Actor Don Collier was known for his roles in the television shows “Bonanza” and “Outlaws.”
Sixty years ago, “Bonanza” premiered on NBC, destined to become one of the most popular western series in television history. Produced for 14 seasons from 1959 to 1973, the show continues to air in syndication around the world. Fans will be gathering Friday, Feb. 22 through Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Ponderosa II in Mesa, Arizona, to remember the show.
According to program organizer Louise Swann, reservations for the event have been sold out for months (see http://www.ponderosa2.com).
“‘Bonanza’ fans are coming to Ponderosa II from the U.S., Germany, UK, Australia and Canada to celebrate the 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee of Bonanza,” explained Swann. “We will be showing our guests three days of activities and entertainment, as well as chances to meet special guests who were associated with the show such as Don Collier.”
“Lorne Greene built Ponderosa II, a replica of the show’s ranch house,” said Collier, who guest starred in several “Bonanza” episodes. “They’ve rounded up a few special guests to appear, including me, so it should be fun.”
Collier was a staple on the old TV westerns, getting his first break as a lead actor in the short-lived series “Outlaws” in the early 1960s.
“I interviewed for the role in December 1959 and they called me back for three weeks the following January (or) February when we shot the pilot,” recalled Collier. “It only ran for two years because NBC wanted a prime time slot for Ralph Edwards (‘This is Your Life’) and they had to move either us or ‘Bonanza.’ ‘Bonanza’ was in color and we were black and white (for the first season) so we lost out. But we had a lot of great old actors doing guest spots and it was a good show.”
Jock Gaynor (left) starred in “Outlaws with Barton McLane (center) and Don Collier (right).
During the first season, well-known character actor Barton MacLane co-starred with Collier.
“I’d seen him in movies from the ’30s and ’40s as a leading heavy for Warner Bros,” Collier said. “He was a good guy to work with, but apart from breaking out the drinks and card games on a Friday night after filming, we didn’t socialize much.”
Slim Pickens was another regular on the series.
“A wonderful, natural actor who was also great to work with. I always remember his lines would come out differently than what was written in the script. But the director didn’t care as long as Slim made his point on screen.”
Collier says while he and the other actors did most of their own riding, the stunts were left to the professionals.
“We were all pretty athletic and could have done the fight scenes and horse falls, but you didn’t want the stunt guys to lose a paycheck so they did most of that.”
Collier went on to appear in dozens of movies and TV shows, including over 60 episodes of “High Chaparral.” Fans also remember him from a series of Hubba Bubba bubble gum commercials in the ’70s and ’80s.
“‘Big bubbles, no troubles!’ was the slogan,” said Collier. “I did that for eight years, even going down to Australia twice to record the commercials. At the time, something like 90 percent of a commercial had to be made in Australia so they needed me in person so the ads could run there. I loved the country so much I visited six more times.”
Don Collier (center) is set to appear in “Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws,” a film due out this year.
Today, Collier lives in Arizona and doesn’t miss the hectic Hollywood life nor the L.A. traffic. Last October he turned 90 and traveled to Maryland for a role in a rare modern western, “Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws,” due for release this year (see http://www.one-eyedhorse.com).
“Darby Hinton, a good friend, called to say they needed someone to play an old man so I said would — because I am an old man,” said Collier, laughing. “It’s a low budget production but turned out pretty good. I’m 90 years old now but still pretty active. So if something comes up that interests me like the occasional role or a personal appearance such as the ‘Bonanza’ anniversary, I’ll do it if I can.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 magazines and newspapers. See http://www.tinseltowntalks.com.