But, for anyone at all familiar with the show, Bret had a brother Bart – both uncannily successful card sharps in the Old West. Bart was played by Jack Kelly, a droll, cerebral alternative to the playful Garner.
With the news of Garner’s death (July 19, 2014 at age 86), I wondered whatever happened to Kelly?
How shocked I was to learn that Kelly, after his acting career had wound down, had gone into politics. Doubly shocked to find out that he had served three terms as a city councilman and several years as the mayor – of the town I lived in!
Yes, our Mayor Kelly was that Jack Kelly! I remember him as a fairly popular local politician, although his tenure, 1980-1992, principally came during a period in between intervals that I was actually a resident. (Note to self: Pay a little closer attention to local politics.) For a time, he also owned the local newspaper. Kelly was midway through serving his third four-year term on the council in 1992, when his health started to deteriorate. He seemed to rally after open heart surgery, but a few months later suffered a stroke that finished him. He was only 65. A biographer, Linda Alexander, credits a life of hard drinking as a contributing factor to his rather early demise.
Kelly and Garner were almost the same age. Kelly, born in September 1927, was just seven months older. Although Garner originated the role of Maverick, producers quickly realized the shooting schedule was too grueling for one lead. So several episodes into the initial season, in 1957, Kelly was introduced. Although the episodes in which they appeared together, and played expertly off of each other, were some of the series’ most memorable, they usually appeared in separate episodes.
Garner bailed out on the series during its third season in 1960, in a dispute with the studio Warner Brothers. Producers attempted to fill the void with a “cousin” they created called “Beau Maverick”, played by future James Bond portrayer Roger Moore. Moore didn’t quite last to the end of the series in 1962; he walked out complaining his scripts were not up to the (surprisingly) high level of quality that Garner had enjoyed.
When the series finally signed off in April 1962, Kelly had appeared in 83 episodes, compared to 65 for Garner and just 14 for Moore.
Though the television program left him looking for new work, Kelly never completely left the role of Bart Maverick behind. In fact, he was still portraying him in cameo appearances up until 1991, the year before his death. In fact, he and Garner might have been playing their old roles opposite each other if a 1981 attempt to revive the Maverick franchise had been renewed. It wasn’t.
But Kelly, who was also a successful game show host for a time, had invested wisely in real estate during his salad days. Garner once quipped, “Jack owns half of Orange County.” A bit of an exaggeration, but the point was well taken. Kelly was an influential presence in Huntington Beach and his outspoken advocacy for things such as affordable housing (of which there is, sadly, no more of in Huntington Beach) eventually led him to public office.
Although a native of New York City, Kelly never lost the folksy manner he adopted as Bart Maverick; in fact, he would often draw upon metaphors of the Old West and lines from Maverick scripts in addressing some issue or other. The Los Angeles Times, in its obituary of Kelly, said he would be remembered fondly in his adopted city.
Sorry I missed sitting in on some of those council meetings.
August 31, 2014