I’m waxing nostalgic today, pining for the days of yesteryear when good westerns were on practically every night of the week! Today, I thought I’d remember my favorite of them all, the western television series LANCER. It’s one of those shows that didn’t last long enough, and still has many, many followers in the fan fiction world who continue to write stories using these characters in just about every scenario you can imagine. If you’ve never explored fan fiction, it’s pretty amazing, and there’s a fan fiction group for virtually every movie and TV series that ever came down the pike.
Here’s a bit about Lancer, which was then, and still is, my favorite tv western ever—and that’s saying a lot, since I was a diehard western fan from a very early age.
But what can be more exciting to a pre-teen girl than an action–packed tv western with two handsome hunky guys and a ton of family angst? The answer is…not one thing. I was glued to the tv screen every week when Lancer took off, and it was a very, very sad day when they cancelled it.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it, in a nutshell, just so you can get the gist of the series:
Lancer is an American Western series that aired on CBS from September 1968, to May 1970. The series stars Andrew Duggan, James Stacy, and Wayne Maunder as a father with two half-brother sons, an arrangement similar to the more successful Bonanza on NBC.
Duggan stars as the less than admirable Murdoch Lancer, the patriarch of the Lancer family. Stacy appears as half-Mexican gunslinger Johnny Madrid Lancer. Wayne Maunder was cast as Scott Lancer, the educated older son (though he is younger than Stacy) and a veteran of the Union Army, in contrast to Stacy’s role of former gunslinger. Paul Brinegar also appeared as Jelly Hoskins, a series regular from season two after making a one off guest appearance during the first season. Elizabeth Baur (who later replaced Barbara Anderson in ‘Ironside’ from season five to eight) also was a series regular cast member as Murdoch Lancer’s ward Teresa O’Brien.
Guest stars included Joe Don Baker, Scott Brady, Ellen Corby, Jack Elam, Sam Elliott, Bruce Dern, Kevin Hagen, Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, George Macready, Warren Oates, Agnes Moorehead and Stefanie Powers.
Lancer lasted for fifty-one hour-long episodes shot in color. The program was rerun on CBS during the summer of 1971.
The episode entitled “Zee” with Stefanie Powers earned scriptwriter Andy Lewis the Western Writers of America “Spur Award“, the first ever designated for a television script.
Pretty impressive! With the regular cast and the very solid and vivid portrayals each of them gave of their characters, and the stellar roster of guest stars, what’s not to love? I was eleven when LANCER made its appearance, and I thought I had never seen anyone as “cute” as half brothers Johnny and Scott Lancer. But “cuteness” was not what held my interest.
As the storyline went, Scott’s wealthy mother took him back to Boston, and he was raised as a moneyed gentleman. He served in the Civil War. Johnny’s story was different. His mother took him south of the border, to the territory she was most familiar with, and he was raised in border towns. Life was tough for him, being half white, and as we say here, “the boy run into some trouble.” So much trouble, in fact, that the Pinkerton man Murdoch Lancer sent to find him barely got there in the nick of time, as Johnny was facing a firing squad.
Murdoch offered his sons “listening money”—to come meet him, hear what he had to offer them, and then stay, or walk away. Of course, both Johnny and Scott decide to stay after this stormy encounter.
The mix of the characters, with Johnny having fended for himself most of his life, earning his living as a fast gun, and Scott being raised with everything money could buy, added to every plot and their general interaction. Scott had known hard times too, during the War, and he had to remind his younger brother of that from time to time. But their growing relationship as brothers, and the respect that they had for one another – and in time, for their father, was what made the show special. Growth of the characters and the way that growth was portrayed kept me glued to the screen week after week—though I couldn’t have told you that’s what it was at that age.
The show is not in syndication here in the States, at last check, but don’t despair! Here’s a link where you can catch season one, at least!
Johnny Lancer has been a “main character” in my imagination from the time I first saw the show. He’d lived a hard life, done some bad things, but was trying to make amends and have the life with a true family that he’d always wanted…and a place to belong. He was the youngest in his family, and so was I. His character portrayal resonated with audiences everywhere, so it was quite a surprise to learn that it was being canceled. Yet, today, there are still people who love the show and get together online to chat about it and the characters, and write more stories about them—many of which would make fantastic Lancer episodes if the show was still being written.
Do you have a memory of Lancer? Please share if you do! And if you don’t—don’t hesitate to click that link above and see what you missed!
What was YOUR favorite tv western from days gone by?