Rod Taylor (on right) and Dennis Cole with the 1914 Bearcat used in the pilot film Powderkeg
|Created by||Douglas Heyes|
|Written by||Jim Byrnes
James L. Henderson
Joe Ruby & Ken Spears
|Directed by||Richard Donner
|Theme music composer||Hal Hopper|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||13 (+ 1 pilot movie)|
|Executive producer(s)||Douglas Heyes|
|Running time||48 minutes|
|Original release||September 16, 1971– December 30, 1971|
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 America entered World War I.
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 autos were common in America in 1914, a $2,000 sports car would have been very rare in the more remote areas of the American west. 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 Army soldiers dressed as American troops raided Mexican border towns hoping to force Mexico into a war with the U.S., and stopping mercenaries from sabotaging medical supplies being sent overseas to the Allies in World War I.
Its time period also allowed the use of props not usually seen in typical westerns, including airplanes, a W.W.I tank, machine guns, and a number of period automobiles.
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 1970's 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 (1912–16) 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 W.W. 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".
Reception and cancellation
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. (This marked the last time, as of 2013, that two Westerns broadcast by major U.S. networks have competed in the same time slot for viewers, marking a milestone in the decline of the Western series era in U.S. network television programming.)
|Episode #||Episode title||Original airdate|
|1-0||"Powderkeg" (Pilot)||April 16, 1971|
|1-1||"The Devil Wears Armor"||September 16, 1971|
|1-2||"Ground Loop at Spanish Wells"||September 23, 1971|
|1-3||"Dos Gringos"||September 30, 1971|
|1-4||"The Feathered Serpent"||October 7, 1971|
|1-5||"Hostages"||October 14, 1971|
|1-6||"Conqueror's Gold"||October 28, 1971|
|1-7||"Blood Knot"||November 4, 1971|
|1-8||"Assault on San Saba"||November 11, 1971|
|1-9||"Bitter Flats"||November 18, 1971|
|1-10||"Tiger! Tiger!"||November 25, 1971|
|1-11||"The Big Guns"||December 2, 1971|
|1-12||"The Return of Esteban"||December 23, 1971|
|1-13||"Man in a Cage"||December 30, 1971|
- Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood (Bear Manor Media, 2010) p168-170
- Boyle, John E. "Barris TV Car Restored". Old Cars Weekly, January 24, 2002.
- Klessig, Charles. My Highway in the Sky. Privately published.
- The 1971 Show Gets a Timeless DVD Release with 'The Complete Series
- Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earle, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows
- "Still Hitting on All Four". Author not listed. TV Guide, September 18, 1971.