top of page

Stoney's Sidekicks

This makes me think of the final episode of Stoney Burke, "The Journey," when Stoney releases the horses into the wild, rather than let them suffer

at the hands of the crooked slaughter house manager.

Horses by Clarence Alford (Pixabay Free Images)

Stoney had three sidekicks, Cody Bristol (Robert Dowdell), E. J. Stocker (Bruce Dern), and Ves Painter (Warren Oates). In addition, another member of the rodeo, Red (Bill Hart), was friends with Stoney & Co. Here are the biographies of Warren Oates, Robert Dowdell, and Bruce Dern:



Ves Painter 

Warren Oates


Personal.  Born Warren Mercer Oates on July 5, 1928, to Sarah Alice Mercer Oates and Bayless E. Oates in Depoy, Kentucky. His father owned a general store. After graduating from high school in Louisville, Kentucky, Warren attended the University of Louisville, where he discovered his love for acting. Warren Oates was married four times and had three children. He died on April 3, 1982, at the age of 53, from a heart attack in Los Angeles, California. 


Career.  After appearing in school and Little Theater productions in Louisville, he moved to New York City, where he appeared in television productions. In 1957, he moved to California. His first television theater performance was in The United States Steel Hour's production of "Operation Three R's" (1956). His first appearance in a feature film was an uncredited role in Up Periscope (1959). Soon, he was appearing in such television series as Tombstone Territory and in such feature films as Yellowstone Kelly (1959).


In 1962, he was chosen to portray Ves Painter, a somewhat dodgy character, yet at times a friend of the title character in Stoney Burke. He appeared in only eleven of the series' thirty-two episodes, yet he left his trademark as surely as if he had been present in each and every one.


After the cancellation of Stoney Burke, Mr. Oates went on to appear in such well-known television series as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Twelve O'Clock High, and The Virginian.


Oates is noted for his work in Sam Peckinpah films, most notably The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. He also worked with other notable directors, including Leslie Stevens, Joseph L. Manikiewicz, John Milius, Terrence Malick, Philip Kaufman, William Friedkin, and Steven Spielberg.


His films include Tom Sawyer, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, Return of the Seven, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, and China 9, Liberty 37. Several of his films have become cult classics, including Two-Lane Blacktop.



Shared the Bronze Wrangler Award, given by the Western Heritage Awards, for "Fictional Television Drama" with Leslie Stevens (director), Jack Lord (actor), and Robert Dowdell (actor) for the episode "The Contender," Stoney Burke (1963).

Nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his performance in A Job for Mr. Banks (1972).

Nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in 1941 (1979).

University of Louisville scholarship for promising students in the arts was named for him.



Cody Bristol 

Robert Dowdell


Personal.  Robert "Bob" Dowdell was born in  Chicago, Illinois (some sources say Park Ridge, Illinois), on March 10, 1932. After graduating from high school, where he received his first acting experience, he attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut and the University of Chicago, both on scholarship. His education was cut short by World War II; he served in the Army. Upon discharge, he worked as a brakeman on a railroad, washed airplanes, drove a dry cleaning delivery truck, sold books, and worked on an automotive assembly line.


Career.  Having decided to pursue acting, Dowdell moved to New York City, where he helped David Ross establish his off-Broadway venue, the Fourth Street Theatre. Knowing Ross enabled him to land the lead in the theater's first production, The Dybbuk. Realizing he needed formal training if he was to continue acting, he studied under acting coach Wynn Handman. That experience led to his selection for a role in Time Limit, an on-Broadway drama set against the aftermath of the Korean War.


Soon, Dowdell met Leslie Stevens, an up-and-coming writer and producer, and was selected to appear in Stevens' play The Lovers with Joanne Woodward.  That experience introduced him to director Arthur Penn, who introduced him to acting for television. Penn was directing the television theater series Studio One and enabled Dowdell to appear in more than one of its productions. Dowdell would go on to appear in similar series, such as the Hallmark Hall of Fame, Kraft Television Theatre, and Goodyear Television Playhouse, among others. While pursuing further work on Broadway,  Dowdell appeared with Jessica Tandy in Five Finger Exercise, which went on national tour.


It was at that time that Leslie Stevens moved to Hollywood and asked Dowdell to drive his father's Buick to Los Angeles for him. He did  and found himself with a co-starring role in Stevens' first television series, Stoney Burke. Even though the series lasted only one year, Dowdell credits it with catapulting him into the role of LCdr Chip Morton in the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. That role ensured Dowdell's future in acting.


In addition to appearing in such television series as Adam 12, Capitol, and Dynasty,  Dowdell appeared in nearly a dozen movies, including Terror in the Sky, O'Hara, US Treasury: Operation Cobra, and Assassination. He retired from acting in the mid-1990s.


Award.  Shared the Bronze Wrangler Award, given by the Western Heritage Awards, for "Fictional Television Drama" with Leslie Stevens (director), Jack Lord (actor), and Warren Oates (actor) for the episode "The Contender," Stoney Burke (1963).



E. J. Stocker 

Bruce Dern


Personal.  Bruce MacLeish Dern was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 4, 1936, to Jean MacLeish Dern and John Dern. He descends from a family of notable personage, including a former Utah governor and Secretary of War. He attended The Choate School and the University of Pennsylvania.  Three times married, he is the father of of two daughters by his second wife, Diane Ladd, and, since 1969, has been married to Andrea Beckett. In 2007, he published the memoir he wrote with Christopher Frye and Robert Crane, Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have: An Unrepentant Memoir (Wiley Press, ISBN-10: 0470106379, ISBN-13: 978-0470106372).


Career.  While in Philadelphia, he appeared in a stage production of Waiting for Godot. His first screen appearance was in 1960, in Wild River (uncredited). There followed a long run of television series, including a co-starring role on Stoney Burke. Dern left Stoney Burke in mid-season, after seventeen episodes, perhaps in response to the drowning death of his 18-month-old daughter.


In 1964, he appeared briefly in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie and in the Bette Davis movie, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Other notable films of the period include The Wild Angels, Will Penny, and Hang 'Em High.


Thus began Dern's career as a portrayer of "sociopaths, psychotics, and just plain criminals"(Hopwood, imdb).  In fact, he is sometimes remembered as "the only actor who ever killed John Wayne in a picture" (Dern, imdb). And, so, he has been pegged a villain. It is a label that has won him great popularity with his fans, but it is not the label he wanted to wear.


To his credit, he has delivered excellent performances in non-villanous roles in such productions as The Great Gatsby, The King of Marvin Gardens, and Coming Home. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Coming Home. In fact, he has won many awards for his work through the years and remains very active to this day.



Won the National Society of Film Critics Award, USA, for Best Supporting Actor, Drive, He Said, 1972.

Won the Western Heritage Bronze Wrangler Award (shared), The Cowboys, 1972.

Nominated for a Golden Globe Award, Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, The Great Gatsby, 1975.

Nominated for an Oscar, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Coming Home, 1979.

Nominated for a Golden Globe Award, Best Motion Picture Actor in a Supporting Role, Coming Home, 1979.

Nominated for a Genie Award, Best Performance by a Foreign Actor, Middle Age Crazy, 1981.

Nominated for a Razzie Award, Worst Actor, Tattoo, 1982.

Nominated for a Genie Award, Best Performance by a Foreign Actor, Harry Tracy, Desperado, 1983.

Won the Silver Berlin Bear, Best Actor in That Championship Season, 1983.

Won the Golden Boot Award, 2002 (no details given).

Won the Philadelphia Film Festival's Jury Award, Swamp Devil, 2008.

Won a star on the Motion Picture Walk of Fame, 2010.

Nominated for the Method Fest Award, Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film, The Lightkeepers, 2010.

Nominated for an Emmy, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, Big Love, 2011.

bottom of page