Thursday, April 12, 2012

Richard Kiley - Man of ... Gunsmoke?

Richard Kiley
1922 - 1999

Richard Kiley was on tour in his famous Tony winning role of Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, thrilling sold out audiences at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts. In his spare time he was autographing the cast album at Eaton's Department Store, telling amusing show business anecdotes and shaking hands. I was working downtown at one of my first secretarial jobs and happily spent my lunch hour with the crowd at Eaton's.

Next in line for an autograph I couldn't believe I was that close to Richard Kiley. Everyone was saying how much they enjoyed Man of La Mancha or how much they were looking forward to it. I had enjoyed the show as well, but when I handed my album to Mr. Kiley I told him how much I enjoyed all his guest appearances on Gunsmoke. Well, it was different anyway. Kiley looked up from the album with a bemused smile on his face and sat back. I don't think a theatre buff/western fan is such a rare creature, but maybe on that day I was. "Thank you" he said. "I always enjoyed working on that show. Great people."

An actor never really knows what sort of an impact they are making on an audience, do they? Acclaim and awards are a good indication. Fans at the stage door. Or it could be a week's work on episodic television.

Richard Kiley on Gunsmoke

Stark, Season 16, 1970
Written by Don Sanford
Directed by Robert Totten

Richard Kiley plays Lewis Stark, a cold and calculating bounty hunter. Shelly Novak is the wild son of a rich, stubborn rancher beautifully played by Henry Wilcoxon. Stark captures the young man, who has escaped prison, and holds him for ransom. The plan to make some fast money is complicated by Suzanne Pleshette as the rancher's very modern daughter, and Wilcoxon's failing health. A brutal beating and the torn open heart of a dysfunctional family feature in this engrossing drama with excellent performances.

Lynott, Season 17, 1971
Written by Ron Bishop
Directed by Gunnar Hellstrom

This time out Kiley is Tom Lynott, a lawman between jobs who takes over in Dodge while Matt is recovering from a shooting. Lynott is a garrulous soul with his own way of doing things which is more suited to the rough cow town Dodge used to be. His loving wife played perfectly (what else?) by Peggy McCay is the rock for the rambling interim marshal. He has a wee bit of a liking for the drink and is perhaps too close in temperment to the outlaws he should be policing. What cost will come with Lynott's new found respect for his position? Great dialogue and memorable characterizations from bad guys Anthony Caruso and Jonathan Lippe (currently the World's Most Interesting Man).

Bohannan, Season 18, 1972
Written by William Kelley
Directed by Alf Kjellin

Doc Adams is determined to prove the flamboyant faith healer Bohannan a charleton. Bohannan himself is in a crisis of faith that is heightened by his relationship with a terminal ill youngster played by Vincent Van Patten and his mother, Linda Marsh. A touching and thought-provoking episode.

Kitty's Love Affair, Season 19, 1973
Written by Paul Savage from a story by Susan Kotar and Joan E. Gessler
Directed by Vincent McEveety

Well, the title just about says it all. How could Kitty not be impressed with the attentions of reformed gunfighter Will Stambridge who comes to her aid against outlaws? After all, it's Richard Kiley.

The Macahans

Kiley's future work with producer John Mantley and actor James Arness includes 1976s The Macahans as Timothy Macahan, father of a family relocating to the west in the Civil War era. Also, the second made-for-TV Gunsmoke movie 1990s The Last Apache.

Richard Kiley's television work garnered him 9 Emmy nominations including 3 wins. A 1983 win as Paddy Cleary in The Thorn Birds, in 1988 as Joe Gardner in the well-remembered A Year in the Life and a Guest Performance Emmy in 1993 for Picket Fences as Jill's father, Hayden Langston. He also won Golden Globes for The Thorn Birds and A Year in the Life, plus a nomination for 1991s Separate But Equal.

Richard Kiley, Peter Falk

Police Commissioner Mark Halperin's byzantine murder plan is doomed to failure when Lt. Columbo is on the case in 1974s A Friend in Deed. When "Lt." arrests the culprit, the look of pure hatred on Kiley's face is chilling.

National Geographic specials were more special when narrated by Richard Kiley. That voice! Mellifluous, commanding and sexy. High on my list of favourite Kiley TV appearances is on American Playhouse in 1993, Verse Person Singular. Kiley wrote the narration and the music for this one man show with poems by Poe, Lewis Carroll, Kipling and others. My favourite was T.S. Eliot's Gus the Theatre Cat. After all, that's what Richard Kiley was - a theatre cat.

Along with touring, Richard Kiley appeared in 17 Broadway plays between 1953 and 1987. He won 2 Tony Awards for Man of La Mancha in 1966 and Redhead in 1959. He was nominated in 1962 for No Strings and in 1987 for All My Sons.

The Blackboard Jungle

Let's not forget the movies. The pilot in 1974s The Little Prince. Narrating 1993s Jurassic Park. Heading a Board of Inquiry in 1998s Patch Adams. The crusading lawyer in 1955s The Phenix City Story. The murderous communist agent in 1953s Pickup on South Street. The naive high school teacher in 1955s The Blackboard Jungle. The fate of Josh Edward's jazz records breaks my heart.

Speaking of record albums, when my husband and I became a couple we faced the chore of combining our record collections. Not surprisingly, since we met doing community theatre, the only doubles were the Original Show Cast Albums. It is my copy of Man of La Mancha that has the autograph and is wrapped up with the memory of a bemused smile and a warm handshake.


  1. I remember that Columbo episode so well! And in New York, Mr. Kiley was a legend because of the Man of La Mancha. No matter what I ever saw him in after that, I always said "there's Don Quixote!" As for Gunsmoke, I was a Bonanza kid, but I still was fascinated with Miss Kitty's mole.

  2. I know Gunsmoke was on forever, but no one noticed that the same man kept popping up as a different character? I guess that's why Marshall Dillon never made detective!

  3. Ah, FlickChick, you were allowed to watch both "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke". I only wish one of Kiley's Dodge City visitors had been a singer.

  4. Kim, the casting was one of my great joys in watching "Gunsmoke". Actors had the opportunity to really stretch and show us their range. Folks like Morgan Woodward, Victor French, Jack Elam, Jeanette Nolan, Denver Pyle, etc. show up through the years in an amazing array of characters.

  5. My favorite Kiley performance was with Peter Falk in Colombo, in 1974.

  6. Dawn, there are many memorable "Columbo" episodes and villains, but "A Friend in Deed" is a standout. I'll bet they had a blast!

  7. Great article! I loved Kiley in the Columbo episode as well as "The Thorn Birds."

  8. Thanks. By golly, that "Columbo" episode sure made an impression on a lot of people.

  9. Love, love, love Richard Kiley and your post! What a great story. I have the albums of LA MANCHA, KISMET, and NO STRINGS. My dad has always listed seeing Kiley in LA MANCHA as one of his top musical theater experiences of all time.

    Loved him in noir titles and THE THORN BIRDS...on TV I especially loved him as the patriarch in a miniseries called A YEAR IN THE LIFE with Eva Marie Saint. I've been wishing for years it would come out on DVD. The cast included a very young Sarah Jessica Parker. There was a short-lived TV series which followed.

    Best wishes,

  10. Laura, I'm with you on wishing "A Year in the Life" would make it to DVD. It was quality television.

    When I listen to Richard Kiley singing "Night of My Nights" from "Kismet" I feel like I'm floating on a cloud.

    Your dad sounds like one really cool guy.

  11. I must have come late to Richard Kiley because I remember him most from "The Thorn Birds." Not to say it is my favorite of his performances (though he was very good), it's just what comes to mind first.

    Speaking of "Gunsmoke"...I recently discovered that I have MeTV on my TV at the office. "Gunsmoke" was on the other day - must've been one of the later episodes because Harrison Ford was playing a good-for-nothing saddle-bum type.

  12. Ah, Lady Eve, I'll wager that Richard Kiley is going to start showing up everywhere you turn.

    Keep checking those "Gunsmoke" episodes. You'll see young Jon Voight, Bruce Dern and Tom Skerritt earning their pay. Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden and Mariette Hartley making impressions. Plus classic guests like Bette Davis, Ralph Bellamy, Lew Ayres and John Carradine, etc. Good stuff!

  13. Love the anecdote about getting Mr. Kiley's autograph! My wife and I are big films of 1960s classic TV and he pops up a guest star in a bunch of series. Always gave a solid performance!

  14. This was neat. I love that you surprised him with being a fan of his TV guest appearances. I'll be you made his day. I agree that stars likely have no idea how profoundly a role or appearance can affect their fans (or potentiail fans).

    Love "Gunsmoke", by the way.

  15. Rick, remind me to tell you someday about my encounters with Tommy Tune and Gordon Jump. When Richard Kiley's name is in the credits you know he'll give all he's got. The night I posted this blog my daughter got out her laptop and showed me Kiley on "Deep Space Nine".

    Jacqueline, it was certainly nice to hear from Richard Kiley that "Gunsmoke" had "great people".

  16. I saw Kiley in MAN OF LA MANCHA and loved him and the show. But I never got as close to him as you did, C.W. :)

    Wish I had.

    He was a wonderful actor and, needless to say, a very handsome human being.

    I have little memory of my GUNSMOKE days, the only episode I actually remember was my favorite in which a frontier woman takes in a wounded Indian and they become attracted to each other. Very moving, beautifully acted.

  17. Richard Kiley ruined me for all other Don Quixotes. Even "Stokes" has to come in second place.

    Yvette, I'm going to have to really search my memory to come up with that "Gunsmoke" episode that moved you. There are so many excellent stories.

  18. That "Bohannon" episode of Gunsmoke was one I saw as a kid, and it still resonates with me today. My favorite Kiley film performance is probably in Pickup on South Street in which he almost...almost managed to out-rat-bastard Richard Widmark.

  19. Ivan, did you know that Alf Kjellin who directed "Bohannan" worked with Ingmar Bergman? Quality just pours out of "Gunsmoke". No wonder it is so memorable.

    Kiley gives me the chills in "Pickup on South Street". Whenever I recall it I can only shrug my shoulders and think "well at least the Academy acknowledged Thelma's existence, but would it have killed them to give her a statue?"

  20. Caftan Woman, I must admit I usually watched mystery series more than Westerns, but Richard Kiley could do just about anything -- much more to him than Don Quixote (not that there's anything wrong with that :-)). I remember the COLUMBO episode, "A Friend In Deed" well, and I'm so glad I'm not the only verson who remembered Kiley's chilling performance in PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (another film where Thelma Ritter should've won an Oscar)! Great post, C.W., as always!

  21. Thanks, Dorian. I've been watching a lot of my fave old television shows lately - because anything current I enjoy is in reruns! - and, just like classic movies, they hold up beautifully. Hey, you can't lose if Richard Kiley is your guest star.

  22. I loved Richard Kiley in Blackboard Jungle. His character had so much pathos. I was lucky enough to get to see him do Man of La Mancha in person at our outdoor stage here in Indy many years ago. He was just fantastic. I never understood why on earth they put Peter O'Toole in the movie. I mean, I love Peter, but he can't sing! I played Kiley's Broadway album so much I warped it, and I knew every word! I do remember him in some Gunsmoke episodes. Loved this post!

  23. Thanks, Becky.

    O'Toole in "La Mancha" still has me shaking my head. Especially after "Chips". How many times does a guy have to prove he can't sing?!

  24. No kidding, CW! Oh, I forgot to mention -- from the Gunsmoke episode dates, it looks like Kiley never had the opportunity to work with Chester -- too bad....

  25. You Chester fans are incorrigible!

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