The great Don Meredith will always be remembered for a few things.
He’s remembered for being the first Dallas Cowboys quarterback, leading the team to multiple championship games but sadly never making it to the Super Bowl. If you’ve seen North Dallas Forty, the quarterback played by Mac Davis was based on Meredith. North Dallas Forty was based on a book by Phil Gent, a former Cowboys wide receiver. When asked about the book and Gent’s portrayal of himself as being the best player on the team, Meredith reportedly said, “Hell, if I had known Phil was that good, I would have thrown him the ball more often.”
Don Mereidth was also one of the first players to make the jump from playing on the field to calling plays in the broadcast booth. He was the good old boy who served as a foil to Howard Cosell and who sang “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” whenever it became obvious that one team was going to win the game.
He will also always be remembered for an incident in 1979 when, while covering a game in Denver, he supposedly said, “Welcome to Mile High Stadium — and I am!” This is actually an urban legend. Meredith never actually said he was high on national television but if a member of the original Monday Night Football Team was going to say that, it probably would have been Dandy Don.
Don Meredith is less remembered for his acting career but, like a lot of retired football players in the 70s, he tried his hand at performing. As an actor, Don Meredith was a very good quarterback. His performances were superior to Joe Namath’s but his range was undeniably limited. Smart producers essentially had Don Meredith play himself, a laid back good old boy who liked his beer and enjoyed hanging out with his buddies.
Banjo Hackett was typical of Don Meredith’s films. In this made-for-TV movie, Meredith plays the title character. He’s the nicest horse trader in the old west but not even someone as laid back as Banjo Hackett is going to stand for someone stealing from him. When he learns that his nephew, Jubal (Ike Eisenmann), has been put into an orphanage and that evil bounty hunter Sam Ivory (Chuck Conners) has stolen Jubal’s favorite horse, Banjo steps up to the huddle. First, he engineers Jubal’s escape from the orphanage. Then he and his nephew track Sam across the frontier, determined to catch up with him before he sells Jubal’s horse.
Banjo Hackett was obviously meant to serve as a pilot for a television series. The series never happened but Banjo Hackett itself is a likable film that will be best appreciated by western fans who are looking for something harmless to watch. Don Meredith may not have been a versatile actor but he had a sincere screen presence and Chuck Conners was always an effective bad guy. The cast is full of familiar western actors, including Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, and Jeff Corey. As a movie, Banjo Hackett is as amiable as its lead character.
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