The Tall Man was a 30-minute Western Series that aired for 78 episodes on NBC from September 10, 1960, to September 1, 1962. It created and produced by Samuel A. Peeples and set in New Mexico in the 1870s. While much of it’s story fictionalized, the show often depicted significant historical figures from that time period. Such as Lew Wallace and John Tunstall.
The show’s plot revolved around 6’3” Sheriff Pat Garrett, played by Barry Sullivan, and Billy the Kid, played by Clu Gulager. If you’re familiar with history, then you know that the real Garrett shot Billy sometime in 1881. Thus ending one of the Old West’s most legendary tales.
This light-hearted action series might have rooted in bloodshed. But it focused on the duo of gunslingers’ happier days when they supposedly had more of a congenial father-son relationship. While there is little evidence that the two historical figures ever actually had such a relationship. The Tall Man’s loose representation of history was all in the name of good fun.
If you’re a fan of Western dramas, The Tall Man is a show you need to check out. While it’s not as well-known as Gunsmoke or Bonanza. It still made quite an impact in the short time that it lasted on NBC.
So, what caused this show to canceled after only 78 episodes?
Well, there were a lot of factors that came into play. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the series. And the reasons why Clu Gulager gave for why it The Tall Man cancelled so suddenly back in 1963.
Born William Martin Gulager on November 16, 1928, in Holdenville, Oklahoma. Clu first took an interest in acting when he cast as the Mouse King in a third-grade production of the Nutcracker. Clu grew up living a life that would prove to be quite foreshadowing considering his future prospects as a Western television star. In one interview, he told journalists that he was a cowboy back in Oklahoma where his family raised white-face cattle.
He used to have to ride the fences, and in the Wintertime, it was particularly cold. Whenever he would see a break in the fence. He would have to get down of his pony with a bit of wire in his hands and fix it. The thing that Clu said he was most proud of about his life during this chapter was the fact that on his watch. Not a single white face got away.
Fast forward a couple of decades later and Clu was beginning to make a name for himself for his work on television appearing in the co-starring role of Billy the Kid on NBC’s The Tall Man. He notably also played Emmett Ryker in another NBC western series. The Virginian, shortly after The Tall Man came to an end – but more on that in a moment.
It was very clear that Clu was taking the skills and lessons that he had learned back on the ranch and was incorporating that knowledge into his professional career. His father may have envisioned him as spending his life herding cattle and mastering rope tricks as he had. But in a way, he was doing just that, just in a slightly different arena.
When he was first offered his career-defining role on NBC’s The Tall Man, Clu was at first hesitant to take it. In one interview, he quoted as saying that he and his agent sat in the car for about three hours. While deciding on whether or not to wait for more prominent roles in films or bite the bullet and take the television role.
At the time, Clu already had a wife and kid to support. So instead of biding his time in hopes of landing a more lucrative gig. He took The Tall Man role and never regretted it.
But even though starring in The Tall Man did wonders for his career and gave him the chance to show off his cowboy chops. As a serious actor who was a student of the Stanislavski Method. Clu still found aspects of appearing in the fictional Western to be frustrating.
Trying to keep up with network demands while still striving to be true to himself as an artist proved to be quite challenging. Each episode of The Tall Man would take only two and a half days to shoot. Obviously, this left Clu with very little time to fully explore his character’s inner machinations.
The Real Reason The Tall Man Canceled
The Tall Man ended up getting canceled after airing just two seasons, but it not because of low ratings or hectic schedules. Clu says that the real reason why the show was given the ax had a lot more to do with politics and politicians than it did with viewership.
Apparently, Congress had debated whether or not Billy the Kid was a cold-blooded killer. And seeing as how Clu portrayed him on television as being a hero. The American political establishment felt like this depiction wasn’t good for children to see.
Pressure then directed toward NBC to take The Tall Man off the air for good. Strangely though, Congress let ABC keep The Untouchablse even though that series was substantially more violent than The Tall Man ever war.
Not long after The Tall Man canceled, Clu signed up to play a recurring role on The Virginian. He then spent the next several decades guest-starring on countless television dramas like Hawaii Five-O, Murder She Wrote, and The Streets of San Francisco.
One of his biggest film roles post-The Tall Man was playing the town playboy in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. In that film, Clu got to seduce a young Cybill Shepheard. When it was time for their close-ups, however, Peter insisted on standing in for him. It was only later that Clue realized that Peter wasn’t trying to imply that he was a bad actor. Rather, he and Cybill had fallen in love.
In the 80s, Clu began appearing in horror films. In 1985, he played the lead in The Return of the Living Dead. That same year, he appeared in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
In 2006, he started acting in his son, John Gulager’s horror films. John’s best known works include the Feasts films and Piranha DD. Most recently, he has appeared in offerings like the 2015 comedy-drama film Tangerine and Quintin Tarantino’s 2019 Golden Globe-winning film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Gulager Had Auditioned For The Tall Man While On The Cinmarron City Set
Remember how we mentioned earlier that Clu wasn’t sure at first whether he actually wanted to be on The Tall Man? Well, the network execs that he auditioned with had no clue that he was on the fence about things. To say that he gave them a good impression is a bit of an understatement because the moment that he opened up his mouth. They knew that they had their Billy the Kid.
Universal was filming a series called Cimarron City at the time. After filming wrapped up one evening, they put Clu on a bale of hay and interviewed him. While answering their questions, Clu gave them a side smile that he had been working on for years for film.
He tried his best to give answers to their question in the way that he thought the character would have answered them. Universal was so impressed by what they saw that they offered the 32-year-old actor the role of 20-year-old Billy the Kid on the spot.
Samuel A. Peeple’s Is A Big Star Trek Icon
The Tall Man’s creator began his career writing Western novels before eventually transitioning to penning TV scripts in the late 50s. After writing several episodes of shows like Tales of Wells Fargo for Universal. Peeples was hired on to create The Tall Man.
Later in his career, Peeples wrote for the classic series A Man Called Shenandoah. And served as a consulting writer on the 1964 Star Trek pilot episode ‘The Cage’. Hew then wrote the teleplay for the second pilot in 1965.
He was actually the one that came up with the iconic line ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’. Not only would Captain Kirk utter this line in the opening scene of every episode. But it would go on to be heavily featured in just about every subsequent Star Trek project.
Peeples later wrote the pilot for the Star Trek animated series in 1973 and developed an early outline for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.
Sullivan And Gulager Eventually Reunited
13 years after The Tall Man wrapped up, Gulager and Sullivan got a chance to work together again in an NBC miniseries called Once An Eagle, which was set between World War I and World War II.
Before appearing in The Tall Man, Sullivan was already a veteran Hollywood actor. By that time, he had already been working on the stage and screen for a quarter-century.
He made his film debut in 1936 at the age of 24 and went on to appear in dozens of films, inlduing The Great Gatsby and The Bad and the Beautiful. After The Tall Man, Sullivan notably also appeared in the limited series Rich Man, Poor Man and Backstairs at the White House before finally retiring in 1987. He died just a few years later in 1994, at the age of 81.
That’s about all the time we have for this video, but we’d love to hear from you!
Did you know that Clu Gulager really was a cowboy before playing one on TV? And did you know that the creator of The Tall Man Samuel A. Peebles also developed a lot of Star Trek material? Share your thoughts with us in the comments down below.
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