6 Westerns Mary Tyler Moore appeared in early in her career
For most actors starting out in the Fifties and Sixties, TV Westerns were a steady source of work. Along with well-known favorites like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and Bonanza there were dozens of short-lived shows that tried to put their own spin on frontier stories.
Before she broke out on The Dick Van Dyke Show and became a household name with her own sitcom in the Seventies, Mary Tyler Moore was just another young actor trying to make it in Hollywood. She played a commercial mascot along with many uncredited background roles before gaining more substantial parts in Westerns and detective shows.
Here are the six Old West shows Mary Tyler Moore appeared in before hitting it big. There are a few you may have heard of but others are likely unknown to even the biggest classic TV fans!
Like Cheyenne and many other late-Fifties TV Westerns, Bronco followed a squared-jawed hero who travels the Old West taking odd jobs and helping those in need. One episode sees Bronco Layne working as a foreman on a large ranch. The wealthy ranch owner wants only the finest things in life for his daughter, Marilee, played by Mary Tyler Moore. It was one of her first credited screen roles, something other than “Student #1” or Happy the elf mascot for Hotpoint appliances.
Mary Tyler Moore’s second Western role came in the short-lived Doug McClure series Overland Trail. Moore played a headstrong rancher’s daughter who flirts with (and knocks to the ground) McClure’s character, Flip Flippen. It’s an early glimpse of the tenacity and humor that would make MTM an icon.
Wanted Dead or Alive
Speaking of humor, Mary Tyler Moore’s small but memorable role in the Wanted Dead or Alive episode “The Twain Shall Meet” is silly and fun, even if she’s telling a sob story. The episode revolves around a Boston reporter, Arthur, who teams up with Steve McQueen’s bounty hunter Josh Randall to write a story about the dangerous profession. Moore plays a woman in a saloon who pours out her sad, if a little inconsistent, life story to Arthur. He dutifully pays for her drinks but doesn’t believe a word she’s saying. Coincidentally, another woman from Wanted Dead or Alive almost became Laura Petrie!
Before he bought a risqué leg lamp in A Christmas Story, or stalked paranormal creatures as Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin traveled up and down the Mississippi piloting the titular vessel in the short-lived Western Riverboat. The show also cast Burt Reynolds in one of his first regular roles. Mary Tyler Moore appeared in two episodes, first in an uncredited background role and second alongside Jody Fair (pictured here) in “Trunk Full of Dreams.” Fair is best known as the star of multiple low-budget teen horror flicks with names like The Brain Eaters and Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.
The Deputy starred Henry Fonda as Marshal Simon Fry and Allen Case as his deputy, and the focus of the show, Clay McCord. It lasted two seasons from 1959-1961 and along with Mary Tyler Moore, featured other future stars like James Coburn and Robert Redford. Moore guest starred in the dramatic episode “Day of Fear” about a small town fearful of a smallpox outbreak.
Mary Tyler Moore’s last Western role before she became Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show was a part in Stagecoast West. The one-season wonder (it aired a whopping 38 episodes from October 1960 to June 1961) starred Wayne Rogers a decade before he played Trapper John in M*A*S*H. The episode involves Rogers’ Luke Perry helping a distraught Moore tend to her father who was shot by outlaws.