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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 89: Gunsmoke!

Updated: Oct 12

I didn't have a television as a child in the 1950s, with the family getting a set only on the occasion of JFK's assassination in 1963. Perhaps this kept me from developing a passion for TV cowboys including the landmark western TV series that was called Gunsmoke. Nope, that's not an Ojala on Matt, which is the point of this blog post.



Instead, for me, I was 'there' in England for the airing of the very first episode of Doctor Who that is still being produced today! Minus the original Doctor of course. And Dr. No, too, which is how my particular bent for gunleather design became not cowboy, but spy.



Which leads to a worthwhile factoid. All those re-runs of Gunsmoke that you have been enjoying since boyhood? The familiar opening scene was not in the episodes of the series' first year, 1955. Nor were they in '56, or '57, or '58. The scene, with Arvo Ojala as the bad guy at the other end of the street trying to outdraw Matt Dillon, wasn't filmed until 1959! And then added back to the earlier episodes for syndication of the series.



That helps to make sense of the gunleather in the early Gunsmoke episodes because they are Ed Bohlin's work. That being 1955, and Arvo being on film sets because he had come to Hollywood in '51 expressly to become an actor but instead found his place as a gun coach in the manner of Rodd Redwing, Bohlin's work was front and center for him. And so it was Ed Bohlin who was contracted by Arvo to make his first sets in '56.



And that was the first year of Arvo's set appearing on Dillon. Arvo filed his patent and disagreements developed between Arvo and Ed, as they did with everyone Arvo worked with: Andy Anderson, Daisy, Colt's; come one, come all. P.S. they're called 'Hollywood holsters' not because they were used in Hollywood films etc., but because that was actually the name of Arvo's operation: The Hollywood Fast Draw Holster Co.



It was fast draw expert Bob Arganbright who pointed out to me that Arvo's original set was quite crude compared with the ones we know so well, and pointed it out to me on the Marilyn cover. And that it was Andy, who was working for Bohlin, who perfected Arvo's sets and made them at Bohlin's for Arvo; then Arvo hired Andy away, sued and won against Bohlin but sued Andy who won against Arvo. What fun! From 'The Gunsmoke Chronicles':



Maybe everyone just should've stuck to making their own, eh? But then how would we explain JB building the Arvo set in spite of the patent? Gunleather makers then were not known for being careful not to copy unless somebody made 'em (Arvo's suit against Ed Bohlin was not about the patent; it was an unfair competition suit)(and Alfonso once said, that if he'd know that a young John Bianchi was in his shop to learn how to build the sets, he'd have never let him into it).



Arvo was on a roll with his sets so also merchandised around his fame. His sets were also made for Colt, and for Daisy. This is one of the many, many Ojalas made for the Dillon character to use for the show:



And there was the small stuff, too, that my friend Witty calls 'gunleather ephemera'.




For Colt's, two versions of Arvo's sets: one with the full grain cowhide of a standard Ojala, and another with a sueded leather lining for both holster and gunbelt (likely a cost savings on Arvo's part). The 'O' prefix on these Colt's holster sets' numbering was for 'Ojala'.




This one is a 'flip book'; flipping through the pages exposed at right, showed Arvo drawing and firing in sequence. Clever.


For Daisy, there was the toy set that simply bore Arvo's name; and also the full Arvo set with the Daisy mark:






It is said that it was Alfonso's job for Arvo -- see what I mean, these guys all worked for each other!? -- to teach Daisy how to build the Ojala sets; but I think it unlikely they made the true Daisy sets with his name on them, and rather more likely that Alfonso adapted the set for them to create the toy versions that also were leather.




All are the original Bohlin set in the above three images from Gunsmoke!

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