It didn’t take long for Wanted Dead or Alive to make a Christmas episode. “Eight Cent Reward” came halfway through the first season, originally airing in December, 1958.
The episode’s title refers to the life savings a young boy is willing to give bounty hunter Josh Randall if he can locate Santa Claus.
Steve McQueen’s Randall is moved by the request, and being the professional he is, decides to take the kid up on it. The young boy, who goes by Laddie, desperately needs to ask Santa for a gift he’s been hoping to receive for years. Laddie won’t say what the special present is, saving his request only for Mr. Claus.
It’s a change of pace from the grittiness of most Wanted episodes but still perfectly showcases Josh’s dedication and virtue.
The sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking performance given by the young actor playing Laddie also helps this episode stand out. A seven-year-old newcomer named Jay North embodied the little farmer’s son. It was his first credited role on television.
Classic TV fans no doubt recognize North as Dennis Mitchell from the series Dennis the Menace, based on the popular comic strip.
North played the slingshot-wielding youngster for four seasons starting the year after making his debut alongside Steve McQueen. Five-year-old Ronny Howard also appeared in six episodes of Dennis the Menace before playing Opie Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show.
“Eight Cent Reward” also features character actor Lloyd Corrigan as a drunk who gamely pretends to be Santa Claus when Josh Randall doesn’t know what else to do. Corrigan reunited with Jay North in the Dennis the Menace episode “Junior Pathfinders Ride Again.” Corrigan’s outing as an Old West Santa wasn’t the last Christmas episode he would be in, either. Far from it.
He appeared in three festive episodes of Lassie. In “Yochim’s Christmas,” he guest starred with Grandma Walton Ellen Corby and in the two-part “Lassie’s Gift of Love” Corrigan played a mysterious toy repairman traveling by donkey wagon.
Though “Eight Cent Reward” is a different than most episodes of Wanted Dead or Alive, it’s still a great watch and a perfect Western take on a holiday story.
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