This review is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here: http://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com/2014/05/announcing-2014-summer-of-metv-classic.html to check out this blogathon’s complete schedule.
Grand Central Station, Kansas, 1874
The Long Branch Saloon actually existed, but as far as I can tell, it wasn’t managed or owned by anyone named “Miss Kitty.”
Front Street, Dodge City, KS, 1874, with Robert Wright and Charles Rath’s General store, Chalk Beeson’s Long Branch, George M. Hoover’s liquor and cigar store, and Frederick Zimmermann’s gun and hardware store.
The actual “establishment” hosted many well-known figures from the heyday of the Old West like Bat, Ed, and James Masterson, Doc Holliday, Clay Allison, Frank Loving, and Wyatt Earp. The fictional establishment inevitably seemed the home away from home for such characters as Matt Dillon, Festus Hagen, Doc, Chester, Newly, and many others seeking retribution, steady employment, a stiff drink, or a friendly game of cards.
Built in Dodge City, Kansas, the saloon was erected as a result of a bet between soldiers and cowboys playing ball. (Maybe that was what started that popular game for children’s recess, “Dodge” ball.) The soldiers agreed, if they lost the game, that they would provide building materials to construct a saloon.
William Harris and Chalk Beeson, a wealthy rancher, purhcased that very same saloon in 1878. The Long Branch was named after Harris’ hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey, and it was a standard storefront bar with little ostentation, and it prospered until the railroad replaced the financial influx of silver dollars from the dusty cattle drives which had been fillin’ the coffers and emptyin’ the bottles in the storeroom. The Long Branch Saloon was unfortunately the victim of a fire in 1885 and wasn’t rebuilt until someone decided to resurrect it as part of the fictional set of Gunsmoke.
Inside the real Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas…
The Long Branch Saloon, featured in the longest running drama in television history for 19 years from September 14, 1955, to its final season in 1974, probably appeared in all 568 episodes, just as many as are credited to Miss Amanda Blake, who was born Beverly Louise Neill in Buffalo, New York. (Heck, yawl, ain’t that dangerously close to NEW YORK CITY?) Since ladies never give their age, you all will just have to google it, podners.
No one knew at the time that this lil’ gal would eventually become Amanda Blake who portrayed the apple of Matt’s eye, “Miss Kitty,” for 18 years on the longest running drama on television, Gunsmoke.
Blake left the penultimate year ‘cuz she just couldn’t stand to put on them curls, or reattach that derned bustle any more. She drew the line in the dusty dirt of Dodge City, and never crossed it again. But she sure did miss her friends. Blake told Mike Douglas that Milburn Stone, who played Doc, was kinda like her father figure.
(Amanda Blake tells it like it was on The Mike Douglas Show: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8KIDt27xEC4)
It tweren’t all smooth sailing in a prairie schooner, though. Blake needed a good friend on the set, too, ‘cuz Miss Kitty seemed to have at least one or two close calls ever year. She’d either get kidnapped as she was headed to the general store, or riding in an open buggy planning to have a picnic with Matt Dillon (James Arness), or she was headed back East fer a spell on the Overland Stage Coach, and it would get hijacked by a bunch of upstart poppinjays who were down on their luck. Real people who happened to live in Kansas, which is flatter than a buttermilk pancake made without bakin’ soda, just couldn’t understand those derned mountains up and down the trails on the t.v. set while they were a watchin’ the show. Why everbody in Kansas knowed that just tweren’t right. But Hollywood just had to show off them mountains in Califor-ny-yay whether it was geographically correct or not.
The real Long Branch was just as popular as the fictional one on T.V., and Old Chalky Beeson led a five-piece orchestra there that played dang near ever night. In addition to serving all kinds of alkyhol, and fancy champagne, and it wasn’t imported from Idaho, the selections also included beer, milk, lemonade, sasparilly, and tea. Dang. It was purty near as fancy as you could get in a dusty cow town.
When Gunsmoke began in 1955, Miss Kitty was just a working girl, but Matt took to her, right off….
But as things would happen, Miss Kitty bought a half-interest in the place, or won it in a game of poker or chuck-a-luck, and eventually she was able to buy the place outright and be the full owner after several years. Not bad for a workin’ girl.
And derned near everything happened in The Long Branch. Fights got started there, farms were won and lost at the poker table, purty gals just stood there a watchin’ when some cowpokes would be fightin’ over ’em, and Matt Dillon would stroll in, and keep the peace again and again, and if somebody got hurt, Doc would come and slap a bandage on whatever ailed ’em. Festus would just watch, or comment, but the best thing Festus did was speculate and worry.
Hear Miss Kitty sing “The Long Branch Blues” on Hee-Haw: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fGAly_oVO30
And if you miss that iconic song that always introduced an episode, watch it here:http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QYNuCsDrjK4
Or just tune in to MeTV and watch Gunsmoke all summer!
Amanda Blake’s filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0086469/?ref_=nmmd_md_nm
Christy Putnam is the KKES Radio classic film expert.
Follow me on Twitter: @suesueapplegate
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