Question: This has plagued me for 20 years. When I was a kid in the '70s there was a Sunday night series, something like The Sunday Mystery Movie. It featured a revolving roster of shows, including McMillan and Wife and, if I'm not mistaken, Columbo. One of them, I'm sure, starred Richard Boone, but whenever I ask anyone about it, all I ever get is Palladin and Have Gun Will Travel, a series way before my time in the '50s. Am I misremembering? Caryn F., Houston, Tex.
Televisionary: Not at all, Caryn. From October 1972 to August 1974, Hec Ramsey did indeed rotate with Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie. It starred the irascible Boone as the irascible Ramsey, a former gunfighter solving crimes in the Old West with then-new sleuthing technologies.
Boone was a legend, having, as you say, starred as Have Gun's hero. But he was also a legend in Hollywood for high standards, his insistence on having some say in the direction of his shows, a straight-shootin' mouth and his deliverance of solid performances despite his hard-partying ways.
"Dick can do it, morning after morning, no matter how enormous has been his carousing of the night before," Ramsey co-star Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) told TV Guide in 1974. And he was talking about some carousing. Boone loved nothing more than chartering a plane, loading it up with friends and vodka and going off on an adventure... on a school night. One adventure took him, musician Duane Eddy and a group of pals on an alcohol-fueled flight from L.A. to Phoenix to jam with Charley Pride in Pride's motel room before getting back on the plane, flying home and heading to the set with about a half-hour of sleep. And, of course, he turned in top-notch work the following day.
Boone could pretty much do as he pleased, having earned what he termed his "the-hell-with-you" money doing Have Gun. But with some hefty paychecks at stake with Ramsey even he knew to listen when the powers-that-be made changes. He just let off a little steam griping about it. "Do you know what those bleeps have done?" he asked in one memorable phone call to a reporter, referring to Jack Webb (Dragnet) and his production company, which backed the series. "They've taken all creative control away from me. They want me to be just a bleeping actor reading my lines. They've had Dragnet and Son of Dragnet and Fire-Engine Dragnet and Mod Squad Dragnet, and now they want to make this Turn-of-the-Century Dragnet. They worked their will on me.... Am I going to quit? Of course not. With all that money I get for playing Hec, that would be a bleeping Pyrrhic victory."
Producers prompted that rant when they decided the show had wandered from its original intent, becoming too much of a traditional Western when it was supposed to be a whodunnit. But Boone wasn't wrong about Webb and company spinning out another version of the same general concept. However, Webb wasn't wrong for doing so. After all, Dragnet was a hit and so was Emergency!.
And that conceit certainly continues today. Just ask the execs at USA, whose upcoming Peacemakers involves tech-heavy detective work in the 19th century or, as many people are saying CSI in the Old West. If Boone were alive, you can bet he'd be cussing up a storm.