Gunsmoke's McCabe TV Episode: Dan Kemp, Jim Davis & Mitch Vogel Guest Star
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Gunsmoke's McCabe TV Episode: Dan Kemp, Jim Davis & Mitch Vogel Guest Star

Gunsmoke's McCabe debuted over CBS on Monday night, November 30, 1970. Dan Kemp garners the title role, playing an aging gunslinger who wishes to visit his wife and son before he heads off to the Kansas State Penitentiary. Series star James Arness is also joined in the cast by Jim Davis, David Brian, Mitch Vogel and Jon Lormer.

CBS-TV's Gunsmoke (1955-75) spanned three decades on the small screen. The 1970 episode "McCabe" stars Dan Kemp as John McCabe, an outlaw gunslinger who returns home to see his terminally ill wife and resentful young son before he's sent away to prison.

Gunsmoke's McCabe: Cast & Credits 

The prolific Jim Byrnes penned the teleplay for "McCabe," with Bernard McEveety directing the action. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • John McCabe (Dan Kemp)
  • Sheriff Shackwood (Jim Davis)
  • Clay White (David Brian)
  • Dobie (Mitch Vogel)
  • Judge Clairborne (Jon Lormer)
  • J.W. Hicks (Robert Sorrells)
  • Kipp (Mills Watson)
  • Weaver (Lew Brown)
  • Ami (Tani Phelps a.k.a. Tani Guthrie)
  • Abigail Hartly (Marie Cheatham)
  • Train Conductor (Trevor Bardette)
  • Lennie (Tom Sutton)
  • Bartender (Pete Kellett)

Jim Davis as he appeared in the 1950s - Republic Pictures

McCabe: Episode Synopsis

At Silver Creek Matt Dillon boards the train, looking for outlaw John McCabe. The fugitive McCabe is wanted for robbery, a charge which may net him five years in the Kansas State Penitentiary. Seeing Dillon making his way down the aisle, McCabe grabs the young woman passenger seated across from him, holding her hostage. McCabe then proposes a deal with Dillon: give him 48 hours before taking him back to Dodge City. Matt agrees to McCabe's proposal, and the outlaw surrenders his gun. 

McCabe and Dillon head to the former's old homestead where McCabe hopes to see his wife and young son. They arrive too late, however, as McCabe's wife died about an hour earlier. McCabe's son Dobie resents the presence of his father, whom he never really knew, grabbing a rifle and discharging it into the ceiling after Matt intervenes. Dobie rides out to nearby Boyd Flats, where his father is still wanted on murder charges. Sheriff Shackwood declines to go out and arrest McCabe, as the outlaw is in the custody of a U.S. marshal. 

As McCabe and Dillon are digging a grave for McCabe's wife, a vengeful Clay White and three of his boys from the K-Bar arrive on the scene. McCabe had killed two of White's cow punchers – Tom and Jess Scott – and wants to see McCabe hang. Marshal Dillon opts to talk to the men, but McCabe is having none of it, hitting Matt with a shovel and trying to escape. White and his men rope and subdue McCabe, hauling him back to town for trial.

McCabe: Air Date & Network Competition

"McCabe" was telecast over CBS on Monday night, November 30, 1970, in the 7:30-8:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition that fall evening was The Young Lawyers (ABC) and The Red Skelton Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC). 

McCabe: Analysis & Review

The aging gunfighter theme was explored in several memorable Gunsmoke episodes. In 1970 it was the sparsely titled "McCabe," a segment which explored the relationship between a gunslinger and the family he never really knew.

Dan Kemp (1927-2000) guest stars as John McCabe, an outlaw wanted on a robbery charge in Dodge City. McCabe, who has made his living as a gunslinger, is getting past his prime, willing to do his stint in prison but wanting to visit his wife and son first. Kemp's portrayal of McCabe is a good one, a loner type who never really needed anyone in his life – until now. "McCabe" marks the one and only appearance of Dan Kemp on Gunsmoke, although the actor did make the TV western rounds in such popular fare as Bonanza, The Big Valley, The High Chaparral and Alias Smith and Jones. 

Red-haired, freckle-faced Mitch Vogel plays McCabe's teenage son. Vogel would appear in two other Gunsmoke episodes, later garnering a regular role as runaway Jamie Hunter on Bonanza. Look for big Jim Davis (1909-1981), who as Sheriff Shackwood cuts a fine figure of an Old West lawman, standing tall and sporting a healthy head of silver-gray hair. 

"McCabe's" plot isn't exactly original, with the episode bogging down in places as both McCabe and his son Dobie vent their gripes and regrets. McCabe's murder trial is actually held on main street, where he is found guilty of killing the Scott boys though he claims it was self-defense. Although Dobie initially wanted to see his daddy hang, the kid no longer has the stomach for it, stealing a six-shooter at the saloon and passing it on to his father. 

McCabe busts out of jail where he is wounded in the right arm by Clay White and his boys, who were waiting in ambush. Meanwhile, Sheriff Shackwood's deputy comes riding into town, delivering a telegraphed message from the governor stating that McCabe should be placed in Marshal Dillon's custody. Shackwood orders that the scaffold be torn down, with Matt Dillon, McCabe and Dobie returning to Dodge City. 

"McCabe" features several TV western staples which generally border on the ridiculous. When McCabe takes a bullet in the arm, he of course shrugs it off like many wounded television warriors back then, apparently immune to infection, gangrene, sepsis or just plain blood loss. And let's not forget about that great TV western "jail security," where young Dobie passes a revolver to dad through the bars of the window out back. Seriously, when are TV lawmen going to wise up and plug this obvious gap in security? My God, the kid could have passed Ted Nugent's entire gun collection through those bars. 

"McCabe" hails from Gunsmoke's memorable 16th season and is episode #527 of 635 in the series. Interested readers can catch "McCabe" in its entirety on YouTube. 

Top Image

  • Gunsmoke's famous TV logo featuring Dodge City- CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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