When in April 1958 Clint Walker walked off the Warner Bros. lot at the end of the third season of “Cheyenne” they recast the ABC show, still calling the series “Cheyenne” but now starring Ty Hardin as Bronco Layne (nicknamed by Indians because “there wasn’t a horse he couldn’t tame.”) Bronco was an ex-Confederate Captain (Ashby’s Brigade, the so-called Moccasin Rangers who operated behind enemy lines) who returned home to Texas four
months after the Civil War to find himself stripped of honor and his home confiscated. (Watch “The Long Ride Back” and “Burning Springs”.) Like Cheyenne, Ty Hardin as Bronco was a loner who preferred to avoid trouble, but who refused to stand idly by while injustices were done to others. To facilitate story lines, Bronco roamed the southwest working at various jobs including secret government agent, deputy sheriff, miner, stage guard, cattle drover and wagon train guide, among others.
Moreso than “Cheyenne”, Warners incorporated into “Bronco” storylines that involved real-life characters into fictional teleplays: Jesse James, Cole Younger, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid, Belle Starr, Pat Garrett, Teddy Roosevelt, Wild Bill Hickok, Edwin Booth and others.
During its first season (‘58-‘59) “Bronco” alternated with “Sugarfoot” on Tuesday night from 7:30-8:30pm EST. When “Cheyenne” returned to ABC’s airwaves in September ‘59 as a solo Monday night series, Warner Bros. realized they also had a hit on their hands with “Bronco” so they created the “Bronco”—“Sugarfoot” hour, alternating the two series on Tuesday nights. It was in this second year “Bronco” gained his own theme song penned by Jerry Livingston and Mack David.
Still more changes—for the ‘60-‘61 season, the three shows combined, alternating weeks but now on Monday night from 7:30-8:30pm EST. “Sugarfoot” ended in April ‘61, so during the ‘61-‘62 season “Cheyenne” alternated with “Bronco”, still airing on Monday.
A total of 68 “Bronco” episodes aired over four seasons. During the series, Ty’s horse Buttons was featured in close-ups and one named Billy was used for riding scenes.
Ty Hardin was born Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr. on New Year’s Day, 1930, in New York City. The name Whipple was given in honor of an ancestor on his father’s side, William Whipple of New Hampshire, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. His parents divorced when he was five and he and his brother moved to Houston, TX, with his mother. Struggling to survive in the years after the depression, his mother was forced to send the boys to live with their grandparents on a farm outside Austin. It was there he acquired the nickname “Ty” from his grandmother who described him “like a Texas typhoon.”
In his young life Ty struggled with authority, and after leaving the Shreiner’s Institute in Kerrville, TX, a military school, he ended up back in Houston. Much later in his adult life Ty discovered he suffered from ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition not diagnosable when he was a child. Graduating from Lamar High School in Houston in ‘49, he went on to attend Blinn Jr. College on a football scholarship. Having been raised deeply religious, he studied one semester at Dallas Bible Institute before joining the Army where he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Monmouth, NJ, and as a Second Lieutenant went to flight school in San Marcos, TX, where he learned to fly light L-19 aircraft known as the “Birddog”. After achieving the rank of First Lieutenant, he served during the Korean war in Germany with the occupation forces.
After discharge from military service, Ty studied electrical engineering at Texas A&M where he received a football scholarship and played under the legendary Bear Bryant. While at the University, he was recruited by Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, CA, where he was hired as an acoustical engineer.
Six months later, Ty walked into Western Costume Co. on Santa Monica Blvd. to rent a costume for a Halloween party. It changed his life forever. As fate would have it, he was “discovered” there by a talent scout for Paramount, given a screen test and was immediately offered a seven-year contract making twice what he was earning at Douglas.
After appearing in six films at Paramount, Ty went to see John Wayne at Batjac about a film he was doing, “Rio Bravo”. The part Ty was perfect for had already been cast to Ricky Nelson, but Duke was instrumental in getting Ty in to see Bill Orr at Warner Bros., son-in-law to Jack Warner, who bought his contract from Paramount and changed his name to Hardin after the notorious outlaw, John Wesley Hardin.
Besides “Bronco” Ty made eight films for Warner Bros., several of them World War II movies, before taking off for Europe where he starred in numerous films worldwide including many spaghetti westerns and made hundreds of guest appearances. He also starred in “Riptide”, a TV series in Australia in ‘69.
After spending several years in Europe, Ty returned to the U.S. and acountry and film industry that had changed drastically during his time abroad. He rejected several film offers because of distasteful language and exploitation of sex and violence. A man with strong Christian ties, he chose to put the film industry behind him and join the ministry.