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Don Durant

Personal information
Birth nameDonald Allison Durae
Birth dateNovember 20, 1932
Place of birthLong Beach, California, USA
Date of deathMarch 15, 2005(age 72)
Death placeMonarch Beach, California, USA
SpouseTrudy Wroe Durant (1931-2007; married 1959-2005, his death)
ChildrenJeff and Heidi

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Don Durant (November 20, 1932 - March 15, 2005) was an American actor and singer, best known for his role as the gunslinger-turned- sheriff in the CBS Western series Johnny Ringo, which ran on Thursdays from October 1, 1959 - June 30, 1960.

Durant was born as Donald Allison Durae in Long Beach, California. His father was killed in a truck accident near Bakersfield two months before Durant's birth; his mother remarried three times before she died of lung cancer at the age of only forty-six in 1959. Durant himself was seriously injured a few weeks before his eleventh birthday, when his bicycle chain broke, and he careened into the path of a cement truck. He lay in a coma for three days, his right arm fractured, his right femur and hip so badly damaged that doctors nearly amputated the leg before his family scraped up enough money for a specialist. He was bedridden for more than a year.

One of Durant's stepfathers owned a cattle ranch near Elko in northeastern Nevada. Durant spent a summer there and learned to shoot and ride before he returned to California. In junior high school, he was a deejay for a local radio station. In high school, he played on the football team, having worn special plates because of his previous injuries. He enlisted in the United States Navy. At one point, he served in the United States Army as well because of a mixup in paperwork. Toward the end of his commitment, he entertained veterans at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco.

Durant then began touring the American West as a singer/actor. He opened at many prestigious nightclubs, such as The Sands and The Sahara in Las Vegas. He garnered a small role in the 1955 Van Heflin film Battle Cry. To supplement his income, Durant taught actors how to ride horses and shoot guns, and worked at RCA as a technician. He helped to build the first kinescopic recorder and stereophonic sound recorder for Warner Brothers. In 1954, he signed with CBS to take small roles as the singer or young lover in a variety of legendary series, including The Jack Benny Show. He sang Groucho Marx's popular "It's delightful, it's Delovely, it's DeSoto" advertising jingle for the former DeSoto automobiles.

In 1955, Durant met big band leader Ray Anthony and began filming various television advertisements. One for Papermate pens featured his future wife, the former Trudy Wroe, but he did not meet her at the time because his voice was dubbed in to replace her co-star. In 1956, Durant starred and did his own stunts in Roger Corman's She-Gods of Shark Reef, which became a cult classic. Continuing to tour, he sang on Anthony's ABC series and recorded an album. He got more guest-starring roles, having appeared as Ronnie Mann in the 1957 episode "Ride 'Til You Die", about a love triangle at a dude ranch which explodes into murder, in Rod Cameron's syndicated series State Trooper. He appeared too in the first episode of ABC's Maverick to feature Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, the brother of Bret Maverick, played by James Garner. Durant had auditioned for the role of Bart but was instead cast as a singing bad guy in the episode. For that part, he learned to play the guitar the weekend before filming.In 1957, he finally met Trudy while they were en route to film an ad for the Ford Motor Company. She spent most of the trip gushing over Elvis Presley. Durant told her that he had been to a few Presley parties, and the two began dating. They married on February 28, 1959, and were together until his death.

In 1958, Durant shot an unsuccessful pilot which caught the attention of actor/director/producer Dick Powell. As the host of Zane Grey Theater, Powell asked one of his writers, young Aaron Spelling, to create a series for Durant. Spelling was then in his first assignment as a creator and producer. In this heyday of the television Western, CBS quickly snapped up the pilot. Durant wrote and sang the theme and did his own stunts. Hence, Johnny Ringo debuted in the fall of 1959 in the 8:30 Eastern Thursday time slot. Costar Mark Goddard played the deputy named Cully. Johnny Ringos main competition came from Walter Brennan's The Real McCoys on ABC, against which Ringo achieved decent ratings. Sometimes it was in the "Top 20".

Many famous actors guest-starred on the series. The Johnny Ringo Playset became the most sought-after television western toy. Surprisingly, the sponsor, Johnson Wax Company, believed that there were too many Westerns (thirty at the time) on network television and wanted to replace one of their own with a sitcom. Dick Powell was out of the country, and Spelling had moved on to another project. With no strong advocates for survival, Johnny Ringo was cancelled after one season of thirty-eight episodes. Neither NBC nor ABC were interested in taking over production of Johnny Ringo.

Durant continued to make personal appearances (which paid more than his television salary had), guest-starred in CBS's Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone, and was nearly cast opposite Lucille Ball in her Broadway debut, Wildcat!, which flopped. He signed a contract with another studio, but aside from a guest role on NBC's Laramie in 1963, few offers materalized. Durant bought out his contract in 1964, and since big bands had faded in the pop music fever, he subsequently retired from show business.

Instead, he spent much of his time with his family and supervised his real estate and investment holdings. He had shrewdly invested his television earnings and became a millionaire many times over. Durant held no bitterness over the end of his fame, and in later years communicated extensively with Johnny Ringo fans through his website. Among his last appearances on television were two 1966 episodes of CBS's Wild Wild West, which starred Robert Conrad.

The Durants were benefactors of Chapman University in Orange County, which is known for its school of film and television. They were in attendance when Chapman awarded an honorary degree in 2002 to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was more than a year before Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California.

In 1992, Durant contracted chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and thereafter lymphoma. In early 2005, he contracted a lung infection but was not hospitalized. He soon died at his home in Monarch Beach in Orange County, with wife Trudy (1931-November 10, 2007) by his side. The Durants had a son, Jeff, and daughter, Heidi.

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