Death Valley Days
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|Death Valley Days|
Stanley Andrews as the first host of Death Valley Days, known as "The Old Ranger" (1953)
|Presented by||Stanley Andrews (1952-1963)
Ronald Reagan (1964-1965)
Robert Taylor (1966-1969)
Dale Robertson (1969-1972)
|Narrated by||Merle Haggard (1975 rebroadcasts)|
|Theme music composer||Herbert Taylor|
|Country of origin||USA|
|No. of seasons||18|
|No. of episodes||452|
|Executive producer(s)||Gene Autry
Richard E. Cunha
|Running time||25 min.|
|Production company(s)||McGowan Productions
Flying A Productions
|Original run||March 1, 1952 – 1970|
Death Valley Days is an American radio and television anthology series featuring true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945 and continued from 1952 to 1970 as a syndicated television series, with reruns (updated with new narrations) continuing through August 1, 1975.
The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team Borax, Boraxo) and hosted by Stanley Andrews (1952-1963), Ronald Reagan (1964-1965), Robert Taylor (1966-1969), and Dale Robertson (1969-1972). With the passing of Dale Robertson in 2013, all the former Death Valley Days hosts are now deceased. Hosting the series was Reagan's final work as an actor; he also was cast in eight episodes of the series.
The 452 television episodes were introduced by a host. The longest-running was "The Old Ranger" from 1952 to 1965, played by Stanley Andrews. For the first two years the series was produced by Gene Autry's Flying A Productions; then from 1954 to 1956, it was handled by McGowan Productions, also known for the Sky King series. Filmaster Productions Inc., which produced the first several seasons of Gunsmoke for CBS Television, took over production of the series after 1956. Later a Madison Productions was also involved.
Following the departure of Andrews, Ronald Reagan, former host of General Electric Theater, became the host of Death Valley Days.. When Reagan entered politics, the role went to Robert Taylor, who became gravely ill in 1969 and was replaced by Dale Robertson, former star of two other western series, Tales of Wells Fargo and The Iron Horse. Production of new episodes ceased in 1970. Merle Haggard in 1975 provided narration for some previously-made episodes in 1975. While original episodes were still being made, older episodes were already in syndication under a different series title with other hosts; the series could even be in competition with itself in syndication. This practice made it easier for viewers to distinguish the new episodes from the older ones. (This was common practice through the early 1980s among syndicated series.) The hosting segment at the beginning and the end was easily reshot with another performer having no effect on the story. Alternate hosts and titles included Frontier Adventure (Dale Robertson), The Pioneers (Will Rogers, Jr.), Trails West (Ray Milland), Western Star Theatre (Rory Calhoun) and Call of the West (John Payne). The last title was also often applied to the series' memorable, haunting theme music.
Under the Death Valley Days title, the program was sponsored by Pacific Coast Borax Company, which during the program's run changed its name to U.S. Borax Company following a merger. Advertisements for the company's best-known products, 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry additive, Borateem, a laundry detergent, and Boraxo, a powdered hand soap, were often done by the program's host. Death Valley was the scene of much of the company's borax mining operations. The "20-Mule Team Borax" consumer products division of U.S. Borax was eventually bought out by the Dial Corporation, which as of 2010 still manufactures and markets them.
Death Valley Days is by far the most successful syndicated television Western, the most successful television Western ever in the half-hour format, and one of the longest-running and most successful of all scripted syndicated series. The end of the series, coupled with the concurrent end of Gunsmoke, marked the end of the traditional Western era in American television; by the mid-1970s, although Western elements were still fairly common in modern series, pure Western series were a thing of the past.
The stories used in the series were based on actual events. For example, the episode titled "Death Valley Scotty" was based on the record-breaking run of the 1905 Scott Special, chartered by Walter E. Scott, a.k.a. "Death Valley Scotty".
- Tol Avery appeared twice on the series, as Frank Brenner in "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" and as Walter Benson in "Doc Holliday's Gold Bars" (both 1966).
- Ray Boyle in "Yaller" and "Twelve Pound Nugget" (both 1954)
- Conlan Carter portrayed L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of Oz, in a 1970 episode.
- Dennis Cross appeared three times in episodes "Treasure of Elk Canyon" (1961), and "Captain Dick Mine" and "The Rider" (both 1965).
- Ben Cooper appeared as Jason Tugwell in the 1969 episode "Biscuits and Billy the Kid".
- Jim Davis, later Jock Ewing on Dallas, portrayed a U.S. representative from Nevada in the episode "Little Washington", set in 1878 in Carson City.
- Yvonne DeCarlo played the title role in the 1962 episode "The Lady was an M.D."
- Angie Dickinson, Lane Bradford and Carol Thurston in "Sequoia" (1954)
- John Doucette portrayed Apache Chief Geronimo in the 1961 episode "Gamble with Death". His co-stars included Dick Sargent and Tom Greenway.
- Ross Elliott played lawyer Temple Houston in "The Reluctant Gun" (1959), some four years before Jeffrey Hunter played the part in an NBC western series of the same name.
- Ron Foster appeared as Silas Begg in the 1957 episode "Rough and Ready".
- Ron Hagerthy, formerly of Sky King, appeared as Felix in the 1958 episode "Old Gabe".
- Ron Hayes appeared as Dan Bartlett in the 1960 episode "Devil's Bar".
- Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., was cast as Governor Manuel Armijo in "La Tules" (1962).
- Brad Johnson appeared five times on Death Valley Days, including the role of Bill Tilghman in the 1960 episode "The Wedding Dress".
- Chubby Johnson, as Jake in "The Tenderfoot" (1968) and as Davis in "The Other Side of the Mountain" (1969)
- I. Stanford Jolley, five appearances, as J.V. Langley in "The Kickapoo Run" (1954), as Colby in "California's First Ice Man" (1955), as a guide in "California Gold Rush in Reverse" (1957), and in the final role of Bart Taylor in "Eruption at Volcano" (1959)
- Barry Kelley as George Hearst in "The Paper Legacy" (1964)
- Brett King as Cassidy and Robert Knapp as Tom Dixon in "The Devil's Due" (1960)
- Harry Lauter, a character actor, appeared seven times, twice as Mel Hardin in "Gold Lake" and "Wheelbarrow Johnny" (both 1959).
- Nan Leslie, in "Whirlwind Courtship" (1953)
- Dayton Lummis portrayed New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace in "Shadows on the Window" (1960), with Martin Braddock as Billy the Kid. He also played John De La Mar in "City of Widows" the same year.
- Tyler MacDuff played Norman Berry in "The Hoodoo Mine" (1956).
- Ann McCrea was cast in three episodes, including Melinda Pratt in "Mr. Bigfoot" (1956).
- Tyler McVey appeared four times, including as a priest in the 1962 episode "Abel Duncan's Dying Wish" and in the 1969 segment "The Oldest Outlaw".
- Carole Mathews played Belle Starr in "A Bullet for the D.A" (1961).
- John M. Pickard appeared ten times, including the role of Sheriff McKittrick in the 1966 episode, "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" and as Lafe Ellsworth in "The Other Creek" (1968).
- Judson Pratt appeared twice: "The Left Hand is Damned" (1964) and as a general in "Raid on the San Francisco Mint" (1965)
- Stuart Randall appeared as Judge Reed in "The Pieces of the Puzzle" (1968).
- Ronald Reagan began filming the only two episodes of Death Valley Days he would ever appear in at Apacheland Movie Ranch as a guest star in the very series he hosted August 16, 1965
- Karen Sharpe played Linda in "Claim Jumpin' Jennie", opposite Irene Burton as Jennie and Wallace Ford as Buck Hansen (1953).
- William Tannen played the historical figure Ike Clanton in the 1964 episode, "After the OK Corral", with Jim Davis as Wyatt Earp. Tannen previously played deputy Hal Norton on the ABC/Desilu series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian in the title role of Wyatt Earp.
- John Vivyan, earlier Mr. Lucky, guest starred in two episodes in 1962.
- Tony Young played Corbin in "Phanton Procession" (1963).
- Robert Yuro played the outlaw Curly Bill Brocius in the episode "A Mule ... Like the Army's Mule" (October 5, 1968). Also appearing in this episode are Sam Melville as Army Lt. Jason Beal and Luke Halpin as the young outlaw Sandy King, who was befriended by Beal. John Pickard played Baldy Johnson. Yuro also played the Texas gunfighter King Fisher in the 1970 episode "King of the Uvalde Road", with Dale Robertson.
Awards and nominations
|1955||Emmy Award||Nominated||Best Western or Adventure Series||
|1961||Western Heritage Awards||Won||Best Factual Television Program||Ruth Woodman and Nat Perrin (For episode "The Great Lounsberry Scoop")|
In the 1955-1956 season, NBC offered Frontier, an anthology Western series similar to Death Valley Days hosted by Walter Coy. Though Frontier, a springboard for the Western actor Jack Elam, was nominated for an Emmy Award, it was cancelled after a single season.
- "McGowan Org takes "Death", "Dr. Christian", The Billboard, June 5, 1954, p. 8
- ""The Reluctant Gun", Death Valley Days, December 26, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
- "William Tannen". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
- "Death Valley Days: "A Mule ... Like the Army's Mule", October 5, 1968". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved October 26, 2012.
- "Death Valley Days: "King of the Uvalde Road", January 1, 1970". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved October 26, 2012.