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The Range Busters – B Movie Western superstars

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Having seen the success of Republic Pictures 1936 film The Three Mesquiteers and it’s numerous sequels, low grade studio Monogram were keen to come up with their own trio – enter The Range Busters, which while never breaking the bank budget wise were always well played and a hit with western fans.

Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune had played Tucson Smith and Lullaby Johnson respectively in the Mesquiteers films alongside John Wayne but when they fell out of contract at Republic, Monogram very quickly snapped them up. Corrigan became “Crash” and Terhune became “Alibi”. The role of third member of the trio was given to John “Dusty” King.

The Range Busters, the first of what would become the series, was a mystery thriller about a haunted ranch and the format was quickly set with Crash and Dusty haggling over the love interest and Alibi providing comic relief. Alibi was also something of a bird impressionist and talented ventriloquist – his dummy Elmer would also become a regular feature of the movies.

The first movie had a reasonable budget (by Monogram standards anyway) but from the second movie onward it was a distinct case of spend as little as possible – a state of affairs which led, in 1942, to Ray Corrigan calling it quits on the series. (Funnily enough it was his ranch that was used for much of the filming on the series and continued to be used extensively even after he quit.)

In came former stuntman Dave Sharpe who despite initial misgivings from fans and exhibitors alike, slotted into the team rather well. It also meant the films upped their action quotient too.

1942’s Texas to Bataan was a strange one – it saw the Range Busters not in the old west but in the Philippines delivering horses for the army! This wasn’t the first time the series had played with it’s own time frame – Tumbledown Ranch in Arizona was set in present day (1941) Arizona with the boys playing their own sons before flashbacks to the 1980’s.

By 1943 the second world war was playing havoc with the series – both John King and David Sharpe were called up. This didn’t hamper the series too much in the end as Ray Corrigan returned along with newcomer Dennis Moore for four more stories. One of these, Cowboy Commandos, again was set during world war II with the trio on the trail of German agents.

After the Range Busters series finished Ray Corrigan all but retired from film making but did continue to hire out his ranch and also turned it into one of America’s best known tourist attractions (he eventually sold it to Bob Hope in the 1960’s.) He died in 1976. After the end of WWII John King focused less on movies and instead went into business, owning a garage and a restaurant. Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer continued in showbusiness and Terhune died in 1973 at the age of 82. David Sharpe returned to stunt work and died in 1980 whilst Dennis Moore carried on in numerous character parts but died aged just 56 in 1964.

Full list of Range Buster movies…
1940: The Range Busters; Trailing Double Trouble; West of the Pinto Basin

1941: Trail of the Silver Spurs; The Kids Last Ride; Tumbledown Ranch in Arizona; Wranglers Roost; Fugitive Valley; Saddle Mountain Roundup; Tonto Basin Outlaw; Underground Rustlers

1942: Thunder River Feud; Rock River Renegades; Boot Hill Bandits; Texas Trouble Shooters; Arizona Stagecoach; Texas to Bataan; Trail Riders

1943: Two Fisted Justice; Haunted Ranch; Land of Hunted Men; Cowboy Commandos; Black Market Rustlers; Bullets and Saddles

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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