“In the decade following the Civil War, people of all creeds and colors were part of the West.” Thus began the opening narration of The Outcasts, a groundbreaking Western series that still raises eyebrows half a century after its debut.
Don Murray stars as Earl Corey, a former Confederate soldier – and slave owner – from a once-wealthy, now-destitute Virginia family. Otis Youngis his reluctant partner Jemal David, an educated former slave. Together, the two men navigate the West, and their own prejudices, as bounty hunters.
Created by Ben Brady and Leon Tokatyan, The Outcasts is unlike any other TV Western of its era. The depiction of the casual racism of the post-bellum West is clear commentary on the racial inequities of the 1960s. But the series was neither a heavy-handed parable nor a light buddy comedy. Over 26 episodes, Corey and Jamal’s relationship evolves from contempt to tolerance to cautious trust. Think The Defiant Ones meets Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,with a dash of Spaghetti Western flavor. So saddle up and enjoy some surprising facts about this never-on DVD gem.
1. Don Murray had acting in his blood.
Murray’s mother Ethel was a Ziegfeld Follies performer and his father was a singer and dancer. When sound filmmaking became prevalent in 1928, the couple relocated from New York to Hollywood. Murray was born on July 31, 1929, three months before the stock market crash. After the Great Depression slowed film production, the family returned to New York.
2. Otis Young was born on the 4th of July.
Young was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 4, 1932. After serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, he enrolled at NYU on the G.I. Bill. Young made his professional debut in a 1963 episode of the controversial CBS drama East Side/West Side. That New York-based series featured nine actors and two directors who would go on to work with Young on The Outcasts.
3. There was a novel.
In 1968, Popular Library published a tie-in novel by Steve Frazee appropriately titled, “The Outcasts.” Frazee also novelized other popular Western series of the era, including Bonanza and The High Chaparral and his stories formed the basis for episodes of Bronco and Cheyenne, as well as a handful of feature films. The cover featured photos of Murray and Young and included the breathless tease, “Nature made them enemies — Fate thrust them together in a raw, young land.”
4. The frank racial component of The Outcasts appealed to both actors.
“I believe this is sociologically important, ” Murray told Variety after he was cast in 1968. “[Producers] assured us we wouldn’t pull any punches…nor would we let a network water it down.” Young added: “For the first time in American television they didn’t deny that when a black man went into Western towns he was going to run into trouble.”
5. Young was an unknown, but he stillfought producers on scripts.
Young was an unknown when he became the first African-American star of a TV Western. "He just stood out among all the rest because he was the one actor who was totally unapologetic” about a former slave’s anger, Murray told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. In a 1990 interview, Young recalled a scene where Jamal buries a dead Native American and says a prayer. His line as scripted included a racial epithet, which Young asked to change, in part because a group of inner city children were visiting the set. "Here was these kids watching this black cowboy in action, and I didn't feel that line was valid for the character, so I refused to say it, " he said.
6. The supporting cast was unusually diverse.
Each episode of The Outcasts was a standalone as Corey and Jamal drifted from town to town, with new supporting characters. Among these were many respected actors of color, including future Emmy winner Roscoe Lee Browne, To Kill A Mockingbirdstar Brock Peters, frequent Clint Eastwood co-star Albert Popwell, and James Edwards, who would appear in Patton the following year. Actresses included Obie winner Gloria Foster, Maidie Norman (a founding member of the American Negro Theater West), Janee Michelle, and Isabel Cooley.
7. The show had a memorable theme song.
The 1960s was the golden age of TV theme songs, and The Outcasts doesn’t disappoint. Composer Hugo Montenegro was best known for the catchy I Dream of Jeannie opening song and scores for films like the Matt Helm action comedies. His cover of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) charted at number two on the Billboard Top Ten.
8. Murray blamed the show’s cancellation on its racial themes.
Murray told the L.A. Times that the political climate of the times hurt the show. “[A] lot of the audience felt very uncomfortable turning it on and seeing these two guys so hostile to each other, ” he said. “even when saving each other's lives." In Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, author Donald Bogle quotes an Outcasts producer as saying “We didn’t want the show quite so angry.” The Outcasts concluded its run of original episodes on May 5, 1969, with reruns continuing until September.
9. Young and Murray’s careers took different paths.
Young continued to act for the next 15 years, notably in The Last Detail (1973) with Jack Nicholson. He later became an ordained minister and theater teacher at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. Murray was a busy character actor, appearing in Knots Landing, Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and lots more. He took on the role of Bushnell Mullins in the critically revered revival of Twin Peaks at age 88, after 16 years in semi-retirement.
10. There was anOutcastsreunion. Sort of.
Two years after The Outcasts, Murray and Young reunited for Call Me By My Rightful Name, a film adaptation of the play about a white man and a black man in love with the same woman. Murray, who produced the film, choose his former Outcasts partner for the role. They remained good friends until Young’s death in 2001 at age 69. Young was survived by his wife and four children, including a son named Jemal.
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