Reflections on writing A History of Television’s The Virginian

I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts on the people I interviewed for my book.  Personalities stand out immediately when you conduct interviews.  James Drury is a commanding personality who speaks with great authority and care for his choice of words.  Gary Clarke is a great storyteller and a funny guy.  Roberta Shore still has the girlish charm that made her so memorable as Betsy.  Randy Boone was one of my favorite interview subjects.  Genuinely down-to-earth and humble about his achievements. Sara Lane is an enthusiastic, upbeat lady who I loved to interview. 

The most knowledgable person I interviewed was without doubt Frank Price. He knows more about The Virginian than anyone alive today, having written the original format for the show and serving as executive producer.  He literally gave me months of his time and many rare behind the scenes photographs for my book.  His wife, former actress Katherine Crawford was also extremely helpful.  She provided the story behind her on set friction with James Drury on “Felicity’s Spring” and working with Doug McClure.

It was obvious Tane McClure had great love and affection for her father Doug as she told me she was looking at his framed photograph on her desk as I interviewed her.  Tane also kindly provided family photographs.  I attempted to capture the personality of the people I interview by presenting my interviews in a Q&A format.  I hope it worked.

After my book was published a few people stand out in my memory.  I’ll always remember my wife telling me James Drury was on the phone as I came from our mailbox.  He told me how much he enjoyed my book.  I thought it very kind of him to take the trouble to call me personally.  Another pleasant surprise was receiving a handwritten letter from Randy Boone saying that he actually appreciated The Virginian more after reading my book.  I’ve posted the reaction of The Virginian cast and producers in my Reviews section.

Of course there were people who didn’t respond to my attempts to interview them.  That is always out of the control of any author.  Timing is a factor. People may be unavailable because of work or family commitments or they simply might not wish to talk.  I was able to contact Sara Lane with weeks left on my deadline.  So I am always extremely thankful for the people who agree to be interviewed on any of my projects.

Writing my book on The Virginian television series was not only a challenge, but also very rewarding on a personal level in that I got to speak with many of my favorite actors, actresses and producers about my favorite television Western series.  Back when I was watching The Virginian every Friday night on BBC 1 I never imagined I would one day speak with the cast and producers and write a history of the show.

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20 thoughts on “Reflections on writing A History of Television’s The Virginian”

  1. Thanks for you very interesting thoughts on writing the book, Paul. I got the impression that Doug was a lot more help to Katharine Crawford than Jim, he made her job a lot easier, whereas for an actress just starting out, to have the actor you’re playing opposite walk off, as Jim did, and leave her to speak her lines to a script-girl or an empty space, can’t have been very encouraging. Her insecurity wasn’t helped by that, but I think Doug made her her feel more at ease and encouraged her more. As I’ve said before, I would love to hear what the former child actors Doug worked with on the show have to say about him, Kurt Russell, Clint Howard, Billy Mumy, Michael Burns and Lisa Gerritsen. I’m going over to Texas again next month for my nephew’s wedding, it’s great pity there isn’t a Virginian reunion taking place around then in Houston, Austin or nearby. I would love to meet Gary, Roberta and Randy, who all sound really nice and friendly. At least I have signed photos of all of them now, thanks to my friend Hoosh and maybe, just maybe, there may be an opportunity to meet Jim and Carl Ann again while I’m over there. Your excellent book will always be the Virginian Fan’s “Bible”, I must check the library to see how many people have taken it out, I mentioned it on the Waterford Facebook page.

    1. Have a great time in Texas Nicholas. I contacted Michael Burns for my book but he never responded. Doug appears to have been an easygoing person to work with. As you know Randy’s memories of him in my book indicate he was fun to be around.

  2. Thanks for the interesting update. The Virginian was an enjoyable western. For TV watching, there were so many to choose from back then. Would really love to hear some insights like this re the Pete Duel book. Any planned?

  3. Thanks for your thougts about your bok what I’m reading at the moment. It’s very usefull to get more information i’ll use to complete my website about shiloh. and it’s very funny to read about the backround when James Drury is seen only without his horse in several episodes and so on.

    Thanks for this book! There is a exam work existing about the german version called “Die Leute von der Shiloh Ranch” but it’s not allowed to get it through interlibrary loan; maybe I’ll get it on the short way between librarian and librarian:-) If I#ll get it, than i’ll compare their thoughts about the tv show in Germany with yours…

    Greets from Germany
    Katrin

    1. Thanks Katrin. I know The Virginian is very popular in Germany and have viewed a copy of the German opening and closing titles plus some of the German dubbing of the main characters.
      I’m not aware of the German essay on “Die Luete von der Shiloh Ranch.” If you manage to obtain a copy I’d be interested in hearing more about it.

      1. Are the German opening and closing titles different from the US versions (apart from the language, of course)?

      2. Paul,
        I’ll try it and sure, if i get the essay, I’ll send you a copy. promised. But it can take some time, I’ve to contact the university institute to get the authors address and then contact the autrhor and so on…
        There are some more books about some episodes of “Die Leute von der Shiloh Ranch”, till today I found 4. Each of them contains a story and some photos of the tv-show. I got one and I expect the others within the next days. It’s funny I didn’t found the episode they described in the book as tv-show. Maybe the author mixed some episodes together? I’ve to search closer, I think and try to watch all of the german episodes. At the moment I’ve got all episodes including the 6th season.
        Greets
        Katrin

      3. Well you can always check the episodes against my book Katrin. As you know I’ve included a complete nine-season guide. If other episodes are listed in the German books I have to imagine the confusion must be caused by the German title translation. Or as you say, the author simple gave the wrong episode details. Or certain episodes were edited for the German market?
        Were all German episodes the complete 75 minute (without commercials) length Katrin?

  4. Been a fan of this series for over 45 years — even got to see Mr. Drury at a rodeo here in Jackson, Mississippi. That was the biggest thrill of my young years!!

      1. Well spotted Bob! A true fan. 🙂 I notice there’s a Monongahela Cocktail drink comprising of bourbon whiskey and icing sugar!

  5. Love the “Virginian” tv series.
    I watched when I was a kid but do not remember it.
    Sure am glad it is back on.
    Sorry Cobb, and McClure have since passed.
    Many of the ranch hands I have seen in the Virginian I have also seen in other
    westerns like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and many more. I believe James Drury lives now or used to live around here(Austin,Tx) somewhere.

    1. Yes Charles Bickford, John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan have also passed. As you probably know from watching The Big Valley – L.Q. Jones (Belden) featured in a few episodes as a villain. And James Drury guest starred in Wagon Train and Rawhide to name a few before he was cast as the Virginian.
      Yes Mr. Drury has lived in Texas for many years.

      1. Until today I did not realize that there were other owners of Shiloh.
        I have only seen the reruns of the ones where Lee J Cobb played the owner on the Insp channel. There was a marathon of the
        stars favorite episodes this past weekend.
        I guess I have a lot of background on this show to learn about.
        I am also reading up on Gunsmoke. I know that Miss Kitty(Amanda Blake) married an
        ex-city counselman from here Austin that gave her Aids. I love westerns and it’s actors
        I met Ken Curtis and his Mule here when I was a kid at a parade.

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