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TV GUIDE ad for "The New Maverick".“Young Maverick”

In a valiant attempt by Warner Bros. to breathe new life into one of their biggest hit shows, Warner Bros. and James Garner reteamed for “The New Maverick” in 1978.

“Maverick” had ended its successful run in 1962. Leaving “Maverick” Garner had gone on to do several movies as well as “Nichols” (‘71-‘72 NBC) and the tremendously popular “Rockford Files” (‘74-‘80 NBC). That popularity had an impact on “Maverick” during the mid-‘70s. Independent TV stations began showing “Maverick” reruns, introducing the series to a new generation of viewers. Hoping to capitalize on this renewed interest, Warner Bros. decided to produce an updated version of “Maverick” as a pilot for a possible series.

Frank, Garner, Kelly.“The New Maverick”, which aired as an ABC Sunday Night Movie on September 3, 1978, depicted the adventures of young Ben Maverick (Charles Frank) who had left his Harvard education to roam the west in the tradition of his father Beau and cousins Bret and Bart. For the TVM James Garner and Jack Kelly reprised their roles as Bret and Bart.

When the movie pilot drew a respectable audience, ABC found itself with a problem. They couldn’t design a new series utilizing Garner because he was still tied up with “The Rockford Files”. Hence, ABC passed on
Charles Frank, Susan Blanchard. the series but Warner Bros. kept the idea in development and eventually sold “Young Maverick” to CBS as a one hour Wednesday night at 8pm series. The first episode (“Clancy”) aired on November 28, 1979. Susan Blanchard (Charles Frank’s real life wife, they met while working together on the “All My Children” soap in the ‘70s and were married in June ‘77) was cast as Ben’s grifting gal-pal Nell McGarrahan as she had been in “The New Maverick” TVM. (w/ Frank right.)

Like his cousins, Ben wore a black suit, ruffled shirts and seriously tried to avoid violence as he drifted around the west in pursuit of a fast buck. Ben inevitably keeps running into the pert Nell who often bankrolls Ben’s schemes and forlornly yearns for his romantic attention. Also in the recurring cast was rock-jawed U.S. Marshal Edge Troy, played with wonderful comedic ability by John Dehner.

Charles Frank was born April 17, 1947, in Olympia, WA. He attended Middlebury College in Vermont where he majored in theatre, then attended NYU Graduate School where he received some “really good training and did years of theatre” according to Frank. He began his role as Jeff Martin on ABC’s “All My Children” soap in 1970. After four years he moved to L.A. where he guest starred on various series.

As to being chosen as Ben Maverick, Frank told WC, “Growing up I was a fan of Hopalong Cassidy. We used to raise horses and show them, so it was very natural for me to ride. Susan rides well too. Someone thought it would be kinda cool to have ‘a couple’ in the series. Susan is a really wonderful person, a really good actress and fun to work with. Also her dog was in ‘Young Maverick’.” For “The New Maverick” Frank said, “James Garner was absolutely phenomenal, a real gentleman, a giving actor. He would work with you to make sure you did your best. He was a really good person. Juanita Bartlett (a regular writer on “The Rockford Files”) wrote ‘The New Maverick’—she was a really good writer. My feeling is if you have the words, you got a good show. It was a disappointment when ‘Young Maverick’ was cancelled. You get so much junk on the air and ‘Young Maverick’ was a really good show.”

When we mentioned John Dehner, Frank smiled, “Oh God, another great guy. Hell of an actor.”

As to dangerous moments while filming the series, Frank recalled, “We were shooting out in Simi Valley and I had a 1,500 lb. quarter horse and pretty bold. The scene was I was to jump off my horse and run up on a huge rock. Then jump on the person who was following me. I jumped off the horse and started to run up the rock when I heard this clumpety-clump behind me and here was this 1,500 pound quarter horse running after me. I had no idea what to do. I grabbed the reins and took her off the side of the rock and we landed right on the camera crew. (Laughs)”

Frank went on to do “Filthy Rich”, “Emerald Point, N.A.S.”, played astronaut Scott Carpenter in “The Right Stuff” (‘83) and guested on dozens of other series before leaving the business at 50. I retired and work on the board of the community college here (in Olympia, WA). I taught theatrics at a couple of community colleges for awhile. When we were doing ‘Young Maverick’ it was a real family, everybody on that set would hang out together, the wranglers were our best friends. We’d go out to their place, saddle up a couple of horses and take off up in the hills. It was just a really neat job doing ‘Maverick’.”

Charles Frank as Ben Maverick and Susan Blanchard as Nell McGarrahan in "Young Maverick".Unfortunately, good light-hearted show that it was, “Young Maverick” was up against the extremely popular “Real People” on NBC, a show that had already knocked off several competing programs. CBS never gave “Young Maverick” a chance to find its audience and pulled the plug on the series on January 16, 1980, after airing only six episodes. (Two unaired episodes were produced and never seen until Warner Archive released all eight episodes on DVD.)

Les Martinson, veteran director of “Maverick” and the “Hearts of Gold” episode of “Young Maverick”, told writer Ed Robertson, “As I recall the writers on ‘Young Maverick’ tried very hard to capture the flavor of the original show, and Charley played it for what it was worth—whatever was inherent in the scripts. The rest was in his personality, and what he brought to the role. But Charley had a hard task in front of him. I don’t know anybody who could possibly capture audiences the way Jimmy did in that part.”

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