|Created by||Roy Huggins|
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
|Theme music composer||David Buttolph
Paul Francis Webster
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||124 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||William T. Orr|
|Running time||60 mins.|
|Picture format||1.33:1 monochrome|
|First shown in||Sundays at 7:30pm|
|Original run||September 22, 1957 – April 22, 1962|
|Followed by||The New Maverick
The Rockford Files
Maverick is a comedy-western television series created by Roy Huggins that ran from September 22, 1957 to July 8, 1962 on ABC and featured James Garner, Jack Kelly, Roger Moore, and Robert Colbert as the poker-playing traveling Mavericks (Bret, Bart, Beau, & Brent). Moore and Colbert were later additions, though there were never more than two current Mavericks in the series at any given time, and sometimes only one.
Maverick 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 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. One actor who turned down the role, but accepted a free trip to America was Sean Connery who Roger Moore replaced as James Bond.
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.
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.
As 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 March and April, 1961. Colbert had previously appeared in the 4th episode of the 4th season as "Cherokee" Dan Evans, and appeared as Brent in episode 28 with Jack Kelly and in a solo appearance for episode 30.
For the fifth season in 1961-1962, the studio dropped Colbert (without notifying him; they simply didn't call him back in) 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.
After the series, later Colbert appeared as a Brent-like character called "Ace" in an episode of Bonanza in 1965 titled "Meredith Smith".
Recurring supporting roles included Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley (1957-1958; sophisticated con artist Buckley was a version of Maverick without the ethics), Diane Brewster as Samantha Crawford (1957-1958), Richard Long as Gentleman Jack Darby (1958-1959; Darby filled in for Buckley's character when Zimbalist moved to his own TV detective series), Arlene Howell as Cindy Lou Brown (1958-1959), Leo Gordon as two-fisted Irish ally Big Mike McComb (1957-1959), both Gerald Mohr and Peter Breck as Doc Holliday, both John Dehner and Andrew Duggan as Big Ed Murphy, and Kathleen Crowley in multiple appearances as several different romantic interests for Bret, Bart, and Beau (Melanie Blake, Modesty Blaine, etc.). Mona Freeman also portrayed Modesty Blaine twice, but played the character as borderline homicidal and almost psychotic, with a disturbingly wild look in her eyes, which was quite different from Crowley's interpretation.
Character actors from the era enhanced every episode, some of them appearing seven or eight times over the course of the series in various roles. A very young Joel Grey played Billy the Kid in an unusual episode that featured a bravura pistol-twirling exhibition by Garner, and a chubby, acne-scarred Robert Redford joined Kelly on a desperate cattle drive. Stacy Keach, Sr. played a sheriff in "Ghost Rider" (the resemblance to his son, actor Stacy Keach, is strong enough that it has confused modern viewers). Slim Pickens, Lee Van Cleef, John Carradine, Tol Avery, Buddy Ebsen, Chubby Johnson, Hans Conried, Alan Hale, Jr., Jim Backus, Patric Knowles, John Vivyan, and dozens of other character actors appeared at least once if not several times during the run of the series, and attractive supporting actresses included Mala Powers, Catherine McLeod, Coleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Erin O'Brien, Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn, Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, Ruta Lee, Joi Lansing, Karen Steele, Roxane Berard, Abby Dalton, Dawn Wells, Joanna Barnes, Pat Crowley, Connie Stevens, Julie Adams, Saundra Edwards, Whitney Blake, Merry Anders, Sherry Jackson, Kaye Elhardt, Jean Willes, Suzanne Lloyd, Paula Raymond, Fay Spain, and Adele Mara.
The program's stentorian-voiced announcer ("Maverick! Starring Jack Kelly and Robert Colbert!") was character actor Ed Reimers.
Arguably the five most famous individual episodes of the series remain "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" (in which Bret spends most of the acclaimed episode apparently relaxing in a rocking chair, calmly whittling and offhandedly assuring the inquisitive and derisively amused townspeople that he's "working on it" while Bart runs a complex sting operation to swindle a crooked banker who'd blithely pocketed Bret's deposit of $15,000), "According to Hoyle" (the first appearance of Diane Brewster as roguish Samantha Crawford, a role she'd played earlier in an episode of another western TV series called Cheyenne), "The Saga of Waco Williams" (which also drew the largest viewership of the series), "Gun-Shy" (a spoof of Gunsmoke), and "Duel at Sundown" (with Clint Eastwood as a fist-fighting and gun-slinging villain).
Jack Kelly's favorite episode was "Two Beggars On Horseback," a sweeping adventure that depicted a frenzied race between Bret and Bart to cash a check, the only time in the series that Kelly also wore a black hat, albeit briefly.
"Pappy" stands out as a unique episode, with James Garner playing Bret and Bart's father Beau, an important but previously unseen character always referred to throughout the run of the series as "Pappy." Bret and Bart were both constantly saying, "As my Pappy used to say" then reeling off some intriguing aphorism like "Work is fine for killing time but it's a shaky way to make a living." In this particular episode, Pappy was brought to life for the only time in the series by Garner, and Bret also winds up disguising himself as his own grey-haired, mustachioed father as part of the plotline. The split screen sequences with two Garners in the same shot were singled out by critics as especially interesting. Kelly also plays a dual role, briefly portraying old Beau's brother Bentley, or "Uncle Bent," as Bret calls him. Garner's Beau Maverick is not the same character as the Beau Maverick played by Roger Moore later in the series; Moore's Beau is the nephew of Garner's Beau as well as Bret and Bart's cousin; and Beau Maverick always referred to "Uncle Beau" (instead of calling him "Pappy", obviously). In the Warner Brothers tradition of casting members of their studio players, Troy Donahue plays the son of a long-time lover of Pappy.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.'s charming character Dandy Jim Buckley (Maverick minus the meticulous scruples) appears to especially superb effect in the epic "Stampede" and comedy of treachery "The Jail at Junction Flats." The latter episode features a memorable conclusion that offended many 1958 viewers. Zimbalist went on to play the lead in his own series, 77 Sunset Strip, after five appearances as Buckley. Huggins recruited Richard Long to fill the void as a similar character named "Gentleman Jack Darby," and both Buckley and Darby appear in "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," although not in the same scenes.
Many episodes are humorous while others are deadly serious, and in addition to purely original scripts, producer Roy Huggins drew upon works by writers as disparate as Louis Lamour and Robert Louis Stevenson to give the series breadth and scope. The Maverick brothers never stopped traveling, and the show was as likely to be set on a riverboat or in New Orleans as in a western desert or frontier saloon.
The last episode of the series, "One of Our Trains Is Missing," one of the better Kelly episodes of the truncated fifth season, brought several recurring characters together in a twisted train heist involving Peter Breck (who went on to star in "The Big Valley" with Barbara Stanwyck) as Doc Holliday and Kathleen Crowley as Modesty Blaine. Breck had previously appeared as a wanted train robber with a day job as a sheriff in the episode "Destination Devil's Flat" and brought a wry take to the role which blended well with the Maverick world. This episode ends with Bart Maverick, Doc Holliday, and Modesty Blaine walking the train tracks into the sunset as they argue over the division of the reward Bart received from Diamond Jim Brady, a fitting end for the series.
In 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.
Two 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.
In 1994, a lavish film version of Maverick starred Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, Jodie Foster, and James Garner in a significant supporting role as Bret Maverick's father. Garner maintained in later interviews that he was playing exactly the same character as in the television series, with Gibson as his son, but the script itself leaves this open to conjecture; some assume that he was actually portraying Bret's father Beau "Pappy" Maverick, a role he'd played on the original series in the episode entitled "Pappy." A "Making of" mini-documentary was broadcast on cable stations prior to the film's release that included no footage of Garner from the original series.
During the height of the TV show's popularity, the Maverick brothers starred in a comic book drawn by Dan Spiegle. Spiegle met Garner at the studio before the first Maverick comic was drawn because no publicity photos were available yet. Spiegle explained in an interview about comic books he'd drawn: "I would say my favorite was Maverick, which ran about three years----fairly successful, considering the run of other western strips published then. I was assigned this strip even before they had stills available for the show, so I was sent down to Warner Bros. to see it in production----where I met James Garner, which is perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much. Having met the star, I was extra careful to make the drawings I did look as parallel to the real person as possible. I put my all into that strip, having fun all the way."
Writers for Maverick included Roy Huggins ("Shady Deal at Sunny Acres"), Russell S. Hughes ("According to Hoyle"), Gerald Drayson Adams ("Stampede"), Montgomery Pittman ("The Saga of Waco Williams"), Douglas Heyes ("The Quick and the Dead"), Marion Hargrove ("The Jail at Junction Flats"), Howard Browne ("Duel at Sundown"), Leo Townsend ("The Misfortune Teller"), Gene Levitt ("The Comstock Conspiracy"), Leo Gordon (who also acted on the series), and George Waggner, among many others.
For a complete list of every episode in the series with comments and notations of which recurring characters appeared, see the comprehensive List of Maverick episodes.
Two different books on the Maverick TV series were published in 1994, one by Burl Barer and the other by Ed Robertson, and serve as the main sources for the background information in this article, together with various magazine pieces from TV Guide, Life Magazine, and numerous others, along with viewings of the original series episodes, many of which remain available to the public at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.