September 2 – Happy Birthday Paul Savage

Born on September 2, 1925, Paul Savage came to Amsterdam as a youngster from Warren, OH. His dad, William J. Savage was manager of the Amsterdam branch of the New York State Employment Service. His Mom had Amsterdam ties. She was the niece of the owner of the long-time Amsterdam music store, Morrison & Putman’s. The Savage’s lived first on Brandt Place and would later move to upper Division Street.  He attended St. Mary’s Institute and during the summers of his high school years, he began working at the Tamarack Theater in Lake Pleasant, NY. The theater was owned and managed by Malcolm Atterbury Jr., the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania railroad baron who had married the daughter of Amsterdam judge, Charles Hardies, Sr. Each summer the Atterbury’s would hire young actors to staff the theater and also stage and act in the playhouse’s productions. Isadore Demsky, a.k.a. Kirk Douglas was another aspiring young Amsterdam actor who worked at Tamarack.

After graduating from St. Mary’s Institute here in 1943 Savage went to Alaska to work on the Alaskan Highway for a short spell and then enlisted in the Marines. He went on to earn a Purple Heart when he was severely wounded during the US invasion of Iwo Jima and was given an early discharge, exiting the service as a sergeant.

When the good-looking young man returned to civilian life he landed a bit part in a movie being filmed in Florida. That experience helped him decide to head for Hollywood and try to make a career out of making believe he was somebody else. Savage was successful at landing bit parts in eighteen different television series during the next decade. These included appearances on classic TV westerns like Maverick,Cheyenneand Tales of the Texas Ranger. Though these minor roles paid the bills, his continuing failure to land more significant parts helped the former Amsterdam resident recognize he might need to widen his professional horizons to other aspects of the television industry.

One day he noticed an ad in a Hollywood trade paper looking for television script and storyline ideas. He came up with a script idea for the then-popular TV series The Millionaireand sent it in. When his idea was accepted, Savage decided to push the envelope and ask the show’s producers if he could write the script himself. Surprisingly, they gave him the assignment. He then quickly hired an agent and the bit actor was on his way to becoming one of television’s most successful writers.

Even as a kid, Savage had loved stories about cowboys so he concentrated his early attempts at writing on that genre and in 1957 his agent got him an assignment to write a script for the half hour television Western called Casey Jones. Jones was a legendary train engineer who piloted the Cannonball Express during the 1890’s. Alan Hale Jr. who later starred as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Islandplayed the featured role of Casey Jones.  Savage’s script was entitled “The Black Box.” The plot revolved around a very special shipment the Mexican Government had riding on the Cannonball Express, Mexican Emperor Maximillian’s crown jewels. The Secret Service agent onboard assigned to guard the jewels turns out to be an impostor intent on stealing the treasure.

As soon as he got that job, Savage pretty much gave up his acting career to focus all his time on writing and it turned out to be a brilliant decision. During the next decade, he would write for very popular shows like Wagon Train, MacKenzie’s Raiders, Lawman, Laramie, 77 Sunset Strip,The Big Valley, and Daniel Boone.

Then in 1963, he joined the writing staff for the classic TV series, Gunsmoke, which was already in its 8thseason. During the next ten years, many of the scripts he penned for Dodge City Marshall Matt Dillon and his fellow cast members became favorite episodes with both viewers and critics alike. Television pundits loved the fact that Gunsmoke’s writers turned the Western genre on its head by not always seeing the good guys win in the end. Savage consistently came up with plots and scripts that showed the good, the bad and the ugly of what life was really like in Dodge City during the era of Dillon.

As you might imagine, earning featured writer billing for an Emmy Award winning, top rated television series put Savage’s creative talents in high demand. His subsequent script writing credits included highly acclaimed series like The Streets of San Francisco,The Walton’s, Matlock, TJ Hooker and Murder She Wrote!

When he wasn’t pounding the keys of his favorite typewriter, Savage and Laurie, his wife of 51 years were raising three kids in their Santa Monica, California home. Savage had married the former ad agency secretary in 1963, after his earlier marriage to the popular television actress Patricia Donahue had failed. Paul and Laurie later moved to La Quinta, where Savage died in 2014 at the age of 89. According to my long-time friend and Amsterdam native, Kevin McKearn, his dad and Savage were friends in their younger days. McKearn can remember the writer visiting his father at the McKearn home on McClellan Avenue in the early sixties.

This September 2nd Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was a good and longtime friend of mine who loved this City deeply.

This September 2nd Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant developed a process for manufacturing synthetic quartz, which changed the world’s electronics industry.

This September 2nd Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was the guy who threw the switch that lit up the baseball field up at Shuttleworth Park for the very first time in history.


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