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Reluctant Hero

433px-Will_Hutchins_Sugarfoot_1958Will Hutchins as Tom “Sugarfoot” Brewster, 1958

Sugarfoot is an American western television series that aired on ABC from 1957 to 1961. The Warner Brothers production stars Will Hutchins as Tom Brewster, an Easterner who comes to the Oklahoma Territory to become a lawyer. Jack Elam is cast in occasional episodes as sidekick Toothy Thompson. Brewster was a correspondence-school student whose apparent lack of cowboy skills earned him the nickname “Sugarfoot,” a designation even below that of a tenderfoot.


The show had no relation to the 1951 Randolph Scott Western film Sugarfoot aside from the studio owning the title, but its pilot episode was a remake of an offbeat 1954 western film called The Boy from Oklahoma, starring Will Rogers, Jr., as Tom Brewster. The pilot and premiere episode, “Brannigan’s Boots,” was so similar to The Boy from Oklahomathat Sheb Wooley and Slim Pickens reprised their roles from the movie.

As played by Rogers in the film, Brewster never used firearms, preferring to vanquish villains with his roping skills (à la Will Rogers, Sr.) if friendly persuasion failed. Perhaps for practical reasons, the pilot altered the character slightly and makes Brewster reluctant to use firearms but able and willing to do so when there is no alternative. That was his stance throughout the series, and the title song mentions that he carried a rifle and a law book. Whenever he enters a saloon, Sugarfoot refuses alcohol and orders sarsaparilla“with a dash of cherry”, a drink similar to root beer.

Sugarfoot was one of the earliest products of the alliance between ABC and the fledgling Warner Brothers Television Department, chaired by William T. Orr. During the same period, other similar programs would appear, including MaverickCheyenneBroncoLawman, and Colt .45. Hutchins appeared as Sugarfoot in crossover episodes ofCheyenne and Maverick, and in an installment of Bronco called “The Yankee Tornado”, with Peter Breck as the young Theodore RooseveltJack Kelly appeared as Bart Maverick in the Sugarfoot episode “A Price on His Head.”

Sugarfoot is only partly set in Oklahoma; the character seems to appear at any place in the West though geographic place names are often missing in the scripts. He often journeys south of the border into Mexico, and numerous episodes are rich in Hispanic culture, with various roles played by Mexican or Mexican-American actors.

Cast of “Brannigan’s Boots”

The pilot and premiere episode “Brannigan’s Boots” aired on September 17, 1957. In the story line, Tom Brewster is appointed the sheriff of the town of Bluerock, state or territory not given, by unscrupulous politicians who believe that his apparent lack of cowboy skills will render him unable to maintain order after the murder of the fearless Sheriff Brannigan. Brewster takes the appointment seriously and symbolically puts on a pair of boots left behind in the sheriff’s office. Brannigan’s daughter, Katie, played by the late Merry Anders, sees Brewster wearing her father’s boots and derisively calls him a “sugarfoot”. She questions whether he is capable of filling her father’s boots. “Sugarfoot” then successfully finds her father’s killer but not without a fictitious incident with the notorious Billy the Kid, played in this episode by Dennis Hopper. He soon wins Katie’s heart too. The opening episode reveals that Sugarfoot’s guns, mailed to him by his mother, were those of his late father.

Will Hutchins … Tom ‘Sugarfoot’ Brewster
Merry Anders … Katie Brannigan
Louis Jean Heydt … Paul Evans
Dennis Hopper … Billy the Kid
Arthur Hunnicutt … Pop Purty
Chubby Johnson … Postmaster Wally Higgins
Slim Pickens … Shorty
Ainslie Pryor … Mayor Barney Turlock
Kurt Russell … Boy
Sheb Wooley … Pete

Cast of The Boy from Oklahoma film (1954)

Will Rogers, Jr. … Sheriff Tom Brewster
Nancy Olson … Katie Brannigan
Lon Chaney, Jr. … Crazy Charlie
Anthony Caruso … Mayor Barney Turlock
Wallace Ford … Postmaster Wally Higgins
Clem Bevans … Pop Pruty, Justice of the Peace
Merv Griffin … Steve
Louis Jean Heydt … Paul Evans
Sheb Wooley … Pete Martin
Slim Pickens … Shorty
Tyler MacDuff … Billy the Kid
James Griffith … Joe Downey

Selected Episodes – 1957

In “Reluctant Hero”, the second episode of the series (October 1, 1957), Sugarfoot takes a ranch job from the aging Charlie Cade, played by Will Wright. He soon finds that Cade is involved in a range war with Ken and Linda Brazwell, brother-and-sister ranchers played by Michael Dante and Gloria Talbott. Sugarfoot clashes with Cade’s foreman Curly Day (Steve Brodie), who burns down Cade’s ranch house after Cade fires him. Cade dies in the fire, and Sugarfoot is shot in the attack. Linda takes it upon herself to nurse Sugarfoot back to health. I. Stanford Jolley plays the mysterious “The Nighthawk.”

In “The Strange Land” (October 15, 1957), viewers learn that Sugarfoot’s father, George Brewster, was a highly regarded law-enforcement officer. Based on a story by Louis L’Amour, this episode focuses upon an embittered rancher named Cash Billings (Morris Ankrum). An old friend of George Brewster’s, Billings hires Sugarfoot to repair fence on Billings’ Slash B Ranch. Billings has allowed a hired gunman, Burr Fulton (Rhodes Reason), to take over his spread and harass the neighboring small ranchers, but Sugarfoot arrives to bring law and justice to the situation. Jan Chaney plays Billings’ daughter, Anne, who takes a liking to Sugarfoot, the nickname that is the title of the series. Anne had accidentally killed her brother in a shooting, and her father was unforgiving.

In the unusually titled “Bunch Quitter” (October 29, 1957), Sugarfoot is hired by Otto Jardine (Frank Ferguson, earlier of My Friend Flicka), for a mysterious cattle drive to an unknown destination. Kathleen Case plays Gail Jardine, Otto’s daughter, who is smitten by an outlaw, Blacky (Ray Danton). When Blacky fatally shoots the trail boss Slim Jackson (Tyler McVey), Sugarfoot gathers the evidence to bring him to justice.

In “Trail’s End” (November 12, 1957), Sugarfoot comes upon a former childhood sweetheart, Kathy Larsen (Venetia Stevenson), who is managing a dance hall. Chris Alcaide plays the corrupt Clay Horton, who forces Kathy to marry him so that she cannot testify in court in regard to Horton’s crimes. Barbara Stuart portrays Muriel, Kathy’s business partner. Gordon Jones plays Sugarfoot’s lively friend, Wasco Wolters, who has an interest in Muriel. This episode reveals that Tom Brewster spent his childhood in Vermont before coming to the Oklahoma Territory.

In “Quicksilver” (November 26, 1957), Sugarfoot investigates the robbery of a silver mine which prevents the owner from meeting his payroll. The episode features Lane Bradford as the cutthroat Ellis; John Litel as Hank Tatum, the owner of the mine, and Fay Spain as Tatum’s daughter, Susie, the girlfriend and eventual wife of the local sheriff. Frank Wilcox plays George Beaumont, an unscrupulous businessman who had been rejected years earlier by Hank Tatum’s late wife.


Joi Lansing guest stars as the unsavory but attractive “Peaches”, who claims to be a belle from Georgia, in the episode “Bullet Proof” (January 21, 1958). Sugarfoot tricks a gang into believing that he knows the location of the loot from their last bank robbery. Gregory Walcott plays Peaches’ presumed fiance, Duke McKlintock, and Don “Red” Barry is cast as Tanner.

After several episodes aired in the second season, a disappointed Hutchins complained in a letter to executive director William T. Orr that the scripts were written so that the lead character Sugarfoot was not particular needed in many of the episodes. The action revolved around Sugarfoot who was often not a real party to the events. Hutchins attributed writer and director Montgomery Pittman for saving the series for two more seasons by setting the tone for the redirection of the latter scripts. Pittman directed four episodes and wrote four others.

In the second season premiere on September 16, 1958, Will Wright returns to portray Job Turner, a curmudgeon living alone in the desert. Entitled “Ring of Sand”, the episode is a lesson in vengeance, forgiveness, and hope. Three outlaws, played by John Russell,Edd Byrnes, and Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., have in a stagecoach robbery murdered Turner’s son, a newly licensed medical doctor. The men compel Turner to take them to the Mexican border, but Turner seeks vengeance by leading the trio around in circles despite the lack of water and a crippling sandstorm. Tom Brewster’s role in the episode is tangential, as Hutchins had explained in his letter to William T. Orr. Sugarfoot was at Turner’s house delivering a letter when the outlaws arrived. Sugarfoot uses biblical quotations to soften Turner’s heart, particularly when a young woman with a baby is found wandering in the desert after the murder of her husband. Meanwhile, Russell and Byrnes launched their own ABC/WB series, Lawman and 77 Sunset Strip, respectively, just a couple of weeks after this episode aired.

In “Brink of Fear” (September 30, 1958), a lesson about the line of good and evil in the human heart, Tom Brewster attempts to help his boyhood friend Cully Abbott, using the name Todd Frye (Jerry Paris), put aside his lawless past after Abbott is paroled from prison. Abbott’s former partners in crime come into the town where he is trying to start afresh and compel him into a bank robbery. Abbott becomes discouraged when the young woman he likes, Dodie Logan (Venetia Stevenson), has no romantic interest in him. When the moment of truth arrives, Abbott returns to his criminal ways, and Sugarfoot must hunt him down. Allen Case appears as the hot-headed deputy Bud Wilkins a year prior to being cast as “the deputy” in the NBC series The Deputy.

459px-Sugarfoot_Tommy_Rettig_Will_Hutchins_1958Tommy Rettig with Will Hutchins in Sugarfoot (1958).

In a gloomy episode entitled “The Ghost” (October 28, 1958), Tommy Rettig plays Steve Carter, a troubled youth whom Sugarfoot is hired to escort to St. Louis to collect an inheritance. The youth is falsely charged with the murder of a sheriff. Rettig sings part of the popular western song, “The Streets of Laredo“. The episode has been called “a Greek Chorus in a Stetson hat”. Other guest stars includeEd KemmerGail Kobe, and Martin Landau, who plays “The Ghost.”

In “The Hunted” (November 25, 1958), based on a story in True West Magazine, Sugarfoot, while working in a railroad gang, befriends a wounded former soldier, John Allman (Mike Lane), who has become mentally unbalanced as a result of the terror of an Apache attack on his Army unit. Allman engages in bank robbery and murder, but Sugarfoot is unable to bring him to justice because of the impatient action of a persistent posse led by Clay Calhoun (R.G. Armstrong). Francis De Sales appears in this episode as Major Sterling.

In “Yampa Crossing” (December 9, 1958), Sugarfoot and three other men wait at a river crossing for high water to subside. Sugarfoot has been retained to obtain a legal statement from Galt Kimberly (Harold J. Stone) regarding Kimberly’s estranged 13-year-old son in Missouri, who is in line to collect an inheritance. Roger Smith of 77 Sunset Strip plays Gene Blair, a kind family man living in the nearby mountains who agrees to adopt Kimberly’s son after he is compelled to kill Kimberly in a shootout. Brian G. Hutton is cast as the ill-fated young gunfighter known only as “The Kid.”

In “Devil to Pay” (December 23, 1958), Sugarfoot arrives at an Arapaho trading post whose owner has been killed by an arrow. Though warned away by a small “devil doll” planted in his saddlebag, Sugarfoot stays to help a young Indian woman, Monah (Grace Raynor), and Grey Hawk (H.M. Wynant) keep the trading post in operation. Tol Avery plays Jim Case, a rival trading post operator; John Carradine is cast as Mathew McDavitt, Case’s drunken cohort.

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