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Guy Madison; Star of 'Wild Bill Hickok'

February 07, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Guy Madison, a 1940s matinee idol who found his niche in westerns and was best remembered for his long-running 1950s television series "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok," died Tuesday. He was 74.

Madison, who made more than 85 motion pictures, died of emphysema at Desert Hospital Hospice in Palm Springs. He had been ill for some time.

"We shared a lot of campfires together. It is another empty saddle, and I will really miss him," said fellow Western star and lifelong hunting companion Rory Calhoun, Madison's neighbor in Morongo Valley near Palm Springs.

From 1951 to 1958, Madison portrayed the handsome Marshal James Butler Hickok in a precursor to other popular series about historic frontier figures such as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Kit Carson. The real Wild Bill Hickok, a Pony Express rider, Army scout and marshal of Abilene, Texas, in the 1800s, was reputedly far less good looking.

To make sure audiences realized the toughness beyond the pretty face, Hickok's introduction in the shows was always enhanced by the rasping refrain of Jingles, his comedic sidekick portrayed by the late Andy Devine: "That's Wild Bill Hickok, mister! The bravest, strongest, fightingest U.S. marshal in the whole West!"

A radio version of the show was broadcast on the Mutual network from 1951 to 1956.

Off the set, Madison had a genuine interest in western lore. He was known for handmaking bows and arrows and hunting with them, often with Calhoun.

Born Robert Ozell Moseley in Bakersfield, the athletic future actor first worked as a telephone lineman. When he joined the Navy in 1942, he was already a champion swimmer and was made a lifeguard at the North Island base on Coronado.

Agent Helen Ainsworth soon spotted the sailor's photo and encouraged him to hitchhike to Los Angeles for acting lessons. She also helped him land his first role--as a sailor on the make for Jennifer Jones in the 1944 film "Since You Went Away," which he filmed during a seven-day pass.

"I knew [stars] made lots of money--and that meant clothes, cars, maybe a boat. That was for me," he told The Times in 1946, after filming his second motion picture, "Till the End of Time," with Dorothy McGuire. His third film was "Honeymoon" opposite Shirley Temple in 1949.

Although Madison was initially considered a bobby-soxers' heartthrob, his rising star threatened to sink quickly until he fell into westerns. The first was "Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven" opposite Diana Lynn in 1948, followed by "Massacre River" with Calhoun in second billing in 1949.

The Hickok series on radio and the new medium of television introduced Madison to youngsters across the country. One 9-year-old fan persuaded her father, a Warner Bros. executive, to cast Madison in a 3-D approach to the western, "The Charge at Feather River," opposite Vera Miles. A major moneymaker, the 1953 film boosted Madison's big-screen career and made him Hollywood's biggest box office star. Warner signed him for five more pictures, including "The Command," filmed in the innovative Cinemascope.

As the oaters lost favor in the late 1950s, Madison tried producing pictures and then moved to Italy, where he continued acting in "spaghetti westerns" through the 1960s.

In recent years, he joined other celluloid cowboys at public events such as the opening of the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and in cameo roles, including a 1988 television remake of "Red River."

Divorced from actresses Gail Russell and Sheilah Connolly, Madison is survived by three daughters, Bridget, Erin and Dolly; one son, Robert; a sister, Rosemary Anderson of Sacramento, and two brothers, Wayne Moseley of Sherman Oaks and Harold Moseley of Mt. Shasta.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the Palm Springs Mortuary, Cathedral City.

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