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Classic Hollywood: These TV series never get old

'Retro Action-Adventure Thon at the Paley Center for Media will feature Clint Walker of 'Cheyenne,' Patrick Duffy of 'The Man From Atlantis' and more.

September 16, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Patrick Duffy, right, and Victor Buono in the series "The Man From Atlantis" in 1977.
Patrick Duffy, right, and Victor Buono in the series "The Man From… (Getty Images )

Television series may be canceled quickly or run out of steam after several seasons, but the special ones never really die. They live on in our collective memories. And thanks to cable, the Internet and DVD, these vintage series are becoming more than just fond recollections.

Clint Walker, the tall, ruggedly handsome former security guard and bouncer who became an overnight sensation 57 years ago as the heroic scout in the first hour-long television western, ABC's "Cheyenne," has his own website at http://www.clintwalker.com to keep up with the worldwide demand for autographs and pictures. And not just the fans who grew up with the series, which continued through 1963.

"I am getting crayon pictures from children of Cheyenne on a horse," said Walker, a hearty 85. "I am also getting letters from 17-year-olds and younger people."

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Walker, who quipped, "I still have all my hair, and it's still the same color," will be talking about the series and his career on Saturday during the two-day Retro Action-Adventure Thon at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

The event, also presented by the Warner Archive Collection, which has released numerous classic series on DVD recently, will also offer fans the chance to tour "Television Out of the Box," an exhibition that features memorabilia, costumes, props, photos and sets spanning the last six decades of Warner Bros. Television, including items from "Cheyenne."

"Upstairs in the exhibit you see his original costumes from 'Cheyenne,'" said Rene Reyes, director of public programs and festivals at the Paley. "His show was pivotal in TV history because it really proved the hour-long western could really succeed."

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The retrospective begins Friday evening at the Paley with a discussion with Patrick Duffy — not about his role as Bobby Ewing on the 1978-91 CBS series "Dallas" and the current TNT reboot but in NBC's "The Man From Atlantis," which began as four TV movies airing in 1976-77 and then as a 13-episode series in 1977-78.

Duffy was a young actor working as a carpenter between auditions when he got his first break as Mark Harris, an amnesiac with superhuman strength, webbed feet and the ability to breath underwater who was believed to be the only survivor of the lost city of Atlantis.

"The interesting thing about 'The Man From Atlantis' is that it lingers in people's memories," said Duffy, 63. "When I'm out in public people obviously say we are so glad 'Dallas' is back, but it's inevitable that one out of five say, 'You know I remember "The Man From Atlantis."'"

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He feels the show has a shelf life because of superhero adulation. "Look at what we are going through right now," he said. "It is the same syndrome with 'Iron Man' and 'Fantastic Four.' Superheroes offer some sense of hope. It seems to never fade."

Also appearing Saturday at the Paley is Ron Ely, 74, who played the title character in "Tarzan" on NBC in 1966-68. Rather than using the same monosyllabic tone employed by Johnny Weissmuller in the classic movies of the 1930s and 1940s, Ely was closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original creation — a sophisticated and educated man living in the jungle who preferred loinclothes and whose best friend was a chimp named Cheetah.

Warner Archive released the first season this year on DVD, and Ely has been shocked with the upswing in fan mail. "It's something of a mystery to me the way it sort of regenerated and picked back up," said Ely.

"It's almost as if people were waiting for these to come out. The production quality of the show was not top notch by virtue of the fact we were on location" in Brazil and Mexico.

Ely did his own stunts on the series. "I didn't insist on it, but it became a necessity," he said. "The important thing is you try to make something seamless. I didn't want publicity out on the fact I was doing the stunts, but then the injuries began to pile up."

Reporters were on the set when he took a terrible fall out of a tree. "It was first reported as fact that I was dead," he recalled. "That is when it came out I was doing a little more than people expected."

For more information on the Paley event, go to http://www.paleycenter.org and for Warner Archive TV titles check out http://www.warnerarchive.com.

Are you an aficionado of iconic Hollywood? Like our Classic Hollywood Facebook page to get more Times coverage.

susan.king@latimes.com

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