Luke Slaughter of Tombstone

Luke Slaughter of Tombstone

Sam Buffington

Born: October 12, 1931; Massachusetts

Died: May 15, 1960; Los Angeles, California from suicide


CBS, 1958

One of the most creative and entertaining shows was "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone", a western program aired on CBS Radio between February and June of 1958. Coming in on the coattails of "Frontier Gentleman", which aired directly afterwards on Sunday afternoons, "Luke Slaughter" starred an up and coming 27-year-old character actor named Sam Buffington, who was already making a considerable name for himself on such television dramas as "Cheyenne" and "The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars". In person, Buffington was a commanding presence; large and already balding, his TV career found him playing sheriffs, military leaders, and other authority figures. On radio, however, his voice proved to be just as powerful and distinctive as that of William Conrad, Gerald Mohr, or any of the other leading men who had made radio both their career and their passion. In the demanding role of Luke Slaughter, a no-nonsense, two-fisted man of few words, it was easy to picture him as something resembling the Marlboro man, with a strong jaw, weathered features, and piercing eyes that easily saw through injustice and dishonesty. 

Supporting Buffington in the series was a virtual repertory company of actors whose versatility and reliability made them mainstays of 1950s radio - people like Junius Matthews (cast as Slaughter's grizzled but big-hearted sidekick, Wichita), Lillian Buyeff, Herb Vigran, Sam Edwards, Peter Leeds, Vic Perrin, Lawrence Dobkin, and Jack Moyles. Though never stars in the Hollywood sense of the word, this talented group knew how to make the most of the scripts written by such prolific radio scribes as Fran Van Hartesveldt, Robert Stanley, Tom Hanley, and William N. Robson; Robson also acted as the series' producer/director, much the same as he had done with his earlier western drama "Fort Laramie" (1956), starring another distinctively voiced character actor named Raymond Burr. 

Given the people involved in the creation and production of "Luke Slaughter", it's difficult to understand why the series had such a short run - just 16 episodes - when counterparts like "Frontier Gentleman", "Have Gun, Will Travel", and particularly "Gunsmoke" lasted considerably longer. It may have been sheer saturation that did it in - westerns were all over TV and radio at the time - or perhaps, after years of working within tight budgets and increasingly smaller audiences, the producers simply decided to devote themselves to the other more popular radio series. Whatever the reason, however, "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone" stands today as one of the brightest spots of late-era radio production. Well written stories, provocative dialogue, top-notch performances, impressive sound patterns (editorial supervisor Tom Hanley was responsible in part for many of the innovative "sound patterns" that made the CBS western dramas so distinctive), original scores by Wilbur Hatch and Amerigo Marino, and the considerable skill of director William N. Robson came together to create a memorable series of western adventures that have truly stood the test of time.