Black Saddle with Peter Breck, Russell Johnson

You may know Peter Breck as Nick Barkley in The Big Valley and you probably identify Russell Johnson with the Professor in Gilligan’s Island. Both became known, albeit not very well, a few years earlier in Black Saddle.
Peter Breck, the gun totting lawyer Clay Culhane. Russell Johnson, the lawman Marshall Gib Scott.

It was my pleasure to stand in for Russell Johnson for most of the two season run for this Western series. It was my first stand-in job and led directly to  my subsequent stand-in opportunity on Robert Taylor Detectives (which I will blog soon).

Although it was tiring to be standing in the marshall’s office day after day, I enjoyed the excellent comraderie by all members of the cast. I got to see a lot of the bare mountains in the Iverson Ranch where most of the horse chases were filmed. And of course, even though in those days they were only box lunches, the lunch breaks were a welcome 1/2 hour of relaxation from the sun, dust and sweat from the horses.

Russell Johnson had a dry sense of humor, as you saw in Gillligan’s Island.

One episode, he had to climb into the back of a typical Western plains wagon. High sideboards, some kind of cloth covering over the wagon. He had several lines as he climbed up the back of the wagon. He put one foot over the backboard on the back of the wagon and shifted his weight to pull his other foot into the wagon…. not to be…. a rope had swirled around his ankle effectively anchoring his foot in place. This was during a take (live on film). Without a single hesitation or facial tick, Russell continued with his lines in all seriousness while his foot was vigorously trying to shake off the snakelike contracting rope. The entire set, was fighting desperately to keep from bursting out laughing at the spectacle (including myself). Finally the director whose face was turning red from holding in his chuckles yelled cut and we all burst out in hilarity….. Russell with gentlemanly aplomb, released his ankle from the offending rope and took several bows in all directions of the stage.

A nice thing about standing-in is that you get upgraded often to a silent bit (see my SEG blog). Here is one of those cases in which I played the secretary in a trial:

I just heard the news that my former friend Russell Johnson passed away today Jan 16, 2014.   Even after 54 years I still remember vividly how much fun Russ was on the set day after day which are a fond remembrance for  me.   It’s no wonder he was such a hit on Gilligan’s Island.  Thanks for a couple of great years working with you on Black Saddle.


12 thoughts on “Black Saddle with Peter Breck, Russell Johnson

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I just recently started watching ‘Black Saddle’ and was surprised — not being much of a fan of the old western TV shows — how entertaining and well-acted this one was. It has me hooked, and it’s a shame it didn’t carry on for a few more seasons! There are some fantastic fight scenes; I’ll be certain to watch the Marshall a bit closer in them now to see if I can catch you there.
    Russell Johnson is indeed sadly missed, but he left us some great characters to remember him by.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think you will enjoy watching The Black Saddle. The acting by Peter Breck and Russell Johnson is top notch which is why they became such famous actors especially Russ in Gilligans Island. I did work in a lot of scenes in this series. I have several moments extracted on my computer and will add them to this blog as time permits. It is difficult to spot me as the action moves so quickly. In one scene I found that I was once again the clerk in a different trial from the one I posted above. I always enjoy the filming of the fight scenes. This series used top of the line stuntmen for the fights which is reflected in the reality of the fights most of the time. A simple fight scene can take nearly a whole day to stage. It is the same as dancers rehearsing and filming an elaborate dance sequence.

      • Very careful choreography indeed on this show.
        I’m only nearly halfway through the series and haven’t run into your secretary cameo(s) yet, but I shall certainly be watching for blond cowboys with a discerning eye as I go.
        Definitely put up your other scenes here when you get a chance. I love hearing this sort of different behind-the-scenes (and sometimes in the scenes!) perspective; it makes watching these shows all the more interesting. Thanks again!

        • I looked it up. My two secretary appearances are in “Client Peter Warren” and “Client Reynolds”. The above clip is from “Client Peter Warren”.

          In “Client Mowery” I am very prominently standing at the bar directly behind where Peter Breck is sitting at approximately minute 1:40 wearing a western hat.

    • It was too long ago for me to recall any specific moments with Peter Breck. Both Russell and Peter were constantly indulging in amiable comedic chatter with each other as well as all of us in the crew. It was one of the most pleasant production companies to work with during my studio career compared to some others where the lead actors were so reserved it was like walking on egg shells. when they were on the set.

  2. Just discovered your blog. And for that matter, this show. I was searching around for westerns I have not heard of with the view of perhaps buying them on DVD – in my increasingly old age I have learned to love the westerns of my youth, How exciting you were a small part of that show!

    • Welcome to the Westerns of the 1950s. This was one of my favorite shows to work on and I enjoy watching it when I can find it. If you discover a sale on this series, please let me and other readers know. When this series was in production no one could foretell how big a star Peter Breck and Russell Johnson would become. This series was shot at Four Star Productions along with the sister westerns Wanted Dead Or Alive, Rifleman and several others.

  3. Pingback: The extra’s union Screen Extras Guild – SEG « In Another Time

  4. thanks for answering.. and it was nice to hear your storys.. would love to hear more.. who you meet ,who you really didnt like who you did.. how was was the movie bussines back then to now and what are you doing now…

    • It was one of my intentions to devote a blog about the movie industry in the 50s and now from my point of view. Thanks for reminding me of my intention. 🙂
      Now that it’s on my mind I just need to find a moment to formulate the recollections into an interesting discussion.

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