“Maverick” was drawing a full house by the time the second season rolled round in the fall of ’58, often beating out its Sunday night opponents — “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The SteveAllen Show” — hands down in the ratings game.
Male and female viewers alike were cottoning to charismatic Oklahoman James Garner as cunning and often comedic itinerant frontier gambler Bret Maverick, and the slightly more serious Jack Kelly, who had joined the Warner Bros.-produced show eight episodes into the first season as brother, Bart, was winning fans of his own, although Garner was clearly the favorite with audience and critics alike.
Of all the Western series stampeding across the home screen in the late ’50s, “Maverick” was the one with a sense of humor, with a pair of dapper, frock-coated brothers who favored card-play over gunplay, and would just as soon slip out the back door as face any gunslinger calling them out in the street. They were more likely to beat the bad guys with a slick con than a quick Colt, although when the chips were down they weren’t really the cowards they professed themselves to be.
The series writers were more into satire than shoot-outs, and one of the highlights of the second season is “Gun-Shy,” which pokes merciless fun at the far more serious horse opera, “Gunsmoke.” In this hilarious episode, Bret finds himself at odds with the big, straight-shooting, Elwood, Kan., marshal “Mort Dooley” (who bears a strong resemblance to James Arness as Matt Dillon) and his drawling deputy “Clyde Diefendorfer” (a ringer of Dennis Weaver as Chester). The town is open to “visiting cowhands,” no matter how badly they shoot up the town, but professional gamblers are considered unsavory characters — at least by Dooley — who keeps throwing the wisecracking Bret out of town “for flauntin’ authority and goadin’ me into a gunfight.”
Other season highlights include “Duel at Sundown,” guest-starring a young Clint Eastwood as a bullying gunslinger who has it in for Bret, and episodes featuring future Academy Award winners Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”).
— Gene Triplett