Luke Slaughter of Tombstone
"Slaughter's my name, Luke Slaughter. Cattle's my business. It's a tough business; it's a big business. I got a big stake in it. And there's no man west of the Rio Grande big enough to take it away from me."
When radio enthusiasts get to chatting about radio's best period, opinions tend to differ. Some argue that the 1930s was the most creative and innovative, when radio was literally inventing itself and creating production techniques and program formats on the fly. Others believe that the 1940s was "prime time" for radio, when advertisers were investing huge sums of money into a medium that was, along with motion pictures, quickly becoming America's primary source of entertainment. Those truly "in the know", however, argue that the 1950s was, in fact, radio's "golden age": production techniques were at their peak, the technology had improved enough to allow for high fidelity prerecording, and artistic freedom was greater than ever before.
There are convincing arguments for all of these decades - but the 1950s tends to win out, if only because so many of the programs that have since come to be known as classics made their debut near to or after 1950. Jack Webb's "Dragnet", for instance, was first heard in June of 1949, but it took until the early 1950s for it to establish the formula that would make for truly enduring radio. Adult science fiction shows like "Dimension X" and "X-Minus One" didn't make their appearances until 1950 and 1955 respectively, while "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" - which had been around in one form or another since 1948 - didn't truly hit its peak until 1955 when Bob Bailey and producer/director Jack Johnstone converted "just another detective show" into a five-a week multi-episode classic.
In the 1940s, western shows usually meant shoot 'em ups for the Saturday matinee serial crowd - but, in the 1950s, "The Six Shooter" (1953) and "Gunsmoke" (1952) came along to prove that there was an adult audience for intelligent, well-written western drama. Both of these programs led the way for later western classics like "Frontier Gentleman" and "Have Gun, Will Travel", but neither of these programs were heard until 1958 - nearly a decade after dramatic radio had been largely consigned to also-ran status by the entertainment business.
There are many reasons why the 1950s later proved to be radio's "renaissance" period. The networks, contractually committed to providing their affiliates with a full slate of programming, chose to place production largely into the hands of the most experienced producers and directors in the business - people like Elliot Lewis, Jack Johnstone, William N. Robson, and William Spier, veterans who had pioneered groundbreaking production techniques and had long proved themselves to be innovative yet reliable creators of high quality, provocative programs. Advertisers - both the blessing and the curse of big-time radio entertainment in the '30s and '40s - were now investing most of their dollars into print advertisements and prime-time network television, leaving only a small portion of their budgets to back the cost of radio production. Yet, since the investments were increasingly small, the second-guessing and nay saying by the advertising agencies was equally tiny, allowing writers and technicians alike a relatively free hand to broadcast what they created with relatively little interference from third parities.
Finally - and most importantly - in the 1950s, the creative people who had "grown up" in the radio business and truly loved the medium chose to make the most of the opportunity to produce the sort of high quality programs that they had always wanted to be a part of. No longer saddled by interfering sponsors, high-salaried movie stars with limited radio expertise, tight schedules that frequently demanded quantity over quality, and network executives focused solely on the bottom line, the actors, directors, technicians, producers, musicians, and other forces behind the creation of dramatic radio joined forces to make the most of their limitations and their strengths. Production budgets may have been dwindling, but seldom were they told directly how the spend the money allocated to them - a sort of freedom they had seldom known in the halcyon days of headaches and high Hooper ratings.
One of the most creative and entertaining shows to come out of this period of widespread creativity was "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone", a western program aired on CBS Radio between February and June of 1958. Coming in on the coattails of "Frontier Gentleman", which aired directly afterwards on Sunday afternoons, "Luke Slaughter" starred an up and coming 27-year-old character actor named Sam Buffington, who was already making a considerable name for himself on such television dramas as "Cheyenne" and "The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars". In person, Buffington was a commanding presence; large and already balding, his TV career found him playing sheriffs, military leaders, and other authority figures. On radio, however, his voice proved to be just as powerful and distinctive as that of William Conrad, Gerald Mohr, or any of the other leading men who had made radio both their career and their passion. In the demanding role of Luke Slaughter, a no-nonsense, two-fisted man of few words, it was easy to picture him as something resembling the Marlboro man, with a strong jaw, weathered features, and piercing eyes that easily saw through injustice and dishonesty.
Supporting Buffington in the series was a virtual repertory company of actors whose versatility and reliability made them mainstays of 1950s radio - people like Junius Matthews (cast as Slaughter's grizzled but big-hearted sidekick, Wichita), Lillian Buyeff, Herb Vigran, Sam Edwards, Peter Leeds, Vic Perrin, Lawrence Dobkin, and Jack Moyles. Though never stars in the Hollywood sense of the word, this talented group knew how to make the most of the scripts written by such prolific radio scribes as Fran Van Hartesveldt, Robert Stanley, Tom Hanley, and William N. Robson; Robson also acted as the series' producer/director, much the same as he had done with his earlier western drama "Fort Laramie" (1956), starring another distinctively voiced character actor named Raymond Burr.
Given the people involved in the creation and production of "Luke Slaughter", it's difficult to understand why the series had such a short run - just 16 episodes - when counterparts like "Frontier Gentleman", "Have Gun, Will Travel", and particularly "Gunsmoke" lasted considerably longer. It may have been sheer saturation that did it in - westerns were all over TV and radio at the time - or perhaps, after years of working within tight budgets and increasingly smaller audiences, the producers simply decided to devote themselves to the other more popular radio series. Whatever the reason, however, "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone" stands today as one of the brightest spots of late-era radio production. Well written stories, provocative dialogue, top-notch performances, impressive sound patterns (editorial supervisor Tom Hanley was responsible in part for many of the innovative "sound patterns" that made the CBS western dramas so distinctive), original scores by Wilbur Hatch and Amerigo Marino, and the considerable skill of director William N. Robson came together to create a memorable series of western adventures that have truly stood the test of time.
Collectors will note that this is the first time in which all sixteen episodes of "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone" have been brought together in their original network form. Taken directly from the original CBS master tapes, the series sounds better than ever in these fully restored broadcasts from Radio Archives – eight hours of timeless western adventure from one of the best and least known dramatic series ever aired.
#1 Duel on the Trail
Sunday, February 23, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#2 Tracks Out of Tombstone
Sunday, March 2, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#3 Yancy's Pride
Sunday, March 9, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#4 Page's Progress
Sunday, March 16, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#5 The Homesteaders
Sunday, March 23, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#6 The Aaron Holcomb Story
Sunday, March 30, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#7 Wagon Train
Sunday, April 13, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#8 The Henry Fell Story
Sunday, April 20, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#9 Death Watch
Sunday, April 27, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#10 Worth Its Salt
Sunday, May 4, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sponsored by O'Brien Paint
Sunday, May 11, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#12 The Drive to Fort Huachuca
Sunday, May 18, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#13 Outlaw Kid
Sunday, May 25, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#14 Cattle Drive
Sunday, June 1, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#15 Big Business
Sunday, June 8, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
#16 June Bride
Sunday, June 15, 1958 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining