Hank Brackett & Johnny Reach (Bearcats!)

Created by Douglas Heyes

“Ridin’ in a Stutz Bearcat, Jim/Man, those were different times…”
Sweet Jane by Lou Reed

HANK BRACKETT and JOHNNY REACH were two freelance adventurers (Uh, mercenaries? Troubleshooters? Private eyes?) roaming around the American Southwest circa 1914 in their snazzy Stutz Bearcat in this fondly-remembered (by me, anyway) but short-lived (okay, I was, like, twelve!) TV action adventure series, Bearcats! (It was such an exciting show it even had an exclamation mark!).

Their fee? A blank check, which they would fill in after the job was done. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of detective work involved, but a good rock ’em-sock ’em showdown seemed to wrap up every show. It was great seeing those vintage planes and trains and soldiers on horseback, but the image that remains with me is of those large spoked wheels twirling, churning up a cloud of dust while a goggled Johnny fired off a .303 Vickers Maxim machine gun strapped to the Bearcat’s fender, sending the bad guys running, while Hank struggled to gain control behind the driver’s seat. It was The Wild Bunch for the ‘tween set!

Brackett, as played by Rod “Travis McGee” Taylor, was a no-nonsense former Army captain and a veteran of the Spanish-American War campaign in the Philippines, who had settled in the Southwest and was definitely the one in charge. He was working on his own as a freelance “fixer” for railroads, landowners and anyone else who he pay his fee, when he rescues younger, blonder Reach (Dennis Cole), from being lynched by an angry mob who suspected him of being a cattle rustler.

It was Brackett who was responsible for the sometimes convoluted schemes they used to defeat their well-organized foes, while the younger, more agile Reach would provide the muscle, and occasionally, archery skills (Hey! He’d been raised by Indians!).

Unfortunately, it was an action show at a time when television was going through one of its periodic eras of cleaning house, disposing of relatively marginal shows as a sop to anti-violence groups. And it didn’t help that it was pitted against Flip Wilson in its time slot.

Of course, now that it’s FINALLY available on DVD, I can see Bearcats! for what it really was: a cornball of a show with minimal plotting, continuity issues, formulaic scripts and far too much padding. Taylor bulled his way through the shows, as if he was in a hurry to get off the set, while Cole showed off his pearly whites in almost every scene, whether it was appropriate or not, as though he and he alone was enjoying a private joke.

But hey, a lot of things got blown up in every episode, the pre-WWI setting was great (Old cars! Biplanes! Mexican revolutionaries! German spies! Machine guns!) and a serious number of big-breasted Hispanic beauties in low-cut white peasant dresses seemed to require rescuing during the show’s short run. And THAT car!

I loved it all!

Turns out there was even “a (sort-of) a tie-in novel,” writes Tim Deforest, a follower of this site. “The 1972 novel Hell Hole” by John Hunter, features Brackett and Reach–driving their Stutz Bearcat–as the main protagonists. Brackett is asked by an old friend to help save her gold mine from various threats. The novel was published after the series was cancelled and it is copyrighted by the author, so it’s presumed that Hunter was contracted to write it, but this was cancelled after the show failed to catch on. Hunter apparently then submitted the novel to Ballintine Books indepentantly and got it published. The book does NOT label itself as a Bearcats! tie-in, nor is the TV show mentioned at all. But the characters, with their names, backgrounds, modus operandi, and car are all lifted directly  from the series. Hunter was apparently hoping that the TV show would be quickly forgotten and no one would call him on copyright violation. And, apparently, he got away with it… in fact, I read the book yesterday. It’s really quite good. It has a strong plot with a number of effective plot twists and several truly exciting action sequences. The author never forgets about the car and it plays a concrete role in the story along with the human protagonists.”

Even better? After Tim’s letter, I did a little poking around, and discovered that John Hunter was a pseudonym of legendary Black Mask writer W.T. Ballard!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Creator, producer and director Douglas Heyes has written for several other TV detective shows, and The Lonely Profession, a “fine private-eye teleflick,” according to Ric Mayers in TV Detectives. He’s also written a few pretty good private eye novels, featuring various eyes, such as Steve Mallory and Ray Ripley.

OVERLY SENTIMENTAL EDITORIAL MOMENT

  • Gee, I wonder what ever happened to that model I built? It was one of my favourites…

UNDER OATH

  • “I wanted to let you know that I’m pleased that someone else remembers “Bearcats!” It was one of my favorite TV series during my high school years and it’s what got me interested in antique cars.
    I know what you are thinking “Why is this guy telling me his life story? Well, I happen to own one of the two Bearcat replicas built by George Barris (the TV Batmobile designer) for the series. After a nearly 30 year search I stumbled across one (itself a pretty good job of detective work, if I do say so myself) last year and it’s just finishing a restoration.
    Alas, my car didn’t come with machine guns, though I have a photo of it (with Rod Taylor) where there is one on the back… à la Rat Patrol. I also have a picture that Barris sent me of both Taylor and Cole in my car. A third replica Bearcat Barris made was used for car shows exclusively… it was heavily chromed and BRIGHT yellow (unlike mine) and it came with 3 pseudo guns. That car was just bought by an acquaintance of mine from a collector in California.
    Why all this fuss over copies? Well, a real Bearcat goes for $150,000-200,000.
    And for a working stiff that’s a lot of dough until my ship…or some ritzy dame…comes in.”
    — John Boyle
  • “Hey, I was twelve when I fell in love with Hank Brackett and Johnny Reach and their wonderful Stutz Bearcat!!! Small world. I saw the model of the car one time and didn’t have enough allowance to buy it. The next time I looked for it — it was gone and I’ve been looking for 25 years now and still can’t find it. Thanks for posting the pix! Wow, those were the days!”
    — Lisa Simmons
  • “I too must admit to quite fond remembrances of both the movie and the T.V. show that followed. It started my undying interest in the Stutz Motor Car co., and the Bearcat. The car is actually a 1914 Stutz Bearcat, series E Torpedo roadster. It could be had with either a 4 or 6 cylinder Wisconsin engine, of ‘T’ head design, common to the era. What was not common was the rear trans-axle, extremely unique, which gave the car an almost perfect weight balance. The machine guns seen in the movie were Vickers .303 heavy machine guns, water cooled. A few years back I was fortunate enough to assist in the restoration of an original Bearcat, although this one was red, not white as in the movie. Oh well! Thanks for letting me share these remembrances”
    — Geoffrey Bernstein
  • “Just a line to let you know that I am one of the fans of the TV series, “Bearcats!” I was in the Army, stationed in Viet Nam, when the pilot episode was originally broadcast over the Armed Forces Television Network. Fortunately, I made it home, with discharge papers in hand, when the series debuted on CBS. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and was in a state of fit when it was cancelled mid-way through the season. Not too long ago, I was able to find a mint condition model of the “Bearcats!” car on EBAY. I was the only bidder and “stole” it for approximately $25.00. Not exactly like putting your hands on the real thing, but definitely within my meager budget. Thanks for keeping the memories of a noteworthy series alive, over 30-years after its demise. Other than the pilot movie that I have, I sure would like to find a source for VHS copies of the handful of episodes in existence. Keep up the good work!”
    — Vince Marzo (Glendale, CA)
  • “Boy, this show was cool!”
    — Tim Deforest, (October 2009, Comics, Old Time Radio and Other Cool Stuff)

TELEVISION

  • POWDERKEG | Buy this DVD
    (1971 TVM, CBS)
    2 hour pilot
    First Aired: April 16, 1971
    Written by Douglas Heyes
    Directed by Douglas Heyes
    Produced by Douglas Heyes
    Executive Producer: Phil Feldman
    A Filmways/Rodphi Production
    Music by John Andrew Tartaglia
    Starring Rod Taylor as HANK BRACKETT
    and Dennis Cole as JOHNNY REACH
    Also starring Fernando Lamas, John McIntire, Luciana Paluzzi, Michael Ansara, Tisha Sterling, Reni Santoni, Melodie Johnson, William Bryant, Jay Novello
  • BEARCATS! | Buy this DVD
    (1971, CBS)
    Created by Douglas Heyes
    Writers: Douglas Heyes
    Directors: Douglas Heyes
    Produced by Douglas Heyes
    Starring Rod Taylor as HANK BRACKETT
    and Dennis Cole as JOHNNY REACH

    • SEASON ONE
    • “The Devil Wears Armor” (September 16, 1971)
    • “Ground Loop at Spanish Wells” (September 23, 1971)
    • “Dos Gringos” (September 30, 1971)
    • “The Feathered Serpent ” (October 7, 1971)
    • “Hostages” (October 14, 1971)
    • “Conqueror’s Gol” (October 28, 1971)
    • “Blood Knot” (November 4, 1971)
    • “Assault on San Saba” (November 11, 1971)
    • “Bitter Flats ” (November 18, 1971)
    • “Tiger! Tiger! ” (November 25, 1971)
    • “The Big Gun” (December 2, 1971)
    • “The Return of Estaban ” (December, 23 1971)
    • “Man in a Cage ” (December, 30 1971)

NOVELIZATIONS

  • Hell Hole (1972; by John Hunter [aka W.T. Ballard) Buy this book

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And a really, really big and heart-felt thank you for the scan of the model kit box that John Boyle sent me. In fact, John’s something of a car nut, and actually owns one of the cars used in the show. John adds “The car pictured is a real Bearcat used in the pilot film “Powderkeg”. To save money MPC, the model company, airbrushed the brass radiator and made it chrome.” Another thanks goes out to Tim Deforest, for cluing me in on the tie-in. Tim’s the author of several books on old time radio, film and television, but the one I like is Storytelling in the Pulps, Radio and Television: How Technology Changed Popular Fiction in America (2004). And his blog, Comics, Comics, Old Time Radio and Other Cool Stuff, ain’t too shabby either.

One thought on “Hank Brackett & Johnny Reach (Bearcats!)

  1. Kevin

    Long time, no correspond….
    Thanks for letting me know about the novelization “Hell Hole”.
    I found a copy on a used book site…obscenely expensive for a nearly 59 year old pulp novel, but a must have considering my other “Bearcats!” memorbilia…scripts, photos, not to mention the car.

    It was a lot of fun…a good story with unexpected twists. Lots of car-centric action too. Having watched the series (and Powderkeg,), it was easy to picture the action.

    Still enjoying the site…
    Hope you’re well….

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