It doesn’t take many tugs at the knot if life to see that the magical ingredients that concocted Star Wars back in 1977 could have easily been in other places, changing history in the process. Case in point, Mark Hamill and The Texas Wheelers, the short-lived 1974 comedy western that lasted just 8 episodes and – if you believe in such things as fate – opened the door for Mark Hamill to be a part of Star Wars.
Check out this fascinating article over at The Hollywood Reporter for more.
“The show was like a discordant reply to The Waltons,” says Hamill, 66. “The scripts were unbelievable, and the critics loved the show.” Wheelers was created by Dale McRaven, who went on to launch 1978’s Mork & Mindy and 1986’s Perfect Strangers. The Hollywood Reporter called the show “a marvelously constructed piece of family comedy.” The sitcom premiered on ABC (where Michael Eisner was then VP programming and development) against the newly launched TheRockford Files on CBS.
But Wheelers lasted eight episodes; Rockford lasted six seasons. “Rockford creamed us,” says Hamill. “We never had a chance.” However, Wheelers offered some pleasures. One was folk singer John Prine’s ode to smoking marijuana, “Illegal Smile,” which played over the opening credits. (THR called the song choice “a strange one.”) And then there was the cast. Jack Elam, who’d made a career playing wall-eyed cowboy villains, was the father. Gary Busey, then 30, was Truckie, the older brother/high school dropout. And a 23-year-old Hamill played the younger son, Doobie, who was still attending Lamont High. (ABC seems to have been unusually tolerant about letting pot references slide by.)