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Stoney Burke

the only good guy to wear a black hat

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Photographer unknown. Deemed to be in the public domain as per Circular 3, Copyright Notice, US Copyright Office, Library of Congress

Rodeo careers can end without warning,

as quick as the next try at an eight-second ride.

~ John Branch

Jack Lord is a man so dedicated to his work that he almost lost his life for Stoney. 


"The Stoney Burke I Know" by Robert Dowdell, who played Cody Bristol. (link no longer works)



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


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. 

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.”

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.

Leslie Stevens, Creator

The creator and executive producer of Stoney Burke 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.

Leslie 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.



The Cast of Stoney Burke

Jack Lord as Stoney Burke

Robert Dowdell as Cody Bristol

Warren Oates as Ves Painter

Bruce Dern as E. J. Stocker

Bill Hart as Red

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)

JL Stoney Burke Lighter.jpg


SocialNeuron via Pixabay

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