Remembering Jack Lord

Stoney Burke & Quality

Does this make you think of Jack's lithograph entitled "Maui Cowboy"?
"Sunset" by Yuri B (Pixabay Free Images)

Stoney Burke and Quality

“Who the Hell is Stoney Burke, and Why Should You Care?” is an excellent article about Stoney Burke, the character and the Daystar / United Artists / ABC television production.

Author Don McGregor delivers a detailed report about what makes Stoney Burke a television series to be remembered with great respect. From the outset, he admits that striving to win a golden buckle isn’t something most people understand, but he quickly goes on to tell and show us that Leslie Stevens and his creative crew gave us far more than a bunch of rodeo cowboys.

From Jack’s outward display of emotions to cinematographer Conrad Hall’s intricate use of natural lighting to casting’s selection of fine guest stars, Stoney Burke had it all. As McGregor tells it, “Stoney Burke is a series that is character-centric, not plot-centric, which means the actors have a chance to show a lot of ‘colors’ as actors like to call it, and display emotions they seldom had a chance to do elsewhere.”

In a screen capture from an unnamed Stoney Burke episode McGregor shows Conrad Hall's use of natural lighting, rather than harsh studio lighting, to add reality to a scene. The style of the light fixture behind Ves Painter (Warren Oates) tells us that they are in the desert southwest or possibly Mexico. It also tells us that it is nighttime. Most of all, it adds a distinctly film noir character to the scene. The lighting, as well as the expressions on the men's faces, tells us that something frightening is happening.

Of course, we know Jack liked artistic projects the best. He went on to use some of Hall’s lighting techniques on Hawaii Five-0. In a very effective screen capture from “Murder – Eyes Only” (Season 8), we know right away that something very chilling surrounds Erica Waldron’s hospitalization at the Pendler Clinic.

Similarly, Leslie Stevens and Conrad Hall used Jack’s talent as an artist. In the Stoney Burke episode “Web of Fear,” Stoney is seen sitting at a table in a bar and sketching on a napkin. There is a frazzled nature to the sketch that reflects the fear Stoney feels as he tries to unravel the mystery of who is intimidating him and trying to harm him.

A scene in the Stoney Burke episode “Kinkaid” shows Stoney using Jack's artistic skills to form three-dimensional letters from two-dimensional ones as he holds a conversation with Kinkaid, the manager of a halfway house for troubled teens. Before he can give two dimensions to an “O”, the conversation ends not to Stoney’s liking, and he scrawls a simple “O” to fill the gap seen between the “R” and the “D.”

Also, Leslie Stevens gave generous airtime to Jack's outstanding horsemanship. You'll see screen captures illustrating that point in Don McGregor's article. Maybe, just maybe, there was a streak of saddle bronc rider in Jack, as well as in Stoney.

Read about it: McGregor, Don. Who The Hell Is Stoney Burke and Why Should You Care? In Comics Bulletin: Riding Shotgun. April 25, 2013.


Stoney Burke Wasn't Just Another Cowboy Show

While most cowboy shows dealt with problems that were typical for their genre, Stoney Burke went a step beyond. Each episode was a morality tale.

In the episode "The Test," Stoney is left paralyzed when the meanest bronc in the rodeo, Megaton, throws him within the stall and traps him. To make matters worse, it happens just before Stoney is about to enter the final competition for the Golden Buckle. That award for the best saddle bronc rider has been his goal for much longer than Stoney has been on the rodeo circuit. The paralysis proves to be temporary, due to bruising of his spine, rather than a severed spinal cord. Even so, Stoney's recuperation will be a lengthy one that will keep him out of the competition -- this year!

Instead, in the next and final episode, "The Journey," Stoney is hired to help take a load of old horses to the slaughter house. Among those horses is Megaton. Stoney does not mind taking the horse to slaughter -- until he sees the slaughter house and how it is run. The horses are left in a corral, without food or water, until they are taken into the plant to be killed. Some of the horses that have been there for a while are nothing but bones draped in skin. The problem goes beyond poor plant management. It goes to greedy business interests. It costs money to feed horses, after all, and that's a cut in the profits from the men who run the racket.

Being a life-long lover of horses, this is all more than Stoney can stand. He especially cannot bear the thought that he has had a part in it. In the end, he releases the horses, including Megaton, into the wild. Will they survive? Some will, some will not, but at least, they will have a chance at survival, and that is more than they were receiving at the slaughter plant.

Oh! But there is more to this story. As Stoney releases Megaton into the wild, he comes to realize that he is releasing his hatred for the old horse. He is forgiving him. And that, for Stoney Burke, is what life is all about.

Each episode of Stoney Burke has a moral challenge woven into the plot. It is a shame that the viewers did not pick up on that -- or, if they did, they did not appreciate its value. If more viewers had, there is no doubt but that Stoney Burke would have run for more seasons -- perhaps as many as twelve seasons -- but, then, who would have played McGarrett?

Stoney Burke Pays Tribute to Multi-Dimensional Films

In the episode “Image of Glory,” allusion is made to MGM/Cinerama’s How the West Was Won, which debuted on February 20, 1963. “Image of Glory” aired on February 4, 1963. It refers to the "widescreen process that originally projected images simultaneously from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply curved screen" to create more life-like images (Wikipedia). Here's how it played out on Stoney Burke:


Red:     Hey! Let’s go to the movies!

Ves:     The only movie playing in this town is one of them widescreen, multo-colored (sic) gorgeous extravaganzas.

Red:     I’d like to see that.         

Ves:     It’s a western! It’s a western! Do you wanna look at some more horses?

Red:     Some of my best friends are horses.

Notes from

The Day That Jack Lord Almost Died

(Publication data unknown, p. 56)

In the episode of Stoney Burke entitled “The Test” (Episode 31), Stoney is about to ride the meanest bronc in the rodeo, Megaton, when the stall door jams. He is thrown from the horse while still in the stall. The bronc is bucking wildly, and Stoney is jammed against the back of the stall, being trampled and kicked. The other cowboys have to kick the door open before the horse can move away from Stoney.

The article claims this really happened, during filming, and Jack was the rider on real-life horse, Meathead, when it happened on a hot day in October 1962. The details were related by Bob Dowdell, who portrayed Cody Bristol. He compares that real scene to the staged scene in the first episode, “The Contender,” when Bristol brother, Harland, was killed in a nearly identical event. Jack had no memory of the incident or the 15 minutes that followed.

Webmaster’s Notes: No mention is made of why Jack was allowed to ride the horse, instead of a rodeo stunt double. Because we know insurance companies are very sensitive to their insureds engaging in dangerous activities, I have to wonder whether this story is true.