“The Ape” is a 1960 episode of “Bonanza” revolving around Hoss Cartwright’s relationship with an enormous man named Arnie Guthrie. Arnie is big but slow, as in a little learning disabled and he’s more than a little oversensitive about it. When I first saw it, I was just a kid and had never heard of John Steinbeck or his classic novel “Of Mice and Men.” I have to say, years later, watching it as an adult made me laugh.
Hoss Cartwright runs into Arnie in the Virginia City saloon during a rowdy brawl where he finds the big dude beating the stuffing out of his brothers, Adam and Little Joe. Hoss is the only guy big enough to be any kind of match for Arnie and the two end up fighting in the street for over an hour until Hoss laughingly calls it quits when he realizes they don’t even know what they are fighting about. When he gets to talking to Arnie, Hoss wants to help him because he can relate to the alienation Arnie has experienced as a result of his size. Hoss is the only one who thinks Arnie is worth helping. Arnie confides his dreams of a farm. There are some clues to what the results of getting Arnie angry can be, but Hoss thinks the problem is with the way Arnie is treated by people.
Cal Bolder played Arnie “The Ape.” Before becoming an actor, Cal Bolder was a California Highway Patrolman named E.C. Craver. An agent thought he’d be great onscreen owing to a very impressive physique: 6′ 4″ tall, 260 pounds, 52″ chest and 32″ waist. E.C.’s name was changed and soon Cal Bolder was cast in roles with names like “Goliath” and “Neanderthal Nathan.” He also played a boxer in another episode of “Bonanza” called “The Fighters.”
Leonard Nimoy plays Freddy, a faro dealer in the saloon who has a relationship with Sheribelle to hustle drinks and get customers to spend money. At this stage in his career, Nimoy had been playing various characters in popular television series for about 9 years. He was still a decade away, give or take a few years, from a recurring role in “Mission Impossible” and from everlasting fame as Mr. Spock in “Star Trek.”
Karen Sharpe plays the manipulative charmer, Sheribelle, who has no sympathy for Arnie’s limitations. Au contraire, she finds it quite humorous that the big ‘ape’ is smitten with her and plans to get him to spend his paycheck on her. Karen was the girl in the White Rain shampoo commercials, and had appeared in about a dozen movies in the 50s, before trying her luck in television. She later married producer Stanley Kramer in 1966. Kramer was the producer of such notable films as “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) and Vivien Leigh’s last film “Ship of Fools” (1965). The couple had a long and happy marriage until his death in 2001.
So there are your George, Lennie, Curley and Curley’s wife characters. Of course, if they were going to be faithful to the story, Hoss would have killed Arnie. This is the part that made me LOL as an adult. They sure tried awful hard to make it look like Hoss was going to do it, but I didn’t even get that when I was a kid. My parents did not watch “Bonanza” with us. Even if they did, I doubt they would have pointed out the “Of Mice and Men” connection to us. We were too young to read Steinbeck, so to us kiddies, “The Ape” was just spending another great hour watching some of our favorite Western characters deal with life’s problems on the Ponderosa.
The entire episode is on youtube. The final Hoss and Arnie confrontation takes place at 42:50. There are several smaller clips of the fight in the saloon and the Hoss and Arnie fight as well.
IMDB: Bonanza – The Ape