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From TV's "Golden Age" — Spin and Marty

by James G. Howes

The Adventures of Spin & Marty, loosely based on a novel written in 1942 and set at the fictional Triple-R boys' ranch, is a Walt Disney black-and-white television serial originally aired November–December 1955. Now available on DVD with added color features, it was one of the most popular teen serials during network television's "Golden Age" of the 1950's.

Disney production quality is evident in this timeless classic. With a production budget of almost $600,000 (in 1955 dollars) for 25 episodes of 11 minutes each, totaling four and a half hours in length overall, it would be considered expensive even by today's standards. The excellent orchestral sound track scoring and on-location shooting using multiple camera angles give it a feature film gloss. So believable is the acting that Walt Disney Studios was inundated with mail from parents wanting to enroll their sons in the "real" Triple-R Ranch when the series aired. Best of all, this entertaining gem still speaks to kids today, as the problems confronted by the boys at the Triple-R Ranch — gaining acceptance and making friends, overcoming homesickness, conquering fear, and coping with ridicule — still confront modern youth. When Spin & Marty concludes around the final campfire, we are left with the warm feeling that our visit to the Triple-R was well worth it.

When Disney's celebrated Mickey Mouse Club went on the air as a daily children's program on ABC-TV in October, 1955, it had a one-hour format with various themes, such as "Talent Round-Up Day". Each show had segments for cartoons, newsreels, special features, song-and-dance routines by the "Mouseketeers", and a filmed multi-episode serial spanning several weeks. Spin & Marty was the most popular of these serials and the only one to prompt two sequels. The story of a group of teenage boys from diverse backgrounds at a summer boys' ranch in the West, it was adapted from Lawrence Edward Watkin's book entitled Marty Markham, published in 1942. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse Club producer Bill Walsh decided to serialize it for the television show in 25 episodes, and a screenplay was written by Jackson Gillis. The story is centered around a pampered, sheltered rich orphan named Martin Markham, who is sent to a western ranch for the summer by his doting grandmother. Accompanied by his personal butler, Perkins (played by English actor J. Pat O'Malley), Marty is initially resented and ostracized by the other boys, led by the "cool" character of Spin Evans. Eventually, Marty learns to fit in and make friends by overcoming his fear of horses and showing genuine concern for the other boys, helped by camp counselor Bill Burnett, sensitively played by veteran western actor Harry Carey, Jr. (1921-2012).

Casting began in April, 1955, and 50 boys and their parents responded to the casting call at Disney Studios. Lennie Geer, who would portray the wrangler Ollie in the series, brought his horse, "Mr. Rick," which was being used in the role of Skyrocket. Tim Considine did a screen test with Geer and Skyrocket for the title role of Marty. His screentest is included as a bonus feature on the DVD. Tim, the 14-year old son of MGM executive John W. Considine, had played roles in various MGM movies, including The Clown with Red Skelton, Executive Suite, and Her Twelve Men. He also appeared in a Universal picture, The Private War of Major Benson with Charlton Heston and Unchained for Warner Bros. Considine did not want to play Marty, however, saying "He was too snotty; I wanted to be the cool guy, Spin." The producer, Bill Walsh, agreed to cast Considine as Spin, and the screenplay was modified to emphasize the character's role in the TV serial. Reflecting the change, the title of the series was revised from Marty Markham to Spin and Marty.

David John Stollery III already had an impressive acting portfolio by age 14, when he was eventually cast in the title role of Marty Markham. He had appeared in more than a dozen films since he was five years old, having his first role in the Bing Crosby film, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Stollery also acted in summer stock and on Broadway, having a major role in On Borrowed Time, for which he was given a a child actor of the year award. Stollery also had some TV credits by 1955, such as I Love Lucy and The Red Skelton Show.

Shooting on Disney production 8209 (as Spin and Marty was numbered) took place between June–September, 1955, under the direction of William Beaudine, Sr., at the Disney Studios and on-location at the Golden Oak Ranch in Placerita Canyon, California, which offered good scenery and relatively close proximity to Hollywood. Other cast members include Roy Barcroft as Colonel Logan, George Eldredge as Dr. Spaulding, Sammy Ogg as Joe, B.G. Norman as Ambitious, and Tim Hartnagel as Speckle. Stollery recalls, "I learned to ride on the show. They started giving us lessons with trainers before the shooting began. I used to go out after school for several types of training — rodeo, calf roping, riding bareback, etc. That was probably one of the most intriguing parts for a kid 14 years old, being taught to ride semi-professionally. That was not work; that was the neat part of the thing. On the set, there would every so often be time for Tim and myself and some of the other kids to take the horses and go out and ride. Those are some of my best memories of the series."

Because of the success of the first "Spin and Marty" serial, a 22-episode sequel was broadcast in the second season, The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty. In addition to most of the cast from the first season returning to the Triple-R ranch, teen heartthrob Annette Funicello was added, along with Kevin Corcoran as little Moochie. In the 1956 season, the now-popular Marty vies with his friend Spin for the attentions of Annette, who is a camper at a nearby girls' ranch. In a humorous scene in the beginning episode of the 2nd season, the boys are apprehensively awaiting Marty's return to the ranch, worried that over the winter he may have reverted to his "rich kid" conceit. They are alarmed when Marty arrives all decked out in a polo playing outfit and, with his nose in the air, affecting a superior attitude. All are greatly relieved and have a good laugh when Marty grins that it's all just a gag and he's really still "one of the guys". Instead of a rodeo competition against archrival North Fork Ranch, as in the first season, this time a swim meet is the setting for the climactic confrontation between the two ranches.

Unique among the Mickey Mouse Club serials, "Spin and Marty" went on to a third season of 29 episodes, the New Adventures of Spin and Marty, broadcast in 1957. Annette was joined by other Mouseketeers, such as Darlene Gillespie and Don Grady (who would later play Robbie on the popular TV comedy of the 1960's, My Three Sons). By then 16 years old, Spin and Marty return to the Triple R Ranch in an old jalopy they have made during the winter, which causes much damage when it crashes into the ranch kitchen. With the aid of Darlene from the adjoining girls' ranch, the campers decide to put on a musical show to raise money to pay for the kitchen repairs.

Thus far, only the first season of Spin and Marty has been released on DVD. Reruns of the second and third seasons were last televised on the Disney Channel in 2002, as part of Disney's now-discontinued but fondly remembered Vault Disney late–night format. In one of the DVD's interesting features, we see Stollery and Considine, now in their mid-60's, return to the Golden Oak Ranch and reminisce about the hit series. In reflecting on the immense popularity of Spin and Marty, Considine said, "Nothing I have ever done and possibly nothing I will ever accomplish in the future could touch as many lives and bring pleasure to as many people as did the Mickey Mouse Club."

Scenes from Spin and Marty

Arrival at the Triple R
Pampered Martin Markham arrives at the Triple R
 – in his chauffeur-driven limousine – as his
butler, Perkins (J. Patrick O'Malley), looks on.

Marty meets Spin
Spin tells an aloof Marty that his turn as dining hall waiter is coming soon.

At the corral
The gang at the corral, mocking Marty's fear of horses

Marty meets Ambitious
"Ambitious" (B.G. Norman) befriends the ostracized Marty.

Marty learns from Bill
Marty gets some encouragement from kindly
counselor Bill Burnett (Harry Carey Jr.)

Disney Magazine video
Disney Magazine remembers Spin and Marty (video)

  •   Paul F. Anderson, Persistence of Vision, 1998
  •   David R. Smith, archivist, Walt Disney Company interviews with Tim Considine and David Stollery, 1990–1991
             ibid.,   presentation at Walt Disney World, Kissimmee, Florida, on September 8, 1995
  •   Lawrence Edward Watkin, Marty Markham. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1942 (Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 42021068)
  •   The Adventures of Spin and Marty DVD, Disney, 2005

    Photos and music © Walt Disney Studios
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