Remembering Jack Lord

Stoney Burke

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Stoney Burke was a television series, which aired on the ABC television network from October 1, 1962 until May 20, 1963. In all, 32 hour-long episodes were aired. It was creator and executive producer Leslie Stevens' first television series through his production company, Daystar Productions.


Stoney Burke -- portrayed by our boy, Jack -- was a rodeo saddle bronc rider, whose aim was to win the Golden Buckle, denoting him as the best rodeo rider in the world. Along the way, people and troubles threatened to rob him of that honor. Stoney and his friends encountered problems, such as false accusation. Through it all, Stoney trudged on, determined to see justice prevail.


In the well-presented production, Jack Lord gave what some people felt was his best, most heartfelt performance. Several qualities are considered to be what made the show work:  First was the interaction among the characters. Although they were best friends, they represented opposite personality types, which played well off one another. Second was the excellent production standards; for example, the cinematographer was an Academy Award winner. Third, they delved deeply into character studies and the conflict of good versus evil. Stoney worked through problems with a strong sense of values to guide him. In so doing, he set a good example, not only as Stoney to the characters around him, but also as Jack Lord to his viewers.


Stoney Burke was a morality tale. In the episode "Tigress by the Tail," for example, the story centered around Donna Wesson, a wild young woman, who loved 'em and left 'em and had bill collectors hot on her heels. The orphaned daughter of Del Wesson, who saved Stoney's life only to lose his own life, listened to no one. So impetuous was she that reason passed her by as she rushed to her next wild adventure. In the end, Stoney had to accept that he could not hope to help someone who did not want to be helped. Sometimes, tough love is the order of the day, and Stoney let her go on her way to learn about life as best she could (or would). It was not an easy lesson for either Donna or Stoney. In "The Journey," the issue of horse slaughter had no happy ending, because there could be none. Either the horses were taken to slaughter or else they were released in the wild to die. It is an issue that is debated to this day.


Despite its popularity with viewers, Stoney Burke did not have the numbers to allow it to continue. The series ended at the conclusion of the first season, even through Stoney had not yet won the Golden Buckle. Some sources attributed the show's failure to the decline of the western genre at that time. Other writers said that Stoney Burke was ahead of its time and named western movies that glorified cowboys and rodeo riders during the 1970s; for example, Chisum, El Condor, and Rio Lobo. Indeed, during the 1970s, both the small screen and the silver screen were graced not only by traditional westerns, but also by spaghetti westerns, revisionist westerns, and comedy westerns. Perhaps, Stoney Burke would have fared better at that time. As Jack said, Stoney Burke was "the most successful failure on television."


After the show was cancelled, fans continued to follow Stoney. They wrote endless letters to him at his fictitious home in Mission Ridge, South Dakota. The post office forwarded all mail addressed to Stoney to Jack Lord, who replied to his fans. For two years after the series ended, Jack made the rodeo circuit, speaking with Stoney's fans, singing western songs, and signing autographs.

 

Stoney Burke won the Bronze Wrangler Award at the 1963 Western Heritage Awards ceremony. It won for the very first episode, "The Contender."

Stoney Burke was nominated for the TV Guide Award for Favorite New Series. The Awards aired on The Bob Hope Special, April 14, 1963.


 

One of the deepest shows ever on television? Stoney Burke was a masterpiece. From deep character studies to

the metaphysics of good and evil?  This was more than just television.  ~ D. F. Curran in IMDb Reviews and

Ratings for Stoney Burke

 

This cowboy drama is shot like a harsh film noir and deals with the daily miseries of maverick rodeo contestants. 

~ Thomas Rucki in IMDb Reviews and Ratings for Stoney Burke

 


Leslie Stevens, Creator


The creator of Stoney Burke and its executive producer was Leslie Stevens. He also wrote many of the episodes and directed many, as well. 


Leslie Clark Stevens, III, was born on February 3, 1924, in Washington, DC, the son of Vice Admiral Leslie C. Stevens, Jr. During his father's assignment to London, England, Leslie attended performances of Shakespearean theater. He decided that he wanted to be a playwright. Later, in Washington, he won a playwriting contest. He ran away from home and joined Orson Welles' Mercury Theater group, which had purchased one of his plays. The police took him back home.


The admiral envisioned a navy life for his son, but Leslie had other ideas. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he enrolled in the Yale Drama School and then at the American Theater Wing.


He was drawn to Broadway and the theater. Even so, he had to work his way up the ladder before he found success. He wrote three Broadway plays that went into production:  Champagne Complex (1955), The Lovers (1956), and The Marriage-Go-Round (1960). The Marriage-Go-Round ran for 17 months. Stevens adapted it to the screen and produced it as a vehicle for Susan Hayward.


At that point, Stevens began writing screenplays, including The Left-Handed Gun (1958), Private Property (1960), Hero's Island (1962), and Incubus (1966). At the same time, he began working in television. Through his production company, Daystar Productions, he created two series: Stoney Burke (1962) and The Outer Limits (1963). He also wrote for the revival of Outer Limits (1996-1997).


Stevens wrote, produced, and directed the pilots and major episodes for It Takes a Thief  (1968) and McCloud (1970). His other work includes The Invisible Man, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Name of the Game, Battlestar Galactica: The Saga of a Star World, Search, and The Lovers.


Stevens won a Western Heritage Award for Fictional Television Drama for Stoney Burke. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series for The Name of the Game and Razzie Awards for Worst Screenplay for Return to the Blue Lagoon and Sheena: Queen of the Jungle.


Stevens passed away on April 24, 1998, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 74. The cause of death was a blood clot, a complication of emergency angioplasty. He is survived by his wife, Shakti Chen, and three children.

 

 

Behind the Scenes


Executive Producer / Creator: Leslie Stevens

Associate Producers: Allan Balter, Bob Barbash, John Elizalde, Jack Poplin, Ralph Riskin, Ron Silverman

Principal Directors: Leslie Stevens, Tom Gries, Leonard Horn, Laslo Benedek

Principal Writer: Leslie Stevens

Series Theme Composer: Dominic Frontiere

Consultant: Casey Tibbs, Founder, Rodeo Cowboys Association

Production Companies: Daystar Productions, United Artists Television Productions

Television Network: American Broadcasting Company (ABC)