"I could never figure
out when I had to hold them or fold them."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
September 22, 1957 to July
8, 1962 on ABC.
124, Black and White, 60
James Garner as Bret (1957-1960)
Jack Kelly as Bart
Roger Moore as Beauregard (1960-1961)
Robert Colbert as Brent (1961)
Jack Kelly appeared in 75
episodes, James Garner in 52, and Roger Moore in only 15.
The Mavericks were TV's
most reluctant heroes. They'd rather talk their way out of trouble.
Buy the fella a drink, offer a cigar, play a few hands of cards -
anything but gunplay at which they weren't especially adept. Too
often, however, they found themselves having to rescue someone,
hopefully a damsel in distress. Gamblers by trade, the Mavericks
travelled the West in search of good times and the easy way.
presented James Garner as Bret Maverick (1957-1960), an adventurous
gambler roaming the Old West, Jack Kelly as his equally skilled
brother Bart Maverick (1957-1962), and Roger Moore as
English-accented cousin Beau Maverick (1960-1961). James Garner was
the only Maverick in the series during the first seven episodes, and
the show is credited with launching Garner's career. Maverick often
bested both The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show in audience size.
Series creator Roy Huggins
inverted the usual screen-cowboy customs familiar in television and
movies at the time by dressing his hero in a fancy black broadcloth
gambler's suit, an outfit normally reserved in western films for
villains, and allowing him to be realistically (and vocally)
reluctant to risk his life, though Maverick typically ended up
forcing himself to be courageous, usually in spite of himself.
The first broadcast episode
of Maverick, "War of the Silver Kings," was based on C.B
Glasscock's "The War of the Copper Kings," which relates
the real-life adventures
of copper mine speculator F. Augustus Heinze. The real-life copper
king ultimately went to Wall Street. Huggins recalls in his Archive
of American Television interview that this Warners-owned property was
selected by the studio as the first episode in order to cheat him out
of creator residuals.
Bret Maverick frequently
flimflammed adversaries, but only criminals who actually deserved it.
Otherwise he was scrupulously honest almost to a fault, in at least
one case insisting on repaying a debt that he only arguably owed to
begin with (in "According to Hoyle").
Maverick was not a
particularly fast draw with a pistol, but like all TV cowboy heroes
of the era, it was almost superhumanly impossible for anyone to beat
him in any sort of a fistfight (perhaps the one cowboy cliché
that Huggins left intact, reportedly at the insistence of the studio).
Critics have repeatedly
referred to Bret Maverick as "arguably the first TV
anti-hero," and have praised the show for its photography and
Garner's charisma and subtly comedic facial expressions.
Though James Garner was
originally supposed to be the only Maverick, the studio eventually
hired Jack Kelly (brother of movie actress Nancy Kelly) to play Bret
Maverick's brother Bart, starting with the eighth episode. The
producers realized that it took over a week to shoot a single
episode, so Kelly was recruited to rotate with Garner as the series
lead using two separate crews (while occasionally appearing
together). In Bart's first episode, in order to engender audience
sympathy for the new character, the script called for him to be tied
up and beaten by an evil police officer. Garner introduced each of
Kelly's solo episodes for a while until the public could get used to
Bart Maverick character was originally written to be more or less a
clone of his brother Bret, dressing similarly and speaking identical
dialogue; the only discernible difference was in the ways the two
actors played their parts. No separate personalities were ever
concocted for subsequent Mavericks by the writing staffs as the cast
changed over the years. The names changed but the poker skills and
every other attribute remained exactly the same except for the
different actors playing Maverick.
Garner as Bret usually wore
a black cowboy hat, often changing its placement on his head from one
scene to the next, while Kelly as Bart almost always wore a light
grey one, and both wore black or grey suit jackets when gambling in
saloons (usually black jackets, but occasionally grey; Kelly wore
grey suits in his first few episodes but soon switched to black for
the rest of the series, always wearing a light grey hat except for
one occasion). Garner at 6'3" was two inches taller than Kelly,
leading a character in one episode ("Seed of Deception") to
refer to them as "the big one" and "the little
one." Garner always generated more attention from the public and
the media during the run of the series than Kelly, leading Kelly in
later years to cheerfully remark, "Garner was Maverick. I was
Other actors also
considered for the role of Bart Maverick before Kelly was chosen
included Rod Taylor and Stuart Whitman (who played Marshal Jim Crown
in the western TV series Cimarron Strip a decade later and closely
resembled Garner in 1957).
The chairman of Kaiser
Aluminum, the series' main sponsor at the time, became so perturbed
when Kelly was brought in to share the show with Garner (saying,
"I paid for red apples and I get green apples!") that ABC
had to cut a new deal that cost the network a small fortune.
only one script was actually written with Jack Kelly in mind during
the first three years of the series ("Passage to Fort
Doom"), since the writers were instructed to picture James
Garner as the lead regardless of which actor would actually wind up
playing it. Kelly lacked Garner's deftly light touch with comedic
facial expressions, which has led to widespread belief that Bart was
meant to be the more "serious" brother. Since only one
script was actually written for Kelly, however, the difference was
mainly in the acting rather than the writing, even though Garner
probably did actually wind up with more of the comedy scripts;
Huggins noted in his videotaped Archive of American Television
interview that Kelly dropped a funny line "like a load of coal."
The scripts with both
brothers were written with the Mavericks designated as "Maverick
1" and "Maverick 2," and Garner chose which part he'd
play in these two-brother episodes, since he had seniority; this
guaranteed that Garner always enjoyed the better half of the story.
Garner and Kelly made an
effective team and the episodes featuring them both were audience
favorites, with critics frequently citing the chemistry between the
Maverick brothers. Bret and Bart often found
themselves competing with each other for women or money, or working
together in some elaborate scheme to snooker someone who'd just
robbed one of them.
Which Maverick brother
happened to be the older was purposely left ambiguous, with both Bret
and Bart emphatically claiming to be the younger whenever the topic
came up in conversation with a woman. Jack Kelly was a year older
than James Garner in real life.
consistently drew slightly higher ratings than Garner's during the
first two seasons (the difference always slight enough to be within
the margin of error), but after writer/producer Roy Huggins left the
show and there was a gradual decline in ratings, Garner's shows
scored higher than Kelly's. Huggins speculated in his Archive of
American Television reminiscences that the audience was bigger for
Kelly's shows because of enthusiasm engendered by the previous week's
very popular, James Garner left over a contract dispute with the
studio after the series' third year and was replaced by Roger Moore
as cousin Beau Maverick, nephew of the original Beau "Pappy"
Maverick. Interestingly, Moore had earlier played a completely
different role in a Maverick installment called "The
Rivals," a drawing room comedy episode with Garner in which
Moore's character switched identities with Bret as part of the plot;
the physical resemblance between the two young actors remains surprising.
Roger Moore as Beau
Maverick generally wore a grey suit (that had actually previously
been worn by Garner) with a light grey cowboy hat, and his
self-described "slight English accent" (actually quite
heavy) was explained by his having spent the last few years in
England. Moore was exactly the same age as Jack Kelly and brought a
flair for light comedy and a physical similarity to Garner that fit
Maverick perfectly--Moore even looked as much like the profile
drawing of the card player at the beginning of each show, even though
the profile was based upon Garner's likeness. While Bret and Bart had
typically called each other "Brother Bart" and "Brother
Bret," Bart and Beau usually addressed each other as
"Cousin Beau" and "Cousin Bart."
Moore quit due to declining
script quality (without having to resort to legal measures as Garner
had); Moore insisted that if he'd had the level of superb writing
that Garner had enjoyed during the first two years of the show's run,
he would have stayed. Some of Moore's shows are quite good, however,
particularly an episode written and directed by Robert Altman, and
critics noted that Moore and Kelly worked well together in their
several two-Maverick episodes. Moore would later replace another
cultural icon when he took over the James Bond role in movies after
Sean Connery's departure.
Oddly, in a TV series
called The Alaskans, Moore had previously spoken Garner's lines.
Warner Brothers had a policy of recycling the scripts through each of
their television series to save money on writers, literally changing
only the names and the locales while leaving the rest of the dialogue
more or less intact, and Moore had acted in several recycled Maverick
scripts, a kind of peculiar accidental audition to play Maverick.
ratings continued to slide following the addition of Roger Moore,
strapping James Garner lookalike Robert Colbert was cast as yet
another brother, Brent Maverick, duplicating Garner's costume
exactly. Aware of his physical similarity to Garner and wary of the
comparisons that would inevitably result, Colbert famously pleaded
with Warner Brothers not to cast him, saying, "Put me in a dress
and call me Brenda but don't do this to me!"
The studio had intended for
Jack Kelly, Roger Moore, and Robert Colbert to be on the series at
the same time, and a pair of publicity photos exists of Bart, Beau,
and Brent: standing together on a street with their pistols pointed,
as well as a color shot of Bart and Beau admiring the thousand dollar
bill pinned to the inside of Brent's jacket (a recurring Maverick
plot device), but Moore had already left the show when the first of
Colbert's two episodes aired in 1961.
For the final season in
1962, the studio dropped Colbert and alternated new Kelly episodes
with Garner reruns before canceling the series, and viewers could
readily discern the script quality decline in the newer shows. The
studio reversed the actors' billing at the beginning of the show for
that last season and billed Kelly over Garner, who'd been long absent
from the lot by then.
Out of the series, later
Colbert appeared as a Brent-like character called "Ace" in
an episode of Bonanza in 1965 titled "Meredith Smith";
probably looking more Maverick than he did in those two episodes.
the decades following the cancellation of Maverick, the characters
and situations have been revived several times. In 1978 a TV-movie
called The New Maverick aired, with 50-year-old James Garner and Jack
Kelly reprising their roles as the Maverick brothers and Charles
Frank playing their slippery young cousin Ben Maverick (son of Bret
and Bart's cousin Beau). Garner shot this TV-movie while on hiatus
from The Rockford Files. Kelly only appeared in a few scenes near the
end of the film. The New Maverick was the pilot for a new series,
Young Maverick, which ran for a short time in 1979. Frank's
character, Ben Maverick, was the focal point of the show, and James
Garner only appeared as Bret for a few moments at the very beginning
of the first episode, driving a buckboard he'd won in a poker game.
It was apparent that Bret didn't much care for his young cousin Ben
(an inauspicious but amusing way to launch the new series), and when
the two parted at the nearest crossroads, some critics later noted
that the audience couldn't help but think that the camera was
following the wrong Maverick. The series ended so quickly that
several episodes that had already been filmed never made it to broadcast.
years later, another attempt to revive the show would occur after
James Garner left The Rockford Files and needed to perform in another
series to fulfill his contractual obligations. Bret Maverick
(1981-82) starred the 53-year-old Garner as an older-but-no-wiser
Bret. Jack Kelly appeared as Bret's brother Bart in only one episode
but was slated to return as a series regular for the following
season. NBC unexpectedly canceled the show despite respectable
ratings and Kelly would never officially join the cast. The new
series involved Bret Maverick settling down in a small town in
Arizona after winning a saloon in a poker game: the 2-hour first
episode was eventually trimmed and repackaged as a TV-movie under the
title Bret Maverick: The Lazy Ace. Critics lacked enthusiasm for the
show, saying the scripts more closely resembled the inferior ones
from the latter part of the original Maverick series than the classic
ones from the first years of the show. Bret Maverick
ended on a sentimental note, with Bret and Bart embracing during an
unexpected encounter and the theme from the original series playing
in the background.
The Gambler Returns: The
Luck of the Draw (1991) featured Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick for the
last time. The film united Kelly with various other Western
characters and actors, including Bat Masterson (Gene Barry), Wyatt
Earp (Hugh O'Brien), the Rifleman (Chuck Connors) and his son Mark
(Johnny Crawford), Caine from Kung Fu (David Carradine), The
Westerner (Brian Keith), a thinly disguised Virginian and Trampas
(James Drury and Doug McClure, who had appeared briefly as a hotel
clerk in a first season Maverick episode), and Cheyenne Bodie (Clint
Walker). Kenny Rogers played the lead as part of his TV-movie series
based on his hit song ("...know when to fold 'em..."), with
the others (including Maverick) more or less relegated to brief
appearances, and most of the cast, including Claude Akins as
President Theodore Roosevelt, openly thrilled to find themselves in
the presence of Rogers' character Brady Hawkes. As each veteran video
hero appears onscreen, a few bars of the theme song from their
original series plays in the background. Garner had made a similar
appearance as Bret Maverick years before, in a 1959 Bob Hope movie
called Alias Jesse James that also featured Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt
Earp, along with Fess Parker (dressed as Davy Crockett), Gary Cooper,
Roy Rogers and Trigger, Jay Silverheels (Tonto from The Lone Ranger),
Gail Davis (Annie Oakley), James Arness (Marshal Matt Dillon of
Gunsmoke), and Ward Bond (Seth Adams of Wagon Train), not to mention
Hope's frequent screen partner Bing Crosby. Garner's appearance in
the film is frequently absent from television presentations of the
movie due to legal problems with the rights to the character.
1994 Maverick fans got a treat as Maverick was brought to the big
screen by the star and director of the Lethal Weapon movies. Richard
Donner directed and Mel Gibson stars as card-playing gunslinger Brett
Maverick, who meets up with wily gambler Annabelle Bransford (Jodie
Foster) and a marshal named Zane Cooper played by original TV
Maverick James Garner. The story, set in the American Old West, is a
first-person account by a wisecracking gambler Bret Maverick (Mel
Gibson), of his misadventures on the way to a major five-card draw
poker tournament. Besides wanting to win the poker championship for
the money, he also wants to prove, once and for all, that he is
"the best". However, complications keep getting in the way.
Maverick rides into the
fictional town of Crystal River intending to collect money owed to
him, as he is $3,000 short of the poker tournament entry fee of
$25,000. His efforts to make up this $3,000 provide some plot
motivation, as well as diversions caused by, and in the company of,
three people he encounters at Crystal River: an antagonist named
Angel (Alfred Molina), a young con-artist calling herself Mrs
Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), and legendary lawman Marshal Zane
Cooper (James Garner, who played Bret Maverick in the original TV
series). The first two are also rival poker players.