Gunsmoke's Mirage premiered over CBS on Monday night, January 11, 1971. Big John Anderson guest stars as Lemuel Cleary, a Ridgeview farmer who doesn't believe Festus Haggen's story involving the shooting death of his youngest son Adam. Regulars Ken Curtis, James Arness, Milburn Stone and Buck Taylor are also joined in the cast by Gary Wood, Mary Rings, Bill Zuckert and Robert Knapp.
Gunsmoke (1955-75) rode the wild range like no other TV western. The 1971 episode "Mirage" guest stars John Anderson as Lemuel Cleary, a grieving farmer determined to ferret out the truth regarding the death of his youngest boy in Dry Creek ghost town.
Gunsmoke's Mirage: Cast & Credits
Jack Miller wrote the teleplay for "Mirage," with Vincent McEveety directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:
- Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
- Doc Adams (Milburn Stone)
- Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
- Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
- Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor)
- Lemuel Cleary (John Anderson)
- Tom Cleary (Gary Wood)
- Elsie Cleary (Mary Rings)
- Hotel Clerk (Bill Zuckert)
- Maddox (Harry Raybould)
- Deputy (Robert Knapp)
- Stocker (Dan White)
- Adam Cleary (Kevin Burchett)
John Anderson as he appeared in the 1960s - CBS-TV
Mirage: Episode Synopsis
Deputy marshal Festus Haggen is out in the salt flats, tracking an outlaw named Maddox. Out of water and half out of his mind, Festus enters the ghost town of Dry Creek where he encounters gun fire from the abandoned Mooney's Mercantile. Festus returns fire, killing the perpetrator and then burying the body, marking it with a protruding shovel.
Festus returns to Dodge City with a horse and saddle belonging to one Adam Cleary of Ridgeview. As Festus recovers from his ordeal, Matt rides over to Ridgeview where he returns the horse and saddle to the Clearys, informing them that their son is dead. When told that Adam Cleary had apparently opened fire on Festus, the Clearys are incredulous, as Adam didn't even own a gun. Matt promises to further investigate, riding over to Methuselah where young Adam was in the process of buying a milk cow before he disappeared.
Lemuel Cleary, the bible-quoting patriarch of the clan, comes to Dodge with eldest son Tom and daughter Elsie. The old man forces Festus at gunpoint to saddle his mule Ruth and the four ride out for Dry Creek. Up on the second floor of Mooney's Mercantile, they examine the blood stains where Adam had died. They search for a gun but can't find it, overlooking the small crevice where it had dropped through the floorboards and now remains hidden.
A search for the makeshift grave is now underway, but that too proves elusive. Finally, Old Man Cleary has had enough, vowing to avenge his son's death by killing Festus.
Mirage: Air Date & Network Competition
"Mirage" debuted over CBS on Monday night, January 11, 1971, in the 7:30-8:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was The Young Lawyers (ABC) and The Red Skelton Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).
Mirage: Analysis & Review
While some viewers were watching Red Skelton on NBC sign off with his signature "Good night and may God bless," others were tuning into an absorbing episode on CBS' Gunsmoke titled "Mirage." It's one of Gunsmoke's more unusual segments, a mystery story involving Festus Haggen and his near-death experience in the wild, barren salt flats of the territories.
Ken Curtis as the grizzled, bewhiskered Festus takes front and center in the episode's first scenes. Festus is hunting an outlaw named Maddox, but has run out of water, experiencing the delusions of dehydration. After killing a man in an upstairs building in a ghost town hellhole called Dry Creek, Festus manages to make his way back to Dodge, where his memory is hazy at best. That sets up an eventual meeting with Lemuel Cleary and his brood, who kidnap the deputy marshal and take him back to Dry Creek, hoping to jog Festus' memory of his alleged encounter with Adam Cleary.
Big, solid John Anderson (1922-1992) ably tackles the role of Lemuel Cleary, one of these righteous, squirrel gun-toting "eye for an eye" Old Testament characters who are so common in TV westerns. Anderson's Cleary can be dirt mean, bashing Festus with a shovel and later stalking him in Dry Creek with murder in his eye. In all, Anderson would grace 12 episodes of Gunsmoke spanning the years 1958 to 1973, with his Lemuel Cleary portrayal among his finest roles.
As stated, "Mirage" is a murder mystery of sorts. We later find out that the man in Dry Creek whom Festus had killed in self-defense wasn't Adam Cleary at all, but escaped outlaw Joe Kittridge. The latter had forced young Adam to switch clothes with him, stealing his horse and making his getaway. Adam is later brought into Methuselah in a wagon, where he is reunited with his relieved family at the doctor's office. A contrite Lemuel Cleary admits to Festus, Matt and Newly that he was simply wrong. promising to come to Dodge once his boy is better and turn himself into Marshal Dillon.
"Mirage" hails from Gunsmoke's 16th season and is episode #532 of 635. "Mirage" was preceded by "Captain Sligo" (1/4/71) starring Richard Basehart. Both "Mirage" and "Captain Sligo" are available for viewing on YouTube.
- Ken Curtis, left, and James Arness in Gunsmoke - CBS-TV
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.