Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Virginian (1962 - 1971)

The Virginian (The Men From Shiloh in its final year) was an American Western television series starring James Drury and Doug McClure, which aired on NBC from 1962 to 1971 for a total of 249 episodes. Filmed in color, The Virginian became television's first 90-minute western series (75 minutes excluding commercial breaks). Immensely successful, it ran for nine seasons—television's third longest running western. It follows Bonanza at fourteen seasons and 430 episodes, and Gunsmoke at twenty seasons and 635 episodes.

Set around the year 1886, and loosely based on the 1902 novel; by Owen Wister, the series revolved around the tough foreman of the Shiloh Ranch, played by James Drury. He and his top hand Trampas, (Doug McClure) were the only characters to remain with the show for the entire run. As in the book, the foreman went only by the name The Virginian. The Virginian's real name was never revealed in the nine years the show was on the air. The series was set in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and circled around the foreman's quest to maintain an orderly lifestyle at Shiloh. The ranch was named after the Battle of Shiloh which took place for two days in Tennessee during the American Civil War. The Virginian's white appaloosa on the show was named Joe D., and Trampas' buckskin horse was named Buck. As the show progressed, Trampas became the more developed of the characters, and it continued to be the role for which actor Doug McClure was best known.

There were several cast changes throughout the program's run. In the first, second and third seasons, the owner of the ranch was Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb). His daughter Betsy (Roberta Shore) lived at the ranch with him, and had a sister relationship with the ranch hands. Randy Boone joined the show in the second season as a youthful ranch hand who played guitar and sang duets with Roberta Shore's Betsy Garth. (In 1965 Decca Records released an LP of songs from the two singing actors.) In the third season, Clu Gulager was added to the show as the restless deputy, Emmett Ryker. After executive producer Frank Price was replaced by Norman MacDonnell at the end of season three, season four became a troublesome time. When Roberta Shore left the cast, MacDonnell added a new leading woman - Diane Roter, who played Jennifer, the Judge's niece. When Lee J. Cobb also left the show, John Dehner was brought in as the new owner, Morgan Starr. His demanding presence and tough demeanor did not fit well with the show, nor did fans like his character. Frank Price was brought back on board for season five to straighten out the series. He replaced the characters of Starr and Jennifer with a few actors who brought back the family atmosphere to the show. John Grainger (played by Charles Bickford) became the new owner. Elizabeth Grainger (played by Sara Lane), was John Grainger's granddaughter. Her brother Stacey (Don Quine), rounded out this new cast. Although Price left again, the series continued smoothly in the pattern that he set. In season 6, Clay Grainger (played by John McLintre) took over ownership after his brother's apparent departure "on business." (John Grainger's abrupt series exit, due to Charles Bickford's sudden death on November 9, 1967, was never properly explained onscreen). The sixth season also added Holly Grainger, (played by Jeanette Nolan, McIntire's real-life wife) as the wife of Clay. Season seven saw the entrance of David Sutton, (played by David Hartman). However, Sutton was replaced in season eight with a younger hand, Jim Horn (played by Tim Matheson).

In season 9, the name of the program was changed to The Men from Shiloh and the look of the series was completely redesigned. Ownership was changed once more, and Colonel Alan MacKenzie (Stewart Granger) took over. In several countries, including the United Kingdom, the show went under the extended title, The Virginian: Men From Shiloh.  The opening theme song was changed to a new one, composed by Enio Morricone, and the look of the show was changed reflecting a style similar to spaghetti westerns, which were very popular at the time. The hats worn featured much broader brims and higher crowns. The clothing was also jauntier and more imaginative. These changes brought a better ranking (No18) in the top thirty prime time shows, after the previous year saw the show slip out of the top thirty rankings for the first time ever. The final season operated on a 'rotating lead actor' basis of the four stars, with normally just one lead appearing each week. Two of the four lead actors, (Lee Majors and Doug McClure) never appeared together in the last season. The ranch itself played a very nominal part in season 9, with most scripts featuring the four stars away from the ranch. There seemed little that could save it, as the final season brought in several big guest stars to the remaining episodes. The studio and network were set on ending the series, as evidenced by rivals CBS and ABC making demographic moves away from rural-oriented shows. The final episode aired on March 24, 1971, ending the show's 9-season run.

Played by James Drury, the Virginian was the tough foreman of the Shiloh Ranch. Based loosely on the character in the Owen Wister novel, he always stood his ground firmly. The Virginian was best friends with top ranch hand, Trampas. When making the show, the producers chose not to reveal the Virginian's real name, and little about his past was actually made known. This succeeded in making the Virginian an intriguing and mysterious character. The foreman worked under four ranch owners throughout the series; Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb), John Grainger (Charles Bickford), Clay Grainger (John McIntire), and Col. Mackenzie (Stewart Granger). James Drury and Doug McClure were the only cast members to remain with the show for all nine seasons.

Trampas Played by Doug McClure, the character of Trampas took on a completely different personality from the character in the novel. In Owen Wister's book, Trampas was a villain throughout the story and at the end was shot by the Virginian. However, in the TV series, the producers chose to make Trampas a fun-loving and rowdy character. They accomplished that quite well, and Doug McClure fit the part perfectly. Trampas, a sandy haired, rowdy cowhand who eventually settled down on the ranch was by far the most developed character in the series. Several episodes were made detailing his past. Doug McClure, as Trampas, added a touch of light comedy to the series to counterbalance the Virginian's serious manner.

Steve Hill Played by Gary Clarke, Steve was a good friend of both Trampas and the Virginian. He was constantly getting Trampas in and out of his usual scrapes. The on-screen chemistry which Gary Clarke and Doug McClure possessed reflected their good friendship off screen, and was loved by fans worldwide. Although he was with the show at the beginning, Gary Clarke was being phased out of the show at the end of season two, but remained as a guest star for a few episodes in season three, before departing for good.

Judge Garth Starting in season one, Lee J. Cobb succeeded in making Judge Garth a stern man with a soft side to his personality. The Judge acted as a father figure to the Virginian. Respected by all the townspeople, as well as his employees, the Judge was often looked to for matters to be settled. Lee J. Cobb left the series near the end of season four. In the episode "Morgan Starr", it was stated that the Judge had left Shiloh to be Governor of Wyoming.

Betsy Garth played by Roberta Shore, from seasons one through four, Betsy was the only daughter of Judge Garth. Early in the series, it was made clear that she was adopted, but nevertheless the Judge treated her as his own. Betsy and the ranch hands had a sort of brother-sister relationship. Trampas and Steve had a particular soft spot for her, often jumping to protect her, and looking out for her well-being. At the start of the series, Betsy is said to be fifteen years old. In a season four episode, "The Awakening," she married a minister (Glenn Corbett), and moves to Pennsylvania, reflecting Roberta Shore's departure from the show.

Deputy Sheriff Emmett Ryker.  At the beginning of season two, a new cast regular was introduced. Clu Gulager played the restless deputy, Emmett Ryker. Ryker was the first cast regular to not live on Shiloh. Once a hired gun, Ryker decided to settle in Medicine Bow before he took his former profession too far. Clu Gulager remained with the show for four seasons, leaving briefly at the beginning of season five, and then returning for the rest of season 5 before leaving for good near the end of season six.

The Virginian prevailed or held steady against its network competition, topping in its first season Dwayne Hickman's The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which ceased production in 1963. In its fifth season, The Virginian faced competition from another Western, one also set in Wyoming: ABC's The Monroes, starring Michael Anderson Jr. and Barbara Hershey as orphans trying to hold their family of siblings together in the wilderness. In its sixth season, The Virginian also rated higher than ABC's Custer starring Wayne Maunder in the title role of Lieutenant, Colonel George Armstrong CusterCuster was cancelled late in 1967 after seventeen episodes. 
James Drury has been an active advocate of the series since the end of the original airings. He has traveled across the United States, Ireland, and several other countries, appearing in Western-themed conventions, festivals, celebrations, news programs, and TV specials to promoteThe Virginian. He, along with Gary Clarke and Roberta Shore have participated in interviews for the Encore Western Channel. Drury has also reunited with key cast members Randy Boone, Gary Clarke and Roberta Shore at these events.

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