In 1976, Gunsmoke’s James Arness was about to take on the lead role in the series How the West Was Won. He had full cast approval. As he told the Television Academy Archives, “We watched four guys in scenes from other shows. Hands down, there was just one guy that [was] right for it.” When the lights went up, ABC President Michael Eisner said he liked the second one. “I knew that it was live or die at that moment, so I just said, ‘Well, I'm sorry, but I disagree with you. I want that third guy, Bruce Boxleitner.’ Bruce turned out to be a great choice for it; he was just right.”
Contemplating his career, Boxleitner says, “I attribute anything I did to Mr. James Arness. I probably would never have gotten to do anything, had he not made that one decision.” Although he achieved stardom in the romantic spy series The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and has a huge following for his sci-fi career, with the Tron films and the Babylon 5 series, Boxleitner keeps coming back to Westerns.
Born in Elgin, Illinois, Bruce spent summers at his grandparents’ farm, where he played cowboy. “In high school, I wasn't the greatest student. I wanted to do something, and I walked in on an audition for the play, Agatha Christie's 10 Little Indians.” He was hooked.
After graduating, he joined a repertory company in Chicago. His first Broadway play, “lasted a little more than a week.” He reluctantly agreed to a tour of that play, “with the stipulation that I have a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. I came out here with a suitcase, twenty-two hundred bucks in cash and a pocket full of friends’ phone numbers, and I slept on couches and living room floors.”
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