Death Valley Days
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|Death Valley Days|
Stanley Andrews, the first host of Death Valley Days (1953)
|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|
|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 release||March 1, 1952 – 1970|
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."
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. 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. 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. 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.
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".
- Tol Avery appeared twice, as Frank Brenner in "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" and as Walter Benson in "Doc Holliday's Gold Bars" (both 1966).
- 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.
- 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).
- Lloyd Bochner played the author Robert Louis Stevenson in the episode "Jolly Roger and Wells Fargo", directed by Denver Pyle.
- Ray Boyle in "Yaller" and "Twelve Pound Nugget" (both 1954)
- 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. 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).
- 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.
- 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 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. He 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". 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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)
- 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).
- 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.
- Carole Mathews played Belle Starr in "A Bullet for the D.A" (1961).
- Julie Parrish appeared as Mariana Jaramilio in the 1967 episode "Along Came Mariana", the story of the unraveling of the peonage labor system in New Mexico Territory. Carlos Romero played Jose de la Cruz Romero.
- Gil Peterson and Susan Seaforth Hayes appeared as Jim Otis and his wife, Martha, in the 1967 episode "Solid Foundation". In the story line, Otis has virtually abandoned his dream of finding a gold strike but instead encounters an unexpected bonanza in silver.
- John M. Pickard appeared ten times, including the role of Sheriff McKittrick in "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" (1966) and as Lafe Ellsworth in "The Other Creek" (1968).
- Phillip Pine played Kit Carson, with Michael Pate as scout Frenchy Godey in the John C. Fremont (Dick Simmons) expedition in the episode "Samaritans, Mountain Style". In the story line, Carson and Gody stop to help a settler in dire straits. Pine, Pate, and Simmons appeared shortly thereafter with Charles Bateman and Don Keefer in another Death Valley Days episode, "The Hero of Apache Pass".
- Judson Pratt appeared twice: "The Left Hand is Damned" (1964) and as a general in "Raid on the San Francisco Mint" (1965)
- Denver Pyle was cast seven times, the last of which was in the title role, "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" (1966), based on the legendary frontiersman Deadwood Dick.
- Stuart Randall appeared as Judge Reed in "The Pieces of the Puzzle" (1968).
- Karen Sharpe played Linda in "Claim Jumpin' Jennie", opposite Irene Burton as Jennie and Wallace Ford as Buck Hansen (1953).
- Tom Skeritt was cast in five episodes, as Emmett Dalton in "Three Minutes to Eternity" (1963); as Dennis Driscoll in "Honor the Name Dennis Driscoll" (1964); as Patrick Hogan in "The Book" (1965), the story of a young gambler who wins a small fortune and then meets a speedy demise; as a young Roy Bean in "A Sense of Justice" (1966), with Tris Coffin as his older brother Joshua Bean, set in San Diego, where Joshua was the founding mayor, and as Mark Twain in "Ten Day Millionaires" (1968).
- Hal Smith played the character John Wilson in the 1967 episode "The Man Who Didn't Want Gold".
- Fay Spain played Calamity Jane, with Rhodes Reason as Wild Bill Hickok, in the 1966 episode "A Calamity Called Jane".
- Warren Stevens was cast as Doc Holliday in the 1966 episode "Doc Holliday's Gold Bars".
- 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.
- Victoria Vetri played Sacajawea, with Victor French and her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, Dick Simmons as Meriwether Lewis, and Don Matheson as William Clark in "The Girl Who Walked the West" (1967).
- John Vivyan, earlier Mr. Lucky, guest starred in two episodes in 1962.
- Peter Whitney was cast as Judge Roy Bean in the 1965 episode "A Picture of a Lady", with Francine York as Lily Langtry and Paul Fix as Bean's friend, Doc Lathrop.
- Robert J. Wilke was cast as the courageous but aging Sheriff McBain in the episode "Brute Angel". In the story line McBain must arrest the young cut-throat Sam Bolt (Sherwood Price) and transport him for trial for murder in Denver. McBain prays for divine intervention; his friend Pony Cragin (Jim Davis) hears the prayer and removes bullets from Bolt's gun prior to the arrest attempt. Jean Engstrom is cast as McBain's wife, Esther.
- Alan Young played John Batterson Stetson in "The Hat That Won the West" (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.
- 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.
- "McGowan Org takes "Death", "Dr. Christian", The Billboard, June 5, 1954, p. 8
- ""Halo for a Badman"". Internet Movie Data Base. March 2, 1967. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
- ""Major Horace Bell", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. April 26, 1967. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
- ""Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 7, 1967. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
- ""The Saga of Dr. Davis" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. March 18, 1967. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- ""The Kid from Hell's Kitchen" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 20, 1966. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
- ""Jolly Roger and Wells Fargo" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 23, 1966. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- "Solid Gold Cavity of Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 1, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- ""The Lady and the Sourdough" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 8, 1966. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
- ""The Man Who Wouldn't Die", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
- ""The Reluctant Gun", Death Valley Days, December 26, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
- ""Chicken Bill" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
- ""Silver Tombstone" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. February 26, 1967. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
- ""Along Came Mariana" on Death Valley Days". May 11, 1967. Retrieved June 13, 2015.
- ""Solid Foundation" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 13, 2015.
- ""Samaritans, Mountain Style" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 27, 1966. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
- ""The Hero of Apache Pass" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 24, 1966. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- ""The Man Who Didn't Want Gold", Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. March 1, 1967. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
- ""A Calamity Called Jane" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. June 2, 2015.
- ""Doc Holliday's Gold Bars" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 30, 1966. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
- "William Tannen". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
- ""A Picture of a Lady" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. December 30, 1965. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
- ""Brute Ange" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 5, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- "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.