The Tall Man was based on the historical figures of Pat Garrett and William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, though the series bears little resemblance to actual history other than the names of the characters. The series title refers to Garrett, who was nicknamed Juan Largo or Long John because of his 6'3" frame. The television series is set in 1870s New Mexico, where Garrett moved after brief stints as a cowboy in Texas and a buffalo hunter. He opened a saloon in New Mexico and his rumored friendship with Bonney, whose real name was Henry McCarty, supposedly stemmed from his bartending days, though there is no documented evidence that the two were really friendly.
After his predecessor resigned with two months to go on his term, Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico on a platform of establishing law and order. One of his first assignments was to arrest McCarty, for whom the New Mexico governor offered a $500 reward. Four days after Garrett killed one of McCarty's associates in a gunfight, he arrested McCarty and his gang members, killing another in the process. McCarty was tried and convicted but escaped from jail in April 1881. Garrett tracked him to Fort Sumner and ambushed him in a dark bedroom on July 14, 1881. The way in which Garrett killed Billy the kid, with the rumor of their prior friendship adding a dose of betrayal to the event, damaged Garrett's reputation such that he lost his bid for re-election and was unsuccessful in several attempts to be elected sheriff of other New Mexico towns. However, he published a book about McCarty, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, and later became a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, though his association with known gambler Tom Powers eventually made the friendship too embarrassing for the politician. After retiring to a ranch in New Mexico, Garrett ran up his own gambling debts and to settle these he was forced to loan some of his land for grazing to one of his debt-holder's associates, Jesse Wayne Brazel. Garrett was eventually shot and killed by Brazel on February 29, 1908 after the two had several arguments over Brazel's insistence on grazing goats rather than cattle on Garrett's land. Brazel was tried for first-degree murder but was acquitted.
In the television version, Garrett and Billy have established some sort of friendship before the first episode, though there is no detailed explanation of when and how that occurred, at least in the first 16 episodes that aired in calendar year 1960. In the debut episode, "Garrett and the Kid" (September 10, 1960), Garrett has just been hired as deputy of Lincoln, New Mexico by Sheriff John Brady, and he and Billy take part in a shooting contest that ends in a draw, showing that the two of them are equally expert marksmen. As with many of the early episodes, the two express the hope that they will never have to shoot it out against each other, though they hint that this may someday become a necessity because Garrett is a staunch advocate of the rule of law, while Billy has a looser interpretation of what's right and wrong. This first episode also establishes the nature of their relationship--Garrett is portrayed as a father figure or older brother trying to steer the somewhat reckless Billy down the right path, always concerned that Billy will veer off into trouble or danger. For example, in "The Parson" (October 29, 1960) forces Billy to have a talk with the town's new parson John Lesley, a former gunslinger who found religion while serving jail time. However, by episode's end it is Billy who comes to the parson's aid when the preacher is hunted down by a blind man bent on revenge.
Billy, for his part, sometimes resists Garrett's direction but remains completely loyal, even when offered $2000 by corrupt town boss Paul Mason to kill Garrett in "Garrett and the Kid" or when asked by pretty, flirtatious Agatha Evans to let her escape after she has perpetrated a series of feud-related revenge killings in "And the Beast" (November 26, 1960). Billy explains to those who would have him betray Garrett that the lawman was the only one who stood by him when others said he was a no account destined for ruin. When Billy is accused of bank robbery in "A Bounty for Billy" (October 15, 1960), of shooting a man in a bar dispute in "Billy's Baby" (December 24, 1960), and of stealing a prize Winchester '73 that Garrett won in another shooting contest in "One of One Thousand" (December 31, 1960), Billy's initial reaction is to run away, not believing that he will receive a fair trial because he figures most people want to see him hang. Even though two of these events happen in towns other than Lincoln with their own sheriffs, Garrett persuades them that they will never catch Billy and that he is the only one who will be able to convince him to come back and stand trial. Both times Billy is willing to surrender because he has implicit trust that Garrett will ensure that he is treated fairly.
But when Billy tries to extend this same level of tolerance to another outcast, an Apache brave in "Tiger Eye" (December 17, 1960), events do not proceed as smoothly. When Garrett and Billy find the titular character tied up with wooden stakes on top of an ant mound, Billy is not satisfied with freeing the brave but also wants to take him back to town, provide him with clothing and shelter and even get him a job as a swamper at the local saloon. Garrett is more cautious, telling Billy that he doesn't know anything about the young man or whether he can be trusted. When the young brave is cruelly teased by a drunk saloon patron and then cursed by his employer, he retaliates by ambushing the taunter in a dark alley and stabbing him to death, then running away. Billy, like Garrett, tracks down the accused killer and tries to convince him to come back and stand trial, but the brave refuses and reveals that he was cast out by his tribe and staked on the ant mound because he killed a girl he loved in a fit of rage after she rejected him because of his monstrous-looking eye. Instead of trusting Billy, Tiger Eye engages him in a knife fight and is about to inflict a fatal blow before Garrett shows up and shoots him dead. The fact that Billy is unable to earn the trust of Tiger Eye is meant to serve as an indication of the unique and special relationship he has with Garrett.
Though the show has its share of recycled plots--"Counterfeit Law" (November 19, 1960) concerns a renegade self-appointed judge whose corrupted form of justice rules over a remote settlement, and "Bitter Ashes" (December 3, 1960) depicts Garrett as the single lawmen who lost the love of his life to a vengeful villain--they all find a way to work in the relationship between Garrett and Billy, with one typically bailing the other out of trouble. "Bitter Ashes" actually takes an unexpected final twist when it is Billy who reminds Garrett that justice must be distributed by the courts when he stops Garrett short of beating his wife's killer to death. The producers also try to inject some levity amongst all the fatal gunplay and fisticuffs by including two episodes featuring veteran comedy star Andy Clyde in the role of alcoholic and out-of-the-loop father Pa McBean, whose daughters May and June engage in horse stealing in "Larceny and Young Ladies" (November 12, 1960) and whiskey-running in "McBean Rides Again" (December 10, 1960). Due to the corny, see-it-from-a-mile-away humor, these episodes are the least enjoyable in the series, though they were apparently popular with someone because McBean was brought back for three more episodes in later years.
The choice of musical director for The Tall Man was also puzzling--the king of Space Age Bachelor Music, Juan Garcia Esquivel, whose music would seem more suited for a situation comedy than a dramatic western. Esquivel's music was known for its quirky use of unusual instruments like steel guitar in a large orchestral setting, wordless backing vocals, and wild stereo ping-pong panning from one channel to the other. His theme for The Tall Man is a kind of orchestral march punctuated by organ bursts that apparently are meant to mimic gun shots. His scores for individual episodes sometimes contained seemingly inappropriate accompaniment, such as a spritely bouncing number in the middle of a particularly dramatic or tense moment, making one wonder if the composer actually watched the film before composing or merely provided whatever struck his fancy at the time. The bulk of Esquivel's recorded output was released in the 1950s and 1960s, though the Lounge Music revival of the 1990s saw several of his albums reissued on CD, and in 1996 he did a voice-over for the band Combustible Edison on Merry Christmas From the Space Age Bachelor Pad. He died January 3, 2002 at the age of 83 in his homeland of Mexico.
The complete series has been released on DVD by Timeless Media Group.
Patrick Barry Sullivan, the seventh son of a seventh son, gave up playing semi-pro football and took up acting when told that because of his 6'3" height and good looks all he would have to do is stand on a stage to make lots of money. While he successfully made the switch to the stage, many of his theatrical productions were flops. He moved on to film, starting in the 1930s, playing the lead in B-movie fare such as The Gangster but more often playing supporting roles such as with Alan Ladd in the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby and as a movie director opposite Kirk Douglas in The Bad and the Beautiful. Prior to being cast as Pat Garrett on The Tall Man, he played the lead role of Capt. David Scott in the TV series The Harbormaster, which ran for a single season in 1957-58.
After The Tall Man, Sullivan continued to get supporting film roles and TV guest appearances, as he would until he retired from acting in 1980. He had another lead TV role as Ben Pride on The Road West in 1966-67 and played Senator Paxton in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man, Book II in 1976-77. His daughter Jenny became an actress and later a theater director and was at one time married to rock musician Jim Messina. His daughter Patricia became the face of Yardley cosmetics in the 1960s at the age of 12 and later married songwriter Jimmy Webb. Sullivan died of respiratory failure at the age of 81 on June 6, 1994.
William Martin Gulager was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, the son of a vaudevillian and cowboy entertainer who once worked with George M. Cohan. Gulager, whose claimed his nickname came from the clu-clu birds, or martins, that nested near their home; his mother, in a November 26, 1960 TV Guide feature article about him, says that he was named after an uncle who was an Oklahoma state senator. He is himself a cousin of western entertainer Will Rogers and can trace his roots to the Cherokee Native American tribe. After serving in the Marines directly after World War II, Gulager studied theatre in Paris under actor Jean-Louis Barrault before returning to the States and appearing in theatre productions at Baylor University. One of those productions, A Different Drummer, was moved to New York in 1956 and proved to be his big break, as work on New York-based drama anthology shows followed soon thereafter. After moving to Hollywood, Gulager had a smattering of guest appearances on shows like Laramie, Have Gun Will Travel, and Wanted: Dead or Alive before he was signed to play the part of Billy the Kid on The Tall Man.
After the show's two-year run, Gulager joined the cast of The Virginian as Emmett Ryker for five years, from 1963-68. In 1971 he played the character of Abilene in Pete Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show and continued making occasional guest appearances on shows like Mannix, Bonanza, Mod Squad, and Kung Fu during the 1970s. He played Cuda Weber in the short-lived 1979 TV series The MacKenzies of Paradise Cove and was the original choice to play Chase Gioberti in the unaired pilot of Falcon Crest, though the role went to Robert Foxworth once the series started actual production. In the 1980s he appeared in many B-grade horror films, most notably Return of the Living Dead, but also starred as Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan in the mini-series North and South, Book II. He has continued making sporadic appearance in TV shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as well as budget horror flicks like Feast, with his most recent role in 2012's Piranha 3DD. His 1969 short film, A Day With the Boys, was nominated for the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, though he has not written, directed, or produced anything else since then. His sons John and Tom are both actors, and John directed some of the later horror films Gulager has appeared in.
Notable Guest Stars
Season 1, Episode 1, "Garrett and the Kid": Denver Pyle (Ben Thompson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Grandpa Tarleton on Tammy, Briscoe Darlingon The Andy Griffith Show, Buck Webb on The Doris Day Show, Mad Jack on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays Silver Springs Marshal Dave Leggert. Vaughn Taylor (shown on the left, starred in Jailhouse Rock, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Psycho, and In Cold Blood and played Ernest P. Duckweather on Johnny Jupiter) plays Silver Springs Judge Riley. Robert Middleton (Barney Wales on The Monroes) plays Silver Springs boss Paul Mason. Sam Flint (Mr. Armstead on Father Knows Best) plays an unnamed marshal in Lincoln County. King Donovan (appeared in Angels in the Outfield, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Defiant Ones and played Harvey Helm on The Bob Cummings Show) plays the Silver Queen saloon barker. Linda Lawson (jazz singer who played Renee on Adventures in Paradise, Pat Perry on Don't Call Me Charlie, and Laura Fremont on Ben Casey) plays an unnamed saloon girl singer.
Season 1, Episode 2, "Forty Dollar Boots": Ford Rainey (shown on the right, appeared in 3:10 to Yuma, Flaming Star, and The Sand Pebbles and played Lloyd Ramsey on Window on Main Street, Jim Elgin on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Nate on Ned and Stacey, and Mickey on The King of Queens) plays Lincoln Sheriff John Brady. Ken Lynch (appeared in I Married a Monster From Outer Space, Anatomy of a Murder, and Dead Ringer and played Lt. Thomas Brand on Checkmate, Det. Lt. Tom Handley on Arrest and Trial, Lt. Barney Keller on Honey West, and Police Sgt. Grover on McCloud) plays cattle baron Andy Gorman. Jim Davis (Matt Clark on Stories of the Century, Wes Cameron on Rescue 8, Marshal Bill Winter on The Cowboys, and Jock Ewing on Dallas) plays Gorman's henchman Bob Orringer. Ron Soble (Dirty Jim on The Monroes) plays Billy's friend Charlie Evers.
Season 1, Episode 3, "Bad Company": Ralph Votrian (King Lexian in Masked Rider) plays second-generation immigrant Johnny Nagle. Adele Lamont (starred in The Brain That Wouldn't Die) plays cantina dancer Camilla. Guy Wilkerson (played Panhandle Perkins in 22 westerns) plays Lincoln citizen Jake Marlow.
Season 1, Episode 4, "The Shawl": Gregory Walcott (starred in Badman's Country and Plan 9 From Outer Space and played Det. Roger Havilland on 87th Precinct) plays outlaw Jim Roberts. Daria Massey (Naja on The Islanders) plays Billy's girlfriend Maria Perez. Linda Dangcil (Sister Ana on The Flying Nun) plays Maria's friend Rosita.
Season 1, Episode 5, "The Lonely Star": Ford Rainey (see "Forty Dollar Boots" above) returns as Sheriff Brady. Ken Lynch (shown on the left, see "Forty Dollar Boots" above) returns as cattle baron Andy Gorman. Jim Davis (see "Forty Dollar Boots" above) returns as henchman Bob Orringer. Henry Norell (Henry Slocum on Oh, Those Bells) plays Lincoln Mayor Baldwin.
Season 1, Episode 6, "A Bounty for Billy": Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Paris on Mission: Impossible, and Dr. William Bell on Fringe) plays new Lincoln deputy Johnny Swift. Malcolm Atterbury (starred in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Birds, and The Learning Tree and played John Bixby on Wagon Train and Grandfather Aldon on Apple's Way) plays lynch-minded citizen Jaggers. Robert J. Stevenson (bartender Big Ed on Richard Drum and Marshal Hugh Strickland on Stagecoach West) plays citizen Beldon. Charles Seel (the bartender on Tombstone Territory, Mr. Krinkie on Dennis the Menace, and Tom Pride on The Road West) plays Tundell camp cook Dan.
Season 1, Episode 7, "The Parson": Harold J. Stone (John Kennedy on The Grand Jury, Hamilton Greeley on My World and Welcome to It, and Sam Steinberg on Bridget Loves Bernie) plays vengeful blind man Ben Myers. Richard Devon (Jody Barker on Yancy Derringer) plays new parson John Lelsey. Ed Prentiss (Mr. Bailey on Leave It to Beaver and Carl Jensen on The Virginian) plays banker Mr. Colby.
Season 1, Episode 8, "Night Train to Tularosa": Claude Akins (shown on the left, played Sonny Pruett on Movin' On and Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo on B.J. and the Bear and on Lobo) plays prison-bound convict Dan Rees. Robert McQueeney (Conley Wright on The Gallant Men) plays vengeful brother Max Bragg.
Season 1, Episode 9, "Larceny and Young Ladies": Andy Clyde (shown on the right, see the post for The Real McCoys) plays new settler Pa McBean. Cynthia Chenault (Carol Potter on The Tom Ewell Show) plays his daughter May. Judy Vincent (Jet Maypen on Walt Disney Presents: Annette) plays his daughter June. Phil Chambers (Sgt Myles Magruder on The Gray Ghost and Jed Ransom on Lassie) plays a swindled horse buyer.
Season 1, Episode 10, "Counterfeit Law": George MacReady (starred in Gilda, The Black Arrow, Julius Caesar, Paths of Glory, and The Alligator People and played Martin Peyton on Peyton Place) plays renegade judge Barlow.
Season 1, Episode 11, "And the Beast": Regis Toomey (starred in Alibi, Other Men's Women, The Finger Points, His Girl Friday, and The Big Sleep and played Joe Mulligan on The Mickey Rooney Show, Lt. Manny Waldo on Four Star Playhouse, Lt. McGough on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Det. Les Hart on Burke's Law, and Dr. Barton Stuart on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres) plays Lincoln's Doc Corbin.
Season 1, Episode 12, "Bitter Ashes": R.G. Armstrong (shown on the left, played Police Capt. McAllister on T.H.E. Cat and Lewis Vendredi on Friday the 13th) plays land-grabber Neal Bailey. Paul Baxley (stunt coordinator on Riverboat, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, T.H.E. Cat, Wonder Woman, and The Dukes of Hazzard) plays his henchman Williams.
Season 1, Episode 13, "McBean Rides Again": Andy Clyde (see the post for The Real McCoys) returns as Pa McBean. Judy Vincent (see "Larceny and Young Ladies" above) returns as his daughter June. Olive Sturgess (Carol Henning on The Bob Cummings Show) plays his daughter May.
Season 1, Episode 14, "Tiger Eye": Richard Bakalyan (starred in The Delicate Delinquent, The Cool and the Crazy, Juvenile Jungle, Hot Car Girl, Paratroop Command, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) plays Cherokee outcast Tiger Eye. Paul Bryar (Sheriff Harve Anders on The Long, Hot Summer) plays saloon keeper Joe. Michael Hinn (Luke Cummings on Boots and Saddles and George Haig on Johnny Ringo) plays posse member Forbes.
Season 1, Episode 16, "One of One Thousand": George Wallace (starred in Radar Men From the Moon, Destry, and Forbidden Planet and played Judge Milton Cole on Hill Street Blues and Grandpa Hank Hammersmith on Sons and Daughters) plays buffalo hunter Jim Miles. Harry Carey, Jr. (shown on the right, starred in Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Mister Roberts, and The Searchers and played Bill Burnett on The Adventures of Spin and Marty) plays Fort Sumner resident Dusty.