Perry Mason killed one of the last great radio Westerns

Fort Laramie's cast included Mayberry favorites and a Wagon Train lead.

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The January 30, 1956, issue of Broadcasting magazine featured a short article detailing the production of a new radio program. The creators behind the wildly popular Gunsmoke radio show had a new Western on offer. "Writer John Meston and writer-director Norman Macdonnell, whose work on Gunsmoke has won them critical acclaim, have in Fort Laramie a good locale for an equally successful series."

It's easy to see why there was such great hope for the radio drama, even in the waning days of the format. The behind-the-scene folks were hit-makers, for sure, but the cast was an impressive array of TV legends. In the starring role of cavalry captain Lee Quince was Raymond Burr. 

Burr's breakthrough television role as Perry Mason was still months off. He was better known for his film work, as he had recently been seen in the Americanized version of Godzilla and Hitchcock's Rear Window. Before that, Burr was best known for playing tough guys in noir flicks. His radio work, now largely overlooked, demonstrated his full range. 

On the radio, Burr had two fantastic roles alongside Jack Webb. On Dragnet, Burr played Sgt. Friday's boss, Ed Backstrand, Chief of Detectives. Yet, his meatiest radio role prior to Fort Laramie might have been Pat Novak, for Hire, a San Francisco set-and-produced detective drama. Burr dazzled as the brusque Police Inspector Hellman of SF Homicide.

Fort Laramie, at least, would give Burr the lead role. Supporting him were two Gunsmoke radio veterans — and beloved Mayberry characters — future Andy Griffith Show regulars Howard McNear (Floyd the Barber) and Parley Baer (Mayor Stoner). Rounding out the cast was John McIntire, Ward Bond's eventual replacement on Wagon Train.

The world of radio was a surprisingly small scene, with a handful of actors working several programs at a time. It was rare to find so many future television icons in one radio program.

Initially slated into Sunday evenings on CBS Radio, Fort Laramie carried a $15,000 production cost (about $150,000 today). Cheap! Well, it was audio only.

Still, despite a warm reception, the show was canceled months later due to Perry Mason. CBS wanted Burr to continue to do both gigs — but Burr simply did not have the time in his schedule. As we have covered before, Burr poured his entire life into playing Perry.

There were not many new radio Westerns put into production after Fort Laramie (which had no relation to the later TV series Laramie). Really, the only significant radio Western debut post-1956 was Have Gun – Will Travel, the incredible rare radio adaptation of a television series, which premiered in 1958. In a way, Perry Mason killed off the last great hope for original radio Westerns. Well, at least he knew a good lawyer.

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JohnMortensen508 1 month ago
This is one of my favorite westerns on the radio
Kelley1 2 months ago
There's something nice you could air on OTA radio: those great radio Westerns, Me! I would like listening to something like that while at work. It would certainly be a change from your standard radio! Put it on about 11 am or 1 pm ET, please.
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Jonnita 3 months ago
Can you find any radio program like this now to listen to?
MrsPhilHarris Jonnita 3 months ago
Yes you can. Yesterday I listened to part of the first episode.
Dwight MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
Mrs. Harris, I bet I can guess what your favorite Old Time Radio show is.
MrsPhilHarris Dwight 3 months ago
Phil, Alice, Remley and Julius are good for a laugh! 😂
Dwight MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
True. I think Alice got short changed though. The focus was more often on Phil and Remley than Phil and Alice. Alice was good at comedy, however, she did get as the straight man for those two.
MrsPhilHarris Dwight 3 months ago
You are absolutely right, but she did get to sing a tune. 🎼
Big3Fan 3 months ago
I listen to Fort Laramie quite often on SiriusXm when I'm in my vehicle. I actually drove through Fort Laramie numerous times when I was working on the railroad all the live long day.
cabugi Big3Fan 2 months ago
On Radio Classics? Love that channel!
Bowl300 3 months ago
When I think of Perry Mason, I think of the incredible Barbara Hale! Wow, what a beautiful women. She may have been my all time most beautiful women!
MrsPhilHarris Bowl300 3 months ago
I agree she was a beauty.
Big3Fan Bowl300 3 months ago
And she is the mother of The Greatest American Hero.
ItsThatBriGuy 3 months ago
If you think the only significant radio western to come along after Laramie was HGWT, I would recommend you check out a little thing called Frontier Gentleman, a John Dehner joint that spent pretty much the full 1958 calendar year on the CBS schedule.
Dwight ItsThatBriGuy 3 months ago
True, but Frontier Gentleman ended when Dehner moved over to take the lead on the radio version of Have Gun-Will Travel. Frontier Gentleman was a very good show. After all, it was was created, written, and directed by Gunsmoke’s Antony Ellis. Its only real drawback was that Dehner’s Englishman Kendall’s accent came and went in varying degrees.
I just read about Frontier Gentleman today. 🤠 What a coincidence.
Lantern 3 months ago
This show, along with the excellent Gunsmoke (same production team) can be heard on Sirius XM.
MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
Not familiar with thIs show. I may tune in to see what it’s like. There are about 40 episodes.
Andybandit 3 months ago
Interesting story, I never heard of Fort Laramie. Floyd the Barber, is one of my favorite characters on TAGS.
justjeff Andybandit 3 months ago
Howard McNear played Doc on the radio version of Gunsmoke. Parley Baer was Chester. Georgia Ellis was Kitty... and (of course) the strong voice of William Conrad was Matt Dillon "...the first man they look for and the last they want to meet!"
DethBiz 3 months ago
Well, if Perry Mason did indeed kill one of the last great radio Westerns then Hamilton Burger should have indicted him.
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Wiseguy justjeff 2 months ago
You can see screen tests of Raymond Burr playing Burger and William Hopper playing Perry Mason (separately) in the Perry Mason 50th Anniversary DVD set.
justjeff Wiseguy 2 months ago
Those are also on YouTube if you don't own the DVD set...
cabugi Wiseguy 2 months ago
Sure cannot imagine William Hopper as Perry Mason. Although, Hopper has a strong presence, and maybe because I am just so conditioned with Burr as Mason, that I just can’t see Hopper as Mason.
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