Wagon Train

Wagon Train

1957 - United States

Based on John Ford's 1950 movie Wagonmaster, Wagon Train became one of the most successful small screen Westerns ever, dominating the ratings on both sides of the Atlantic and later becoming the inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek

Starting out each season from St. Joseph, Missouri, and making it's way west to California, the Wagon Train, a group of 19th century settlers, had to negotiate it's way through endless deserts, the towering passes of the Rocky Mountains and the vast Indian controlled Great Plains. Along the way the regular characters, led by Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams, faced a number of perilous adventures as they were joined briefly by some of Hollywood's finest. These "guest stars" who brought with them their hopes, experiences and troubles to ensure a different story each week, included such luminaries as Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn, Lou Costello, Bette Davis, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Mickey Rooney, Barbara Stanwyck, Shelley Winters, John Wayne (in an uncredited cameo as General Sherman-his only dramatic appearance in a TV show), Jane Wyman, and future US President Ronald Reagan. 

The writers (who included future blockbuster producer Aaron Spelling), borrowed from such literary classics as 'Great Expectations' and 'Pride and Prejudice,' as well as using stock Western cliches such as warpathing Indians. Ensuring that the Trains progress was not hampered was Robert Horton as frontier scout Flint McCullough, until Horton left the series in 1962 saying that he was fed up with Westerns, only to turn up again in 1965 as the star of A Man Called Shenandoah

Horton was replaced by 'Laramie' star Robert Fuller as Cooper Smith. Another major cast change took place when Ward Bond died of a heart attack whilst on location in Texas on 5 November 1960, and John McIntire, who later went on to star in The Virginian replaced him. In 1962 the series was expanded from it's 52 minute, black and white format to 90 minutes in colour, however this proved less successful and the show's days were clearly numbered, even though it struggled on for another three years. 

Published on February 11th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (2000) for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Bonanza

Running for 14 years on it's native NBC network, Bonanza was set on the vast Ponderosa timber and cattle ranch in Nevada in the 1860's. The show was notable for being the first TV Western to be shot in colour.

Also tagged Western Series

The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok

"James Butler Hickok, mister" our hero would announce to all and sundry before his sidekick would elaborate, "That's Wild Bill Hickok, mister! The bravest, strongest, fightingest U.S. Marshal in the whole West!"

Also tagged Western Series

Have Gun Will Travel

US Western series which chronicled the exploits of the college educated, West Point trained, black clad lone solider of fortune known simply as 'Paladin'

Also released in 1957

The Adventures of Tugboat Annie

Anglo-Canadian sitcom about Annie Brennan, the fog-horn voiced captain of the Narcissus, a tugboat based in a harbour on the Pacific North West of America.

Also released in 1957

The Big Valley

Set in California's San Joaquin Valley, The Big Valley was what the series 'Dallas' may have looked like if it had been set in the 1870s.

Also tagged Western Series

Fury

US & British co-production about a black stallion that no-one has yet been able to tame.

Also tagged Western Series

Educated Evans

Based on an Edgar Wallace created character this 1957/8 sitcom starred Charlie Chester as the popular Cockney racing tipster 'Educated' Evans, who ducked and dived through the back streets and public houses of London all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the law.

Also released in 1957

The Black and White Minstrel Show

A firm Saturday night favourite for many years The Black and White Minstrel Show, a mixture of American deep South music previously popularised by internationally famous vaudeville stars such as the great Al Jolson.

Also released in 1957

Annie Oakley

Television's first Western heroine was played by Gail Davis and co-starred Brad Johnson as Deputy Sheriff Lofty Craig and Jimmy Hawkins, as Annie's brother, Tagg.

Also tagged Western Series