We have seen how Arvo Ojala, known as Matt Dillon’s opponent in the opening scene of Gunsmoke, invented the steel-lined Hollywood fast-draw holster. He went on to teach many of the early Western TV series stars how to perform a super-fast draw using his rig by cocking their single-action sixguns before they cleared their holsters. So most of the lead actors in the early Western series used his patented Hollywood fast-draw holster. And except for color and holster length, they all looked the same. Paladin’s rig was black with a silver knight on the side for a 7 1⁄2-inch-barreled Colt, Matt Dillon’s’ was brown for a 7 1⁄2-inch-barreled Colt, Marshal Troop’s rig on Lawman was brown for a 5 1⁄2-inch-barreled Colt, Cheyenne’s was the same, Hugh O’Brian’s rig as Wyatt Earp was a brown double rig, and the Maverick brothers had similar rigs for 5 1⁄2-inch-barreled guns. But there were exceptions, and here we will look at seven unusual Hollywood Western TV rigs.
First, a short look at a short holster used on a very short series, Shane. How many of you knew that David Carradine starred in a Western series before Kung Fu? Starting in September 1966, Carradine starred for 17 episodes as gunfighter Shane, based on the popular movie Shane. But rather than a 7 1⁄2-inch-barreled Colt, as used by Alan Ladd’s Shane, Carradine used a 3-inch-barreled Colt Sherriff’s Model with a slip hammer, a classic gunfighters’ gun.
RELATED STORY: Classic Gunleather: Old West Rigs and Holsters
There were no one-of-a-kind rigs made for the TV shows, as the star’s stunt double would have a rig looking like the star’s rig. However, the stuntman’s rig would not have the steel insert, as they did not want to risk an injury from falling on a steel-lined holster. Sometimes Andy Anderson, when making an unusual rig for a series, would make an extra for himself. This was true for the Shane holster, which was a simple, unlined, traditional Mexican single-loop holster for the 3-inch-barreled Colt Sheriff ’s Model. Through the generosity of Victor Perez, who apprenticed with and worked for Anderson for many years, I have the extra Shane holster for my Sherriff ’s Model.
Mare’s Laig Rig:
Except for Lucas McCain’s rapid-fire Winchester carbine on The Rifleman, the so-called “gimmick” guns required special holsters, such as Steve McQueen’s Mare’s Laig on Wanted: Dead or Alive and Don Durant’s LeMat revolver on Johnny Ringo.
Steve McQueen became a household name starring as bounty hunter Josh Randall for 94 episodes of Wanted: Dead or Alive. Randall used a unique handgun made from a cut-down Winchester Model 1892 .44 WCF carbine. Called the “Mare’s Laig,” with its chopped buttstock, large-loop lever, fanning hammer, no sights and the barrel cut off just in front of the barrel band, this weapon required a special fast-draw rig to make it possible for McQueen to perform a truly fast draw with it. Randall’s rig had a straight-cut gun belt 3 1⁄4 inches wide with full bullet loops, in which he carried .45- 70 dummy cartridges for greater visual effect. The ends were tapered slightly for a nickel-plated, 3-inch chaps buckle. The “holster” consisted of a large skirt riveted securely to the bottom edge of the belt and strapped to the leg with a 1⁄2-inch leg strap. The Mare’s Laig hung by its saddle ring from a solid brass J-hook riveted to the skirt. Leather covering a U-shaped spring in the front secured the Mare’s Laig’s forend. McQueen practiced with his unique Mare’s Laig until he was faster on the draw than most of the Western series stars were with their sin- gle-action revolvers. The original rig was unlined and a bit crude, as it was meant to look like something Josh Randall had made himself. Fairly late in the series McQueen had Andy Anderson craft a high-quality version.
RELATED STORY: Frontier Gunleather Unveils New Concealment Holsters
John Bianchi’s Frontier Gunleather makes a relatively close copy of McQueen’s rig. The most accurate copy is available from Eagle Squadron Productions, but only by buying one of their correct Mare’s Laig replicas.
Don Durant rode the TV range as legendary gunfighter turned sheriff Johnny Ringo, in the series of the same name, for 38 episodes between 1959 and 1960. His special gun was a rare cartridge version of the LeMat revolver. This was a large and heavy single-action revolver with a deadly secret. The cylinder revolved around a single-shot smoothbore barrel placed below the usual rifled barrel. This made the TV LeMat a seven-shooter with most episodes of the TV series ending with Ringo taking out the last bad guy with the seventh shot in his empty six-shooter. The size and weight of the LeMat made it nearly impossible to draw it fast from a standard open-top holster. So the producers went to Arvo Ojala, who produced a special spring-clip, open-front version of his Hollywood fast-draw holster for them. This allowed Durant to perform a genuine fast draw with the unwieldy LeMat seven-shooter.
Ringo’s unusual speed rig had a natural rough-out finish with a standard Ojala Buscadero Ranger-style gun belt with full .45-caliber bullet loops. The holster was similar to the standard Ojala fast-draw holster with a full skirt and a long drop shank. But the front of the holster was removed, with two steel-lined, U-shaped clips holding the revolver around the cylinder and at the muzzle. Durant used two tie-down thongs to secure the large holster to his leg when making a fast draw with the LeMat.
Gene Barry starred in Bat Masterson, which debuted in October 1958 and lasted for 108 episodes, as the legendary lawman, gun-fighter and gambler. Barry’s Masterson was different than most Western figures, costumed as a flashy dressing dandy wearing a derby hat, carrying a gold-headed cane and carrying a 3 1⁄2-inch-barreled Colt single-action in a cross-draw holster. While he often used his cane to disarm the bad guy, he would use his Colt when necessary.
Rather than a wide, heavy gun belt, TV’s Masterson wore his neat cross-draw holster on a 1 3⁄4-inch pants belt with extra ammunition in a cartridge slide on his right hip. The holster was very similar in appearance to a modern Jordan police duty holster, but with the muzzle angled forward for a cross-draw. Color publicity photos of Gene Barry as Bat Masterson show that his rig was brown, though filmed in black and white it appears on screen to be black. Chisholm’s Trail Leather produces a copy after being allowed to examine the original Bat Masterson TV rig displayed in the Cody Museum. Legends In Leather also makes a copy designed using computer-enhanced photos for a pattern.
Nick Adams starred in 76 episodes of The Rebel starting in October 1959. In the early episodes, he carried a Colt 1860 Army conversion in a crude hip holster that had a brass strip reinforcing the top of the pouch. But the viewers’ interest in the fast draw soon had him switching to a 4 3⁄4-inch-barreled Colt single action with an 1860 Army grip frame. He carried the short-barreled Colt in a custom Andy Anderson Walk & Draw rig. Rather than the usual Anderson 2 1⁄2-inch-wide gun belt, “Johnny Yuma” carried his custom fast-draw holster on a full-lined, GI-style belt with a Confederate cavalry buckle. The holster was an Anderson steel-lined, low-cut, high-ride Model AA, but modified with the gun butt tipped forward at an FBI rake rather than the standard muzzle-forward angle. Anderson personally told me that Nick Adams was a John Wayne fan and ordered his fast-draw holster with the FBI rake because that was the way The Duke’s holster was. The top of the pouch had a yellow leather band around it, in place of the brass on the 1860 Army holster. Anderson said that this leather rather than brass was to reduce cost, and appeared to be brass on film. The holster had the steel-lined hip plate on the back so as not to require a tie-down.
The hour-long series The High Chaparral debuted in September 1967 and ran for 96 episodes. Henry Darrow played the part of Arizona rancher John Cannon’s high-spirited brother-in-law Manolito Montoya. In keeping with his character being different, Darrow chose to use a custom version of the Anderson Western swivel rig cataloged as the Lobo. The holster was a standard, steel-lined fast-draw pouch that attached with a swivel directly to a tab extending from the bottom edge of the 2 1⁄2-inch gun belt. In order to appear to be a period fast-draw holster, a piece of brass encircled the top of the pouch and was riveted securely in place. The rig was black and had no bullet loops. The gun belt had a custom “trophy buckle” covered with leather with the Montoya cattle brand carved into the face. The swivel allowed Darrow to move freely with the holster tied to his leg.
Walk & Draw Rigs
We first saw Peter Brown as Deputy Johnny McKay in October 1958 on Lawman. While in early episodes he wore the usual Ojala rig with a brown, rough-out finish, he soon switched to an Anderson Walk & Draw Standard rig. In September of 1965, when he appeared as Chad Cooper, one of a trio of Texas Rangers in Laredo, he was still using the Anderson rig. But he soon switched to an unusual cross-draw version of an Anderson Walk & Draw rig.
RELATED STORY: Hollywood Legend: Johnny Mack Brown
Anderson’s personal favorite of his different fast-draw rigs was the AA rig. This was a muzzle-raked, high-ride version of his popular Walk & Draw Western rig. Anderson told me that the AA was the fastest rig he made, but the least popular because most customers would not devote the time required to master the fast draw from the high carry position.
Peter Brown’s custom AA rig was finished in a dark brown. The belt was the standard 2 1⁄2 inches wide with tapered ends and a hand-hammered buckle. The belt was notched on the left side for the holster and had full .45-caliber bullet loops and contrasting, white-thread gunfighter stitching. The holster had a full skirt and a low-cut front lip, fully exposing the Colt’s trigger-guard. No tie-down was required. The cross-draw rig used by Peter Brown was ideal for use on horseback, and the Laredo Rangers were often seen that way.
For More Information
Chisholm’s Trail Leather
Eagle Squadron Productions
Legends In Leather
Spaghetti Western Replicas
RELATED STORY: Top 12 Western Classics
This article originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.