While today’s television landscape is littered with so-called reality programming, westerns dominated the airways in the 1960s. One of the most popular was “The Virginian,” which ran for nine seasons on NBC from 1962-1971, and starred James Drury as the unnamed, mystery foreman of the Shiloh ranch, set in Medicine Bow, Wyo.
Drury celebrated his 80th birthday in April and, far from retiring, says plans are in progress to resurrect his tough but honorable cowboy character in a new show for kids that combines live-action and animation.
“It’s called ‘Billy and the Bandit’ aimed at 8- to10-year-olds, but adults can enjoy it, too,” said Drury from his home in Houston. “Billy is the great, great, grandson of ‘The Virginian’ and confined to a wheelchair. He is told tales of the old West by his grandfather, played by me, and fantasizes about western adventures as he falls asleep. All kinds of stories come out of that.”
With the pilot script now completed, and cast and crew beginning filming, Drury says a Kickstarter fundraiser is in progress to assist with costs associated with the live-action sequences, animation, and postproduction (see www.thevirginian.net).
“It’s an exciting project,” said Drury, who will reunite in the new series with his old “Virginian” costars, Roberta Shore and Gary Clarke. “We’re looking forwarded to telling some great stories for families every week.”
Currently broadcast on cable’s INSP TV, Drury isn’t surprised that “The Virginian” has remained popular with audiences for more than 50 years.
“It was the first 90-minute western on TV and that gave our writers an opportunity to explore detailed stories,” he explained. “It was like doing a movie every week. We also had a wonderful cast of continuing characters, and with the great writing, the finest actors in Hollywood wanted guest starring roles – George C. Scott, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Robert Redford come to mind. Every day I’d go off to the set excited about the wonderful actors I’d be working with.”