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Melody Patterson, who played the sharpshooting Wrangler Jane on the screwball ABC comedy F Troop, has died, her co-star Larry Storch said on Facebook. She was 66.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we can let you know our beloved Wrangler Jane, Melody Patterson passed away. Our hearts are sad today. RIP Sweet Melody. We love you,” Storch, 92, who played Corporal Randolph Agarn on the show, wrote.
Patterson died of multiple organ failure at Point Lookout Nursing & Rehab in Hollister, Mo., according to a local report. A friend said on Facebook that the actress had been in poor health after breaking her back a few years ago.
Patterson was married to Hawaii Five-O star James MacArthur, the adopted son of famed actress Helen Hayes, from 1970-75. She portrayed a Hollywood starlet opposite him in the 1968 film The Angry Breed, and she guest-starred in three episodes of his CBS show.
F Troop, set in an Army fort on the western frontier in the years after the Civil War, ran on ABC for just two seasons, from September 1965 to April 1967, but was a big hit in syndication for decades after that.
The blonde Patterson, a native of Inglewood, Calif., auditioned for the part of Jane when she was just 15 (she had told the producers that she was 18). Her tomboy character, which ran the trading post in town, was smitten with the bumbling Captain Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry), but he was too shy to acknowledge her affections.
When she did manage to kiss him, Wilton said, “Please, Jane, not in front of the men.”
“She was extremely independent,” Patterson said of her character in Tom Lisanti’s book Drive-in Dream Girls: A Galaxy of B-Movie Starlets of the Sixties. “She owned her own store, she ran the mail and she could outride and outshoot anybody else in town. She was a very self-reliant teenager, which I always saw her as.”
Just before F Troop, Patterson had an uncredited role as a dancer in the film version of Bye Bye Birdie (1965). She enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School in the ninth grade, left for Downey High School and then filmed the pilot for F Troop during Christmas vacation.
She said that by the time producers realized she was not 18, the series was already on the air and doing well.
After F Troop, she did a show on Armed Forces Radio for troops in Vietnam and starred in The Cycle Savages (1969), with Bruce Dern as the leader of a biker gang. Posters for the film, executive produced by Casey Kasem, said: “Hot steel between their legs … the wildest bunch on wheels.”
Survivors include her third husband, Vern Miller.
Updated 1:40 p.m. on Aug 26: Details of Patterson’s death were added.
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