frigid.
Randall wore a leg holster to carry the shortened Winchester and he was able to draw the weapon as quickly as any fast gun with a pistol. And he looked cool doing it. (Did I mention that already?) He even wore larger caliber 44-70 bullets on his gun-belt, even though his rifle had smaller caliber 44-40 bullets.
Paladin from ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ was a master of many weapons. His primary weapon was an old favorite from the western: a Colt 45 handgun. The opening sequence had Paladin in an action pose that ended with the viewer staring down the barrel of his gun.
Paladin also carried a saddle-holstered Winchester lever-action rifle on his horse; he was an expert marksman with the trusty weapon. To add an element of concealed lethal surprise to his arsenal, Paladin hid a derringer small bore handgun.
Marshal Matt Dillon from ‘Gunsmoke’ was a big man who could settle disputes with his fists or his Model 1873 Colt 45 single action handgun. The actual TV prop was a real Colt manufactured in 1895, so Matt was essentially period correct. The opening sequence was originally a showdown in the streets of Dodge where some idiot tests Matt’s draw. Wrong answer.
The final TV show for discussion is ‘The Rat Patrol’. Nothing says impressive like a Thompson 45 caliber machine gun mounted on a vintage Jeep. The show was all about WW11 desert action and the sight of a Jeep getting air time while a gunner blazed away at enemy forces was mighty impressive for young viewers.
All in all, it was a bygone (if not politically correct) TV era where the weapons were the stars.