Death Valley Days

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Death Valley Days
Stanley Andrews 1953.JPG
Stanley Andrews, the first host of Death Valley Days (1953)
Genre Anthology/Western
Presented by Stanley Andrews (1952-1963)
Ronald Reagan (1964-1965)
Robert Taylor (1966-1969)
Dale Robertson (1969-1970)
Narrated by Merle Haggard (1975 rebroadcasts)
Theme music composer Herbert Taylor
Country of origin USA
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 18
No. of episodes 452
Executive producer(s) Gene Autry
Louis Gray
Producer(s) Dorrell McGowan
Nat Perrin
Armand Schaefer
Robert Stabler
Editor(s) Jack Wheeler
Anthony Wollner
Cinematography William Bradford
Richard E. Cunha
Running time 25 min.
Production company(s) McGowan Productions
Flying A Productions
Filmaster Productions
Original channel Syndication
Original release March 1, 1952 – 1970
External links

For the radio program of the same name, see Death Valley Days (radio program).

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 radio and TV versions combined to make the show "one of the longest-running western programs in broadcast history."[1]

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 (1969–1970). 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.[2] 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. Reagan acted in twenty-one episodes, including the 1965 segment, "A City Is Born". He played mining developer Charles Poston, the founder of Arizona. When Reagan entered the race for governor of California, his Death Valley Day hosting position went to his friend, Robert Taylor, who appeared in some segments too, including "The Day All Marriages Were Cancelled" (1966), also based on the career of Charles Poston.

Taylor was cast in the 1967 episode "Halo for a Badman" as Porter Stockman, an ex-convict hired by the mayor (Roy Barcroft) of Las Animas, Colorado, to be the town marshal. Stockman must stand up to an outlaw gang which has robbed every gold shipment coming into town.[3] He played Horace Bell in another 1967 episode, "Major Horace Bell." In the story line, Major Bell, an early settler of Los Angeles, defends a man whom he believes has been framed for murder.[4] That same year in the episode "Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party", Taylor played James Kelly of San Francisco, who shanghaiied sailors onto ships bound to the Far East, with the expectation that none would return to accuse Kelly of a crime.[5]

When Taylor became gravely ill in 1969, he was succeeded 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. 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 re-shot 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 Theater (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 2014, as a division of the German consumer products concern Henkel, still manufactures and markets them.

Death Valley Days is by far the most successful syndicated television western series, 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 demise of the traditional Western era in American television; by the middle 1970s, although western elements were still fairly common in modern series, such as Little House on the Prairie, pure western series were a thing of the past.

The stories used in the series were based on actual events. 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".

Guest stars[edit]

A to D[edit]

  • Tol Avery appeared three times, as Frank Brenner in "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick", as Walter Benson in "Doc Holliday's Gold Bars" (both 1966), and as a judge in "Lucia Darling and the Ostrich". (1969)
  • Joby Baker was cast as a traveling magician, Dr. William Davis, in the 1967 episode "The Saga of Dr. Davis". In the story line, Davis's wife, Jenny (Judi Meredith), dies after she encourages him to take a young boy, Tad, on his remaining travels across the West.[6]
  • John Beck played a young newspaperman, Sandy Peters, in the 1969 episode "Solomon's Glory", the story of a formerly successfully journalist named Solomon (Willard Sage) who has turned to liquor but is being sobered up by his former boss (Tyler McVey), as Solomon's sister arrives in town.[7]
  • Robert Blake, at thirty-three, played Billy the Kid in the 1966 episode "The Kid from Hell's Kitchen". In the story line, The Kid sets out to avenge the death of his friend John Tunstall (John Anderson).[8]
  • Lloyd Bochner played the author Robert Louis Stevenson in the episode "Jolly Roger and Wells Fargo", directed by Denver Pyle.[9]
  • Carol Booth (born 1941), in the 1969 episode "Lucia Darling and the Ostrich", played a teacher trying to establish a school in 1863 in the since ghost town of Bannack, Montana. In the story line, a masked sheriff (William Bryant) and his deputy (Jeff Morris) rob the stagecoach bringing Lucia to Montana and steal both gold and her textbooks. She sets out to prove the officers' guilt despite the reservations of both the town itself - hence the reference to "The Ostrich" in the sand in the title of the episode - and her uncle, Judge Sidney Edgerton (Tol Avery), who shortly thereafter became the first governor of the Montana Territory.[10]
  • Ray Boyle in "Yaller" and "Twelve Pound Nugget" (both 1954)
  • Lane Bradbury played a young Eliza Stewart Udall at Pipe Spring in southern Utah in the 1969 episode "A Key for the Fort". In the story line, Miss Stewart, a Mormon pioneer, sends the first telegraph message from Arizona Territory and works with her Aunt Cora (Ivalou Redd) to find an innovative way to nurse an ill Ute chief, Black Wing (George Keymas), back to health. The episode also stars Gregg Palmer as Jacob. The episode was filmed at Pipe Spring National Monument.[11]
  • Paul Brinegar played a prospector, Sawbuck, in the episode "Solid Gold Cavity", filmed in Sedona, Arizona. In the story line based on a true incident, Sawbuck saves the life of Dr. John Beers, a young dentist, who on the trail to San Francisco is attacked and left for dead by two bandits. Dr. Beers (played by Thomas Peters) repays Sawbuck by taking some of the prospector's gold and making him a set of gold teeth, for which Beers subsequently obtained a patent.[12] In "The Lady and the Sourdough", Brinegar plays a cantankerous cook who teams up with a gold miner, Tom Despo (Stanley Adams), until he meets a neighboring widow (Amzie Strickland).[13] In 1969, Brinegar played the Death Valley pioneer Jimmy Dayton (died 1899) in the episode "Jimmy Dayton's Bonanza". In the story line, the aging rancher Dayton takes a saloon girl, played by Marilyn O'Connor, as his wife, but she has second thoughts after she learns that he has exaggerated his wealth. James Wainwright (1938-1999) co-stars as a cowboy who feigns an interest in Mrs. Dayton. The episode was released three days after the death of series host Robert Taylor.[14]
  • Conlan Carter portrayed L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of Oz, in a 1970 Death Valley Days episode.
  • Don Collier and Jan Clayton were cast as Josiah Wilbarger and his sister, Margaret, in the 1967 episode, "The Man Who Wouldn't Die". Wilbarger, a native of Virginia, lived for eleven years after being scalped by the Comanche. Wilbarger County, Texas, is named in his honor.[15]
  • 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".
  • Jeanne Cooper was cast as pioneer woman Rachel Barrett in the 1969 episode "A Gift". In the story line, Rachel pleads with an Indian chief (Valentin de Vargas) to spare the lives of her husband and son, played by Harry Lauter and Michael Courtney, respectively, as the family waits on an approaching wagon train.[16]
  • Michael Dante was cast as the ill-fated half-breed Clay Squires, with Robert Taylor as Ben Cotterman and June Dayton as Cotterman's wife, Rachel, in "Long Night at Fort Lonely" (1969).
  • Jim Davis, later Jock Ewing on Dallas, portrayed Mark Tabor, a U.S. representative for Nevada in the episode "Little Washington", set in 1878 in Carson City. This was the first of Davis's thirteen appearances on the series. Davis played a wagon master, Ezra Meeker, abandoned by members of his wagon train who decided to stop the trip to Oregon instead to prospect for gold in the 1965 episode "Devil's Gate".[17] In 1967, he played freighter Luke Campbell of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the episode "The Day They Stole the Salamander", a reference to a Salamander Safe.[18] In 1969, Davis played Colonel William G. Butler (1831-1912), who takes revenge on the since ghost town of Helena, Texas, after its citizens refuse to disclose the killer of Butler's son, Emmett. Butler arranges for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway to bypass Helena; instead Karnes City, south of San Antonio, became the seat of government of Karnes County.[19]
  • 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.

E to 0[edit]

  • Ross Elliott played lawyer Temple Houston in "The Reluctant Gun" (1959), some four years before Jeffrey Hunter played the part in the NBC western series, Temple Houston (TV series).[20]
  • Paul Fix played the hardy, cantankerous pioneer James Briton "Brit" Bailey, with Rosemary DeCamp as his equally defiant wife, Hannah, in the 1969 episode "Here Stands Bailey". In the story line, the Baileys are ordered off their land at what is now Bailey's Prairie, Texas, by Stephen F. Austin (John Carter), who is bringing the Old Three Hundred original settlers to the area. Austin has a change of heart and asks the Baileys to stay. Bailey dies with his final wish of interment standing upright facing west, hence his grave marker, "Here Stands Bailey Facing West."[21]
  • 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".
  • Don Haggerty played Horace Tabor in the 1967 episode "Chicken Bill", with Dub Taylor in the title role of the Colorado silver miner "Chicken Bill" Lovell. In the story line, Lovell salts his mine to get Tabor to pay off Lovell's lingering debt and to fund his continued operation.[22]
  • Ron Hayes appeared as Dan Bartlett in the 1960 episode "Devil's Bar".
  • Michael Hinn (1913-1988) of the former Boots and Saddles western series played Brigham Young in the episode "Biscuits and Billy, the Kid". In the story line, the Tugwell family, Jason (Ben Cooper), Ellie (Emily Banks), and Mary (Erin Moran), are abandoned by their guide while on a wagon train from Utah to California.[23]
  • 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)
  • DeForest Kelley played the convict Martin in the episode "Devil's Gate" (1965) with Jim Davis and as the gambler Elliott Webster in "The Lady of the Plains", with Sherry Jackson (1966)
  • 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).
  • Murray MacLeod and Dennis Whitcomb were cast as two young men, Cliff and Frank, respectively, released from the United States Army still living on a temporarily deserted western fort in the 1969 episode "A Full House". The two engage in a poker game in which the loser agrees to get married; soon both are in love and things fall into place like a storybook romance. Heidi Vaughn and June Zachary play the female leads.[24]
  • Michael Margotta played a youthful Butch Cassidy in the 1969 episode "Drop Out" set in Utah of the 1880s. In the story line, 16-year-old George Leroy Parker is rebellious against his father, Maxy Parker (Russ Conway) and his church bishop , played by William Zucker. He takes the name of a much older rustler acquaintance, Mike Cassidy (Tony Russel) and sets forth to Salt Lake City. The episode aired the same year as the film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.[25]
  • 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".
  • Strother Martin in the 1967 episode "Silver Tombstone" played the Arizona miner Ed Schieffelin who after years of failure is convinced he is on the verge of a bonanza. He invites his brother to join him in the pending strike. Jamie Farr appears as Dick Gird.[26]
  • Carole Mathews played Belle Starr in "A Bullet for the D.A" (1961).

P to Y[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Category Recipient
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.

Two episodes of Death Valley Days are shown weekdays beginning at 6:35 p.m. Eastern on the Encore Westerns Channel. The 1969 segments hosted by Dale Robertson began airing on July 20, 2015.


  1. ^ French, Jack & Siegel, David S. (eds.) (2014). Radio Rides the Range: A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929-1967. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-7146-1. Pp. 43-49.
  2. ^ "McGowan Org takes "Death", "Dr. Christian", The Billboard, June 5, 1954, p. 8
  3. ^ ""Halo for a Badman"". Internet Movie Data Base. March 2, 1967. Retrieved June 5, 2015. 
  4. ^ ""Major Horace Bell", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. April 26, 1967. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  5. ^ ""Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 7, 1967. Retrieved June 7, 2015. 
  6. ^ ""The Saga of Dr. Davis" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. March 18, 1967. Retrieved June 10, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Solomon's Glory". January 17, 1969. Retrieved July 12, 2015. 
  8. ^ ""The Kid from Hell's Kitchen" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 20, 1966. Retrieved May 31, 2015. 
  9. ^ ""Jolly Roger and Wells Fargo" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 23, 1966. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Lucia Darling and the Ostrich". Internet Movie Data Base. May 11, 1969. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  11. ^ "A Key for the Fort". Internet Movie Data Base. March 26, 1969. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Solid Gold Cavity of Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 1, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  13. ^ ""The Lady and the Sourdough" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 8, 1966. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Jimmy Dayton's Bonanza". Internet Movie Data Base. June 11, 1969. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  15. ^ ""The Man Who Wouldn't Die", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  16. ^ "A Gift on Death Valley Days". January 10, 1969. Retrieved July 12, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Devil's Gate". Internet Movie Data Base. December 23, 1965. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  18. ^ "The Day They Stole the Salamanderpublisher=Internet Movie Data Base". April 28, 1967. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  19. ^ "The Oldest Law". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 16, 2015. 
  20. ^ ""The Reluctant Gun", Death Valley Days, December 26, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 8, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Here Stands Bailey on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. February 18, 1969. Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  22. ^ ""Chicken Bill" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 7, 2015. 
  23. ^ "Biscuits and Billy, the Kid". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  24. ^ . Internet Movie Data Base. March 14, 1969 Retrieved July 14, 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "Drop Out on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. April 25, 1969. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  26. ^ ""Silver Tombstone" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. February 26, 1967. Retrieved June 3, 2015. 
  27. ^ ""Along Came Mariana" on Death Valley Days". May 11, 1967. Retrieved June 13, 2015. 
  28. ^ "The Mezcla Man". Internet Movie Data Base. January 2, 1970. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  29. ^ ""Solid Foundation" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 13, 2015. 
  30. ^ ""Samaritans, Mountain Style" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 27, 1966. Retrieved May 31, 2015. 
  31. ^ ""The Hero of Apache Pass" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 24, 1966. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  32. ^ "Nevada legislators, 1861-2015" (PDF). Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  33. ^ "How to Beat a Badman". Internet Movie Data Base. March 18, 1969. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  34. ^ ""The Man Who Didn't Want Gold", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. March 1, 1967. Retrieved June 5, 2015. 
  35. ^ ""The Understanding" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  36. ^ "A Restless Man on Death Valley Days". Retrieved July 13, 2015. 
  37. ^ ""A Calamity Called Jane" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. June 2, 2015. 
  38. ^ ""Doc Holliday's Gold Bars" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 30, 1966. Retrieved June 3, 2015. 
  39. ^ "William Tannen". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 7, 2014. 
  40. ^ "The Angel of Tombstone on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  41. ^ ""A Picture of a Lady" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 30, 1965. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  42. ^ ""Brute Ange" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 5, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  43. ^ "Death Valley Days: "A Mule ... Like the Army's Mule", October 5, 1968". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  44. ^ "Death Valley Days: "King of the Uvalde Road", January 1, 1970". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 

Listen to[edit]

External links[edit]