The cast of “The Virginian” achieved their greatest popularity when the series first aired in the early 1960’s, following which the names of the actors involved with the title became a symbol of the wild west’s televising. This is due to the fact that the show was a pioneer in its own way, with a great contribution to the international growth of interest in the western genre, which was barely heard of when the project began.
“The Virginian” was a Western TV show with James Drury playing the lead role. It ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971, totaling 249 episodes across nine seasons. Drury had originally portrayed the same character in 1958’s failed pilot that was aired as one of the episodes of the NBC summer series entitled “Decision.” Filmed in color as rather ahead of its time, “The Virginian” was the world’s first 90-minute episode western TV series.
Set before Wyoming gained the status of a US state in 1890, the series was somewhat built on Owen Wister’s western novel entitled “The Virginian: Horseman of the Plains,” published in 1902. The series follows the adventures of the titular character – a trusted and reliable foreman of the Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming. Along with his associates, The Virginian works to protect the ranch from threats, and uphold justice throughout the surrounding area.
He is accompanied by his two faithful sidekicks, Trampas and Steve Hill, as well as a number of friendly townsfolk, including the local sheriff and doctor. Throughout the series, The Virginian and his associates face off against a number of villains, from outlaws to land-grabbers, in order to protect the ranch and bring justice to the wild west. The series is notable for its moral and ethical themes, as justice and fairness are always upheld by the main characters.
“The Virginian” was a critical and commercial success, whose high production values and strong storytelling helped to establish it as a cornerstone of the western genre. It was nominated for several Emmy Awards, and spawned several spin-offs, such as “The Young Riders.”
Despite its age, “The Virginian” remains a beloved and influential series, and continues to be enjoyed by fans of westerns and classic television. Its portrayal of the American west and the people who lived there is rich and largely authentic, and its themes of loyalty, friendship and love continue to resonate with viewers today.
With its grand finish in 1971, at which point the name of the show was changed to “The Men from Shiloh” for the ultimate season, “The Virginian” embedded itself in the hearts of many viewers around the world, especially in the US.
The success of the series gave its stars an open road towards fame that hadn’t existed before, and from that point on, the audiences retained a great interest in the actors’ lives. With just about 60 years since the show’s airing having gone to the wind, those who remember the honorable Shiloh Ranch employees are left wondering where life took their portrayers.
What happened to The Virginian himself?
James Drury was born James Child Drury Jr. on 18 April 1934, in New York City USA. He began his acting career in the early 1950s, primarily by portraying a hospital attendant in 1955’s “Blackboard Jungle,” for which he went uncredited. Drury appeared in a number of prominent television shows and films, including “The Tenderfoot,” “The Great Sioux Massacre,” and “The Adventures of Jim Bowie.”
He was a versatile and talented actor, able to portray a wide range of characters with ease, as evidenced by the 73 acting credits under his belt. James was recognized across the audiences by his rugged good looks and a strong on-screen presence, with the ability to convey a sense of strength and determination in his performances.
Throughout his career, Drury guest-starred in several popular television shows, including “Men Into Space,” “The Rebel,” “It Takes a Thief,” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” He also realized a number of important roles, such as George Dodds in 1960’s “Pollyanna,” as well as Billy Hammond in “Ride the High Country” from 1962.
HAPPY 84th BIRTHDAY, April 18, to the Bossman, the one and only Virginian, James Drury.Thank you to everyone who took…
As for James’ most successful portrayal, the titular character of “The Virginian,” he was known for his quick thinking and fast draw with a gun, seen by many around the world as a true embodiment of the wild west.
Throughout the series, The Virginian faced a variety of challenges, including rustling, cattle drives, and disputes with rival ranchers. He also grappled with personal challenges, including his love for a woman named Molly Wood, and his friendship with a man named Trampas, who was somewhat jealous of the Virginian’s status as the judge’s favorite.
Despite these challenges, he remained loyal to Judge Henry and the ranch, and was ultimately able to overcome adversity and prove himself as a true hero. His strong sense of loyalty and determination made him a beloved and enduring character, and helped to establish him as a cornerstone of the western-themed production.
In addition to his acting career, Drury was also a skilled horseman and a passionate advocate for the western genre. He was granted membership into the Western Performers Hall of Fame in 1991, and became the recipient of the Golden Boot Award in 1995 for his contributions to the popularization of western culture.
James continued to act until his death on 6 April 2020 at the age of 85. His last significant role was that of Ranger Captain in an episode of “Tales of the Cap Gun Kid” that aired in 2012, while he also played the minor part of Buffalo Bill Cody in the video entitled “The Cartoon Cowboys: Spirit of the Alamo,” released in 2015.
He died a widower, nearly a year after his third wife Carl Ann Head had lost her life on 25 August 2019. Despite his passing, Drury’s legacy as a talented and versatile actor lives on, and he will be remembered for his contributions to the entertainment industry. His sons James and Timothy, as well as stepchildren Rhonda Brown, Gary Schero and Frederick Drury, made the actor a happy old man, with four grandchildren and some great-grandchildren as well.
The Virginian star James Drury passed away at the age of 85 due to “natural causes.” https://t.co/dgapiN4CSY
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) April 7, 2020
It was stated by the New York Times that the actor passed in his home, although the circumstances of his death are yet to be disclosed by his assistant Karen Lindsey. The news agency further revealed that the actor loved doing his own stunts, which didn’t always go according to plan.
James had the misfortune of being punched right in the face with full force one time while on the set, as a seemingly out-of-nowhere fist was swung by a stuntman he was working with. Drury spoke of the extra hit, ‘…which was not in the script and hit me in the temple like a Missouri mule.’
Due to the massive popularity achieved by the role, James eventually made peace with the fact that he would always be recognized as The Virginian throughout the rest of his life. He said ‘The Virginian was an indelible character. I had a great deal of issues getting past being seen as the man in the black hat.’
The fate of the show’s second man of the house
Aside from the main character, the ladies of the 1970’s had it out for one more cast member of the show – none other than, of course, the trusty aide and ranch hand simply known as Trampas. Doug McClure, who portrayed the character, is the only one to have appeared in all 249 episodes of the show alongside Drury.
He was born Douglas Osborne McClure on 11 May 1935 in Glendale, California. His acting career took off in 1956, with the uncredited role of a soldier in “Friendly Persuasion.” The real breakthrough came a year later, when he played Ganse Taylor and subsequently Lt. Losier in two episodes of “Death Valley Days.”
The year 1960 brought him the most significant role prior to his longest screen presence, in the form of Jed Sills in the TV series entitled “Checkmate,” in which he stayed for two years and appeared in 70 episodes.
Finally, in 1962, McClure got to portray Trampas – a skilled and competent cowboy who is responsible for many of the day-to-day tasks on the ranch. He’s a loyal and reliable member of the Shiloh team, often called upon to handle difficult or dangerous situations. Despite his rough exterior, Trampas is also shown to have a kind and compassionate side, having frequently been seen aiding others, whether it be by offering advice or lending a helping hand.
Despite his loyalty and bravery however, Trampas is also shown to have a reckless streak, prone to making impulsive decisions that sometimes get him into trouble. This lack of control is often at odds with The Virginian’s more measured and level-headed approach, and the two characters frequently clash as a result.
Over the course of the series, Trampas undergoes significant development and change. He becomes more responsible and mature, gradually learning to temper his impulsive nature with wisdom and caution. This growth is symbolized by the fact that Trampas is often seen wearing a black suit later on, which signifies his newfound sophistication and refinement.
Despite his personal growth, Trampas remained a loyal and dedicated member of the Shiloh team, continuing to play a key role in helping The Virginian and his friends to protect the ranch and its way of life. He’s a dynamic and well-developed character, and his journey from a reckless cowboy to a mature and responsible individual is a key part of the series’ overarching narrative.
Having realized his life’s work by the end of 1971, McClure went on to star in many more titles, up to a total of 104, with the last being his presence as Stuart Coppage in an episode of “One West Waikiki” in 1996, actually released after his death.
McClure passed away on 5 February 1995 due to lung cancer, a month after collapsing on the set of the aforementioned show due to a stroke. Doctors found that the disease had spread to the actor’s bones and liver, and he remained in their care in a desperate attempt to deal with the symptoms, until succumbing to them.
The judge’s legacy
The character Judge Henry Garth was initially played by Lee J. Cobb, who remained in the show for four seasons. After he decided to leave the cast, the role was given significantly less screen time. John McIntire, John Dehner and Charles Bickford tried to fill Cobb’s shoes over the years, but none were as successful.
After Doug and James, Cobb has the most massive presence in the show, having been seen in almost a half of its 249 total episodes (120). Lee resumed his impressive career up until 1976, at which point he suddenly died at age 64 from a heart attack. He was buried in Los Angeles’ Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery.
Elizabeth Grainger is a character who showed up in 105 episodes of the show, portrayed by Sara Lane in seasons five through eight. Although she enjoyed great success performing in “The Virginian,” Sara never truly used the momentum her career had at the time.
With only one role preceding the series and three following it, all of which were in films, Lane and her five parts aren’t normally the talk of the town, but it’s still undeniable that she had the fourth greatest presence in the show. She is thought to still be alive in late 2022 at the age of 73, residing somewhere in the state of New York with her spouse and children.
Clu Gulager and the rest of the cast
Mostly playing Emmett Ryker, Clu Gulager is the fifth most featured actor in “The Virginian,” with a presence totaling 104 episodes between 1963 and 1968. Like all of the great five excluding Sara, he is no longer among the living. The actor passed away in the wake of an impressive career at the age of 93, on 5 August 2022.
All of the series’ cast members are now either long retired or deceased. Some of the living include Randy Boone, who played Randy Benton in 70 episodes, Roberta Shore, who portrayed Betsy Garth in 70 episodes as well, and Gary Clarke – the man behind the character of Steve Hill, who was seen in 63 episodes.
John McIntire, who played Clay Granger in 65 episodes, passed away in 1991. His death was followed by that of Ross Elliott in 1999 – Sheriff Mark Abbott in 61 episodes. A very early loss from the cast was Charles Bickford, who portrayed John Grainger in 46 episodes of the show, and died in 1967.