Happy 55th Birthday to “The Virginian.”

An early publicity photo from 1962 featuring the original cast. Left to right: James Drury, Doug McClure, Pippa Scott, Gary Clarke, Roberta Shore and Lee J. Cobb.

“The Virginian” is 55 today. It was first broadcast on NBC September 19, 1962 where it was promoted as the first 90 minute TV Western (length before adverts approx. 74 min.). A testament to its lasting quality is the fact the show is still in syndication today.

Cowboy Way Festival : Gene Autry Museum : May 5-7, 2017.

untitledJAMES DRURY will be making a personal appearance at the “Cowboy Way Festival: Gene Autry Museum, Oklahoma from May 5-7, 2017. Roberta Shore and Gary Clarke will also be in attendance. Sadly the upcoming “Cowboy Up For Vets” event has been postponed this year.

“The Awakening” (4:05) – Roberta Shore Leaves ‘The Virginian’

Shore“The Awakening” (4:05) directed by Leon Benson, written by Robert Crean and broadcast October 17, 1965, was a turning point for The Virginian and marked the end of the classic early period of the show (1962-1965). When Betsy Garth (Roberta Shore) married former minister David Henderson (Glenn Corbett), declared “I don’t need Shiloh anymore” and left for her new home in Pennsylvania as a preacher’s wife a vital character in The Virginian departed. Shore, a dedicated Mormon, was written out the show at her own request to concentrate on her own real-life marriage.

Roberta Shore would be replaced with a short one season run by Diane Roter. Sara Lane as Elizabeth Grainger would actually appear in more episodes than Shore but would never match her acting ability. Shore’s departure was a major loss for the show and one-half of a double body blow in the unsuccessful Season 4 when Lee J. Cobb also departed. The Virginian would never be the same again although the arrival of the Grainger family at Shiloh Ranch in Season 5 would see a return to form for The Virginian.

(Full details including author interviews with Roberta Shore, James Drury, Randy Boone, Frank Price and Joel Rogosin can be found in my book “A History of Television’s The Virginian 1962-1971” published by McFarland & Co.).

The Virginian (James Drury) and Trampas (Doug McClure) relect on Betsy's imminent departure from Shiloh Ranch in "The Awakening" (4:05).
The Virginian (James Drury) and Trampas (Doug McClure) reflect on Betsy’s imminent departure from Shiloh Ranch in “The Awakening” (4:05).

Memphis Film Fair Western Stars Group Photo

Front Row:(seated) Lou Elias (stuntman brother of James Stacy leaning on chair) James Stacy, Michael Dante, BarBara Luna, James Drury, Roberta Shore, and William Smith. Middle Row: Peter Ford, Dennis Holmes, Johnny Washbrook, Don Quine, Randy Boone, Gary Clarke, and Jimmy Baird. Back Row: John Saxon, Tony Numkena, Robert Wolders, James Hampton, John Buttram, Roger Mobley, and Bobby Diamond. (Thanks to Ray Nielsen)

The Virginian Reunion Photos – Memphis (June 2-4, 2011)

Memphis Film Festival organizer Ray Nielsen has kindly given me permission to post his photographs from the recent Virginian reunion in Memphis, Tennessee.  From left to right are : Don Quine, Gary Clarke, Roberta Shore, Randy Boone, James Drury and BarBara Luna (Doug McClure’s 2nd wife). This was the first time Don Quine had attended a Virginian reunion event.

The Virginian “The Executioners” (1:01) with Hugh O’Brian

The first episode of The Virginian, originally broadcast September 19, 1962, is a mediocre story that gives little hint of future heights.  Hugh O’Brian and Colleen Dewhurst dominate scenes while the regular cast are reduced to background players.

Even the Revue publicity still of the period emphasizes O’Brian over Roberta Shore and James Drury.

This episode premieres on Encore Westerns on January 1st followed by a January 4th broadcast at 4.30 p.m. EST.

To anyone watching The Virginian for the first time don’t be discouraged by this episode.  The first season is uneven in quality with the Charles Marquis Warren episodes heavily re-edited (see my book for complete background details to the turmoil at NBC as told to me by executive producer Frank Price).

The first season does include some excellent episodes and is also of interest for demonstrating the early and convoluted evolution of The Virginian television series.  Many episodes are atypical of the rest of the series and clearly owe a debt to 1950s Universal-International Westerns.