The walk is Autry, as if the boots don't quite fit. The tilt of the head is vintage Lone Ranger. To start a shake, the hand comes up quickly from the low-slung belt, like Mix Pulling a .45.
But there is only one cowboy on earth who says, "Heidi, pardner."
Yes, Giant Rangers, it's Pick Temple, the ranch master of your childhoods. The man whose children's television show sat atop the Washington heap throughout the 1950s. The man who plugged more of Giant Food's Heidi baked goods than anyone. The man who can still recite The Pledge of a Pick Temple Giant Ranger (his fan club) from memory. And these days, a rare man who can look back and say he made a difference.
The difference was in the tone of Temple's show. Today, he would be . . . Pick. Travolta trendies would drop in for guest spots. Temple's cowboy outfits would be suede, and his rhinestone-studded guitar would deliver Ronstadt's latest.
But in the 50s, Temple could paternally urge his Rangers to brush their teeth and pick up their toys - and they would do it. His only guests were Lady the dog and Piccdo the pony, and they were enough. Temple owned only two cowboy outfits (both plains cotton), and his simple six-string never strayed from the likes of "On Top of Old Smokey."
Today, at 67, as he putters in his retirement home here, Temple says he can "hardly believe" that more than a quarter of a million Washingtonians between 3 and 16 signed up as Giant Rangers. But according to several local television executives long in the looth or the memory. Temple's popularity was at least that vast. "He was the first Washington TV superstar," said one man who used to help produce the show.
Julie and Tricia Nixon were among the legions who rode Piccolo around the studio. Various Kennedys sat roundeyed with fascination in Pick's Hayloft or bleachers. But it was thousands of Smiths and Joneses who made Pick a $1,000-a-week entertainer when that salary was still considered massive.
Temple's was a career he never wanted or sought.
Born in Washington, the son of the man who started the Temple Schools of shorthand, Lafayette Parker Temple II got his nickname from a sister who couldn't cope with his middle name.
Fascinated early with folk music, Temple would leave his Baltimore home - without his parents' permission - to ride freight trains around the Appalachians. Sometimes he would spend weeks learning and swapping songs. "If they'd had'em in my day, I probably would have been a hippie," he said.
But there was nothing antiestablishment about Temple's first career. As an economic statistician at the Census Bureau, he spent 20 years compiling retail sales figures for national economic reports.
On the side, but only for his family's pleasure and his own, he would plunk his guitar. "Every time I would play for an audience, I was terrified," Temple said. Still, he was a folk singer of some local renown, and he recorded a number of mountain tunes for the Library of Congress during the 1940s.
Television beckoned in 1948, when, for reasons Temple cannot recall, he decided to enter an amateur hour contest on WTTG. It was called Stars of Tomorrow, and after all the fat-lady jugglers and unicyclists had limped off, Temple got up, wowed'em with "Old Smokey" - and won.
Classically, Temple was noticed by a station executive, who asked him if he could do a 10-minute Sunday childrens cowboy show. "I didn't know cowboy songs, but I said, "Well, all right," Temple said. "And pretty soon . . ."
It actually took three years, as Temple moved to a half hour on Sunday, then three days a week and finally five, on WTOP-TV. The ranch concept and set arrived in 1951, and Giant signed on as sponsor in 1953, the same year Temple stopped trying to juggle two lives and resigned from the government.
Temple's Giant Ranch was cowboy to the teeth. If a Ranger had to go to the bathroom - and one always did - the youngster would ask to go to Kidney Canyon. Home was the bunkhouse. Friends were side-kicks. Cardboard cactuses abounded. No Ranger got on the air without chaps and a ten-gallon chapeau.
But Temple prided himself on speaking well, so he would subtly mix English lessons with all the Western hocum He would ask who wanted to read the Ranger Pledge on the air, and when three dozen voices would cry "I do!", he would reply, "Can't anyone say 'me?'" If a Ranger said "ain't," Pick would insist on a live correction.
Doing Giant Ranch live was a Giant Risk, of course.As Art Linkletter could tell you, Kids' TV shows don't always follow scripts.
Many was the time Piccolo decided to relieve himself - and he didn't bother with Kidney Canyon. Many was the child who froze solid and soundless when Temple asked his name. Many was the tyke who would fall during a relay race, start crying and have to be packed off to Mommy backstage.
Temple especially cherishes the memory of one little boy. Offered a Clark candy bar at the conclusion of a clark ad, the youngster declined. "My mommy says they're nothing but junk," he said. The only noise in the ensuing 10 seconds was the raucous laughter of the stage crew.
Still, Pick Temple, TV Star, was a force for good, not for slapstick."You wouldn't believe the parents who wrote in to ask me to ask Johnny to clean up his room," Temple said." Just because I said it, the kids would believe it, even though their parents and teachers were telling them the same things."
Temple admits that he is saddened that some of his Giant Rangers must have gone on to join the Drug Generation. "You can't get all of them," he said. "But most of them, I know, have turned out fine."
Temple left Washington after his Ranch was pulled from the air in 1962. He tried doing the same kind of program in philadelphia, but that blew over after 18 months. "I had to face it," he says. "The day of live kids' TV was over."
So it was back to Washington, where, for seven years, Temple worked as an audiovisual information officer at the Office of Economic Opportunity. He came to Arizona in 1972. He has played folk songs before a few audiences and even dickered briefly with a Phoenix TV station that was looking for a kids' show host. "But I'm retired - firmly," Temple says.
"But, you know, I miss it, sure I do. The kids always felt so secure at my ranch. They knew the format as well as I did. Even today, I get reminders."
In the most unexpected forms. A few weeks back, a man came to clean the Temple rugs. He noticed a guitar that reads Pick Temple, in mother-of-pearl capitals, down the neck.
You guessed it, pardners. The rug man was a Ranger. So right there in the living room, he and Pick sat and sang the Heidi jingle, to the tune of "Old Smokey." And they knew every syllable.