Doug McClure’s Portrayal of Trampas, and Why He Was "Made for" the Role

TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, #7, March - April, 1990 (seasons 1 & 2), personal interviews:

Page 15: "Cobb was a formidable presence, but Doug McClure was the one who broke the ice on the set and reduced Cobb to one of the guys." McClure was quoted, "for some reason he liked me, and I was comfortable around him, and I could clown around. I used to do imitations for him, I could have fun with him, and I made him laugh. I had worked with John Huston, Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy, Peter Lorre, so I had been around some stars. I always did imitations of a fan walking up to a big star, and he’d ask me to do it all the time. But he was fond of everyone on the show..."

McClure’s thoughts about watching the reruns: "My favorite shows are the shows when I’m riding the old buckskin horse. . .those that we’re on horseback a lot and with cattle, when we’re out of the bunkhouse. We had a working ranch in this series, and I loved to be out there roping the cattle or doing the cattle drive. And the shows where I lose the girl – they were fun! I was lucky; I was a young boy having a good time. I had a lot of things happen during The Virginian – I was married and remarried and I had a daughter born at the end of it. I think I would love to do Trampas 25 years later, now. It would be wonderful, since the shape I’m in, I would go out and rope, and also, I’m not as distracted as I was when I was younger by other things." Doug enjoyed playing the fun loving, second-in-command cowpoke, because "I let the Virginian be the boss and it gave me a lot of freedom to not win every fight and be a slightly roguish character; but that developed after the first, second year when they were watching the show and began to see a guy with a sense of humor and also that I could do a lot of things on horseback. And the writers began to write for me."

When asked about the hard work involved in the show (James Drury related in the TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, #48, May-June 1990, p. 10 that the work schedule was 12 - 14 hours a day, 5 days a week and sometimes they had two or three units filming at the same time and they would ride between sets of the different episodes), McClure related, "I suppose it was, ‘cause it was 90 minutes, but then, I was grateful to be under contract; they weren’t paying us the enormous salaries that they pay the actors today on a series." (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 1, #49, July - August, 1990, p. 10) and "It was a lot of fun. It was what happens outside in your personal life and things that were distracting, but we seemed to always maintain that we could do it, and it became a little bit harder at times. But looking back on it, you forget all that; you just enjoyed being on the set with your horse." (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, #48, May-June 1990, p. 10)

McClure also had this to say about the stress of frequently changing cast members: "We were always lucky, we always had a nice family going. We missed Lee, but I loved Charlie Bickford. I was lucky and very happy that I was still playing Trampas – I still had a job" (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, #49, July-Aug, 1990, p.10)

On the final season – "In the beginning we’d go out to Lancaster and Calabasas and other spots that you could get to in 45 minutes and shoot all day with horses and cattle. And then they did MEN FROM SHILOH, and things were beginning to change then. There weren’t the locations; they were building houses out there. It was harder to go outside and I think it was becoming more expensive. So you’d do a lot of things in the backlot and on the street, and more and more there was less of the cattle ranch, which was the fun part of the show." (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, #49, July - Aug 1990, p.10)

On Stunts – "We did a lot of those things ourselves. I roped and rode the horse and did fight scenes. We had a double there, but we were always in the same clothes and we found ourselves doing so much of everything and enjoying it." TV Collector interview said that the only time McClure was badly injured was, "I got knocked out by my stuntman! Hal Needham came off a stagecoach, and the guy that was standing in for me, Harper Flaherty, fell off a horse. I figured either the horse would run over me or the other guy would come off the stagecoach and land on me. I was sitting in my chair and the next thing I know, the guy on the horse fell off and landed on me! And I fractured my back. I couldn’t raise my right foot for a while. But I just kept doing it – we didn’t try to go for workman’s compensation!" (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, # 49, July- Aug 1990, p. 11)

On the popularity of THE VIRGINIAN series: "People liked the Virginian and they liked Trampas and they liked Lee J. Cobb and [the later stars]. I think it was also much more popular and better received than a lot of people seem to realize. They talk about BONANZA and THE RIFLEMAN and [other westerns], but we used to go out and do rodeos and fairs and it was very successful."  (TV Collector Magazine, Vol. 2, # 49, July-Aug 1990, p. 8)

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On Comedy and Trampas’ fun loving personality:

"One director insists Trampas isn’t just another one of ‘those roles.’ He adds, ‘Trampas may be lighthearted but he’s no cute kid. Doug has developed a lively comedy style, a good sense of timing and a natural humor.’" (TV GUIDE, Vol. 12, #29, issue #590, July 18, 1964, p. 8, "Is it True Blond Cowboys Have More Fun?" by Marian Dern) And on p. 9 of the same article, McClure comments, "I don’t know if I could do heavy drama. I have a flair for comedy, but it has to be psychologically sound, not just mugging. My goal is to be a mature comedian."

[a personal note by bj - McClure’s serious dramatic roles as Trampas were some of the most meaningful and memorable to me - I think he did an excellent job at "heavy drama"]

"Between scenes, Doug goes around being the life of the location, spreading good cheer and all-around fun. You might find him pulling off a hilarious practical joke, telling one, or becoming one." (The News American TV Channels weekly magazine, March 6 - 12, 1966, "The joker of THE VIRGINIAN)

Peter Bogdanovich observed, "Doug McClure likes physical contact; on the set, he can usually be found tumbling around with a fellow actor or rolling on the grass with a willing inégnue. Just like Trampas, by gosh. Doug doesn’t like it when magazines publish stores about his private life. ‘It’s like you have a criminal record. They print stuff that has nothing to do with your work.’ Of course, he doesn’t like it when they write about his work, either. ‘They say I’m getting better. That’s an awful backhanded compliment. I’m a good actor! I’m a good actor!’ Taller and thinner than he appears to be on television, Doug has more white teeth than Burt Lancaster – but then he doesn’t like references to his looks. 'I’m a good actor!'" (TV Guide, Vol. 14, #7, February 12 - 18, 1966, p. 28 - 29, "Eavesdropping on the set of THE VIRGINIAN . . . where seldom is heard an encouraging word," by Peter Bogdanovich) And on p. 30 of this same magazine, Norman Macdonnell says, "With Doug, we’d like to do this too (find a story goal for his character) – and to get away from the ho-ho-that’s-rich-double-take stuff. Doug can be a very good parlor comedian. And sometimes he oughta get out and hit someone."

On Being a Cowboy:

"As a young man in college Doug attached himself to a group of hard-riding serious rodeo cowboys. He learned to look darned good in the saddle (a lesson that was to pay off in later years when his career took such turns as roles in Bill Bendix’ series OVERLAND TRAIL, and the current TV hit, THE VIRGINIAN). While working with the rodeo cowboys, Doug learned to admire their toughness; their resolve and most of all . . . Their dedication to the very real things in life . . . wife, home and children. These men actually lived such high-flown phrases as 'fair play,' 'clean living,' and 'honest competition.'  Combined with Doug’s home training (his mother is a writer) . . . he became a living combination of idealism plus pragmatism. (Movie Mirror, Vol. 8, #6, April 1964, p.55, "When Trust Died - Their Marriage Ended")

McClure commented, "I love being around horses and the kind of guys who work in westerns. I guess I’ve done so much of it it’s like being home." (Screen Stories,  Vol. 72, #1, p. 62, January 1973,  "So Many Wives, So Much Heartbreak," by Lori Perry)

On Horses:

"Doug McClure . . . is a cowboy’s cowboy. He’s one of television’s few Western performers with bonafide roots –and pre-possessions–in the West." McClure described himself as ‘. . . someone that talks about horses like I really care about them.’" (Screen Parade,  Vol. 14, #5, Sept. 1960, p. 23, "Happy, Happy, Happy").

"Doug would make good hand on a ranch, he’s a good horseman and he has good horse sense. And that’s what makes a good ranch hand." (Horse & Show, September, 1970, p. 25, "Doug McClure and His Horses," by Peg Pivirotto)

"I’ve almost always had a horse. I got my first one when I was seven years old, and had three altogether - one at a time, of course - until I was out of high school. I was just a little silly over horses, that was all. Other kids would have cats, or parakeets, or tropical fish, or dogs. Me, I had horses. I’d spend all my spare time hanging out around the stables where I boarded my horse. I’d talk the owner into letting me clean out the stalls, in return for riding his horses. Now, how crazy can you get? Begging to clean out stalls! I must have been pretty hard for my family to take in those days, always coming home smelling of the stable!" (TV Radio Mirror, Vol. 54, #2, July, 1960, p 72, "‘Flip’ - And Full of Fun," by Maurine Remenih)

"In the summers away from Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA I was a roamer. Most of the vacations I’d spend on ranches in Nevada where I’d work the range, break horses and once in a while get into a rodeo. It was with horses that I might have discovered what having a heart really meant. Every once in a while when I broke a horse I’d feel terrible. I’d get the impression that I had taken something immeasurably precious from a beautiful animal." (Motion Picture, Vol. 50, #599, Dec. 1960, p. 71, 72 "The Astonished Heart of Doug McClure," by Tony Overton)

"I’ve always had a couple of horses. When I was around eight I started going over to Will Rogers State Park, that’s the ranch where he lived, and working around with the horses. I helped bury Soapsuds, Roger’s roping horse. When I was around fifteen I spent several summers working on a cattle ranch in Nevada, near Reno. I had five horses in my string. No special breed, but just good working ranch horses. I learned a lot of tricks for handling horses and how to rope calves." (Horse & Show, September, 1970, p. 22, "Doug McClure and His Horses," by Peg Pivirotto)

[A personal note from bj - Some of my most enjoyable moments were simply watching McClure ride those buckskins horses and engage in cowboy activities like roping and working with cattle or horses.]

On roping:

"It was in his second film, John Houston’s THE UNFORGIVEN, in the role of Burt Lancaster’s younger brother that McClure’s career took off. ‘I had been a cowboy, and had worked on a ranch in Nevada. I knew how to rope and ride. When we got out on location in one of the scenes a horse jumps a fence, and I told John Huston I could rope the horse. John said, ‘Go ahead, let me see it.’ All the stuntmen were nervous, the horse jumped the fence and I roped it. John Huston liked the fact that I could do that.’" (Video Movie Guide, 1994, special #8, "Poker Face" by Judy Sloane)

"‘Doug is one actor who can throw a rope and actually catch something,’ admired Sara Lane [Elizabeth Grainger on the series]. ‘That’s unusual. Very few actors can even handle a rope, much less be good at it.’" (Horse & Show, September, 1970, p. 21, "Doug McClure and His Horses," by Peg Pivirotto)

"Wrangler Richard Brem stated, ‘Doug is a very good roper. If he had the chance to practice, he’d be one of the top. Doug can make a horse look good, too. He has good hands and can really ride a horse. At a rodeo in Brawley, California, I placed Doug on a strange horse for Team Roping. We would have been in the money because Doug made a beautiful head catch, but I missed mine." (Horse & Show, September, 1970, p. 25, "Doug McClure and His Horses," by Peg Pivirotto)

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 McClure didn’t appear in every episode of THE VIRGINIAN because he got permission to make motion pictures. He also competed in rodeos sanctioned by the Rodeo Cowboy Association. (TV News, Vol. 21, #6, July 25, 1970, p. 8, "He Just Keeps Riding Along")

McClure was also very athletic, which helped in doing some of his own fighting  and stunts. "In college and high school he was an outstanding basketball guard, football quarterback, and swam the 100 meter dash. He’s also an adept skier, horseback rider and surf rider." (Screen Parade,   Vol. 14, #5, Sept. 1960, p. 23, "Happy, Happy, Happy")

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Doug McClure - May 11, 1935 - February 2, 1995

"Doug, you commented in 1988, ‘Once a cowboy, always a cowboy!’ And you were absolutely right. We miss you, cowboy!" (Trail Dust magazine,  Vol. 3, #1, Spring 1995, editorial, p. 4)

"He will always remain a very special and gutsy man. A man who brought his version of "Trampas" into the living rooms every week. A boyish cowhand with a devil-may-care attitude. Doug playing Doug." (Trail Dust magazine,  Vol. 3, #1, Spring 1995, p.18, "My Friend, Doug McClure," by Janette Hyem Anderson)

Dick Van Patten stated, "So many good looking guys have an arrogance about them. He never did. I think women remember him as a handsome cowboy, and I think he’d like to be remembered that way." (Tribute in People Weekly, Vol. 44, #26, December 25, 1995 - January 1, 1996, p. 188)

Robert O. Phillips in his "Ode to a Cowboy" writes, "The star of the shoot 'em-up adventure might just have to receive some riding instruction after the first day’s filming, because his great looks and voice just couldn’t keep him planted firmly in the saddle. They certainly wouldn’t have had such a problem with Doug McClure. . . By the time Doug was eight years old, he was riding and during his teenage years, the boy was actually busting broncs for rodeos. . . On Sunday, February 5 [1995], Doug was called away, far too young for his ride into that sunset with no return. For his fans, of which I was most definitely one, Doug will always be around. He was one of our cowboy ‘good guys,’ playing roles he so enjoyed, sitting tall in the saddle. It’s so hard for us to give ‘em up, and the memory of Doug is surely going to stay in our hearts. If ever a cowboy actor was at ‘home on the range,' he was Doug McClure."

James Drury (the Virginian) as quoted in People Yearbook 1996 tribute p. 130, "Anytime I laid eyes on Doug, I couldn’t help smiling. He was the finest guy I ever knew."

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