“Ty Hardin, the hero, is a handsome, callow cowhand,” The New York Times wrote when the show had its premiere, “not as frivolous as Bret Maverick but, then again, not as omnipotent as Marshal Dillon nor as righteous as Wyatt Earp.”
Mr. Hardin was born Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr. on Jan. 1, 1930, in Manhattan. His parents divorced when he was 2, and his mother, the former Gwendolyn Burnett, took him and his brother to live in Houston and then at her mother’s farm outside Austin, Tex. His grandmother gave him the nickname Ty.
After graduating from Lamar High School in Houston he attended Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Tex., on a football scholarship and studied for a semester at the Dallas Bible Institute.
He enlisted in the Army and, after attending officer candidate school, underwent flight training and flew light aircraft while stationed in West Germany during the Korean War. After leaving the Army, he studied electrical engineering at Texas A&M, where he played tight end for Bear Bryant. A few weeks before graduation, Mr. Hardin left college to work as an acoustical research engineer at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, Calif.
While shopping for a Halloween costume, he was spotted by a talent scout for Paramount Pictures, who arranged a screen test that led to a seven-year contract and the films “The Space Children” and “I Married a Monster From Outer Space.”
Hoping for a role in the Warner Bros. film “Rio Bravo,” he met with John Wayne, only to find that the part he wanted had been given to Ricky Nelson. Wayne introduced him to Howard Hawks, the film’s producer and director, and to William T. Orr, head of the studio’s television division. Warner bought his contract, assigned him the last name Hardin, and inserted him into its series “Cheyenne” when the show’s star, Clint Walker, walked off the set in a contract dispute.
As Bronco Layne, Mr. Hardin proved so popular with viewers that when Walker returned to “Cheyenne” in 1959, the studio created “Bronco” as a spinoff, which ABC ran in rotation with “Cheyenne” and “Sugarfoot” in the same time…