Old TV cowboys don’t die—they just make guest appearances on new television shows. Gene Barry, who from 1958 to 1961 played debonair, womanizing Bat Masterson, a man who never made a move without his derby hat and elegant gold-topped cane, and Hugh O’Brian, who from 1955 to 1961 was the sharp-shooting Wyatt Earp, are putting their characters back in the saddle for the two-hour season opener of Paradise.
Set in an 1890s mining town, the CBS series stars Lee Horsley as an ex-gunslinger who inherits the task of raising his sister’s four young children after she dies of consumption. The season premiere has Horsley jailed on trumped-up charges of hiding stolen Confederate gold. How to spring him? One posse-bility was to round up some of his buddies, notably Bat and Wyatt.
While Barry and O’Brian still cut a good figure, their equestrian form left a bit to be desired. “They were galloping on horses across this field, and it was kind of amusing in the close-up to see the look on their faces,” says director Michael Lange. “The script supervisor came up to me and said, ‘Does it bother you that Gene Barry looks petrified?’ ”
Although Barry, 67, didn’t have to be roped into reprising his role as the original Batman, he doesn’t exactly have fond memories of the series. “I hated the success, the public attention—it overwhelmed me,” says the actor, who followed his oater with Burke’s Law, The Name of the Game and Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles. “But you can’t take yourself out of the arena. If you do, you’re a goner. Even though I found [Bat Masterson] difficult to live with at the time, it’s fun to do him again.”
Since O’Brian, 64, gave TV sage the brush-off in 1961, he has appeared on Broadway in Destry Rides Again, in the 1976 movie The Shootist, with John Wayne, and in Twins, with Danny De-Vito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unlike Barry, O’Brian never resented fans who couldn’t forget him as a gunslinger. “Whenever I was out among ’em, I was always happy to see them,” says O’Brian, who is partially deaf in one ear because of his insistence on realistic, loud gunshots on Wyatt Earp. “I remembered when nobody wanted the autograph.” And if autograph seekers start ambushing again? It just might be paradise.