It’s 7:04 pm
The last Western TV series we reviewed was called “The Lazarus Man” which starred the late Robert Urich. When I was doing my background on “Lazarus”,some sources said that it them of a older series with the same plot line,man gets hits in the head,loses memories and has to look for them.
Well thanks to our deep cover informant at Warner Brothers Archives,the cheetah and I have secured a copy of that older series,”A Man of Shenandoah” which ran for one year in 1965.
But how the show came about can be traced back to 1957 when a series destined to be a Western classic,”Wagon Train” debuted on NBC. It’s main two stars were crusty Wagon Master Major Seth Adams (Ward Bond) and scout Flint McCollough (Robert Horton).
Wagon Train was a big hit and made Horton a big star and a heartthrob for millions of American girls. But trouble was brewing on the series as Bond and Horton didn’t always get along and Horton was always striving for better scripts,he spent a lot of time with the writers of the show seeking improvements.
Ward Bond died of a heart attack in 1960 and veteran John McIntire replaced him in the series. in 1961. But Horton was also growing weary of the show and had a great fear of being typecast as Western star. He wanted to do musical theater as he had a fine singing voice that would translate well to the format.
Robert Horton left Wagon Train in 1962 as it moved from NBC to ABC and Robert Fuller replaced Horton. Horton vowed to never do another TV Western again. He made several TV guest spots and a few films as well as performing in his beloved musicals often performing with his wife.
In 1965 Horton was approached about “Shenandoah” and he agreed to do the show because he felt would enhance his reputation as a actor as he was the only regular on the show. “Shenandoah” debuted 13 Sept 65 and ended after its one and only season 16 May 66.
In the first episode,”The Onslaught”,its established how Horton’s character loses his memory about being grazed by a bullet by a man who held a grudge against him. Since the series was set in 1870,the Civil War played a large part in many of the series stories.
It is implied that man who shoots Horton may have encountered him during the War.
Because he can’t remember his name or anything about his past,the doctor who treats him calls him “Shenandoah” and thus we have a name.
Sadly Shenandoah,who is rather fair with a six shooter,is forced to kill the same man who shot him and thus never learning his name.
So begins the long road for a man with no past and without a past,has no hope for the future.
“Shenandoah” is a smartly written show and one can see Horton imprint all over it.
Sure,some of the stories were rehashed from other Westerns but Shenandoah was different because the episodes connected to earlier episodes,the viewer can see the trail as well as Shenandoah as he traced down one lead after another.
A lot of well known faces popped up in guest spots as well…Martin Landau played a cruel bounty hunter in “The Locket”,Susan Oliver of Star Trek fame played a judge’s daughter held captive in “Rope’s End”. What made this episode stand out was Shenandoah lost a fight and could have easily been killed,this showed he was merely mortal and not a “super cowboy”.
Our favorite episode was “The Verdict” in which Ed Asner is outstanding as defense lawyer Sam Chance who defends the son of a old friend who has killed the town marshal and whom Shenandoah stops. The young killer was played by Bruce Dern…
Other notable guest stars included Leonard Nimoy,Deforrest Kelley,Cloris Leachman,John Anderson (as a good guy!!!),Warren Oates,Diana Hyland and Martin Milner.
There are a couple of weird glitches in the show….the ending always had Horton singing about “not finding the answer” which of course he wouldn’t. The verse felt really cheesy and it really felt out of place.
Second,in some episodes we had a voice over that described what had happened,this would have been fine but it wasn’t in every episode and it too felt out of place.
“A Man Shenandoah” was a good show that was about about 5 years too late,by 1965,the viewing habits of America were changing and Westerns were on their way out,other then “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke”,the rest of the Westerns slowly went off the air.
Because “Shenandoah” was gone after its only season of 34 episodes,we and Horton,never knew if he had found his past and regained his life. We would like to think that he did.
“A Man Called Shenandoah” consists of 34 episodes. There are no special features.
This is a “must have” for any real TV Western fan. Combine this with “The Lazarus Man” and you’ll have a great weekend of classic and modern Westerns meeting.
You can buy “Shenandoah” by visiting the Warner Brothers Archives website.
The cheetah and I give this well made series a paw/thumb straight up.
Comments are most welcome.