The American Western TV series – The Virginian – was television’s first 90-minute series, including commercials. It is also known as The Men from Shiloh. Its nine seasons with 249 episodes were aired from 1962 to 1971 by a national broadcasting company. It was originally based on The Virginian – The Horseman of the Plains, a novel written by Owen Wister in 1902.
This was the first true western fictional novel written by anyone and was based on the life of a cowboy on a cattle ranch. The main theme of the series was composed by a Canadian bandleader and composer, Percy Faith.
To see the audience’s reaction to the series, The Virginian was first started as a part of a series Decision and some other series. After a positive response from the audience, it was started as a separate TV series. Its main character was a tough foreman of Shiloh Ranch, a Virginian, and this role was played by James Drury. The Ranch was named Shiloh Ranch after the Battle of Shiloh, a two-day American Civil War
Who was Virginian?
source:NBC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Virginian is a mystery man who speaks very few words and never reveals his real name. Although his past is unknown, he lives a life of honor. He is famous for his loyalty, bravery, honesty, hard work, and justice. The Virginian is hired as a foreman at the ranch of Shiloh by Judge Henry as manager and accountant.
The Judge himself invited him for that post. He then took his moral values more seriously, and the whole series was focused on the foreman’s hunt to maintain an orderly arrangement and lifestyle at the Ranch. The foreman is equally respected by the people of the town and cowboys of the Ranch.
About the Cast of the Series
Several changes were made in the cast throughout the series, but the role of Virginian played by James Drury and Trampas played by Doug McClure remains constant throughout the show. Lee J. Cobb played the role of Judge Henry, owner of the Ranch.
Another important character is Betsy, played by Roberta Shore – she is the daughter of Ranch’s owner and lives with him. Randy Boone joined the cast in the second season as Randy Benton. He is a young cowboy at the Ranch who used to play guitar and sang duets with the daughter of Ranch’s owner.
Trampas was exactly the opposite to the Virginian; while Virginian was a serious and responsible person, Trampas had a fun-loving and chill nature. He often got entangled in some outrageous situation. Before joining the Ranch, he was involved in gambling and was in trouble with the law and forces. After meeting the Virginian and Judge Garth, he realizes his mistakes, but his personality remains the same as early.
Shiloh Ranch and its Owner
Judge Garth was the owner of the Shiloh Ranch for almost four seasons. He had a tough, harsh, and uncompromising personality outside but was very affectionate from inside. He is a father-like figure for the Virginian and Trampas.
All his employees and the citizens of the Medicine Bow have huge respect for him; they all value his opinion and most often seek his opinion for matters that they cannot settle down. The role was beautifully played by Lee J. Cobb and he left the series at the end of the fourth season. It was shown that he had left the Shiloh to become governor of Wyoming.
Roberta Shore played the role of Betsy, the only daughter of the Ranch’s owner. Although it is shown that she was adopted by Judge, he never treated her like a stepdaughter. The cowboys at the Ranch and Betsy shared a brother-sister bond.
Two cowboys, Trampas and Steve, were shown to have a soft corner for her in their hearts. They are often shown doing some stunts to protect her. She was fifteen years old at the start of the series and married to a minister in the fourth season. After that, she moved to Pennsylvania and left the show.
Steve Hill was another important character, played by Gary Clarke. He is one of the cowboys at the Shiloh Ranch. After being booted off from a train for not having the ticket, he came to Ranch’s owner Judge Garth for the job. Seeing him in need, the Judge hires him as a cowboy at the Shiloh Ranch. He becomes a good friend of both the Virginian and the Trampas. Whenever Trampas gets into any trouble, he always comes to rescue him.
Gary Clarke and Doug McClure not only had great on-screen chemistry, but their off-screen friendship was also very famous. He was a regular part of the series till season two; after that, he only appeared as a guest.
Other characters include Stacey Grainger, Elizabeth Grainger, Clay Grainger, and John Grainger. John Grainger’s role played by Charles Bickford was of a loving grandfather of two grandchildren, Elizabeth, played by Sara Lane, and Stacey, played by Don Quine.
Stacey is a good friend of Trampas and works with him at the Ranch. Elizabeth is the younger sister of Stacey, and all the boys, especially Virginian, Trampas, and Stacey, took great care of her. Elizabeth enjoys her teenage to the fullest; she loves riding, horses, and Saturday night dance parties.
Changes in the Production of the Show
In the third season, Clu Gulager, who appeared as a guest in the first two seasons, was added as deputy Emmet Ryker. After three seasons, the executive producer Frank Price left the project and replaced Norman Scarth MacDonnell, an American producer, writer, and director.
Season four was not up to the mark. So, for season five, the producer, Frank Price, was brought back in the game to settle down the things so that the season could do well again. After his return, Frank made some changes in the cast and brought back the family atmosphere in the series.
Although he left again in season six, things had gone smooth after that. The following two seasons were good with enormous changes in the cast where some of the previous characters were replaced with new characters
Location of Shooting
source:NBC Television., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The shooting location of the series was mainly California and Los Angeles. Common locations include western streets in the backlot of Universal city, Albertson Movie Ranch, Iverson Movie Ranch, and CBS Studio Centre, which is in Los Angeles.
This top Western show was a mixture of various topics and discussed almost every angle, including injustice, prejudice, compassion, and respect for others in a family-friendly environment. In the last season, not only was the name changed to The Men from Shiloh, but also the series was completely redesigned.
The opening theme song was also changed in the last season, and the show was released with its extended name, The Virginian: Men from Shiloh. All these changes resulted in a better ranking, and the show came in the top-30 primetime shows of that time. The final episode of the show was released on 24 March 1971.