The Reenactor's TV Guide, Part Deux

by Jonah Begone and Mal Stylo

Many reenactors find themselves doing impressions of not only Yanks and Rebs, but Couch Potatoes as well. With this in mind, here's the second installment of my TV Guide for reenactors, this time aided and abetted by my pard Mal Stylo.

The Gray Ghost (1957): Perhaps the first Civil War TV series ever, this was a rather highly fictionalized 1950's portrayal of the career of John S. Mosby. He and his faithful sidekick Sgt. Miles, in uniforms that would give a button-whizzer apoplexy, outwitted Yankees for 30 minutes every week. Occasionally bullets flew, but no one ever got more than a minor scratch.

(This series was actually the forerunner of modern reenacting.) Open to Mosby riding along a looks-like-California-but-is-really-Virginia dirt road, complete with eucalyptus trees. Faithful Sgt.Miles rides in from the side. A voice intones "We took our men from the valleys..." (more guys on more horses enter from the left and right) "...from the hills and from the plains/What we lacked in numbers, we made up in speed and brains." (A band blares forth in "The Yellow Rose of Texas," everybody gallops along for a few seconds and a commercial begins.) Unforgettable.

The Rebel (1959): An unknown named Nick Adams played "Johnny Yuma" in this, as an ex-Confederate who carried off a sawed-off shotgun in the West. (Sure. Didn't all Rebs migrate to the desert? And as for the shotgun, I did actually see a Reb carry one at an event once.) His costume was this leathery shirt thing with little ties at the neck worn with tight pants which suggested a gay bar or an association with the Village People more than the Confederacy or the American West. I have a recording of "the Ballad of Johnny Yuma," sung by Johnny Cash - I sometimes use it to taunt Rebs : "Away, away, away runs the Rebel Johnny Yuuummmmaaaa/Johnny Yuma, was a Rebel/He roamed through the West/He got fightin' mad, this Rebel lad..." Later on, there's a line about "...not bein' pushed aroun' no mo'." Suffice to say nobody got the best of Johnny Yuma in this show!

Twilight Zone episode, "Still Valley" (1961): Gary Merrill is a Reb sergeant who is offered a spell that will "freeze" the whole Union army. When it becomes apparent that a pact with the devil is required, he decides to let the Confederacy "die clean" and not use paranormal means to save it. I don't know for sure if reenactors would act in a like manner...

Dr. Who episode, "The War Machines" (1969): Dr. Who is a time-traveling humanoid alien. Being such, and being that the series originates from the U.K., it was inevitable that he pop up during the American Civil War. (Yes, there's also a Western episode.) Oddly enough, he appears in what's really only a reenactment of one on a distant planet. He and his pards get caught by Yanks, freed by Rebs, tied up by the selfsame Rebs after they've had a change of heart and then freed by a black Federal. Sound goofy? Not half as goofy as the Reb's dialect. One of the Yanks makes this deathless observation: "Ain't no one neutral in a Civil War! Now, which are ya for: The Yankees in th' North or the Rebels in th' South?" A later episode had the Doctor appear in the middle of an English Civil War reenactment! (And you guessed it: When he first arrived he thought he was really back in the 1640s because the participants were maintaining a flawless first person! No CCG reader would be fooled, I'm sure.)

Roots (1977): Before LeVar Burton was fixing those pesky warp engines he was mouthing lines like "Whips ain't good fer nigger, Massa Fiddler." Roots was big, it was celebrated, it was... entertaining. I liked it, even though Alex Haley made huge portions of it up. (Actually, I had to like it. At the time I was in the Marines and shared quarters with a black man who would watch it with it a roomful of friends. Being the only white man in my own quarters during the broadcasts - and a known Civil War buff at that - was an interesting experience, and provoked much stimulating after-broadcast conversation. I keep applying for diplomatic positions but the government keeps turning me down.)

Some Civil War TV Trivia: Lucas McCain, "the Rifleman," was a Federal soldier in the war prior to heading West and homesteading with that annoying kid of his.

And according to "the Saga of the Ponderosa," which I have on LP along with the 1965 Lorne Greene hit "Ringo," Ben Cartwright was a Federal sailor in the Civil War. The loss of his first wife led him West (everyone on TV follows Horace Greeley's admonition), where he pursued a strange sound in the wind: "Ponderrrrrossssaaa, Ponderrrrosssaaaaaa." Two wives and two sons later his adventures were taken up in the TV series we know as "Bonanza." So, there could be a possibility of a new series, "Ensign Ben Cartwright - The War Years." Any takers in Hollywood, you think?

Other, non-Civil War TV productions of interest to reenactors...

Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1962): I have always been a big Patrick McGoohan fan, so I'd watch virtually anything he was in. "Dr. Syn" was cool - about an English vicar giving the King's men fits around Romney Marsh - but the best thing about this was the theme music (performed by the Disney Generic Singers) and that laugh. A friend of mine does it at Revy War events. We then watch the Crown Forces tremble! Six years after "Dr. Syn" McGoohan found himself a Prisoner in the Village, and his cult began.

Combat! (1962-1967): Why did I like this show so much? It seemed like every episode was like every other and there was never any character development. It was just what the kids in the neighborhood watched, I guess. Still, we had a great childhood shooting Nazis, didn't we? (Now, having grown up, we shoot Yanks and Rebs. "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.")

George Washington (1986): You wouldn't suppose a character from "the Rocky Horror Picture Show" would be a sensible choice to portray the Father of our Country, but Barry Bostwick was excellent in this. Patty Duke played Martha. (A memorable scene was when a hot dog was served at Mount Vernon and she lost control! Haw!) Good battle scenes, manned in part by some of my Revy War pards. I really liked this one. Part One was better than part two, though. (More shooting.) And one can see why Washington pursued Sally Fairfax, if she looked anything like Jaclyn Smith. (However, the one portrait of Sally we have indicates she looked nothing like Jaclyn Smith.)

Xena, Warrior Princess (current): Imagine one of the Judds, augmented by silicone, in leather armor, swinging a sword about. Could Xena make it through VMI and the Citadel? Well, I reckon so. It's good to see role models for female musketpersons appearing on TV.