Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Classic TV: The Big Valley (1965)

ABC, in the mid-60's, was looking for a tentpole Western along the lines of CBS' Gunsmoke or NBC's Bonanza. What they got fell closer to the latter than the former, but didn't have the staying power of either one.

As Bonanza was set in Virginia City, Nevada, and built around the Cartwrights, The Big Valley was set in Stockton, California, and centered on the Barkleys. Victoria (Barbara Stanwyck) was a widow with three sons and a daughter, which trumped the men of the Ponderosa. Heath (Lee Majors) was sort-of the black sheep of the family, as he was allegedly an illegitmate son. Jarrod (Richard Long) was a lawyer. Nick (Peter Breck, ex-Black Saddle) was the ranch foreman. Audra (Linda Evans), the daughter, was the predictable damsel in distress. While the Cartwrights had an Asian cook, the Barkleys had an African-American butler (Napoleon Whiting) who was treated with the utmost respect. Some reference sources referred to the butler as the "major domo" who was put in charge when the family was away.

The Big Valley, a Four Star production, lasted four seasons (1965-9), and attracted an eclectic collection of guest stars. Comedian Marty Allen, for example, appeared in at least two episodes. Adam West (Batman), who'd previously worked for Four Star on The Detectives with Robert Taylor, reunited with Linda Evans, his co-star in the movie, "Mara of the Wilderness", in one episode, which I believe came after Batman ended. He wasn't the only one to swap his cape for an encounter with the Barkleys. Yvonne Craig also made a guest appearance, as you'll note in the following video, but that was before she was cast as Batgirl.

Post-Valley, Richard Long shifted to sitcoms, starring in Nanny & The Professor (1970-2) and the short-lived Thicker Than Water before his untimely passing while the latter series was in production, if memory serves. Of course, Lee Majors & Linda Evans each achieved iconic status much later. Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man, and Evans in Dynasty. It happens that they're also the only two core cast members still around.

SpudTV uploaded a season 1 open & close, taken from Encore Westerns. Currently, Me-TV & INSP share cable rights.

Rating: A-.


magicdog said...

I always liked Big Valley! There are times I liked it a bit more than Bonanza.

Too bad there was never a crossover between the shows. Of course that would mean Little Joe would have tried to romance Audra and that would mean she'd have to bite the dust as per Bonanza rules of Cartwright wives and girlfriends!

I had hopes there would have been a BV reunion in the 80s or 90s when the majority of the cast was still alive. Instead, I hear there will be a big screen adaptation - with Susan Sarandon being touted as Victoria Barkley! The shame! She isn't worthy to shine Barbara Stanwick's side saddle!

A reunion of sorts could be done, although it would probably be more akin the the syndicated Bonanza - TNG movies. Picture it:

The reunion movie/series is set about 40 years after the last episode aired (which would have been circa 1878-79 on the series) which would make the timeline about 1919-1920. There was a lot going on during that period of history which The Barkley's could have been a part of. Audra would have eventually married an expy of Adolph Spreckles or James Dole and moved to Hawaii to own/run a sugar or pineapple plantation and shipping the goods to SF (true to real life). She would have had a family of course, then decides to come for a visit with her kids and grandkids to Stockton - perhaps for a funeral. Her oldest brother Jarrod as in real life) died of a heart attack decades earlier. Brother Nick passed recently, having been a former governor of CA. Heath is still around, perhaps he was Nick's aide or took over running the ranch when Nick went into politics. Nick would have married that Mexican revolutionary he met in "Miranda". Both of them of course have kids/grandkids. A Barkley is referenced as having been on the Titanic. Another having served/died in WWI, the Barkleys the first in the valley to buy a car, etc.

It could work.

hobbyfan said...

Wait. A Big Valley movie reboot? If anyone is to play Victoria, rightfully, it'd be Linda Evans. Right or wrong? It'd only be fair, and since Tom Barkley, the patriarch who had passed before the series began, would need to be referenced in the movie, maybe you give Lee Majors a cameo.


Jarrod: George Clooney
Nick: Christian Bale
Heath: Mark Wahlberg or Channing Tatum
Audra: Malin Ackerman (or, if Clooney decides to let his ego get in the way, Stacy Keibler).

Lord only knows if this actually makes it in time for the series' 50th anniversary.

magicdog said...

Looks like that movie project won't be happening after all. I did a bit of digging and it seems Daniel Adams, the person behind that project was brought up on charges of fraud.


One of the BV fan forums listed the performers who were scheduled for the Barkley roles:

Lee Majors - Tom Barkley (no mention if he would appear in flashbacks and dead when the movie begins as he was in the series pilot or if audiences see him killed onscreen)

Victoria Barkley - Jessica Lange

Jarrod Barkley - Stephen Moyer

Nick Barkley - Jason Alan Smith

Heath Barkley - Travis Fimmel

Audra Barkley - Lorraine Nicholson

Linda Evans as Victoria might work, but I think she's too old for the part. Barbara Stanwick was about 58 when she took the role. Then again, I'd still watch.

hobbyfan said...

So I was right about Lee Majors as Tom Barkley. Gee, what a shock. Jessica Lange as Victoria? Well, I can deal with that.

Other than Travis Fimmel, the rest of the cast is unknown to me. Fimmel is basically a on-the-fringes-of fame guy, but I can't see him fitting in here.

Marc H said...

To do a Bonanza-Big Valley crossover, Stage one: Family Patriarch Ben Cartwright and Matriarch Victoria Barkley are both "Away on business.", the Barkleys are still trying to keep the railroad from pushing across the Valley while Ben Cartwright has a lumber contract with the rail line. Incidents turn civil parties with differences into allies and more after struggling together to survive harrowing situations. Victoria returns home to announce her engagement to Ben Cartwright who is expected to arrive in a few days with his sons.

Adam gets along well with Jared. Hoss finds Heath friendly enough and is soon calling Audra "Little Sister". Nick and Little Joe take an instant disliking to each other and their respective candidate stepparents.

Nick: "Jared, I'm a grown man and I've been running this ranch ever since our father died and I DON'T need Ben Cartwright to tell me how to handle things!"

Hoss: "Little brother. I just don't get why you're so set against Miss Victoria marrying our pa."

Little Joe: "I just don't like it. I don't like Nick Barkley lording over me and I..."

Hoss: "You feel like some stranger is stepping into your ma's place."

Little Joe: "Yeah..."

Hoss: "Your ma was a good woman. She was good to me and Adam. But don't you think we didn't have some hurt when your mom came into pa's life? And it weren't fair but I was plumb upset! How could pa replace my ma? But he weren't and he ain't tryin' to replace your ma or mine or Adam's. He's just got a hole in his heart that he needs to fill. Miss Victoria is doing that. I ain't seen pa this happy in a long time. I'm guessing it's the same for her. They just want to be happy Little Brother. Ain't they both got that right?"

hobbyfan said...

Two different networks & studios leaves such a crossover to the boundaries of fan-fiction, Marc.