David Canary may forever be Bonanza’s Candy Canaday in our hearts, but he’ll always remember his stint on another classic TV Western most fondly.
Canary joined the Cartwright ranch in 1967 and stuck around until the series ended in 1973. And the lively cowboy Canaday character ended up becoming one of his most iconic career roles.
Because of the part, the actor went on to enjoy a long-running television career. And before he passed away in 2015, he found a home in the soap opera world that earned him five Daytime Emmys.
But despite the fact that David Canary’s stint on Bonanza is what made him famous, he believes his career-defining moment happened about six months before transforming into Candy Canaday.
While talking to the Archive of American Television, Canary said that it was his guest appearance on Gunsmoke that made him most “proud.”
Before ‘Bonanza,’ David Canary Played a Lovelorn Outlaw on ‘Gunsmoke’
David Canary starred in an April 1967 two-parter Gunsmoke episode called Nitro. He played a drifter named George who helped a gang of outlaws extract nitroglycerin from dynamite so they could blow up safes and go on a string of robberies.
While the man ends up helping the criminals steal from the good people of Dodge City, he didn’t entirely do it for the riches. Instead, he did it to earn just enough money to impress a pretty girl down at the saloon.
The complexity of the lovelorn vagabond turned out to be a dream to portray for David Canary. And in the end, he thought he pulled it off perfectly.
“I don’t say this very often, but I’m proud of that piece of work,” he admitted. “It was a wonderfully done show.”
And fans would likely agree with Canary. George’s part in the story was particularly intense for Gunsmoke. While pulling off his potentially lethal tricks, the cameras would focus on the character for long spells of time. And with each move he made, audiences didn’t know if it would be his last. Sweat would drop down his forehead and drip to his arms. His breath would be short and labored. He was terrified, and it showed.
“It was maybe some of the best work I’ve ever done,” Canary continued. “It was a wonderful role.”
The producers agreed that the future Bonanza muscleman nailed the tension, too, and because of that, they extended David Canary’s role in the episodes—just so they could draw out that heart-stopping emotion.
“I was hired for an hour,” he continued. “We shot an hour. And they looked at it and said, ‘We can stretch this into two hours.’”