The Virginian was the first of the TV westerns to run 90 minutes in length. Beginning in September of 1962, the program ran until 1970 under the title The Virginian, and then for an additional season as The Men from Shiloh. All 249 episodes were in color and on NBC.
The Virginian was set in the Wyoming territory of the late 1800's. Most of the action centered on or near the Shiloh Ranch or in the town of Medicine Bow. In addition to the western action, the program also featured thoughtful and intelligent stories. Great outdoor color cinematography added immensely to the program, as did its theme music.
Only two actors remained with the program through its entire run, but these two were without doubt its most important. James Drury played the Virginian, Shiloh Ranch foreman and a strong, silent type of man. Doug McClure, meanwhile, was Trampas, the more wild and reckless but good-hearted ranch hand/assistant foreman. The two actors, and their characters, had great chemistry.
Shiloh Ranch featured a number of owners during the program's run, and with each ownership change came new series characters. The first owner was Judge Henry Garth played to perfection by Lee J. Cobb. Cobb stayed until 1966. Then Morgan Starr (played by John Dehner) took ranch ownership for a short time. Starr gave it up to the Grainger family - first John Grainger (played by Charles Bickford), and then brother Clay Grainger (John McIntire) and Clay's wife, Holly (Jeanette Nolan). Finally, in the program's last season as The Men from Shiloh, Colonel Alan MacKenzie (played by Stewart Granger) became Shiloh Ranch owner. Lee Majors also joined the program for this final year.
A few other characters of importance during the show's run included Steve Hill (played by Gary Clarke from 1962–64), Randy Benton (played by Randy Boone 1963-66), Betsy Garth (played by Roberta Shore from 1962-65), Clu Gulager (as Deputy Emmett Ryker 1964-68) and Elizabeth Grainger (played by Sara Lane 1966-70).
A number of Hollywood luminaries also made guest appearances. Among them: Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, Joseph Cotton, Diane Baker, Charles Bronson and Inger Stevens. Up and coming future stars also appeared in guest spots. Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell were three of them.
Some additional interesting facts about The Virginian include:
Although it was based upon the book by Owen Wister, the series had some major differences. One was the character Trampas. In the original novel Trampas was a bad guy who is eventually killed in a gunfight with the Virginian. On the series Doug McClure's Trampas was anything but a villain.
The Virginian appeared in movie form many times before the television series and one time after. The first two movies were, in fact, made during film's silent era. A third was an early talkie that came out in 1929. It starred Gary Cooper as the Virginian and Walter Huston as a villainous Trampas. Then in 1946 Joel McCrea starred in another film version. Finally, in 2000 a TV movie of The Virginian was made, this time with Bill Pullman both starring and directing.
James Drury actually played the Virginian on television four years before the series began in a one half hour episode of a short-lived 1958 summer anthology series called Decision.
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