James Drury and 'The Virginian' TV series ride onto DVD

When it was announced in 1962 that Universal would produce a weekly 90-minute color Western inspired by Owen Wister's 1902 novel "The Virginian" for NBC, there were plenty of skeptics around.

When it was announced in 1962 that Universal would produce a weekly 90-minute color Western inspired by Owen Wister's 1902 novel "The Virginian" for NBC, there were plenty of skeptics around.

An hour show, OK. But how many people would watch 90 minutes each week? It turned out that quite a few would. "The Virginian" went on to a healthy nine-year run and spent most of that time ranked in the top 20.

"We -- Doug McClure and myself -- thought it would work from the start," said James Drury, who played the title character. McClure, who died in 1995, played his pal Trampas.

"I wish Doug was still around to enjoy what's happening," Drury said during a recent telephone interview.

What's happening is that season one of "The Virginian" (Timeless, $79.98) arrives for the first time on DVD Tuesday. It comes packaged in an attractive tin case and includes the initial 30 episodes on 10 discs. A bonus disc includes interviews with Drury and other members of the cast. Meanwhile, the series is airing weekday afternoons on cable's Encore Westerns.


The show features Lee J. Cobb as Judge Henry Garth, who owns the Shiloh ranch outside of Medicine Bow, Wyo., during the 1890s. The Virginian is his foreman and Trampas and Steve Hill (Gary Clarke) play ranch hands. Roberta Shore is Garth's daughter Betsy.

Drury said having Cobb in the cast made the show an easy sell to the network.

"They bought it just because Lee J. Cobb was in it," Drury said. "He was so famous for his work in (the Arthur Miller play) 'Death of a Salesman' and other roles so we didn't even have to do a pilot."

That "The Virginian" is now experiencing something of a revival certainly pleases Drury and Shore.

"It's real gratifying to see new generations introduced to the show," Drury said. "I have some friends who tell me their grandkids come home from school and watch."

Shore said she had gotten numerous e-mails and letters about the series. "Some of them have told me they had forgotten just how good the show was. It is a show that families can watch together. There aren't many of those around today on network television."

Although "The Virginian" had its share of action, the series was also noted for strong story lines and its guest stars. Bette Davis, George C. Scott, Michael Rennie, Joan Crawford and Ricardo Montalban were among the many veterans who agreed to appear in the series, while soon-to-be-stars such as Robert Redford, Charles Bronson and Harrison Ford also popped up.

"It was something special to go to the set every day and find out who you were working with," Drury said. "You'd try to learn as much as you could from them."


"The Virginian" was also noted for its opening theme, written by Percy Faith.

"You listen to it and you realize that he (Faith) captured all the visions of the West in that piece of music," Drury said.

Filming 30 episodes a season in the 90-minute format did require some extra hard work.

"We tried to complete each one in eight days," Drury said, "and most of the time we were working on two episodes at once. I'd do a scene for one episode and then go somewhere else and do one for another episode. It kept you on your toes."

Shore said amazingly it was rare for anyone to get their lines mixed up.

"I think maybe Randy Boone did that a few times," Shore said. "There were long hours, but I was so young then and it didn't matter." Boone joined the show during the second season.

"The Virginian" had numerous cast changes throughout its run. Cobb left after four seasons and 120 episodes. He was replaced for the 1966-67 season by Charles Bickford, who died the next year while shooting the sixth season. John McIntire, who had played Chris Hale on "Wagon Train," stepped in then. He was replaced by Stewart Granger for the 1970-71 season, when the series became known as "The Men from Shiloh."

Shore left after the third season to get married. Clarke departed after 63 episodes. Boone left after the 1965-66 season. Clu Gulager and Lee Majors were others who climbed in the saddle during the series' later years.


The constants during the nine years were Drury and McClure, who appeared in all 249 episodes.

Despite the coming and goings of characters, Drury said he can't recall any problems among cast members.

"We really did all get along," Drury said, "and the guests were terrific. They were always prepared and seemed to enjoy themselves."

The only thing fans won't find in the DVD collection is the Virginian's name.

"That's the way Owen Wister wrote it," Drury said. "He made the Virginian a man of mystery and I think that's part of the character's appeal. So, no one knows his name including me."

"The Virginian" was one of the longest-running Westerns on TV. Only "Gunsmoke" (20 years) and "Bonanza" (14 years) lasted longer.

What To Read Next
Get Local