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  THE CRIMSON CORRAL: Western Memories

An Interview With Dennis Weaver by Tim Lasiuta

Dennis Weaver today!Dennis Weaver is all that you would expect.  At 78 years of age, he is fill of boundless energy and enthusiasm for the next frontier.  In a career spanning 50  years, he has lived through Gunsmoke, seen through McCloud, and will soon be singing "Home on the Range" with Disney in Christmas 2003.  I was privileged to have  a conversation with him this November, the text of which follows.  

Tim: After reading about your career, I am quite fascinated by your work in television and movies, and more recently, your work in alternate energy and alternate vehicles.

DW:  That's good.

Tim:  You have done a lot of work on television, and Gunsmoke in particular.  When you were working on Gunsmoke, did you feel you were part of something special?  What were the working conditions good?

DW:  They were excellent working conditions, and I did feel there was something special about Gunsmoke.    The one thing that was quite obvious that it was a groundbreaker, a new formula for  a television western,  It was the first adult western on television, and certainly a departure from anything being shown at that time which was the singing cowboy, The Lone Ranger, or anything of that ilk that were really aimed a the young audience.

Tim:  You appeared in an episode of the Lone Ranger once did you not?  What do you remember about that?

DW:  Yes, I certainly was.  That was around 1953 or 1954.  I don't remember much about that except that it was shot in such a simple fashion to be inexpensive.  I don't even remember what I played.

Tim:  Were you a good guy?

DW:  I must've played a bad guy.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto were always the good guys, and everyone else was the bad guy.

(according to IMDB "The Tell Tale Bullet", 1955, Jeb Sullivan)

Tim:  Did you ever think you would be acting 50 years later?

DW:  Yeah, I figured that I'd be acting all my life.  I just didn't know how long I'd live.  I didn't think I 'd do anything but act.

Tim:  That was always your goal in life was it?

DW:  Well yeah.  I went to college,  and majored in Drama.  I was  a fine arts major preparing myself to work in New York and study further and do stage work.  I didn't realize it at the time, when I went to college in 1946 television wasn't around and when I got to New York, that's where it was born.  I got involved in the birth of television, and it was all live.  What we did in front of the camera was what the audience saw at home.  It was rather challenging for the actor and somewhat frightening.  If you blew your line, it was what the people saw. 

Tim: Fred Foy, the Lone Ranger radio series announcer said if the guy muffed his line, you kept on going.

DW:  Yeah.  You just covered it.

Tim:  In your portrayal of Chester Goode, how much of Dennis Weaver was there.

DW:  That was the character of Chester, the limp, and his mannerisms, were all written for the character. 

Weaver on Gunsmoke!

Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake, James Arness on Gunsmoke

Tim:  Do you think westerns will ever be the same again, in terms of the philosophies that they presented, or the themes?

DW:  The world is changing, it will never be the same again.  That doesn't mean that I think the western genre is going to die.  I don't think it ever will , I think there will always be westerns.  It's such an interesting theatrical romantic period in our history.  We will always revert back to that time for good story material.  The western will never be the same as at it's height during the 1950's and 1960's on television.  The genre was so popular then.  Gunsmoke was so popular, and made such an impact on the industry that within three years, there were 35 major productions on the air.  Bonanza, The Rifleman, and Colt 45 were only a small part of the flood. 

Tim:  I read somewhere that there were 120 plus western productions on the air in three different years. 

DW:  There was a tremendous output in that time.

Tim:  When you did McCloud, were you asked to help develop that?

DW:  They called me in, and presented this concept, and asked me if I would do it.  I immediately jumped on it because I thought it was a good match.    I thought it could be commercially popular and also at the same time, artistically rewarding. I loved the fish out of water concept.

Tim:  McCloud was one show my father let us watch.  My favorite image of McCloud is you, on your horse ridingÖ

DW:  Downtown New York City.

Tim:  I'm surprised it hasn't made a comeback on some of the satellites yet.

DW:  They are still playing McCloud in some places, and the old Gunsmoke episodes are being played on Encore Westerns Channel.    I'm the host of Starz Encore Westerns Channel.  I just signed for my seventh year, so I've been doing this for a while..

Tim:  Do you have a lot of fun hosting the Channel?

DW:  It is rewarding. I have a great time doing that.  I enjoy relating anecdotes and telling stories about people that I've worked with.  It is just fun.

Tim:  It does add to the station, and gives a bit of garnish on the meat and potatoes.

DW:  I understand they are making a new McCloud.  It's supposed to be a feature film I understand.

Tim:  Are you going to be in it?

DW:  I donít know.  I'm certainly not going to play the lead.  They need a young McCloud. I could easily play McCloud's father or Uncle or something.  Somebody has made me aware of what the script is about, so I donít know.

Tim:  Do you have a favorite co-star?

DW:   All of my co-workers  were terrific. I would be remiss to single out one.

Tim:  Looking at your Filmography, you have done some recent movies.  Are you still taking on projects if they come up.

DW:  I'm doing a "Touched By An Angel" episode in January.  It is going to be a story written around a character that I am playing.  I have done some added scenes for an animated show for Disney "Home on the Range", where I play a rancher. 

Tim:  Neat

DW:   "Home On the Range"  will be released Christmas 2003.

Tim:  When you were younger, did you see yourself being involved in the socio-scientific community as you are now?

DW:  I was always concerned about peoples welfare in this country and in the world really.  I didn't know I would get involved to the degree that I have, but I have always supported good causes and have been concerned about the hunger problem.  As a matter of fact, my wife Jeri and I, and Valerie Harper,  founded a feeding program in Los Angeles in 1982 called LIFE .  (Love Is Feeding Everyone). 

Tim:  Is that still going on now?

DW:  Not under the name LIFE now.  When I moved to Colorado, it started to have financial problems.  Some people are still picking up food at pantries from local feeding agencies.    So, in a sense, it is still going, but not under the same name. 

Tim: We should all support that.  You have written a book "All the World is A Stage" as well, what prompted you to do that?

DW:  Well, I've led a very interesting life and my wife, to whom I have told many stories related to my youth and days in college, my naval air corps. experience, how I got into films, and the different people that I have worked with.  She said, that is such an interesting story, you've got to write it.  For the kids, and for your grandchildren.  So I did.

Tim:  is there a message in the book?

DW:  I've got something to say to the country, and  to the world.  I cover Ecolonomics, which is a combination of ecology and economics.  We have to, as a world, have a sustainable economy and ecology.  The two are intertwined and interdependent.

Tim:  It's a blend that we have needed for so long. 

DW:  We have to stop fighting and work together.  I use the image of two horses on the same harness.  If they are both pulling in different directions, they really aren't getting anywhere.  Ecolonomics pulls both in the same direction, and together both forces can create a sustainable future.  A sustainable economy cannot run without a sustainable energy source.  This is where I get excited about it, Hydrogen energy.  Bill Horn, of Ford Motors, has said that the internal combustion engine will be obsolete in 10 years.  Even the oil companies a referring to Hydrogen as the tomorrow's oil.

Tim:  What do you see as your greatest achievement?

DW:  My greatest achievement was to stay active, productive, and creative in the film business for over 50 years.

Tim:  Do you have a closing comment?

DW:  One of the things that made the westerns exciting was the opportunity to explore.  The early west was about land, and today the future is about technology and that is what makes this exciting to me.  I must have a little western blood in me.  I like to explore.  I like new frontiers.  I like new technologies, because it represents an open book to me.

Tim:  What is left for Dennis Weaver?

DW:   I don't know what is left for me and I really don't want to know. It is the unknown that is exciting. To know the future would be unbearable and life for me would have no meaning.

Tim:  Thanks for your time.

Interview/Article is (C)copyright Tim Lasiuta 2003 - And is printed here with the author's permission.
For more Western Fun, Check out WESTERN COLLECTIBLES.

Dennis Weaver Selected Filmograraphy

Television Appearances

Dragnet (1954)

Lone Ranger (1955)

Gunsmoke (1955-64)

Kentucky Jones (1964)

Gentle Ben (1968)

McCloud (1970-75)

Stone (1980)

Buck James (1987)

Lonesome Dove (1994)

Touched By An Angel (2003) 

Movie Appearances

Horizons West (1952)

Redhead From Wyoming (1953)

The Nebraskan (1953)

War Arrow (1953)

Bridges At Toko-Ri (1955)

Touch of Evil (1958)

A Man Called Sledge (1970)

The Return of Sam McCloud

Escape From Wildcat Canyon (1998)

The Virginian (2000)

High Noon (2000)

Submerged (2000)

Home On the Range (2003)


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