I don’t think the death of Peter Brown (October 5, 1935 – March 21, 2016) got much coverage. You’d have to have a long memory and a fondness for vintage TV westerns to know that all-American name. The name, by the way, was originally the more exotic Pierre Lind de Lappe, but the Manhattan-born kid preferred to be called Peter. And when his mother re-married a guy named Albert Brown, he went with that new last name.
Brown’s mother was an actress (you may have heard of the “Dragon Lady” in the “Terry and the Pirates” comic strip? She played the role on radio). He wanted to be an actor, and journeyed to California…to end up working in a gas station.
He noticed a customer’s familiar name on a credit card. “Jack Warner? Are you one of the Warner Brothers??” Jack nodded, “I’m the last one left.” Brown declared himself an actor looking for a break, and Warner let him come to the studio for a test.
Back then, Warner’s TV division was loading up on handsome young guys that teen girls could adore and that would be heroic enough for men to admire. Looking good was secondary to acting well. From memory, I recall quite a few late 50’s Warner TV stars who became popular with little previous experience or success: James Garner, Jack Kelly, Will Hutchins, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, Bob Conrad, Ty Hardin, Clint Walker, Troy Donahue and, very quickly, Peter Brown.
On “Lawman,” Brown played Deputy Johnny McKay opposite thin, wiry, super tough John Russell’s Marshal Dan Troop. There simply wasn’t a more intense figure on TV than Russell, and I’m including Clint Eastwood over on “Rawhide.” Despite his glaring and gruff demeanor, Russell was a sympathetic mentor to Peter Brown over the show’s four-year run. Neither of them showed much emotional range on the show, but that wasn’t needed. They were heroes.
An important feature of Warner westerns was a theme song to instantly tell viewers what the show was about. This song usually had a catchy melody and extremely stupid lyrics. The lighter shows like “Maverick” and “Sugarfoot” had the most ridiculous themes. “Lawman” was merely stolid and wonderfully inane.
It was the work of Jay Livingston and Mack David who had a knack for writing hokey songs folks could sing along to. Remember “Que Sera Sera” and “Buttons and Bows?” How about “Silver Bells” or Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa?” One of their catchiest theme songs was for “Mr. Ed.”
As for “Lawman,” it is pretty repetitive and clumsy, but some stalwart fans out there could sing the melody to this: “The Lawman came with the sun! There was a job to be done! So they sent for the badge and the gun of the Lawman!”
You get both the original TV theme and the instrumental from Al Caiola, which includes some “Rawhide” whip cracks and “Lone Ranger” hoof beats.
It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, even antisemitic skeleton Roger Waters, to know that Livingston and Evans, authors of great Americana, were Jewish. Jay Livingston was born Jacob Levinson in Pennsylvania to immigrant parents. Ray Evans was born in New York, his father’s last name already changed via Ellis Island
Their first big hit together was “To Each His Own” in 1946. How big? I don’t think Roger Waters, the acromegaly-faced Nazi, ever had FIVE different versions of any of his songs in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. All crowding the Top 10 together: The Ink Spots, Tony Martin, Freddie Martin, Eddie Howard and The Modernaires singing “To Each His Own.”
Peter Brown’s career would’ve gone nowhere without a Jew. Jack Warner was born Jacob Wonsai. His Polish immigrant parents had to flee Europe due to a little something called “ethnic cleansing,” which today Roger Waters believes only happens to antisemitic Ukrainians or Palesteeeeenians. He thinks Jews are no longer persecuted (even by him) and he also believes that only Israel (not even North Korea or Russia) is an apartheid dictatorship that deserves to be shunned.
But I digress.
After the TV western craze of the late 50’s subsided, each season brought only a few new oaters. Peter Brown luckily latched onto a new one in the mid-60’s. The cult classic “Laredo” borrowed from “The Three Musketeers” and the 1939 movie “Gunga Din,” in offering a look at a trio of heroes who just happened to have a carefree sense of humor and a delight in pranking each other like friendly enemies. Neville Brand was the older one, the butt of most of the practical jokes. William Smith appealed to guys who could be inspired to try body-building and getting a muscular body like “Joe Riley.” Peter Brown was intended to help draw in some female viewership, as stalwart “Chad Cooper.” The exuberant (lyricless) theme song was by Russ Garcia, and the original soundtrack probably sets some kind of record for the most distracting gunshots, which seem to number in the dozens. It’s really hard to listen to without the visuals.
In the 70’s Brown starred in some exploitation films (notably “Foxy Brown”) and spent most of the 70's and 80's moistening vaginas over 40 by starring in various daytime soap operas. Those growing up in the 50’s and 60’s never forgot “Johnny McKay” or “Chad Cooper,” and would eagerly wait for him to turn up at “western star memorabilia rodeo” shows. The somewhat elusive star had other things to do than stand around while paunchy idiot Hoobastanks clutched him around the shoulder, and grinned yellow cheesy smiles, paying $20 for a pose and an autograph. That’s why if you check eBay, a Peter Brown autographed photo is usually in the $50 range, or more. It’s a tribute that if you want a signed Brown, you need a lot of green.
AL CAIOLA LAWMAN
ORIGINAL THEME AS BROADCAST LAWMAN