Cowtown Hustler: Gunsmoke’s Classic Pool Shark Episode

Jack Albertson plays pool shark Moses Darby in the 1974 Gunsmoke episode “Cowtown Hustler.” James Arness, Amanda Blake, Jonathan Lippe and John Davis Chandler also appear.

Pool-playing Jack Albertson comes to Dodge City ready for some green felt action in the memorable 1974 Gunsmoke segment “Cowtown Hustler.” It’s one of Gunsmoke’s best, and a perennial favorite with pool aficionados, TV western fans and the gambling crowd.

Cowtown Hustler Production Credits

Leonard Katzman produced “Cowtown Hustler” for CBS-TV. Jim Byrnes wrote the teleplay, Gunnar Hellstrom directed and John Parker served up the music score.

Jack Albertson Plays Pool Hustler Moses Darby

James Arness (Matt Dillon), Amanda Blake (Kitty Russell) and Buck Taylor (Newly O’Brien) appear as Gunsmoke regulars. The guest cast is comprised of Jack Albertson (Moses Darby), Jonathan Goldsmith Lippe (Dave Rope), Nellie Bellflower (Sally), Dabbs Greer (Joe Bean), Henry Beckman (Thaddius P. McKay), John Davis Chandler (Willie Tomsen), Richard O’Brien (Adam Kearney), Lew Brown (Beeton), Robert Swan (Cox) and Chuck Hicks (Turner).

Gunsmoke’s Cowtown Hustler Episode Synopsis

Moses Darby is an aging pool hustler whose better days with the stick may be behind him. Using the alias “Joshua Pinch,” Moses enters a saloon where he observes the billiards play of three cowhands. Moses eventually gets into the game, flubbing several shots and losing a small bet. The wager is then increased – to a substantial $120 – whereby Moses literally destroys his opponent, running the table and preventing him from taking a single shot.

Later, the angry cowhands attack Moses outside, but are run off by gunslinger Dave Rope. The gunfighter proposes that they form a partnership, with Moses providing the pool expertise and Dave the protection.

Moses, Dave and Dave’s girlfriend Sally head to Dodge City where the big money awaits. Moses’ first victim is  farmer Joe Bean who he fleeces for $40. But when Marshal Dillon hears that the $40 was to be used for seed, he asks that Moses return the cash, which the hustler does.

Moses later takes on rich cattleman Adam Kearney, relieving him of $1,000. A disgruntled Kearney vows revenge, bringing in dandy Willie Tomsen, a professional pool ace from Kansas City, thus setting up the match of a lifetime. With Moses a 5-2 favorite, Dave Rope succumbs to temptation and bets $2,000 on Tomsen, imploring Moses to throw the match.

Cowtown Hustler Filming Location, Air Date, Network Competition

  • Gunsmoke’s “Cowtown Hustler” was filmed at CBS Studio Center in Hollywood.
  • “Cowtown Hustler” aired over CBS-TV on Monday night, March 11, 1974, in the 8-9 PM (ET) time slot.
  • Network competition was Marlo Thomas Special, “Free To Be…You and Me” (ABC) and The Magician, “The Vanishing Lady” (repeat) with Bill Bixby, Amanda McBroom, Peter Brown, John Karlen and Ramon Bieri (NBC).

Television Analysis

Gunsmoke (1955-75) was television’s longest-running western, and is viewed by many entertainment historians as a small-screen institution. “Cowtown Hustler” – from season 19, episode 22 – is one of Gunsmoke’s best, an intriguing character study of a veteran pool hustler set in the post-Civil War West.

Jack Albertson chalks up a superior performance as the legendary Moses Darby, the roving pool shark who takes on the up-and-coming challenger in a classic shootout at Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon. Jonathan Lippe is excellent as Moses’ unscrupulous, gunslinging partner and sleepy-eyed John Davis Chandler is positively sinister as young pool dandy Willie Tomsen.

The big scene of course is the showdown at the Long Branch, where Moses and Willie engage in a best two-out-of-three match. Moses runs the table to take the first game; Willie rallies to claim the second. In the tie-breaker, Moses sinks the eight ball – but purposely scratches – blowing the match but saving Dave Rope from the wrath of bookie Thaddius P. McKay.

“Cowtown Hustler” is reminiscent of Robert Rossen’s 1961 movie classic The Hustler. Pool fans will certainly enjoy both, with Jack Albertson’s Moses Darby and Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats comparing favorably.

Cowtown Hustler Quote

When the crowd has departed, Dave tries to mollify Moses, telling the pool shark that he couldn’t have made the winning shot anyway. Willie Tomsen enters, informing Dave that Moses could sink that shot 100 times out of 100. Willie then sets up the identical shot, and Moses drains it with little effort.

“Mr. Darby. Those things I said in the Long Branch. I didn’t mean ‘em,” Willie says, apologizing for his previous harangue. “Just tryin’ to gall ya. Figured I needed every advantage I could get. Like they’ve always said: You’re the best. It’s been a pleasure knowin’ you, sir.”

Gunsmoke on DVD

  • All 20 seasons of Gunsmoke – that’s a whopping 635 episodes – are available on DVD from Paramount.
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2 Responses to “Cowtown Hustler: Gunsmoke’s Classic Pool Shark Episode”
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