The Classic TV Archive - TV Western series
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 "The Virginian"
(30 min. 'pilot')
-Not made as a 'pilot' for the series, but
worthy of inclusion in this guide-
An episode of the US dramatic anthology series "Decision"
Original NBC airdate 6 July 1958 Sunday 10:00 pm
in association with Screen Gems, Inc.
Produced by Winston O'Keefe
Directed by Lamont Johnson and David Rich
Written by Leslie Stevens
James Drury . . . The Virginian
Jeanette Nolan . . . Dora
Robert Burton . . . Judge Henry
Steven Joyce . . . Steve
(Mr. Joyce somewhat resembled Gary Clarke who would star as Steve in the 90 minute series)
Robert Gist . . . Dawes
Dan Blocker . . . Salem (pre-"Hoss" on "Bonanza")
Andrew Duggan . . . Stocker
Director of Photography . . . Fred Jackman
Art Director . . . Paul Palemtola
Supervising Editor . . . Richard Fantl, A.C.E.
Film Editor . . . Tony Di Marco
Set Decorator . . . Milton Stumph
Production Assistant . . . Seymour Friedman
Assistant Director . . . Carter De Haven, Jr.
Westrex Recording System
A Briskin Production
Columbia Pictures Television
A Unit of the Coca Cola Company
"It's against my principles to kill anything--unless I absolutely have to."
So we are introduced to the Virginian.
As the man from Virginia drives his buggy along the railroad tracks a cart
carrying dynamite passes him and explodes. Stopping to help
the only survivor of the blast the Virginian encounters the man he'd
come west to meet--Judge Henry, along with his son Steve and foreman Ben
Stocker. Judge Henry had narrowly escaped being killed himself, and he knew
that someone was trying to sabotage his effort to build a branch line to his
ranch. The Judge has plans to ship beef back East and start a township
where now there is only a house and some outbuildings. The Virginian was
under the impression that he had been hired to do bookkeeping and implement
new stock handling methods, but the Judge (who had heard from the dandy's
father that his son could shoot before he could talk) had actually sent for
him as a detective and fast gun to find out who was interfering and "stop
them dead." To this the Southern gentleman says, "I grew up since then.
Now I try to talk first." That night the Virginian flatters Dora, the ranch
cook (played by Jeanette Nolan who would later portray Holly Grainger on the
90-minute series), trying to get information from her about people at the
ranch and why everyone is so nervous. His question on "community secrets"
is interrupted as Dora fires a shotgun to scare away a cat who is stealing
butter. Her only remark is that a gun comes in handy since "Ever see what
a polecat could do to a bunch of innocent chickens?" Stocker was outside
the cookhouse as the Virginian left and warned him that since they were not
chickens maybe he'd better keep his nose out of it. Bending down next to
the campfire the Virginian finds part of a burned playing card. The next
day he meets with a nervous Steve on the porch and talks to him about the
injured animals he'd found in cages in a shed--deer and rabbits and the like
which Steve had taken in to doctor. Steve confides that he wants very much
to go to medical school, but his father will have nothing of that idea
since he had given his son half interest in the ranch and expected him to
work it. On the trail of the culprits the Virginian asks Dora if she knows
of any social gatherings--such as card games--he might attend. Dora's son
had died as a boy, and she wants very much to help Steve. The Virginian
assures her he does, too, so Dora tells him about the gambling which takes
in the barn. The Virginian climbs up a rope to the hayloft and says he
in on the card game--with his stake being whatever amount Steve owes
Stocker. The Southerner notices Stocker is playing with a marked deck
and knocks out the light as the foreman draws his gun on him. A fight
ensues, and the men jump through the door of the hayloft. Judge Henry comes
to see what the ruckus is about, and the Virginian insists Steve tell his
father he was playing cards because he owes Stocker $3000 in gambling debts
he incurred while trying to win enough money to go to medical school and had
also signed over his part of the ranch to the foreman. As the Virginian
states he will "stop him dead" Stocker reappears
saying he is giving the orders now and has men to back him up. He tells
how he was once a prominent mayor and the Judge had arrested him and
sentenced him to hang for killing a man who tried to take his place.
However, the rope didn't do its job. He got away and was now taking over
the ranch. The Virginian steps on a board knocking Stocker off balance.
foreman's gun goes off, and the bullet hits Judge Henry. The Virginian and
Steve shoot and kill Stocker and his men. As Steve tends to his father's
gunshot wound the Judge tells him he should go on to medical school because
the new township would need a good doctor. Dora declares, "now that the
gone the chickens will thrive," and the Virginian decides to stay and help
build the town.
Note: In the 90 minute series Judge Henry would become Judge Henry Garth
and Steve Henry would become Steve Hill--the Virginian's friend and just
another ranch hand, not the Judge's son. The Virginian would drop his
Southern accent and wear clothing more suited to a Western ranch setting.
Four years before his success as the Virginian in the long running
Television series of the same name, James Drury starred in an episode of
"Decision", a half hour U.S. dramatic anthology series shot in black and white
which was the summer replacement for "The Loretta Young Show". This
interview with Mr. Drury appeared in the May-June '90 "The TV Collector"
Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 48:
"The first production was done by Screen Gems. I was cast as the Virginian
and the character was costumed as a sort of a southern dandy right out of
the aristocratic old South, with a 'Confederate States of America' belt
buckle and lace front shirt and lace cuffs, and English style riding boots
worn outside the pants; dove grey riding britches, a very, very fancy dude
from the fox and hounds flat saddle country of Virginia. And I played him
with a light southern accent as if he had just arrived
after the Civil War, in other words, as if it were 1865 and he had just
mustered out of Jeb Stewart's Cavalry and ridden to Wyoming. The show was all
right, it was very exciting to do and very well received but it really
didn't have the depth of character because it didn't have the
time. At that time all episodic television shows were a half hour format.
We didn't have the time to reflect on what our characters were. All of us
in that episode were more or less stereotyped people. That western half
hour made the rounds of all the networks. Screen Gems was trying to sell it
as a series and it was just one of them that wasn't sold. And it was just
very fortunate for me and for the future of the larger version, because
if we had a half hour version of "The Virginian", it would've
been very unlikely that Universal would've then come up with the idea of
doing a 90-minute version. The two projects had no relationship to each
other. As a matter of fact, when we were shooting the first episode in the
90-minute version at Universal, I mentioned the fact that I had done a half
hour pilot for Screen Gems three or four years before, and nobody believed
me! They were shocked to hear that. Total coincidence--there were no
personnel on the first project that were on the second project. It was just
one of those happy accidents."
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