By Frank J. Buchman
He wasn’t wearing a white shirt, well-shaped silver belly hat, low-slung southpaw pistol holster or riding a grey horse.
Actually one wouldn’t have readily recognized the true Old West-attired cowboy speaker.
Even his real name might have had a few minds boggled, especially those of today’s generation.
Yet, Walter C. Taylor III, going by Buck Taylor, attracted enthusiastic welcome from longtime fans when he visited Council Grove.
Best known by Saturday night television viewers four decades earlier as Newly O’Brien, the debonair cowboy still drew ample heartthrobs.
Buck alias Newly came for the Gunfight On The Santa Fe Trail featured Friday and Saturday at the Neosho Riverwalk.
Consenting to visiting with his vast admirers, mostly in the maturity group, Newly’s fans and friends gathered early. Seth Hays, early Council Grove businessman alias Mark Brooks, introduced the real life cowboy who reminisced and congenially answered questions.
Historians Ken Spurgeon, Friends University at Wichita, and Deb Goodrich, Around Kansas television show cohost from Oakley, assisted with interviewing.
The longest running television show, Gunsmoke aired 20 years, beginning in 1955. Buck Taylor was on the cast the final eight seasons for 174 episodes. Gunsmoke reruns continue as popular noontime television viewing.
From 1967 to 1975, Buck played Newly O’Brien who came to Dodge City as a gunsmith, and became a deputy. Buck reprised his Newly role in the 1987 television movie Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge, when he played the city’s marshal.
“It was a dream come true for me to be a part of that great show,” said Buck, now 83. “The other cast members became my dearest friends.”
Actually show business wasn’t anything new to Buck, son of early day Western movie star Dub Taylor. “Dad and mom moved to Hollywood before I was born,” Buck said. “Dad worked as a sidekick with most of those early day movie cowboy and I got to meet them all.”
It was a natural route for Buck to follow in his dad’s boot steps as a cowboy movie actor. “I grew up cleaning stalls for the horse contractors who furnished all of the horses for the Westerns,” Buck said. “While many of the actors didn’t really know much about horses, there were real cowboys, like Ben Johnson, too. They were my biggest heroes. That’s what I wanted to be, a real cowboy.”
While his movie success has been impressive, Buck is a real working cowboy now living on a ranch in Texas. “My wife Goldie and I have our own horses to ride and raise Longhorn cattle. It’s a family operation,” he said. Buck has four grown children: Adam, Cooper, Tiffany and Matthew.
“I still find time to make a movie now and then when the offers come along that I like,” Buck admitted.
In 1981, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, inducted Buck into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He was honored with the Trustee Award for his Gunsmoke performances.
A North Hollywood High School graduate, Buck was a talented gymnast. “Burt Lancaster’s tumbling acts as a circus acrobat inspired me,” Buck said. “I trained very hard and tried out for the Olympics in 1960, but didn’t make the U.S. Team.” Still, Buck tied for first in the horizontal bars and was third in rings.
After two years serving in the United States Navy, Buck was perfectly set for a movie career. “I had a number of opportunities working as a stunt man in the movies. It was that or be a tumbler in the circus,” he said.
His first important acting role was in the 1961 Zane Grey Theatre. Other parts followed including the 1966 Western series: The Monroes.
Acting in no less than 25 feature films, Buck is prominently remembered as Turkey Creek Jack Johnson in the 1993 movie Tombstone. “Working with Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott and the other top actors was a most memorable experience,” he said.
Most recently, Buck had a reoccurring role as Emmett Walsh in the television drama Yellowstone with possibility that show continues. “The series about a large cattle ranch with Kevin Costner as the leading star fits my acting interests quite well,” Buck admitted. “However, I’ve played a lot of different roles besides that of a cowboy; motorcyclist, gang leader, bad guy, and more.”
Attending the Chouinard Art Institute, Buck has sold his watercolor and acrylic paintings of cowboys, Native Americans, and horses since 1993. “I always liked to draw and paint even in grade school, so another of my childhood dreams has become a reality,” Buck admitted.
Often paintings are of characters and scenes from shows in which he has appeared. Buck is the official artist for many rodeos and state fairs, creating promotional posters.
Of course, the crowd wanted to know about other Gunsmoke stars. Leading character was James Arness, known as Marshall Matt Dillon. “Jim Arness was a great actor. He was always serious in the show, but really quite funny to work with,” Buck said.
“One time John Wayne was talking to Jim and said ‘You’re a bigger star that I am.’ Jim, six-foot-eight, replied, ‘I am taller,’ looking down at John, six-foot-four,” Buck related.
Recognized for the Gunsmoke scene drawing his pistol against a bad guy, Arness “wasn’t so fast, but accurate,” Buck contended. “I never was fast at the draw myself either.”
Unrelated, somebody wondered who was the fastest at the draw Glen Ford or Sammy Davis Jr. Buck insisted it was Glen, although some in the audience question accuracy based on Davis’ gun tricks in certain movies.
Milburn Stone, Burrton, Kansas, native who portrayed Doc Adams for the entire Gunsmoke run, wanted authenticity. “In one episode, Milburn was doing a surgery and told the director the scalpel wasn’t from the 1870s,” Buck remembered. “The director said ‘only a few will know,’ and Milburn said, ‘we want it to be right for them.’ Milburn was that kind of person.”
Gunsmoke actors often went on the road during off season doing public presentations at fairs and local events.
“Ken Curtis, who portrayed Festus Hagen for many years, and I traveled together to some of those programs,” Buck said. “Once we rode around the arena, I was on a horse and Ken on a mule, touching hands with the audience. One guy tried to pull Ken off the mule. After the show, Ken who really was strong went back out and yanked that fellow right out of the bleachers.”
Amanda Blake portrayed the red headed Long Branch saloon owner Kitty Russell. “Of course, Miss Kitty was considered Matt’s woman although they never kissed in a show,” Buck smiled. “But there was a true admiration for each other when Kitty was doing a scene with Jim Arness. Amanda really was quite the lady.”
While Buck never worked with Burt Reynolds, who portrayed half-Comanche blacksmith Quint Asper, in earlier Gunsmoke episodes, they were friends. “After Burt left in 1964, Roger Ewing was hired to play Thad, but he quit after a couple of seasons. Then I was hired.” Buck said.
“I played a bad guy on Gunsmoke in 1966,” Buck related. “Back then, everyone wanted to be on Gunsmoke. So I played a bad guy and thought at least I got to cross Gunsmoke off my bucket list.
“Not too long after that, my agent called and said Roger was leaving the show. They wanted me to read for a recurring role. That’s how I got hired for the younger role on the show,” Buck explained.
Only Buck Taylor and Roger Ewing of the renowned Gunsmoke cast are still alive.
“Gunsmoke was ahead of its time as adult entertainment. Kids could watch and enjoy the show. But their parents could read between the lines what was really going on behind the scenes,” Buck said. “Today’s movies don’t leave anything to the imagination. You need to be able to imagine what the actors are doing after the lights go off.”
Handfuls of times the Buck Taylor alias Newly O’Brien fans clapped enthusiastically during his public interview. Stairs of the Riverwalk Amphitheater were packed for extended time as admirers waited for Buck to autograph photos and posters.
“I got lots of friends,” Buck repeated his famous line from the Tombstone movie.
Newly O’Brien is remembered this way by longtime Gunsmoke viewers. Maturity has its own way of changing appearance as cowboy movie star Buck Taylor can verify today. Deb Goodrich, Around Kansas television show cohost from Oakley, and Seth Hays, early Council Grove businessman alias Mark Brooks, assisted as Buck Taylor signed autographs.
Buck Taylor, best known as Newly O’Brien, in the long running television show Gunsmoke signed autographs after a visit during the Gunfight On The Santa Fe Trail at Council Grove. Portrayers from throughout the Midwest set up camp near the Neosho Riverwalk for the Gunfight On The Santa Fe Trail.