INSP have begun broadcasting the Morgan Starr episodes. Arguably the least popular addition to the Shiloh “family” – Morgan Starr succeeded Judge Garth as the boss at Shiloh Ranch for a brief period during Season 4. The dark tone of Starr’s episodes was in stark contrast to Judge Garth. Starr’s stern, abrasive manner and military type persona was ill fitting for a show that relied on a friendly extended family at Shiloh Ranch.
Even the Virginian’s character was compromised and at times he took orders from Starr with an eagerness that bordered on servitude as in ‘Harvest of Strangers’ (4:22). It’s hard to accept Judge Garth would have recommended a surly authoritarian to succeed him at Shiloh. It is this basic lack of character continuity that adds to the confusion for the viewer in late Season 4. With the departure of Betsy and Judge Garth the introduction of Morgan Starr was an unwise decision by executive producer Norman MacDonnell as it darkened the tone of The Virginian and Shiloh Ranch.
There is no doubting John Dehner’s acting pedigree. These episodes can be now be viewed with the benefit of hindsight and positive aspects are evident. But at the time of broadcast this was a dangerous direction for the show to take and almost resulted in cancellation due to falling ratings.
When John Dehner departed his role as Morgan Starr in The Virginian after the misguided season four you would think his days on The Virginian were behind him. However, in a case of selective amnesia by the producer, in October 1969 he made a brief return in “Halfway Back from Hell” (8:03) as a different character, Marshall Eliaza Teague.
Dehner has already made two guest star appearances on The Virginian as different characters in 1963 in “Echo of Another Day” (1:26) and “To Make This Place Remember” (2:02) before his brief stint as Morgan Starr. The same applied to Charles Bickford who appeared in “The Devil’s Children” (1:11) as Tucker McCallum.
Much like a theatre company familiar actors such as Leslie Nielsen, William Windom and Tom Tryon among others appeared in different roles throughout the nine seasons. However when an actor had been a recurring character such as Morgan Starr, Dehner’s return in a different role seemed unnecessary for the continuity of the series.