Gene Barry's Hanbo Cane
When I was a child in the late 1950s, my TV cowboy hero was Bat Masterson. I watched the show every week and never failed to be enthralled. The Bat Masterson show was based on a real character who lived in the old West. Born in 1853 in Quebec, Masterson worked as a US Army Indian fighter, a sports writer, newspaper columnist, and US Marshal. He died in New York City in 1921 at the age of 67.
The TV show featured a somewhat fictionalized Bat Masterson as a gunfighter gambler during his days in Dodge City. Actor Gene Barry played Bat with a look distinctive among TV Westerns in the 1950s. Rather than a dust-blown 10 gallon hat, Bat wore a derby. Rather than a cowboy jacket, Bat wore an elegant silk vest. More often than not when it came to fighting, Gene Barry’s TV Bat Masterson preferred to take out attackers with his gold-topped walking stick cane as opposed to shooting a gun. The TV Bat Masterson was cool, incredibly suave for 1950s television, and… well, real different from all the rest.
Even as a 10 year old, I liked that “real different from all the rest.” In a realm of scruffy, unsophisticated, scuffling barroom brawling cowboys, Bat Masterson had class. Bat knew the finer aspects of living, dining, and dressing well. And yet he was one real tough guy (history claims he killed 6 men in one-on-one gunfights, aside from the Indian wars, though legends have him in lots more gunfights).
I bought a souvenir child’s toy Bat Masterson 3-foot cane and got my start at hanbo fight training with a 4th grade school chum in my backyard. We took turns whacking each other with that cowboy hanbo as the other tried to draw and fire his pistol. I liked that silk brocade vest, too, and wore one for my Halloween costume one year dressed as my favorite TV western star.
I still really like different, fifty years after watching Gene Barry’s Bat Masterson on TV. In a martial arts world full of crass scufflers, I want there to be room for a cool but deadly gentleman combatant. In a pay per view realm of screaming profanity, I want there to be a place for a poetically spoken ultimate warrior.
After hanging up the cane weapon and brocade vest, Barry went on to a new TV series where he played police captain Amos Burke who instead of wearing blue serge and driving a cruiser with siren and dome light, travelled in custom tailored suits to crime scenes in a Rolls-Royce. I instantly became a fan of the show Burke’s Law. I couldn’t help it. I really do enjoy “different”.
Actor Gene Barry died peacefully at 90 years old last week.
I still have my hanbo and gold brocade vest and my car – in newer form – maybe just a little bit because Gene Barry’s elegant fighters so impressed me on the small screen of my youth. I salute the wonderful actor for his iconoclast roles that defied a cookie-cutter conformity on an older generation’s TV, and helped prepare me to see that wild possibilities sometimes open up for the bold of spirit.