Not many actors play “adult” parts at 16. Melody Patterson lied about her age to get the gig, and by the time Warner Bros. found out the truth …
ABC was flooded with fan mail for Wrangler Jane of “F Troop.” Thoughts of recasting were nixed, beginning a scramble to arrange child actor stuff (work permit, on-set tutor, etc.)
Of course, California-bred Melody never looked underage at all as she expertly handled a shootin’ iron and ran the general store/telegraph office in a comic take on the Wild West. The cast, otherwise male, included Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch and Ken Berry.
“Melody could hold her own with the boys,” Larry noted on his Facebook page. (BTW, he’s 92.)
If anybody looked uncomfortable (particularly in the first season), it was Berry, who played Capt. Wilton Parmenter, accidental Civil War hero and clueless commander of Fort Courage. The producers cast him the object of Wrangler Jane’s affections. Of course, straight-arrow Ken knew Melody was underage.
The sitcom debuted in 1965 in black and white, a throwaway against CBS’ Red Skelton. When it gained a cult following, ABC gave “F Troop” an upgrade to color and a prime slot for 1966-67, following “Batman.”
Alas, the premise grew stale and it was off to rerun land.
Melody’s acting career all but ended when she married James McArthur of “Hawaii Five-0.” Eventually everybody knew that “F Troop,” canceled before her 18th birthday, would be in the lead paragraph of her obit.
Sure enough it was, in The New York Times print edition of Aug. 29. R.I.P. Melody Patterson, gone too soon at the age of 66.