Bearcats! is an American Western television series broadcast on the CBS television network during the fall 1971 television season. It starred Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole as troubleshooters in the period before the American entry into World War I (1917).
|Created by||Douglas Heyes|
|Written by||Jim Byrnes|
James L. Henderson
Joe Ruby & Ken Spears
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Theme music composer||Hal Hopper|
|Composer||John Andrew Tartaglia|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||13 (+ 1 pilot movie)|
|Executive producer||Douglas Heyes|
|Running time||48 minutes|
|Original release||September 16 –|
December 30, 1971
Bearcats! was produced by Filmways Inc. (which previously produced many series including The Addams Family, Mister Ed, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction). It was co-produced by Rodlor, Rod Taylor's production firm.
Set in 1914, somewhat later historically than a traditional Western, the stories center around the heroes' use of a 1914 Stutz Bearcat automobile. Although automobiles were common in the United States in 1914, a $2,000 sports car would have been very rare in the more remote areas of the Western United States. How the heroes paid for this expensive ride was rather unusual, as well. They undertook work which could be considered "private security" for a prosperous clientele, and rather than charging a traditional fee, they extracted from the client a blank check, with the amount charged to be determined by just how difficult or dangerous the job proved to be once it was completed. "If you can put a price on it, you don't need them badly enough." Typical adventures included learning who was setting fire to oil wells, unraveling a plot where German Deutsches Heer soldiers dressed as American troops raided Mexican border towns hoping to force Mexico into a war with the United States, and stopping mercenaries from sabotaging medical supplies being sent overseas to the Allies of World War I.
The series was created by veteran TV writer/producer Douglas Heyes who also served as executive producer. He wrote and directed the TV movie Powderkeg that served as the pilot film for the series. Episodes were shot on location in near Tucson, Arizona, and also in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. Powderkeg was syndicated in the 1970s and frequently aired by local U.S. TV stations, and was the only episode of the series to be released as a VHS videotape.
For filming, the series used two full-scale metal replicas of first generation (1912–1916) Stutz Bearcats made by Hollywood car customizer and film car builder George Barris. While externally very close to the original cars, in fact they were built on custom chassis powered by Ford drivetrains and had modern four wheel brake systems for safety. The two replicas were very similar to one another, however the first built (and the one used for most filming) had a manual 4-speed transmission while the second had an automatic. Additionally, there was a slight variation in the location of the horn bulb and the pinstripes on the sides of the hood of the second car, so the cars can be differentiated while closely viewing the episodes. In addition to the two cars used in the series, Barris built and retained a third car for use at car shows which differed in many details and color from the TV cars. All three cars survive today, though Barris' display car has been extensively modified. The original Stutz Bearcat automobiles had been manufactured in Indianapolis, Indiana; the Stutz factory building still exists but is currently used as an arts and office complex.
The episode "Groundloop at Spanish Wells" features a 1918 Standard J-1 airplane (though it's called a Curtiss Jenny in the script) that had recently been restored in Tucson (where the episode was filmed) by Charles Klessig of Fargo, North Dakota. A later episode featuring the same pilot character, "The Return of Esteban", featured a 1929 British de Havilland DH.60 Moth biplane. According to Klessig, the episode was filmed in New Mexico where the higher altitudes precluded the use of the older aircraft.
The World War I tank shown in the episode "The Devil Wears Armor" is an M1917 (aka Six Ton) tank, an American-built version of the Renault FT. Its gun is not authentic. The M1917 was first ordered in 1917, and the first example was produced in late 1918, four years later than the series' 1914 setting.
The MPC (Model Products Corporation) model company released a 1/25th scale model kit of a Stutz Bearcat as a tie-in with the series. Its box art featured Taylor and Cole in costume with the genuine 1914 Bearcat used in Powderkeg. A photo on the side of the box showed the first Barris replica in a scene from the episode "The Devil Wears Armor".
Bearcats!, despite a large promotional campaign prior to its premiere and having a loyal fan base, lost in the Nielsen ratings to both The Flip Wilson Show on NBC and a more traditional Western, Alias Smith and Jones, on ABC, and was cancelled midseason.
|No.||Title||Original air date|
|Pilot||"Powderkeg"||April 16, 1971|
Backdoor pilot: A pair of soldiers of fortune (Hank and Johnny) are hired to get a hijacked train and its 73 passengers freed from a gang of Mexican bandits. Takes place in 1914 along the U.S./Mexico border.
|1||"The Devil Wears Armor"||September 16, 1971|
When villains use a WWI tank to rob a bank, Hank and Johnny disguise as monks to infiltrate the enemy camp, and end up in a Stutz vs. Tank battle.
|2||"Ground Loop at Spanish Wells"||September 23, 1971|
Hank and Johnny are hired to discover the motives behind a group of bandits (masquerading as US military troops) raiding small Mexican villages.
|3||"Dos Gringos"||September 30, 1971|
Hank is forcibly re-commissioned a US Army Captain to provide aid to a Mexican revolutionary (played by Robert Tafur). He and Johnny must contend with a government-sanctioned assassin (played by Eric Braeden) with orders to capture the revolutionary.
|4||"The Feathered Serpent"||October 7, 1971|
Hank and Johnny are hired to stop a group of militants who plan to invade Central America claiming to be Native American liberators but, instead wish to pillage and plunder the area.
|5||"The Hostage"||October 14, 1971|
An outlaw (played by David Canary) is out for revenge against a town for trying and hanging his father who killed one of the town's citizens. A young girl from the town (played by Erin Moran) hires Hank and Johnny to stop the ex-con and his gang.
|6||"Conqueror's Gold"||October 28, 1971|
A gang of thieves led by Carter Gladstone (played by Kevin McCarthy) want to loot an archaeological site of gold discovered there by a native Mexican priest (played by Tom Nardini. The gang captures the priest and the group of 50 that is helping him excavate the ruins. A newspaper reporter (played by Jane Merrow) covering the dig escapes as the thieves enter the ruins. The reporter gets her newspaper to hire Hank and Johnny to stop the thieves and rescue the archaeological group.
|7||"Blood Knot"||November 4, 1971|
Racial tension runs high in a small town between the white and Native American residents after oil drilling rigs are destroyed, and people are injured and killed by arrows. Hank and Johnny are hired to bring the perpetrators to justice and defuse the tension.
|8||"Assault on San Saba"||November 11, 1971|
A group of German spies captures a prison in an attempt to get prisoners to perform acts of sabotage and murder against targets in the United States. Hank and Johnny must break into the prison to stop the plan from being carried out.
|9||"Bitter Flats"||November 18, 1971|
A wealthy rancher (played by Keenan Wynn) is mining Tungsten, and sending it over the border to Mexico. Two U.S. soldiers infiltrate the ranch as drovers to investigate. One soldier is killed after discovering the operation, and the other is captured. The parents of the captured soldier get Hank and Johnny to rescue their son, and bring the rancher to justice.
|10||"Tiger, Tiger"||November 25, 1971|
A group of saboteurs led by Walker "Tiger" Thompson (played by Morgan Woodward) have destroyed 8 shipments of medical supplies that were destined for America's allies during WWI. Hank and Johnny are hired to stop the saboteurs.
|11||"The Big Guns"||December 2, 1971|
A group of U.S. Army deserters led by Colonel Ted Donovan (played by Leslie Nielsen) aim to gain revenge against the Army by destroying a convoy using 2 stolen artillery guns. Hank and Johnny are hired by the U.S. Government to stop them.
|12||"The Return of Estaban"||December 23, 1971|
An ex-con (played by William Smith) who spent 20 years in prison for killing his brother is out for revenge against the town where he was tried and convicted. Hank and Johnny are hired to stop him and his band of men. But, they need help from their friend Raoul Estaban (Henry Darrow). Curiously, the spelling of Darrow's character's last name is now spelled "Estaban" instead of "Esteban" as it was in the episode, "Ground Loop at Spanish Wells."
|13||"Man in a Cage"||December 30, 1971|
An outlaw (played by Jeremy Slate) and his gang kidnaps a judge (played by John Anderson), who is also a gubernatorial candidate, and holds him hostage for the ransom of U.S. Army guns and ammunition. Hank and Johnny are hired by the judge's wife (played by Doris Dowling) and the U.S. Government to free the judge. However, Hank and Johnny must rely on an imprisoned member (played by Luke Askew) of the outlaw's gang to help them.
The series was shown extensively overseas, including Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Its pilot film, Powderkeg, was released as a theatrical feature overseas.
On May 14, 2013, Timeless Media Group released Bearcats! – The Complete Series in a three-DVD set in Region 1. The 90-minute pilot episode "Powderkeg" is not included, but was released as a standalone DVD or as part of the "20 Great Westerns: Heroes and Bandits" DVD box set produced by TGG Direct.
When the series was announced, paperback publisher Award Books licensed book rights to Bearcats! and commissioned an original novel by veteran Western novelist W.T. Ballard, to be published in 1971, under his tie-in pseudonym "Brian Fox" (a by-line he had employed often when working for Award). But when the TV series was canceled before the book could be made ready for distribution, the book was canceled in turn. Ballard, apparently unwilling to let the novel go unpublished, retitled it, slapped on another of his pseudonyms, and, without so much as changing the names of its heroes, sold the book again to unsuspecting publisher Ballantine Books—who released it in December, 1972 under the title Hell Hole as by "John Hunter." The connection was not discovered during Ballard's lifetime.