Wagon Train: The Willy Moran Story
Wagon Train is an American Western series that ran on NBC 1957 – 1962 and then on ABC 1962 – 1965, although the network also aired daytime repeats, as Major Adams, Trailmaster and Trailmaster (post-1961 episodes without original series lead Ward Bond), from January 1963 to September 1965. The show debuted at #15 in the Nielsen ratings, rose to #2 in the next three seasons, and peaked at #1 in the 1961-62 television season. After moving to ABC in the autumn of 1962, the ratings began to decline, and Wagon Train did not again make the Top 20 listing. The series initially starred veteran movie supporting actor Ward Bond as the wagon master, later replaced upon his death by John McIntire, and Robert Horton as the scout, subsequently replaced by lookalike Robert Fuller a year after Horton had decided to leave the series. The series was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. and Ward Bond, and harkens back to the early widescreen wagon train epic The Big Trail (1930) starring John Wayne and featuring Bond in his first major screen appearance playing a supporting role. Horton’s buckskin outfit as the scout in the first season of the television series resembles Wayne’s, who also played the wagon train’s scout in the earlier film.
Wagon Train is an American Western series that ran on NBC 1957–62 and then on ABC 1962–65, although the network also aired daytime repeats, as Major Adams, Trailmasterand Trailmaster (post-1961 episodes without original series lead Ward Bond), from January 1963 to September 1965. The show debuted at #15 in the Nielsen ratings, rose to #2 in the next three seasons, and peaked at #1 in the 1961–62 television season. After moving to ABC in the autumn of 1962, the ratings began to decline, and Wagon Train did not again make the Top 20 listing.
The series initially starred veteran movie supporting actor Ward Bond as the wagon master, later replaced upon his death by John McIntire, and Robert Horton as the scout, subsequently replaced by lookalike Robert Fuller a year after Horton had decided to leave the series.
The series was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. and Ward Bond, and harkens back to the early widescreen wagon train epic The Big Trail (1930) starring John Wayne and featuring Bond in his first major screen appearance playing a supporting role. Horton’s buckskin outfit as the scout in the first season of the television series resembles Wayne’s, who also played the wagon train’s scout in the earlier film.
The show chronicles the adventures of a wagon train as it makes its way from Missouri to California. There were 284 episodes in 8 seasons: the first aired on September 18, 1957, and the final segment was broadcast on May 2, 1965. Some of the actors appearing onWagon Train included Ward Bond as wagon master Major Seth Adams (seasons 1–4),Robert Horton as scout Flint McCullough (seasons 1–5), John McIntire as wagon master Christopher Hale (seasons 4–8), Robert Fuller as scout Cooper Smith (seasons 7–8), Denny Scott Miller as Duke Shannon (seasons 5–7), Michael Burns as Barnaby West (seasons 4–8), Frank McGrath as Charlie Wooster (cook, seasons 1–8), and Terry Wilsonas Bill Hawks (seasons 1-8). McIntire replaced Bond as wagon master upon Bond’s death at age 57, and Fuller replaced Horton as scout a season after Horton opted to depart, an obvious choice since Fuller had already played a lead in another western series (Laramieon NBC) and physically resembled Horton. Horton and Fuller even shared the same birthday, albeit nine years apart.
Ward Bond was billed above Robert Horton in the opening credits, but Horton was later billed above relative newcomer John McIntire, and McIntire and Fuller rotated top billing from episode to episode when Fuller joined the series in the seventh season. During the sixth season, Horton had left and Fuller had not yet replaced him, so McIntire carried the show with the supporting cast. Neither Bond nor McIntire, both veterans of dozens of supporting roles in films, routinely played the lead in theatrical films, although Bond did in at least one B-picture. Rivals Bond and Horton frequently quarreled on the set, an extensively publicized development at the time, lending an element of verisimilitude to their disputes within the episodes themselves.
The series aired for most of its run in black-and-white, except for five color episodes (October 4, 1961 – Polly Bergen – “Kitty Albright Story”, November 1, 1961 – Carolyn Jones – “Jenna Douglas Story”, December 6, 1961 – Dana Wynter – “Lizabeth Ann Calhoun Story”, February 7, 1962 – Gary Clarke – “Lonnie Fallon Story”, and March 14, 1962 – Paul Fix – “Amos Billings Story”) during the fifth season (1961–62) on NBC (to help promote the sales of parent company RCA’s color television sets). The series returned to its original black-and-white format for the remainder of its run on ABC, damaging the ratings, until its final season in 1964, when it again began to telecast its episodes in color. (ABC did not begin broadcasting in color until 1964.)
The series used the cut-down, shortened wagons common to television series budgets, as opposed to the full-length oxen-drawn Conestoga wagons prominent in a forerunner of the show, the 1930 wagon train film The Big Trail, which features 27-year-old Ward Bond (occasionally film clips from Hollywood movies, showing a train of Conestogas, were edited into the episodes).
- Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams (1957–61, seasons 1–4). Bond died of a heart attack at age 57 on November 5, 1960, in the middle of the fourth season, and was replaced by John McIntire as wagon master. No explanation was ever given on the show.
- Robert Horton as Flint McCullough (1957–62, seasons 1–5).
- John McIntire as Christopher Hale (1961–65, seasons 4-8). McIntire had guest starred in a Season 3 episode in the role of Andrew Hale.
- Robert Fuller as Cooper Smith (1963–65, seasons 7–8). Fuller and McIntire rotated top billing from week to week on the series.
- Frank McGrath as Charlie Wooster (1957–65, seasons 1–8).
- Terry Wilson as Bill Hawks (1957–65, seasons 1–8).
- Michael Burns as Barnaby West (1960–65, seasons 6–8).
- Denny Miller asDuke Shannon (1961–64, seasons 5–7).
Notable Guest Stars
- Anna Maria Alberghetti carried the lead in “The Conchita Vasquez Story” (1959), cast as part of a gang of Comancheros who intend to attack the wagon train to steal rifles headed to the United States Army. Conchita decides to leave the Comancheros and move west after she falls in love with the scout Flint McCullough, but she is killed by bullet from her own people when they ambush the wagon train.
- Roscoe Ates appeared in the 1958 episode “The Sacramento Story” in his later familiar role of “Old Timer”.
- Claude Akins appeared during the show’s first four episodes
- Carla Balenda appeared as Martha Leeds in “The Annie Duggan Story” (1963), credited as Sally Bliss
- Trevor Bardette, as Will Rudge in “The Levi Hale Story” (1962), as Sheriff Lund in “The Lily Legend Story” and as Henry Ludlow in “The Antone Rose Story” (both 1963)
- William Bendix, in the second season, played a sea captain who had shanghaied Adams and Wooster in “Around the Horn”.
- Charles Bickford and Roger Smith, five months before he was cast on 77 Sunset Strip, appear in “The Daniel Barrister Story”, which aired on April 16, 1958 (Season 1, Episode 29). In this segment, Daniel Barrister, played by Bickford, objects to medical treatment for his wife, Jenny, the victim of a wagon accident. Meanwhile, Dr. Peter H. Culver, played by Smith, has successfully fought a smallpox epidemic in a nearby town. He is brought to the wagon train by scout Flint McCullough to treat Mrs. Barrister. Viewers never know if Barrister yielded to allow Dr. Culver to treat Jenny.
- Theodore Bikel appeared in “The Dr. Denker Story”, season five, episode 14, in the role of a traveling musician who is transporting a mysterious shipment of dynamite to San Francisco for the United States Army.
- Ernest Borgnine appeared five times on Wagon Train, including twice as “Willy Moran.” In the pilot episode on September 18, 1957, Borgnine’s Moran is revealed as a former boxer consumed by alcoholism but seeking sobriety. Michael Winkelman guest starred as young “Ben Palmer” in this episode, as he was beginning his regular role as Little Luke McCoy on ABC’s The Real McCoys.On October 1, 1958, Borgnine reprised the role of Willy Moran in the episode “Around the Horn.” Major Adams had fought with Moran at the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Lon Chaney, Jr., appeared as Louis Roque in “The Jose Morales Story”, Season 4, episode 5.
- Jan Clayton and Beulah Bondi highlight “The Prairie Story”, written by Jean Holloway, which examines how the forbidden prairie, particularly the strong wind, plays havoc on the lives of the women on the wagon train. This theme is also examined in the novelThe Wind by Dorothy Scarborough. Robert Horton carries the lead in this episode which aired on February 1, 1961, three months after the death of Ward Bond.
- Lou Costello appeared as the title character in one of his last roles, “The Tobias Jones Story” (1958). It was written by Harry Von Zell, the announcer and comedian from the Burns and Allen television series, who also appeared in that episode. Von Zell also appeared in the 1964 episode “The Link Cheney Story”.
- Walter Coy, one of the narrators of the 1955-56 Frontier anthology series on NBC, appeared five times on Wagon Train between 1957 and 1964.
- Johnny Crawford, child actor best known for his role as Mark McCain on The Rifleman, appeared in “The Sally Potter Story” (1958).
- Yvonne Craig guest-starred in “The Link Cheney Story” (1964).
- Ronnie Dapo, then a child actor, appeared in the episode “The Greenhorn Story”. He was later a regular on Room for One More and The New Phil Silvers Show.
- Linda Darnell guest starred in “The Dora Gray Story” (January 29, 1958) as an attractive young woman trying to reach San Francisco. Dora is traveling west with an unsavory peddler, played by John Carradine, who is selling guns to the Indians. Robert Horton carries this episode, with Mike Connors and Dan Blocker portraying corrupt U.S. Army officers.
- Bette Davis appeared in three episodes as different characters; as Bettina May (1961), Ella Lindstrom (1959) and Madame Elizabeth McQueeney (1959).
- Laraine Day played the title character in “The Cassie Vance Story” episode.
- Frank Dekova plays the lead in “The Isaiah Quickfox Story” (January 31, 1965), a mystery set in a ghost town amid a stunning bat cave. Andrew Prine and John Doucette guest star in the roles of Eric Camden and Bert Enders, respectively. Cast members Robert Fuller and Frank McGrath carry this episode.
- Angie Dickinson portrays the lead role in “The Clara Duncan Story” (1959).
- Charles Drake played the title character in the 1964 episode, “The Link Cheney Story.”
- Guest stars Dan Duryea and Jane Wyman with John McIntire, 1962.
- Dan Duryea made seven appearances on the series, his first role being that of the title character in “The Cliff Grundy Story”, broadcast on December 25, 1957. Cliff Grundy, an old friend of Flint McCullough’s, joins with the Wagon Train in time for a Buffalo hunt. After an accident, Cliff and Flint are stranded in the wild, trying to survive until they can reach a small town. This was one of Dan Duryea’s rare “sympathetic” roles, and one that he would reprise for the final Wagon Train episode of the same season. In his fourth appearance on Wagon Train, he played a mentally unstable man obsessed by demons and superstitions in “The Bleymier Story”, broadcast November 16, 1960, eleven days after the death of Ward Bond. Samuel Bleymier opposes the interest shown to his daughter, Belle, portrayed by Elen Willard, by a young pioneer, Justin Claiborne, played by James Drury, some two years before the start of his The Virginian series. The episode is filmed mostly in the dark or during heavy rains, high winds, and a cyclone and involves pioneers passing through a Sioux burial ground.
- Jena Engstrom appeared three times. In 1961 she was featured in “The Jenna Douglas Story” with guest star Carolyn Jones. In 1962 she was featured in “The Amos Billings Story” guest-starrng Paul Fix. And in 1964 she appeared in support of Joseph Wiseman in “The Santiago Quesada Story.”
- Ron Foster appeared twice in the 1957 episodes “The John Cameron Story” and “The Julia Gage Story.”
- Eduard Franz appeared in the lead in 1957 in “The Les Rand Story”, and James Philbrook had a minor role in the same episode.
- Nina Foch appeared as the title character in “The Clara Beauchamp Story.”
- Louise Fletcher appeared as different characters in two Season 3 episodes.
- George Gobel appeared as Major Adams’ country cousin in “The Horace Best Story”, the Season 4 premiere episode.
- Don Grady appeared in “The Christine Elliot Story” (1960).
- Tom Greenway appeared as Dr. Quinn in “The Dan Hogan Story” (1958).
- Kevin Hagen appeared three times on Wagon Train as Lansing in “The Willy Moran Story” (1957) and as Claymore in “The Nels Stack Story” (1957) and “The Annie MacGregory Story” (1958).
- Peter Helm appeared three times on Wagon Train in 1962 and 1963: “The Daniel Clay Story”, “The Wagon Train Mutiny”, and in the title role “The Tom O’Neal Story”, with Myron Healey cast as his father.
- Dwayne Hickman appeared in the title guest-starring role in “The Clay Shelby Story” in December 1964. Celia Kaye played Ann Shelby, and Richard Carlson and Mort Mills were cast as military officers.
- Darby Hinton, a child actor, appeared in March 1964 as Benjie Diel in the 75-minute episode “The Ben Engel Story.”
- Dennis Holmes, another child actor, appeared three times on Wagon Train, including the role of Danny Blake in “Those Who Stay Behind”, along with Peter Brown and Bruce Dern (November 8, 1964).
- Dennis Hopper appeared as the title character in “The Emmett Lawton Story,” March 1963.
- Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., as Padre in “The Don Alvarado Story”, June 21, 1961, with Ed Nelson as Sheriff Donovan
- Sherry Jackson appeared as the title character in “The Geneva Balfour Story,” which was originally broadcast on January 20, 1964.
- Anne Jeffreys and her husband, Robert Sterling, play a couple with an unusual “half-marriage” courtship arrangement brought about by an attack of the fever in the episode “The Julie Gage Story”, the fourteenth episode of the series broadcast on December 18, 1957.
- Brad Johnson and Susan Oliver in the title role appear in the November 9, 1960, episode “The Cathy Eckhardt Story”, with Johnson cast as Will Eckhardt.
- I. Stanford Jolley appeared ten times, not in the lead role of an episode.
- Carolyn Jones appeared during the show’s first four episodes.
- Brett King appeared five times on Wagon Train, his last as a lieutenant in “The Sandra Cummings Story” (1963).
- Charles Laughton appeared as Albert Farnsworth in “The Albert Farnsworth Story”. (1960)
- Peter Lorre as the title character in “The Alexander Portlass Story” (March 1960).
- Dayton Lummis appeared in three episodes: as Maj. Barham in “The Martha Barham Story” (NBC, 1959), as T.J. Gingle in “The John Turnbull Storey” (NBC, 1962) and as the Rev. Philip Marshall in “The Myra Marshall Story” (ABC, 1963), with Suzanne Pleshette in the title role.
- Lee Marvin appeared as Mexican bandit Jose Morales in the Season 4 episode “The Jose Morales Story.” After 20 episodes he appeared as newly hired wagonmaster Jud Benedict in the Season 4 episode that introduced the Chris Hale character, “The Christopher Hale Story.”
- Tyler McVey appeared six times on Wagon Train, including a two-part 1960 episode “Trial for Murder.”
- Audrey Meadows played the title character in “The Nancy Palmer Story” (1961).
- Joyce Meadows appeared three times: as Martha Williams in “The Conchita Vasquez Story” (1959), as Rheba Polke in “The Jed Polke Story” and as Melaine in “The Artie Matthewson Story” (both 1961).
- Ralph Meeker appeared in the title role of “A Man Called Horse” (season one, ep 26, trans March 26, 1958) in a story that served as the basis for the Richard Harris film A Man Called Horse a decade later.
- Burgess Meredith guest starred in “The Grover Allen Story” (1964).
- Archie Moore, African-American prizefighter, appeared as a cowboy in “The Geneva Balfour Story,” which was originally broadcast on January 20, 1964.
- Read Morgan appeared three times: as Ben Denike in “The Vincent Eaglewood Story” with Wally Cox in the title role (1959), as Curly Horse in “The Martha Barham Story” with Ann Blyth (1959) and as Jake in “The Myra Marshall Story.”
- Ricardo Montalban appeared as the title character in the second episode of the series, entitle “The Jean LeBec Story.”
- Leonard Nimoy appeared in four episodes—twice as a Mexican, once as an Indian and once as one of three Spanish brothers.
- Prolific western actor Gregg Palmer appeared in three episodes: as Groton in “The Mary Halstead Story” (1957), as Paul Dawson in “The Riley Gratton Story” (1957) and as Raleigh in “The Jose Morales Story” (1960).
- John M. Pickard appeared as Jed Otis in the 1959 episode “The Matthew Lowry Story.”
- Ronald Reagan, in one of his final acting roles prior to his entering politics, played Capt. Paul Winters in the seventh-season episode “The Fort Pierce Story,” first broadcast in September 1963.
- Michael Rennie appeared during the show’s first four episodes.
- Mickey Rooney guest starred as “greenhorn” Samuel T. Evans in “The Greenhorn Story” (1959) and “Wagons Ho! (1960).”
- Pippa Scott guest-starred in “The Link Cheney Story” (1964).
- Ann Sheridan guest-starred in “The Mavis Grant Story” (1962).
- Tom Simcox and Paul Stader guest-starred in “The Link Cheney Story” (1964).
- Arnold Stang played the lead in “The Ah Chong Story,” the tale of an ebullient Chinese cook who joins the wagon train with a rickshaw. Ah Chong produces higher quality and more reliable food service than Charlie Wooster, who has become arrogant because of success at poker playing. Ah Chong introduces wagonmaster Chris Hale and his assistant, Bill Hawks, to bird nest soup. Wooster soon sees Ah Chong as a threat in both cooking and poker and hurls insults at him. Frank Ferguson played a sheriff at the beginning of this episode, which aired near the end of the fourth season on June 14, 1961.
- Barbara Stanwyck guest starred in “The Kate Crawley Story” (1964).
- Dean Stockwell appeared in four episodes, including “The Rodney Lawrence Story” (June 10, 1959), in which he portrays a young white man who had been reared by a lone Indian after the massacre of his parents by whites. When the wagon train passes through, the Indian urges Rodney to rejoin his people. Quickly, though, he is falsely accused of theft and murder but solicits the scout Flint McCullough to clear his name. Meanwhile, he is attracted to a young white woman, Mandy McCrea, played by Cynthia Chenault. Roger Mobley plays Lawrence as a child in a flashback.
- Karl Swenson played mountain man Jim Bridger in “The Jim Bridger Story”. Francis De Sales also appeared in the episode as Mark.
- Phyllis Thaxter was cast in the title role of “The Christine Elliott Story” (1960), in which a young woman takes a group of orphan boys, who had previously lived in her late father’s orphanage, to a new life in the West. Don Grady and Gary Hunley also appear in this episode.
- Franchot Tone appeared in the lead role in “The Malachi Hobart Story” as a traveling preacher who loses confidence in his own Christian message.
- Johnny Washbrook appeared as Tommy Peeks in “The Swift Cloud Story,” with Rafael Campos in the 1959 title role, and as Ron Pearson in “The Beth Pearson Story”, with Virginia Grey in the 1961 title role.
- John Wayne appeared briefly in a long shot in the episode directed by John Ford, “The Coulter Craven Story”, in which he portrays General William Tecumseh Sherman. In this episode, Wayne is billed under the pseudonym “Michael Morris”, a reference to his real name, Marion Michael Morrison. Several other regulars from The John Ford Stock Company also appeared. This episode was shown 18 days after Ward Bond’s death, and is the only episode in this series directed by Ford. Wayne also played Sherman under Ford’s direction in the movie How the West Was Won and was billed as “Michael Morris” for a Ford-directed cameo in the James Stewart television anthology show Flashing Spikes (1962).
- Shelley Winters appeared during the show’s first four episodes.
- Vera Miles portrays the lead role in “The Sister Rita Story”
- Harry von Zell guest-starred in “The Link Cheney Story” (1964) and “The Tobias Jones Story” (1958).
- Dick York guest-starred in “The Michael Malone Story” (1964) as Mitchell.
- Tony Young guest-starred as Quent Loomis in “The Melanie Craig Story”, with Myrna Fahey in the title role (1964).
- The episode “Alias Bill Hawks”, available on DVD, is a story of townspeople covering for a murder and trying to dig a needed artesian well. Terry Wilson, as the real “Bill Hawks,” arrives to put the puzzle together. Ed Nelson guest stars.