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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Adventures of Jim Bowie" and Knife Hysteria

 "Adventures of Jim Bowie," part 1

"Adventures of Jim Bowie," part 2

"Adventures of Jim Bowie," part 3

The English actor Scott Forbes (1920 – 1997) played Jim Bowie on the ABC television program, "Adventures of Jim Bowie," which ran from 1956 through 1958. The first episode can be viewed in its entirety via the three links above. The third part ends with a bloodless knife fight, in which Bowie throws his knife to pin the villain's sleeves to a wall. It was one of the few times during the show's two seasons that Bowie used his knife in a fight at all. There was a growing hysteria about knife crime among America's youth, stoked less by actual incidents than by movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Blackboard Jungle, The Wild Ones, and High School Confidential. In 1958, the federal government passed the Switchblade Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of those weapons. The ability of Jim Bowie to even brandish, much less use his knife on the TV program was to some extent a victim of that hysteria.

Here is a newspaper article published in November 1958, when the program was still on the air:
Children Won't Turn Knife Wielders, 'Jim Bowie' Says

A new television show has the nation's parents up in arms, afraid Junior and his pals will become a pack of knife-wielders. For the first time in video history the hero carries a shiv. It's king-sized and belongs to Jim Bowie whose adventures are seen weekly on ABC-TV. "A lot of nonsense," cries Bowie who is played by Scott Forbes. “So far we've filmed 19 shows, and in more than half of them the Bowie knife is never seen.”

As if it weren't enough to break with tradition by allowing the hero to flash a knife, Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo and legendary adventurer, is played by an Englishman. Forbes speaks with a slight British accent. But he's been in this country long enough to know that the rap his show is getting ain't cricket.
"I can't understand complaints about the knife. The 'Robin Hood' series didn't touch off gang warfare by bow and arrow. Nor has 'Sir Lancelot' caused small fry to slice one-another up with dueling swords.   
“I've studied all possible sources of the life of Jim Bowie, and he invented the knife to hunt bears, not men. It was a big knife, 12 to 16 inches long and had a curved blade. Don't forget, Bowie lived 50 years or more before Wyatt Earp and other Western heroes. In his day the old muzzleloading guns were undependable and a knife could be relied upon. History says he killed only one man with a knife.”
Besides,” Forbes added defensively, “our program never shows him plunging the knife into anyone.”
Forbes, who hopes to bring respectability to knife carriers in general, and Bowie in particular, assures parents their kids won't switch to switchblades.
“We've already started manufacturing rubber Bowie knives,” he concluded with a grin. They're as harmless as cap pistols.”

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