His towering, virile presence put Clint Walker at the forefront of leading men for the duration of the television western’s heyday, and let him follow up with memorable sagebrushers and action flicks on big and small screens for a generation afterwards.
A native of Hartford, Illinois, the quarter-Cherokee Norman Eugene Walker knew an unsettled childhood during the Depression, as his family frequently relocated to wherever work could be found. At 16, he left school and began his own wanderings, joining the Merchant Marine the following year. The itinerant youth engaged in all manner of physical labor as he grew to a strapping 6’6″, from factory worker to river boatman to oil rigger to roustabout to bouncer.
By the early ’50s, his travels brought him to work security at the Sands Hotel in Vegas, where connected clientele encouraged him to give Hollywood a shot. His less-than-memorable screen debut came as a Tarzan knockoff in the 1954 Bowery Boys comedy Jungle Gents. Walker had a somewhat more high-profile second gig with The Ten Commandments, where his small role as a guard convinced Warner Bros. that he could carry an hour-long weekly western series on his broad shoulders.
Bowing in 1955 on ABC, Cheyenne followed the travels and travails of rugged adventurer Cheyenne Bodie across the post-Civil War frontier, and the charisma of its frequently shirtless star made the show an instant hit. While Cheyenne enjoyed an eight-season run, it wasn’t always the happiest of trails together for star and employer; in 1958, Walker bolted from the show for a time, angry over such onerous aspects to his Warner deal as a 50% giveback on personal appearance fees. The studio made concessions, and Walker returned, albeit clearly ready to move on.
By then, he was beginning to headline cinematic oaters like the frontier drama Fort Dobbs Clint’s first big-screen starring role; the Western adventure Yellowstone Kelly which places Walker following the days of Custer’s Last Stand and the fun and fast-paced adventure Gold of the Seven Saints starring alongside Roger Moore. In the years after Cheyenne, his best-remembered big-screen gig would be as Samson Posey, one of the military convicts recruited into The Dirty Dozen, and he’d be prominent in blood and thunder flicks through the balance of the decade, including None but the Brave with Frank Sinatra in a WWII drama, The Night of the Grizzly, a thriller in the vein of Jaws, More Dead Than Alive, Sam Whiskeyand The Great Bank Robbery.
By the ’70s, TV would again be Walker’s primary stomping grounds, with a string of well-remembered telefilms (Yuma, The Bounty Man, Scream of the Wolf, Killdozer, Snowbeast) and a short-lived series return as the Alaska state patrolman Kodiak.
With the advent of the 1980s, Clint by and large hung up his spurs, but occasionally returned to work for offers he deemed suitable; notably, he made appearances as Cheyenne in the TV movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw and an episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
His last screen credit came in 1998, joining fellow Dirty Dozen alums Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and Jim Brown in providing voicework for Small Soldiers. Remaining ready and willing to hit the personal appearance trail in his early 80s, Clint remains active with his website, novel writing and other pursuits.
And now see Clint in action in the theatrical trailer for More Dead Than Alive from 1968: