James Drury

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James Drury
James Drury The Virginian 1971.JPG
James Drury in a publicity photo for The Virginian (1971)
James Child Drury Jr.

(1934-04-18)April 18, 1934
DiedApril 6, 2020(2020-04-06) (aged 85)
Alma materNew York University
Years active1955–2020
  • Cristall Orton
    (m. 1957; div. 1964)
  • Phyllis Mitchell
    (m. 1968; div. 1979)
  • Carl Ann Head
    (m. 1979; died 2019)
Children2 sons (including Timothy Drury), a stepdaughter and 2 stepsons[1]
Parent(s)James Child Drury Sr.
Beatrice Crawford Drury

James Child Drury Jr. (April 18, 1934 – April 6, 2020) was an American actor. He is best known for having played the title role in the 90-minute weekly Western television series The Virginian, which was broadcast on NBC from 1962 to 1971.

Early years[edit]

Drury was born in New York City, the son of James Child Drury and Beatrice Crawford Drury.[2] His father was a New York University professor of marketing.[3][2] He grew up between New York City and Salem, Oregon, where his mother owned a farm.[4][5] Drury contracted polio at the age of ten.[3]

He studied drama at New York University[2] and took additional classes at UCLA to complete his degree after he began acting in films at MGM.[6]


Drury's professional acting career began when he was twelve years old, when he performed in a road company's production of Life with Father.[2]

He signed a film contract with MGM in 1954 and appeared in bit parts in films. After he went to 20th Century Fox, he appeared in Love Me Tender (1956) and Bernardine (1957).[7]

In 1959, Drury was cast as Harding, Jr., in the episode "Murder at the Mansion" on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.[8] On May 9, 1959, early in his career, Drury appeared as Neal Adams in the episode "Client Neal Adams" of ABC's western series Black Saddle. In the story line, Adams is an old friend of series protagonist Clay Culhane, a gunfighter-turned-lawyer played by Peter Breck. Adams has robbed a bank of $8,000 and was subsequently shot in the back by a pursuing bounty hunter, played by Charles Aidman. Adams asks Culhane for help and makes the false claim that the bounty hunter is the brother of a man whom Adams had earlier killed in self-defense.[9]

On Christmas eve 1959, Drury was cast in the episode, "Ten Feet of Nothing" on the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. Drury portrayed a young miner, Joe Plato, who in a drunken stupor gives away half of his then-worthless mining claim to a saloon singer, Kathy Mulqueen (Preshy Marker). Kathy arrives to collect on her interest in the mine when gold is discovered on the adjacent property. Soon Joe and Cathy fall in love and marry. Hank Patterson was cast as Plato's friend, Abe.[10]

In 1960, Drury appeared in different roles in two episodes, "Fair Game" and "Vindication" of another ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as a Confederate adventurer roaming through the post-Civil War American West. On November 16, 1960, Drury played young pioneer Justin Claiborne in the episode "The Bleymier Story" of NBC's Wagon Train.[11]. He was also cast in the 1960 Disney movie, Pollyanna as George Dodds, the love interest of Nancy Olson.

In 1960, Drury portrayed Joe Darle in the episode "Wall of Silence" of the ABC/Warner Bros. detective series, Bourbon Street Beat. He made a memorable guest appearance on the CBS drama series Perry Mason in 1961, as he played the role of musician and defendant Eddy King in "The Case of the Missing Melody".

Drury as "The Virginian"

He appeared in secondary roles for Walt Disney. In 1962, he was cast in a substantial role as a lascivious gold prospector in the early Sam Peckinpah western Ride the High Country (1962) opposite Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.

Around the same time, Drury landed the top-billed leading role of the ranch foreman on The Virginian, a lavish series that ran for nine seasons until 1971.[12] Drury was put under a 7-year contract with Universal in 1962 and was the front runner for the role, but he still had to audition three separate times and was required to lose 30 pounds in 30 days in order to secure the part.[13] Drury reported that he had based his performance of The Virginian on character elements of his maternal grandfather, with whom had had spent much of his childhood.[13]

Drury and his Wilshire Boulevard Buffalo Hunters band performed 54 USO-sponsored shows for troops in Vietnam in three weeks in April 1966.[7]

In a sequel to The Virginian, Drury continued his title role in The Men from Shiloh on NBC (1970–1971).[14]:981 He had the lead role of Captain Spike Ryerson in the drama series Firehouse on ABC television in 1974.[14]

In 1993, Drury had a guest-starring role as Captain Tom Price on the first three episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger, opposite Chuck Norris and Clarence Gilyard. Drury also had a cameo role in the 2000 TV movie of The Virginian starring Bill Pullman. The film followed Wister's novel more closely than had the television series. Drury appeared in a number of films and other television programs, including The Young Warriors and the TV cowboy reunion movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw with Doug McClure, who played the character Trampas during The Virginian.

In 1991, Drury was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[15] In 1997 and 2003, he was a guest at the Western Film Fair in Charlotte, North Carolina.[16]

Personal life and death[edit]

On February 7, 1957, Drury married Cristall Othones, and fathered two sons, Timothy and James III. The couple divorced on November 23, 1964 and on April 27, 1968, he married Phyllis Jacqueline Mitchell which ended in divorce on January 30, 1979. His third marriage was to Carl Ann Head on July 30, 1979 which lasted until her death to illness on August 25, 2019.[2] Drury had three stepchildren from his prior marriages including a stepdaughter, Rhonda Brown, and two stepsons, Frederick Drury and Gary Schero.[1] Drury died from natural causes on April 6, 2020, 12 days before his 86th birthday.[17]

Drury supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.[18]


Drury was in the oil and natural gas business in Houston at the turn of the 21st century. His son, Timothy Drury, is a keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist who has played with the rock groups The Eagles and Whitesnake.[19]



Year Title Role Notes
1955 Blackboard Jungle Hospital Attendant Uncredited
Love Me or Leave Me Assistant Director Uncredited
The Tender Trap Eddie
1956 Diane Lieutenant Uncredited
Forbidden Planet Crewman Strong
The Last Wagon Lt. Kelly
Love Me Tender Ray Reno
1957 Bernardine Lt. Langley Beaumont
1959 Good Day for a Hanging Paul Ridgely
1960 Toby Tyler Jim Weaver
Pollyanna George Dodds
Ten Who Dared Walter Powell
1962 Ride the High Country Billy Hammond
Third of a Man Emmet
1967 The Young Warriors aka Eagle Warriors Sgt. Cooley
1991 The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw Jim
1994 Maverick Riverboat Poker Player Uncredited
2005 Hell to Pay JT Coffee
TBA Billy and the Bandit Grandpa Posthumous release


Year 1961 Title Perry Mason Role Guest Star Notes Season 5 Episode 3
1955–61 Gunsmoke Tom / Johnny Red / Jerry Cass / Booth Rider 4 episodes
1958 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Michael Grimes Episode: "The Right Kind of House"
Playhouse 90 Jesse James Episode: "Bitter Heritage"
The Texan Johnny Kaler Episode: "The Troubled Town"[20]
1958–61 The Rifleman Spicer / Lloyd Carpenter 2 episodes
1959–61 Rawhide Rance / Johnny Adler / Kenley 3 episodes
1959 Lawman Clay Troop Episode "The Gang"
Lawman Stan Bates Episode "The Outsider"
Steve Canyon Lt. Richard Muller 2 episodes
Cheyenne Bill Magruder Episode: "The Impostor"
Black Saddle Neal Adams Episode: "Client: Neal Adams"
1960–62 Wagon Train Cole Crawford / Justin Claiborne 2 episodes
1962–71 The Virginian The Virginian 249 episodes
1969 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Himself 2 episodes
1971–72 Alias Smith and Jones Sheriff Tankersley / Sheriff Lom Trevors 2 episodes
1971 Ironside Al Episode: "The Professionals"
1974 Firehouse Captain Spike Ryerson 13 episodes
1993 Walker, Texas Ranger Captain Tom Price 3 episodes
1993–94 The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Ethan Emerson 2 episodes
2012 Tales of the Cap Gun Kid Ranger Captain 1 episode


  • River Invaders: The Scourge of Zebra Mussels (1994) — PBS special — host/narrator
  • Sturgeon: Ancient Survivors of the Deep (1995) — PBS special — host/narrator
  • A Vanishing Melody: The Call of the Piping Plover (1997) — PBS special


  1. ^ a b "James Drury, Taciturn Star of 'The Virginian,' Dies at 85". The New York Times. 2020-04-06. Retrieved 2020-08-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e Aaker, Everett (2017). Television Western Players, 1960-1975: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. pp. 135–137. ISBN 9781476662503. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b "James Drury". Archived from the original on May 22, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  4. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (6 April 2020). "James Drury, Taciturn Star of 'The Virginian,' Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  5. ^ Wheat, Dan (April 17, 2014). "'The Virginian' turns 80, recalls Oregon roots". Capital Press. Archived from the original on September 17, 2019.
  6. ^ Fischer, Marian Lowry (August 26, 1954). "Salem Youth Under Contract with MGM". Daily Capital Journal. Oregon, Salem. p. 13. Retrieved January 18, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  7. ^ a b Green, Paul (2009). A History of Television’s The Virginian, 1962–1971. McFarland. pp. 94–103. ISBN 9780786457991. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  8. ^ ""Murder at the Mansion", Richard Diamond, Private Detective, March 29, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Black Saddle: "Client Neal Adams", May 9, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  10. ^ "Ten Feet of Nothing on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. December 24, 1959. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  11. ^ "The Bleymier Story". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  12. ^ Ryan, Patrick (4 April 2020). "James Drury, star of NBC's long-running Western series 'The Virginian,' dies at 85". USA Today. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  13. ^ a b Green, Paul (2009). A History of Television’s The Virginian, 1962–1971. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-0786446803.
  14. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 343. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  15. ^ "Great Western Performers". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Gene Watson Peer's Quote from James Drury ('The Virginian'): June 2018". gene-watson.com/. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  17. ^ James Drury, Star of 'The Virginian,' Dies at 85, by Mike Barnes, in the Hollywood Reporter; published April 6, 2020; retrieved April 6, 2020, just 12 days short of his 86th birthday.
  18. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (2013-10-21). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
  19. ^ "News Radio 610 WTVN". Radio 610 WTVN. Archived from the original on June 24, 2013. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  20. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved February 1, 2013.

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