The Virginian (TV series)
The Virginian (known as The Men From Shiloh in its final year) is an AmericanWestern television series starring James Drury and Doug McClure, which aired on NBC from 1962 to 1971 for a total of 249 episodes. It was a spin-off from a 1958 summer series called Decision. 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.
Synopsis – Seasons 1 through 8
The main cast in the fall of 1964. Center: Lee J. Cobb (Judge Garth). From left: Roberta Shore (Betsy Garth), Clu Gulager (Emmett Ryker), Doug McClure (Trampas), Randy Boone (ranch hand), James Drury (The Virginian).
Set in the late nineteenth century, 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. Various references in the first season indicate that setting is about 1898 – in episode 5, “The Brazen Bell,” guest star George C. Scott quotes from Oscar Wilde‘s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was first published in 1898, in episode 7, “Riff Raff,” several of the main characters join Theodore Roosevelt‘s Rough Riders, the volunteer cavalry unit formed in 1898 and in episode 11, “The Devil’s Children,” the grave marker for one of the characters that dies in the episode states 1898 as the year of death. The series circled around the foreman’s quest to maintain an orderly lifestyle at Shiloh. The ranch was named after the two day American Civil War Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. The Virginian’s white Appaloosa 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 continues 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. Ranch hand Steve Hill (Gary Clarke) joined in episode storylines. Randy Boone joined the show in the second season as a youthful ranch hand who played guitar and sang duets with Betsy. (In 1965 Decca Records released an LP of songs from the two singing actors.) In the episode “First To Thine Own Self” (February 12, 1964) Boone’s character sings I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. This is odd in that the series was set in the 1880s but the song was written by Hank Williams in 1949. 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 3, season 4 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 5 to straighten out the series. He replaced the characters of Randy, Morgan 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 McIntire) 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 7 saw the entrance of David Sutton, played by David Hartman. However, Sutton was replaced in season 8 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 Ennio 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 (#18) in the top 30 prime-time shows, after the previous year saw the show slip out of the top 30 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 (see “rural purge” for more information). The final episode aired on March 24, 1971, ending the show’s nine-season run.
Main Cast – The Virginian
James Drury as the Virginian in the Universal series by the same name.
|First appearance||“The Executioners” (1962)|
|Last appearance||“Jump-up” (1971)|
|Created by||Owen Wister|
|Portrayed by||James Drury|
|Occupation||Foreman of the Shiloh Ranch in Medicine Bow, WY|
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. Respected by the citizens of Medicine Bow and the hands of the ranch, he was a prominent figure in Medicine Bow. In the series, the Virginian is the ranch foreman from the first episode. This way, the producers were able to establish a feeling that he had been there for a while, and thus keep a consistent story line. In the book, however, the Virginian was the deputy foreman, and only became the foreman after a promotion from the Judge. 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. James Drury first played The Virginian on the July 6, 1958 episode of Decision.
Starting in season 1, 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 4. In the episode “Morgan Starr”, it was stated that the Judge had left Shiloh to become Governor of Wyoming.
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, Doug McClure fitting 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.
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 that 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 2, but remained as a guest star for a few episodes in season 3, before departing for good.
Played by Roberta Shore, from seasons 1 through 4, 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 wellbeing. At the start of the series, Betsy is said to be fifteen years old. In a season 4 episode, “The Awakening,” she married a minister (Glenn Corbett), and moved to Pennsylvania, reflecting Roberta Shore’s departure from the show.
Played by Randy Boone, from seasons 2 through 4, Randy was a young ranch hand who played guitar and sang. He came into the show as Steve Hill was being phased out as a regular cast member during season 2. Before the new Grainger family was brought in for season 5, his character was discontinued.
Deputy Sheriff Emmett Ryker
At the beginning of season 3, a new cast regular was introduced. Clu Gulager played the restless deputy Emmett Ryker. Ryker was the first cast regular not to 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 5, then returning for the rest of season 5 before leaving for good toward the end of season 6.
Halfway through season 4, Morgan Starr was brought in to run the ranch for Judge Garth because of Garth’s appointment as Governor of Wyoming. John Dehner played a tough and demanding man, who was hard to become friends with, as the Virginian and Trampas soon found out. Fans disliked Dehner’s character, and he left the show at the end of the season.
After Roberta Shore left the show, Diane Roter was brought in as the Judge’s niece. At the end of season 4, along with Boone and Dehner, she left, making room for the new owners.
At the beginning of season 5, with Judge Garth, Betsy and Jennifer gone, a new character was brought in to run Shiloh. Charles Bickford played a stern but loving grandfather to his two grandchildren, Stacey (Don Quine) and Elizabeth (Sara Lane). Although the Virginian and Mr. Grainger never quite had the father–son relationship that the Virginian and Judge Garth had, they got along well. Charles Bickford’s death on 9 November 1967 was a shock to the cast. He was replaced by John McIntire as his brother Clay.
After the death of Charles Bickford, John McIntire was hired as his brother, Liz and Stace’s great uncle. Clay had a wife, Holly (Jeanette Nolan), and was the ranch owner for seasons 5 through 8. McIntire had earlier taken over the lead role in Wagon Train upon the death of Ward Bond, assuming the role of the new wagonmaster. In season 9, The Virginian was revamped, and McIntire, along with Jeanette Nolan, Sara Lane, David Hartman, and Tim Matheson, left the show.
Played by Don Quine, Stacey Grainger, the grandson of John Grainger, lived at Shiloh, beginning in season 5. He worked alongside Trampas, and the two become good friends. Stacey’s sister Elizabeth looked up to him as a big brother, and he filled the role more than competently. Quine’s two seasons on The Virginian were the only ones that finished in the Nielsen rating top 15 year end rankings.
Stacey’s younger sister Elizabeth (Sara Lane) was the granddaughter of John Grainger, starting in season 5. Trampas, the Virginian, and Stacey all look out for her wellbeing. Elizabeth was cast as a teenage girl enjoying her life on the frontier. She loved horses, riding the range, and going to the ever-present Saturday night dances. Sara Lane left the series in season 8.
Jeannette Nolan as Clay Grainger’s wife, Holly