Sunday, September 15, 2019

Bill Cody on the First Trip of the Pony Express

By Buffalo Bill Cody (born Feb. 1846, died Jan. 1917)

The first trip of the Pony Express was made in ten days--an average of two hundred miles a day. But we soon began stretching our riders and making better time. Soon we shortened the time to eight days. President Buchanan’s last Presidential message in December, 1860, was carried in eight days. President Lincoln’s inaugural, the following March, took only seven days and seventeen hours for the journey between St. Joseph and Sacramento.

We soon got used to the work. When it became apparent to the men in charge that the boys could do better than forty-five miles a day the stretches were lengthened. The pay of the rider was from $100 to $125 a month. It was announced that the further a man rode the better would be his pay. That put speed and endurance into all of us.

Stern necessity often compelled us to lengthen our day’s work even beyond our desires. In the hostile Indian country, riders were frequently shot. In such an event the man whose relief had been killed had to ride on to the next station, doing two men’s ride. Road-agents were another menace, and often they proved as deadly as the Indians.

In stretching my own route I found myself getting further and further west. Finally I was riding well into the foothills of the Rockies. Still further west my route was pushed. Soon I rode from Red Buttes to Sweetwater, a distance of seventy-six miles. Road-agents and Indians infested this country. I never was quite sure when I started out when I should reach my destination, or whether I should never reach it at all.

One day I galloped into the station at Three Crossings to find that my relief had been killed in a drunken row the night before. There was no one to take his place. His route was eighty-five miles across country to the west. I had no time to think it over. Selecting a good pony out of the stables I was soon on my way.

I arrived at Rocky Ridge, the end of the new route, on schedule time, and turning back came on to Red Buttes, my starting place. The round trip was 320 miles, and I made it in twenty-one hours and forty minutes.

Excitement was plentiful during my two years’ service as a Pony Express rider. One day as I was leaving Horse Creek, a party of fifteen Indians jammed me in a sand ravine eight miles west of the station. They fired at me repeatedly, but my luck held, and I went unscathed. My mount was a California roan pony, the fastest in the stables. I dug the spurs into his sides, and, lying flat on his back, I kept straight on for Sweetwater Bridge eleven miles distant. A turn back to Horse Creek might have brought me more speedily to shelter, but I did not dare risk it.

The Indians came on behind, riding with all the speed they could put into their horses, but my pony drew rapidly ahead. I had a lead of two miles when I reached the station. There I found I could get no new pony. The stock-tender had been killed by the Indians during the night. All his ponies had been stolen and driven off. I kept on, therefore, to Plonts Station, twelve miles further along, riding the same pony--a ride of twenty-four miles on one mount. At Plonts I told the people what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge. Then, with a fresh horse, I finished my route without further adventure.

Editor's Note: This story was taken from the February-March 1979 issue of Frontier Times, partner to True West, page 3.

Be sure to watch a series of movie videos, documentaries, and a book review on Buffalo Bill Cody: click here.

Also, tune in next Sunday, 8 a.m., when we'll feature a story about saddle vs. bareback riding, authored by WMD's very own horseman, Gary Miller.

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Buffalo Bill Cody: Movies, Documentaries, and Reviews

The infamous Buffalo Bill (Cody) was born on February 26, 1846 and died on January 10, 1917. Almost anyone of us who have a special interest in the Old West by way of movies and historical accounts know of this man and his Wild West Show. This is a collection of movies, documentaries, and music reviews concerning this most famous of all Wild West figures.

Be sure to read Bill Cody's own words concerning the first pony express: click here.

History Summarized: Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Buffalo Bill (1908) - William F. Cody on Horseback - Wild West Show Tour

Buffalo Bill Western 1944 Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara, Linda Darnell

The Life of Buffalo Bill. 1912

Inventing the Wild West: Buffalo Bill Cody - Biography, Facts, Quotes (2003)

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

An Interview with “The Virginian” (part 2)

Unlike other shows of its kind, The Virginian ran for 90 minutes, was shot from the debut in color and featured a unique format which saw a semi-mysterious lead character journeying through varied conflicts in intriguing stories with famed guest roles and an endearing family unit.

Comprised of 249 episodes, NBC’s The Virginian, was television’s third longest-running western and rated in the top 30 programs for most of its nine-season run, making the top 10 in 1966. Veteran actors Lee J. Cobb, Charles Bickford and John McIntire portrayed the ranch’s owners as the years progressed, with Stewart Granger filling the role for a final season, titled The Men from Shiloh, with a slightly retooled approach.

Based on the 1902 novel by Owen Wister, the popular western story was filmed numerous times for the big screen before being adapted to television in 1962. It was in that medium that the enigmatic character of The Virginian was brought to life famously by actor James Drury. With a wide knowledge and respect for all things western and a wealth of tremendous stories to tell, he keeps active today with public appearances and a website dedicated to the iconic show. We were very fortunate to have an enjoyable and informative talk with him recently.

Editor's Note: The following is part 2 of an edited transcription of Christopher Robinson's discussion with James Drury. Part 1 published on August 25th. To read it, click here (opens a new window).

Western Magazine Digest: You mentioned reusing stories. Also, despite good production values on the series, it looks like some familiar sets were used over and over again.

James Drury: When they started the series they built ‘western streets’. You had one with a saloon, general store, hotel… For instance, they did our show and then they shot Laredo and changed the signs from ‘Medicine Bow’ to ‘Laredo’. But if you’re spending time looking at the buildings, the actors probably aren’t doing a good job capturing the audience’s attention. We had a lot of western streets. We’d go to another studio like Paramount or Columbia, all available for rental. We moved around quite a bit.

WMD: There was also a large ensemble of performers over the duration of the series. But it always had a family atmosphere where everyone seemed to make the best out of working as a team.

JD: That’s part of any major family-owned ranch operation that you see today. They’re all pitching in to get the work done. Any kind of feedlot or cattle operation requires incredible amounts of energy and work to keep everything going. The cattle can come down with more illnesses than you can shake a stick at. You practically have to be a doctor, nurse and a chiropractor combined to take care of them. It’s the cowboy’s way.

WMD: I guess that’s why I live on the east coast.

JD: That’s why you live in New Jersey, right? But you still eat hamburgers, don’t you?(laughs)

WMD: Is there a favorite episode for you?

JD: There are a couple that I was quite proud of. One is “Felicity’s Spring” with Katherine Crawford, which was a major love story that was very well done. It seems to be one of the most popular episodes. Then there’s one called “Mountain of the Sun” with Dolores Hart. After we did the show, she entered a convent. She’s in charge of it now, in a town called Bethlehem in Connecticut. She was planning to go there long before we did that show. She fooled everybody. One of our mutual friends is Jan Shepard.

Jan has been my leading lady many times. She said to Jan, “I’m getting married”! Jan said, “Who’s the lucky guy”? She said, “I’m marrying God”. No one knew she was planning that. She went in, I think, two days after she finished shooting The Virginian. She was, and is a wonderful actress. She did a great job on that show and it stood out as one of the better episodes. And we had some wonderful performances from our cast. Everybody was able to carry the load if they were up to it. We put it together that way. No one person carried the show.

WMD: What ever became of the maroon shirt and black vest?

JD: (laughs) I don’t have any of them. Somebody swiped them from a hotel room. Those elements are all gone. I have some hats and boots but not the trademark costume.

WMD: Should’ve ended up in the Smithsonian.

JD: Well, I don’t know about that but it’s great to see a lot of young people watching the show now. I get letters from grandparents saying that their grandkids are watching it but they didn’t ask or tell them to. That’s very gratifying. When you get to be 85, you have a lot of memories to cherish and I have a lot of fun thinking about it.

WMD: Firehouse was a series that came later. Another active, rugged role. Were they typecasting you because of the Virginian role?

JD: Well, they had to have a captain, a leader. It was a bad show. The writing was uninspired. The producers wanted three disasters in twenty-one minutes. So we’re doing a disaster and running to the next one and the next one… So that ‘family feel’ you talked about, where everybody’s working together, you don’t have that. You couldn’t see us. We had masks on for those compressed air tanks. We’re howling through the masks, “Put out that fire!” You never got a sense of camaraderie or connection. Whereas a show like Chicago Fire, which is on now, those people are a family. You get to know each of them. They all have something to contribute. You never saw that on Firehouse. We were too busy putting out dumb fires.

WMD: Too much action.

JD: They paid me a lot of money to do that show but I’m not that proud of it. Thirteen weeks of agony.

WMD: We just commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so I thought it would be worth mentioning The Young Warriors, a war film you starred in. Was that made during a hiatus from your TV schedule?

JD: That’s right. It was 1966. I took my own USO unit to Vietnam to entertain troops and we were there for twenty-eight days and I came back and made that picture. We used eighteen minutes of stock footage from To Hell and Back, all the big scenes with the German tanks and all. I wore the exact uniform that Audie Murphy wore. That gave it a lot of scope and breadth that it wouldn’t have had. We were lucky to have it. I’m proud to have made that. It was a nice little picture.

WMD: You and your fellow Virginian cast members continue to hold reunions, something the fans greatly look forward to. Are there any highlights of these gatherings?

JD: We love to get together. We’re all close friends who have great fondness and respect for each other. Lately, I’m not in a position to do more than one a year, but we do a film festival called ‘Spirit of the West’ in Ardmore, every May.

WMD: Finally, what are your favorite westerns that you did not star in?

JD: The Magnificent Seven, The Searchers, Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Professionals with Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster… There aren’t too many I don’t like. I sure liked being in Ride the High Country. I did that with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea with Sam Peckinpah directing. I played the lead villain and it was a lot of fun. We had Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler… It was quite a group of talent to put together. Over the years we developed what we call ‘The Cowboy Way’ and it’s something I think everybody ought to remember. Real simple… ‘If it’s not true, don’t say it. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. And if it’s not right, don’t do it’… That’s a pretty good way to live.

In closing, James Drury is the kind of icon that Hollywood, sadly, no longer makes. That’s probably because the western ideal is concurrently simple and complex. It speaks to many universal qualities, chiefly the spirit of honor, hard work, cooperation and respect for others as well as the land and its resources. It can’t be prepared, rehearsed or mimicked for the duration of a movie or television production every now and again. Perhaps that’s why he plays the part so convincingly and makes it unequivocally acceptable as the real deal. He knows the American west’s past and that makes his optimism for its future credibly encouraging. It’s why the Cowboy Way has served him so well and why we can all rest assured that it won’t be fading into the sunset anytime soon. --Christopher Robinson, WMD

Read Part 1:
Also, visit The Virginian Official Website!

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Upcoming: An Interview With 'The Virginian,' Part 2

This last Sunday, the Western Magazine Digest (WMD) published part one of An Interview with The Virginian, written by Christopher Robinson, a WMD author. Response to part one was very good, to say the least. Hundreds of avid western television fans flocked to the website to read the first installment of a two-part story the likes which is rarely told. Christopher Robinson did an exquisite job of capturing the bravado and unique style of The Virginian himself, James Drury.

In part 1, James Drury, The Virginian, provided insights into his varied acting career. This is a brief discussion of part 2 of An Interview with The Virginian, yet to be published on WMD on September 8th, 2019.

"I started out when I was eight years old in children theatres in New York City. My mother took me down at Christmastime to a place where they cast me in a Christmas play about King Herod and the Christ Child, and I played King Herod," says Drury. "But I didn’t want to get on stage. My mother just booted me onto the stage to start out. I got out and at the end of the thing, people clapped and I thought, ‘Well, if they’re gonna clap at something like this… I’d better find out more about it.’ So I started studying."

One of the things that surprised me when I read through the interview was that Drury had trained to be a versatile actor, and without any thought of working in western films. And yet, somehow, by some quirk of fate, he ended up on our television sets in what became one of the longest running westerns of its time: The Virginian.

This reminded me of the fact that so many of us ignore the obvious, often striving to attain those things that we don't have. In this case, Drury, who had a good deal of experience doing ranch work, hadn't thought much about acting in westerns, seeking out other venues for his acting aspirations.

"I wasn’t conscious of it, but I had been raised on a series of ranches in Oregon and had been around horses and stock all of my life and had my first horse when I was twelve. That horse taught me to ride, pretty much. Luckily, I had all that ammo in my briefcase. As far as the motion pictures go, I did one picture for MGM in that first year with Lana Turner called Diane," says Drury.

On The TV Western and Movie Fan Page on Facebook, member Chuck W. Johnson commented, "and not one costume leather hat....and maroon shirt...," and I have to admit, I had never thought about the lack of variety in the Virginian's attire. In part 2, the issue of wardrobe comes up and Drury briefly addresses it.

After the ninth year of The Virginian series, Drury was once again cast into another series called, if you'll recall, Firehouse, which I had all but forgotten and probably for the very reasons cited by Drury in his response to author Robinson's question.

Robinson asks, "Firehouse was a series that came later. Another active, rugged role. Were they typecasting you because of the Virginian role?"

Drury replies, "Well, they had to have a captain, a leader. It was a bad show. The writing was uninspired. The producers wanted three disasters in twenty-one minutes. So we’re doing a disaster and running to the next one and the next one… So that ‘family feel’ you talked about, where everybody’s working together, you don’t have that. You couldn’t see us. We had masks on for those compressed air tanks. We’re howling through the masks, 'Put out that fire!' You never got a sense of camaraderie or connection. Whereas a show like Chicago Fire, which is on now, those people are a family. You get to know each of them. They all have something to contribute. You never saw that on Firehouse. We were too busy putting out dumb fires."

That made me chuckle when I read it. In fact, the entire part 2 of James Drury's interview was very informative, interesting, and it filled in many gaps. If you haven't read part 1 yet, you should do that now, before part 2 comes out next Sunday, September 8th. To read it: click here. See you at the debut of part 2.

Al Colombo

Bonus! Movies for your entertainment!

Nightmare at Fort Killman S5 E24 The Virginian

The Payment S3 E14 The Virginian

The Reckoning S6 E1 The Virginian

Also, visit The Virginian Official Website!

free ebook downloads

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