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Discovering An Ultra-Rare Rig From The Golden Era Of TV Westerns!

Bob found the ultra-rare “Whispering Smith” holster (above) with an FBI rake and tapered belt in an online auction.
Shown compared to the Arvo Ojala Hollywood Fast Draw Holster. Left: World War II hero Audie Murphy played Tom Smith
n the NBC series Whispering Smith and used what appears to be the rig Bob recently picked up.

Over the past 10 years I’ve purchased many collectible holsters on internet auction sites. While most of these were rare finds, the most recent one was like striking gold.

Arvo Ojala, the gunfighter at the far end of the street in the opening scene of television’s Gunsmoke, was the inventor of the Hollywood Fast Draw Holster. This was the first steel-lined speed rig and Arvo went on to teach many of Hollywood’s Western stars how to use it. So, the custom Ojala rig listed on Gunbroker was of interest.

Listed as a one-piece rig for a Colt Sherriff’s model, the photo showed it to be different than the rare standard Ojala one-piece fast draw rig. The standard Ojala one-piece rig has the muzzle rake holster extending as an integral part of the bottom edge of the gun belt, which is of the Ranger style with a 1.5" nickel-plated anchor brand chaps buckle. But the rig on Gunbroker, which had the Ojala maker’s mark on the back, had a 2.5"-wide gun belt tapering on the ends for a 2" nickel chaps buckle. And the kicker’s the fact the short integral steel-lined holster was FBI-raked. Finished in black, the gun belt had full .45-caliber bullet loops. While I collect fast draw rigs, I did not want to pay the asking price for this unusual rig.

Pulling The Trigger

But this changed recently while watching the Saturday classic television Westerns on the cable channel GetTV. I was watching an episode of Whispering Smith, a 1961 Western series starring World War II combat hero and Medal of Honor recipient, Audie Murphy. Starring as 1870’s Denver Police Detective Tom “Whispering” Smith, Murphy was wearing this unusual rig.

It is known Ojala and Murphy were friends, with Ojala crediting Murphy with getting him his first job as a Hollywood gun coach. So, it stands to reason Murphy went to his friend and ordered this custom rig as he probably wanted something more in character for a city police detective than the standard Ojala fast Draw rig he used in several episodes. Murphy most likely changed guns at the same time, as one can see his Colt SAA has a barrel and ejector assembly shorter than 43/4".

A phone call to the seller had them accepting my offer and a few days later the rig arrived. I was pleased to find it had no signs of abuse or excessive wear and the holster fits my Colt Custom Shop SAA .45 with 33/4" barrel perfectly.

I obtained a DVD with the complete Whispering Smith series. Starting in 1959 there were 26 episodes filmed but production problems, such as co-star Guy Mitchell missing six weeks after breaking his shoulder in a fall from a horse, delayed things. This, along with Murphy being scheduled to spend two months filming a movie, caused the first episode to not be shown until May 8, 1961.

Whispering Smith aired on NBC with 20 episodes showing in its only season. With a budget of $45,000 per episode the show was well done and Murphy gave his usual excellent performance, but was thought to be too violent. The U.S. Senate Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee claimed the series was “excessively violent.”

All 26 episodes were filmed at Old Tucson in Tucson, Arizona, and I have identified eight episodes in which Audie Murphy wore this unique Ojala Hast Draw rig. While I will continue to scour the internet to find rare gun leather, this custom Audie Murphy rig will be hard to top!

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