Ty Hardin, Western Star

I received a note early this week from regular column reader Ron Terranova letting me know that he enjoyed the article about Jeff Lebow and the Harvest Club of Orange County.

He also told me that since retiring he’s been doing volunteer work, including delivering meals for the Rodgers Seniors’ Center. He told me there was an actor, Ty Hardin, who played cards at the downtown center a couple of times a week.

Hardin, as many of you no doubt remember, acted in Westerns and TV shows back in the 1950s and ’60s. He is perhaps best known for starring in the TV series “Bronco” for four years, but he was also in the films “PT 109,” “Battle of the Bulge” and “Custer of the West.”

Supposedly he was the first choice to star in the TV series “Batman,” but he turned down the part because of prior film commitments.

A day or so later I called the senior center and was told that Hardin was there playing cards, so I drove over. When I entered the rec room, several games were taking place, but Hardin stood out.

Still rugged and handsome in his mid-80s, he appeared in terrific shape, giving at least partial credit to the three pals with whom he was playing pinochle for keeping him “sharp.”

The other players, Tony Perrotto, Lenny Paul and Bob Fordiani, were nice enough to allow for a break in the game so that I could speak to Hardin.

Not unlike Lana Turner’s famous discovery at Schwab’s Pharmacy (some historians argue she was actually discovered at the Top Hat Malt Shop), Harden walked into a motion picture costume rental company in the mid-’50s to rent some six-guns for a costume party. A Paramount Pictures talent scout picked him out and the rest was history.

Hardin, who had been working as an electronic engineer at Douglas Aircraft, told me how his career began as a B-movie bit player, and that he was the monster in “I Married a Monster from Outer Space.”

But it was John Wayne who really advanced Hardin’s career by introducing him to the famed Hollywood director Howard Hawks. Hardin’s career took off when his character Bronco Lane on the ABC series “Cheyenne” was spun off into its own program. Over the years, Hardin traveled around the world appearing in everything from spaghetti Westerns to the hit late-1960s Australian TV series “Riptide.”

He and his wife have lived in Huntington Beach for about six years. Hardin told me that he missed the days when Hollywood could still make pictures about decency, morals and code of the Old West.

“Back when kids still believed in playing cowboys and Indians,” he said.

But he’s also grateful for the career he had and the era in which he got to work.

Originally born Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr., Hardin is a true American classic, and it is so nice to know that he resides here in our community. He served his country in Korea and served his fans both on the large and small screens. I’m thankful for that email from Terranova and, once more to Hardin and the guys, I am sorry I interrupted your game.