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|Also known as||
|Theme music composer||
Sammy Fain (Season two)|
Jack Brooks (Season two)
Jerome Moross (seasons four, five, six)
Lloyd R. Apperson|
John Williams (2.14, 2.38)
Frederick Herbert (2.14, 2.38)
Stanley Wilson (2.24, 2.38)
Jack Hayes (2.34)
David Raksin (2.7)
David Buttolph (2.33)
Roy Webb (2.3)
Laurindo Almeida (2.2)
Hans J. Salter
Heinz Roemheld (2.4)
Cyril J. Mockridge
Dale Butts (5.2)
Axel Stordahl (5.17)
William Lava (5.21)
Jerry Goldsmith (4.37)
Frank DeVol (3.4)
Frank Skinner (2.1)
Tak Shindo (2.9)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||284 (list of episodes)|
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
NBC (National Broadcasting Company), (1957–1962)|
ABC (American Broadcasting Company), (1962–1965)
|Original release||September 18, 1957– May 2, 1965|
The Big Trail
Wagon Train is an American Western series that aired on the NBC television network (National Broadcasting Company), 1957–1962 and then on the lower rated newer American Broadcasting Company (ABC), 1962–1965. Wagon Train first aired on September 18, 1957 and would eventually place the TV show in the number one spot in the Nielsen ratings. The series format attracted big name guest stars who would appear in major roles as travelers in the large wagon train or in the settlements they passed by or visited. It initially starred veteran movie supporting actor Ward Bond as the wagon master, later replaced upon his death in 1960 by John McIntire, and Robert Horton as the scout, subsequently replaced by Scott Miller and Robert Fuller.'
The series was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. and also Ward Bond, and harkens back to the early widescreen wagon train epic The Big Trail (1930) starring John Wayne and also featuring Bond in his first major screen appearance, playing a supporting role. Horton's buckskin outfit as the scout in the first season of the television series resembles Wayne's, who also played the wagon train's scout in the earlier film.
The series chronicles the adventures of a wagon train as it makes its way from St. Joseph Missouri across the Mid-Western plains and the Rocky Mountains to California and the trials and tribulations of the series regulars who conducted the train through the American West.
Episodes revolved around the stories of guest characters portraying various members of the massive wagon train or encountered by it. Occasionally, these characters were played by stars such as Ernest Borgnine, Bette Davis, Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin and Joseph Cotten. Episode titles routinely emphasized the guest characters with titles such as "The Willy Moran Story" and "The Echo Pass Story".
Taking inspiration from John Ford's 1950 film, Wagon Master, Revue Productions conceived of a semi-anthology series with an emphasis on strong storytelling and quality direction with weekly guest stars known for their work in motion pictures and other media but retaining a regular cast of characters to provide a touchstone for audiences, a successful formula later mimicked by shows in the 1960s and 1980s from Star Trek to The Love Boat.
At an initial budget of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) per segment,Wagon Train episodes cost over 40% more than most contemporary hour-long Westerns, allowing it to film on location in California's San Fernando Valley and afford its expensive guest stars.
The show ran for 284 episodes over 8 seasons: the first aired on September 18, 1957, and the final segment was broadcast on May 2, 1965.
The series aired for most of its run in black-and-white. That briefly changed during the show's fifth season (1961–62) on the NBC network, to help promote the sales of parent company RCA's color television sets.
Five episodes on the NBC network were aired in color:
The series returned to its original black-and-white format for its sixth year and first season (1962–63) on rival upstart ABC television network (American Broadcasting Company), damaging the ratings, but the following season, as the series expanded to 90 minutes, was entirely in color. In the final season the series reverted to both black and white and the 60-minute format. It was one of only a few series ever to switch to color and then revert to black and white. These switches, along with a time slot move to Sunday evenings for the first time, were significant contributors to the declining ratings that led to the series' cancellation in the spring of 1965.
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The regular cast included:
In the first four seasons Ward Bond was billed above Robert Horton in the opening crs. In season five Horton rotated top billing with relative newcomer John McIntire, a practice which subsequently continued with McIntire and Robert Fuller rotating top billing from episode to episode when Fuller joined the series in the seventh season.
During the sixth season, Horton had left and Fuller had not yet replaced him, so McIntire carried the show with the supporting cast. Neither Bond nor McIntire, both veterans of dozens of supporting roles in movies, routinely played the lead in theatrical films, although Bond did in at least one B-picture. Rivals Bond and Horton frequently quarreled on the set, an extensively publicized development at the time, lending an element of verisimilitude to their disputes within the episodes themselves. According to Scott Eyman in his biography of John Wayne, Bond's jealousy of Horton was fueled by Horton receiving more fan mail. Eyman stated Bond would try to limit Horton's screen time and interfere with any good lines Horton might be given in the show's scripts. They did eventually reconcile shortly before Bond's death.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Nielsen ratings|
|First aired||Last aired||Network||Rank||Rating|
|1||39||September 18, 1957||June 25, 1958||NBC||23||27.7|
|2||38||October 1, 1958||June 24, 1959||2||36.1|
|3||37||September 30, 1959||June 22, 1960||2||38.4|
|4||38||September 28, 1960||June 21, 1961||2||34.2|
|5||37||September 7, 1961||June 13, 1962||1||32.1|
|6||37||September 19, 1962||June 5, 1963||ABC||25||22.0|
|7||32||September 16, 1963||April 27, 1964||N/A||N/A|
|8||26||September 20, 1964||May 2, 1965||N/A||N/A|
In a first-season episode Adams says the war has been over for five years (suggesting the first season takes place around 1870, although, in "The Major Adams Story", part 1, it is clear that Adams had taken trains west in previous years, commencing "as soon as the war was over"). In season two, reference is made to the war ending six years earlier (1871) and to the presidential nomination of Ulysses S. Grant (1868), a neighbor of Adams before the war and eventually his commanding officer. In "The Jenna Douglas Story" (season 5, episode 6), and again in "The Heather Mahoney Story", the year is clearly stated to be 1868 (this is more problematic since these are John McIntire/Chris Hale episodes). In "Little Girl Lost" (season 8, episode 12), Charlie states that the year is 1869. In season three (in "The Vincent Eaglewood Story") Grant and Colfax are identified as the current President and Vice President of that time, which dates it as Grant's first term (March 1869 to March 1873); but also in season three (in "The Countess Baranof Story") the storyline involves the impending sale of Alaska by Russia, but that transaction actually took place in 1867, by Secretary of State William Seward under 17th President Andrew Johnson. "The Bernal Sierra Story" (first season) made extensive reference to the ongoing revolution in Mexico pitting republic president Benito Juárez against Maximilian I of Mexico (aka Emperor Maximilian installed by French emperor Napoleon III)--but that uprising ended decisively with Maximillian's capture and execution in 1867. Also in season three, an adventure involving the Mexican revolution led by dictator Porfirio Díaz, which began in 1871 ("The Stagecoach Story", season 3, ep 1, broadcast Sept 30, 1959). "The Cathy Eckhardt Story" (fourth season, broadcast November 9, 1960) clearly shows the year is 1870, but in "The Charlene Brenton Story" (late third season, broadcast June 8, 1960) reference is made to Bill Hawks' having read the novel Ben-Hur, which was not published until a decade later in 1880. "The Sam Pulaski Story" (Season 7, episode 8, broadcase November 4, 1963) misplaces Hell's Kitchen as the Brooklyn waterfront instead of the real location on the west side of mid-Manhattan, and dates the story as 1868 although the name "Hell's Kitchen" was not used for that neighborhood until years later. The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, following approximately the same route as a wagon train from St. Joseph to Sacramento. This would have made wagon trains obsolete by the time most episodes in the series take place in the 1870s; however, little reference is made to railroads in the West during the series.
Like another popular western TV series Rawhide and most of the western television series of the 1950s and 1960s, the show is set a few years after the American Civil War, but whereas there were few Indians in Rawhide because of the usual south to north routes and trails of the cattle drives from Texas heading north to markets at railheads, railroad stockyards and "cattle towns" on the mid-western plains further east from most Indian tribes which had already been pushed out further west or settled on reservations in the unorganized Indian Territory (future Oklahoma), they often frequently turned up in Wagon Train crossing the western U.S. from Missouri/Iowa to California/Oregon causing the wagons to form a defensive circle at nights or at any sign of attack.
In the very early episodes of the first season, Bill Hawks has a smaller role - as a passenger, not a team member, referred to and addressed as "Mr. Hawks", and traveling in a wagon with his wife, Emily. By the time of "The Major Adams Story", later in the first year, he is both a team member and a wagon owner - bringing his wife Emily (played by Irene Corlett and Irene Windust in different episodes) west. Emily explains that Bill and Major Adams went into the wagon train business "right after the war" (but only now, circa 1870, bringing his wife west). In "The Sacramento Story" at the end of Season 1, it is mentioned that she is left in Sacramento while Adams, Wooster, and Bill Hawks will take a boat around South America to commence a new wagon train in the coming Spring. However, in "The Barnaby West Story" and in "The Lizabeth Ann Calhoun Story", Hawks says that he never married.
In "The Major Adams Story" it is explained that Seth Adams had commanded a militia group (apparently in Philadelphia) and they enlisted en masse in the Union Army in 1861, that Bill Hawks was Sergeant to Major Adams and that Wooster was a late enlistment as a private (in various episodes it is mentioned that their regiment was under Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant). However, a different story in "The Colter Craven Story" (season 4), we are told that in 1860, Adams and Hawks were partners in a lumber enterprise in Galena, Illinois (Grant's pre-war hometown), and on the eve of the Civil War, Adams headed up the 2nd Illinois Volunteers - although without a bit of military knowledge - and was given guidance by old friend "Sam", then a resigned former captain and a civilian but subsequently General of the Army U.S. Grant, who - encountering Adams again after the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862) - gave him a battlefield promotion from Lieutenant to Major (in "The Colter Craven Story", Season 4, episode 9, broadcast November 23, 1960 - however Adams tells this story to Craven primarily to remedy Craven's hysterical paralysis and sense of shame, so Adams may not have been entirely truthful). In "The Beth Pearson Story", in a more credible situation, Adams says he met Hawks and Wooster in the Army during the war. In "The Lizabeth Ann Calhoun Story", we are again told that Hawks was a Sergeant in the Union Army. In "The Willy Moran Story" it is mentioned that Major Adams fought in the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863).
Additionally, around 1859 - perhaps before setting up the lumber business in Galena, Adams and Hawks were (briefly) prize fight promoters in New York City, generally setting up matches and taking bets on their boxer, known as "the Tinsmith" ("The Dan Hogan Story", Season 1, episode 33, broadcast May 14, 1958).
In the two-part "Major Adams Story" (season one, episodes 30, 31 broadcast April 23 and 30, 1958), viewers learn of Major Adams' Civil War background and his association in the Union Army with Wooster and Bill Hawks. The two episodes begin with Adams stopping to visit the grave of a lady love (in Arizona Territory - future Arizona), hundreds of miles from their established route further north across The West, whose tombstone shows that she had died in 1868. By that time, Adams had been leading wagon trains for several years (which would tend to conflict with the mentions of his Civil War combat). The episode then goes into a flashback.
In "The Major Adams Story" (1958), Charlie Wooster was a private in the Union Army who, by chance, was assigned to Major Adams's company and promptly proved himself useless for combat but claimed some experience as a cook and, when assigned to that position, did quite well. Wooster did not excel at anything else; so he became a cook in the Army. In the first episode he was clean-shaven, but he quickly grew a beard. McCullough had previously been a stagecoach driver. Douglas Kennedy appears in this episode as Colonel Hillary. Normally, each episode is the story of one person, after whom that episode is named, and their problems are resolved through the program.
"The Flint McCullough Story" (season two, ep 15 trans Jan 14, 1959) is also largely a flashback to his brief Civil War experience in the Confederate States Army. McCullough had been born in Virginia, but both his parents died when he was a small child, evidently at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, where he was promptly adopted by the historical real-life frontiersman, Jim Bridger (1804-1881). Circa 1862, at approximately the age of 19, McCullough felt duty-bound to enlist in the Confederate Army because of his Virginia birth. He was recruited by a Col. Taylor who had established a Confederate encampment in Wyoming near Fort Bridger. It turned out that Taylor intended to use his western recruits not as regular soldiers but as a guerrilla force to plunder gold shipments and the like to finance the Confederate cause. In this episode, McCullough detours from the wagon train to revisit Fort Bridger and learns he will once again meet his former ruthless commanding officer who is responsible for war crimes (including the wanton murder of McCullough's sweetheart), and whom McCullough vowed to kill if he ever tracked him down; at the episode's conclusion we return to the present and the ex-officer turns up, only for a shocked McCullough to discover that misfortune - prison experience and/or some serious illness—has left the hated man virtually a vegetable, a "punishment" apparently handed down by a higher authority. McCullough's adoption and training by Jim Bridger is also mentioned in "The River Crossing", and in "The Path of the Serpent" (February 1961). For some years after his discharge from the Confederate Army, McCullough was a driver for the Jameson Stagecoach line, between Sacramento and St. Louis ("The Stagecoach Story", season 3, ep 1, trans Sept 30, 1959), before becoming a scout for the wagon train.
"The Artie Matthewson Story" (1961), tells a different story of Flint's early life. Duke finds Flint's dying foster mother who asks Flint to check on her real son Artie who she hasn't seen in five years and has a reputation for getting into trouble with the law. Flint's foster mother dies in his arms. Yet another story is given in "The Nancy Lee Davis Story" - eight years before working for Chris Hale, McCullough was a prosperous young man (judging from his house, his clothes, his team of horses and his buggy) in a substantial Virginia community, engaged to marry a local debutante, but she was murdered by robbers intent on stealing the wedding gifts and silver plate prepared for the wedding reception and McCullough spent weeks, possibly months, riding the West from town to town hunting the robbers down. The same "Nancy Lee Davis Story" also described (it was filmed in black-and-white) McCullough's hair as red.
In "The Sacramento Story", which was the last episode in the first season, the wagon train finally arrives in California after a three-month journey. Some stars from earlier episodes appear briefly as disembarking passengers. At the end of the show, Flint McCullough has his $400 pay for the journey, says his goodbyes and rides off. Adams knows he'll spend the money on girls, do a number of jobs when it is gone, and then find another wagon train for which to scout. With all the other wagons gone, there is just Adams, Hawks and Wooster. They plan to take a ship back around the tip of South America and back to Boston. Instead, in the first episode of the second season, the trio are shanghaied (kidnapped and forced to join the crew of a ship) in San Francisco but jump ship in New Orleans and end up back in St. Joseph, Missouri, with McCullough ready to take another train west. In later seasons the series was more episodic and paid less attention to the progress of the train along its route over the course of the season.
The season-two episode "The Last Man" (episode 10, trans Feb 11, 1959) guest-starred Dan Duryea as the half-crazed sole survivor of a "lost" wagon train that had vanished in a snowed-in pass a year earlier; Adams and McCullough, in a jointly featured story, now face their train being condemned to an identical fate, as their wagons are similarly stalled alongside the "dead" train. It is not stated but implied that the sole survivor had to resort to cannibalism as people died off in order to survive—this grim episode was inspired by an actual, famous wintertime, wagon train disaster (the Donner Party) in 1846.
From season two some episodes were also denoted: "Tonight Starring . . . " after the initial cr for the two stars and show title were put up; these were the individual featured episodes of either Ward Bond or Robert Horton. Bond's tales normally were set on the train, while Horton's would usually involve the scout having ridden on ahead away from the train.. After Robert Horton left the series, during John McIntire's career as Chris Hale, Terry Wilson, as Bill Hawks, alternated with McIntire as the authority figure in episodes (even though Wilson was given third billing, after McGrath).
On May 6, 1959, just four months before he joined the new series Laramie on NBC, later Wagon Train costar Robert Fuller appears with Ruta Lee as a happily married young couple in the episode "The Kate Parker Story", with Virginia Grey in the starring role. Fuller as Chris Finley seeks to turn from gambling and become a responsible husband. Evvie, his wife, is seriously injured in a wagon accident. The Finleys contrast strikingly with an older couple on the wagon train, Kate Parker and her husband, Jonas, played by Warren Stevens, who have a loveless marriage. Trapped in snow in the mountains, presumably the Sierra Nevadas, the greedy Jonas leaves the Finleys behind to wait for reinforcements, and he forces the unwilling Kate to drive their wagon. Kate wrecks the wagon and Jonas leaves on foot with her money. Kate is given essential shelter by illiterate mountain man Boone Caulder, played by Royal Dano, whom she finds wise despite his lack of education.
On June 3, 1959, near the end of the second season, John McIntire guest starred in "The Andrew Hale Story", arguably unrelated to his later starring role as wagonmaster Chris Hale (who mentioned having a preacher for a brother). This Andrew Hale is a minister mistakenly on the run who is found dying on the desert. He soon displays great knowledge of healing and spiritual matters and restores the faith of many on the wagon train. Others making appearances in this episode are James Best and Clu Gulager, who portrays photographer Elliott Garrison, who blackmails a young woman on the wagon train. Afterwards, Gulager portrayed Billy the Kid in a TV series in NBC's The Tall Man, and, later, joined the cast of The Virginian.
After Ward Bond's sudden death on November 5, 1960, several episodes featuring him were still shown, but one was held back, with Robert Horton then carrying the lead. Episodes cring but not featuring both Bond and his replacement, John McIntire, were then alternated for a time until the final Ward Bond episode was screened over a year later as a tribute to him ("The Beth Pearson Story", season four, ep 22, trans Feb 22, 1961), then a few weeks later McIntire actually debuted as the new wagonmaster in 'The Christopher Hale Story' (ep 25, trans March 15, 1961) in a tale where the train—without any on-screen explanation of Adams' absence—is awaiting the arrival of a new wagonmaster. Hale, a retired wagonmaster whose family has been massacred, has just joined the train as a traveler; guest star Lee Marvin then arrives as the quickly unpopular sadistic new wagonmaster, who ultimately gets his just deserts after a confrontation with Hale, and by the end of the tale, Hale is invited to take over as the new wagonmaster, a post he reluctantly accepts. Hale was from St. Louis ("The Sarah Procter Story") and was a college graduate ("The Heather Mahoney Story"). It is subsequently mentioned ("The Gus Morgan Story", season seven, ep 3, trans Sept 20, 1963) that Chris Hale had been a government surveyor in the West and therefore is very familiar with the terrain. . It is also mentioned (in "The George B. Hanrahan Story") that Chris Hale had, some years prior to the episode, been the wagon master for the gold mining shipments out of Utah. In "The Levi Hale Story" we are introduced to Chris Hale's older (by ten years) brother, Levi, who had been a scout for Jim Bridger and later was a distinguished marshal and then was sent to prison for tracking down and killing three members of the mob who lynched his son (for the brutal killing of his fiancee); Levi was sentenced to life imprisonment in Wyoming but was released to Chris Hale' wagon train when he was on the verge of dying. In that episode Chris Hale tells his brother Levi (also played by McIntire) that the two of them are "the last of the Hales". Although the repeated story is that Chris Hale's wife and son had been killed by an Indian attack on their farm (e..g. "The Levi Hale Story'), in "The Heather Mahoney Story" we are told that his wife ("his first wife" - but no mention of a son) died while traveling with him on a wagon train.
One of the last Ward Bond episodes, "The River Crossing", broadcast in December 1960, offer some insights. Reference is made to a terrible accident that occurred to a wagon in one of Adams's wagon trains five years earlier, and Adams reminds Wooster that they have crossed this spot at least a dozen times before, which suggests they had worked together on wagon trains for at least a dozen years. A cloudburst forces about fifty wagons to wait on one side of the river and this is spoken of as "half the train", suggesting the entire wagon train has about a hundred wagons (only about twelve ever appeared on the screen at once)..
In season 8, a year after Robert Fuller became scout Cooper Smith, it was revealed (in "The Bob Stuart Story", ep 1, Sept. 1964) that, ten years earlier, Cooper Smith had been the leader of supposedly the most determined guns-for-hire team in what was described as 'the Kansas range war'. He had been persuaded to leave this line of work when he was hospitalized after a marshal shot him in the back with a shotgun.
Later, both "The Duke Shannon Story" (season four, ep 30, trans April 26, 1961) and "The Barnaby West Story" (season six, ep 37, trans June 5, 1963) introduced further regular cast members, although the sudden departure of Robert Horton's original co-lead character scout Flint McCullough following the show's move from NBC to ABC in 1962, was never explained on screen.
One episode very seldom shown, probably because of its absurd storyline, is "Princess of the Lost Tribe" (season 4 episode 6, shown 6 Nov 1960), in which Flint McCullough happens upon the hiding place of descendants of the Aztec Indians - now moved up from central Mexico to the vicinity of Arizona, with Raymond Massey playing their king, Montezuma IX, speaking English with flawless educated diction.
Wagon Train was famous for its guest stars, many of whom were known for film work.
The first season theme "Wagon Train" was written by Henri René and Bob Russell, and lyrics were not used. The theme was conducted by Revue musical director Stanley Wilson. In the second season, a new more modern sounding theme was introduced. "(Roll Along) Wagon Train" was written by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks and sung by Johnny O'Neill. About midway through the second season this was replaced with an instrumental version by Stanley Wilson. In the third season a more traditional sounding score was introduced. "Wagons Ho!" was written and conducted by Jerome Moross, who adapted it from a passage of music he had written for the 1959 film The Jayhawkers. This theme would last through the series' run and is the most remembered Wagon Train theme. Stanley Wilson re-recorded "Wagons Ho!" for the last two seasons.
Gene Roddenberry claimed he pitched Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the stars", referring the concept of a recurring cast on a journey with notable guest stars becoming the focus of various stories. In his March 11,1964 initial pitch document for the series he wrote, "STAR TREK is a 'Wagon Train' concept—built around characters who travel to worlds 'similar' to our own".
"Wagon Train is a cool show, but you ever notice they never get anywhere? They just keep on wagon-training."
When the original Ward Bond episodes were broadcast weekday afternoons on ABC beginning in 1963, a new series title "Seth Adams Trailmaster" was given to the episode to avoid viewer confusion because Wagon Train was still on the ABC evening schedule. A new theme song, the "Trailmaster Theme", written and conducted by Stanley Wilson, was used for these syndicated episodes. The later episodes from the John McIntyre era were syndicated under the simpler title "Trailmaster". All episodes eventually reverted to their original titling after the series left the air. The 75-minute episodes were usually syndicated separately, sometimes shown on local stations as "movies".
In 2004 Alpha Video released three episodes of Wagon Train on DVD. Four years later Timeless Media Group released a DVD collection consisting of 12 episodes on three discs. Also in 2008, they released "The Complete Color Season", a 16 disc box set that included all 32 episodes from season seven plus, as a bonus, 16 episodes from the other seasons.
Between 2010 and 2013 Timeless Media Group released the complete run of the series in eight box sets of one season each with the seventh season re-issued without the bonus episodes.
|1||39||10||July 12, 2010|||
|2||38||10||November 23, 2010|||
|3||37||10||March 17, 2011|||
|4||38||10||October 25, 2011|||
|5||37||10||May 1, 2012|||
|6||37||10||March 5, 2013|||
|7||32||8||November 11, 2008|||
|8||26||8||June 11, 2013|||
Throughout its run, the series depicted a wagon train that used "prairie schooner" type covered wagons, which was fairly accurate for settlers traveling across the midwest. Full-length oxen-drawn Conestoga wagons are prominent in depictions of the American West, but such large wagons were rarely used beyond the Missouri except by freighters along the Santa Fe Trail because they required well-traveled roads. Wagon Train's own Ward Bond appeared in such a film, 1930's The Big Trail (wherein then 27-year-old Ward Bond supporting 23-year-old John Wayne). Despite the show's accuracy, film clips and stock footage depicting a train of Conestogas were sometimes utilized in episodes.