13 March 2008 | redryan64
"WAGONS HO-OH!" And Again and Again and Again........._
The idea of a story featuring 8, 10 or a Baker's Dozen of characters, all caught up in several different stories of their own; has long been a favourite in Hollywood; for making that "Big" movie. You know that one that the Studio Moguls all fancied to be their shortcut to "Best Picture Oscar."
The Genre's greatest exponent and possibly the earliest example lies in GRAND HOTEL (MGM, 1932) with Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry, Lionel Barrymore, et al. It's cousin or sort of Wartime example of the type (sharing Playwright Vicki Baum); is HOTEL BERLIN (Warner Brothers, 1945) with Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, Kurt Krueger, George Coulouris, Peter Whitney, Steven Geray, Hank Daniell* and a whole lot of other regular Warners Players.
Dangerous passage on Commercial Airliners was a popular variation on the "Troubled Microcosm" type story and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (Wayne-Fellows/Warner Brothers, 1954) with "the Duke" and a huge supporting cast headed up this parade of Winged Tragedy. The Troubled Skies would soon grow crowded. Read on.
Arthur Hailey's novels provided fodder for adaptation; leading off with HOTEL (Warner Brothers, 1967). Following it by three years, we saw AIRPORT (Universal, 1970). Once again we have a film with a top notch cast featuring: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson Dana Wynter, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara and our old friend from Courts' Hollywood Collectibles Shows here in Chicago, the very talented and personable Mr. Paul Picerni.
Arthur Hailey's AIRPORT, which has been called "HOTEL with Wings", is a unique movie. The one feature that sets it apart is that the film not only sired several sequels; but also a bastard of the line in the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker production, the send-up, AIRPLANE (Paramount, 1980).
AS it turns out, AIRPLANE! is a fracturing of another airliner disaster microcosm film, ZERO HOUR (Paramount, 1957) with Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden; which in turn was scripted by the same Arthur Hailey!! So when the "Microcosm of Mankind" idea is to be applied to Network Television, what sort of a series would be the lucky recipient? THE WINNER is a Western, of course! Remember, Schultz; this was 1957 and the Horse Opera ruled Supreme!
WITH all of this expositional comparison and lead in done; we can now dig in to our victim of Today's "Roast", which is of course "WAGON TRAIN" (Revue Studios/Universal TV, 1957-65). The Series started off a winner and stayed out in front in the ratings race for most of its run on the Networks; being NBC, 1957-61 and ABC 1962-65.
It's simple, yet one that is deeply seeded in the Collective Psyche of the American People. We all know about pioneers, striking out from the relative safety of settlements in Colonies (Later States) located near either the Atlantic or the Gulf Coast and transporting whole families and their household possessions Westward; hoping for a new start, a better life and a chance to give their families what they never had for themselves. And all of this enduring of hardship was complicated by the uncertainty of their dealing with Hostile Indians, floods, snowy blizzards, mountains desserts and potential near starvation in "impassible passes."
The WAGON TRAIN Series began with a solid foundation. The cast was headed up by Ward Bond as Major Adams (1957-61) and was replaced after his death by John McIntire as new boss Christopher Hale (1961-65). Both men were properly autocratic and enough of a Father Figure to pull it off as THE Big Kahuna of the operation. Other regulars were: Terry Wilson (as Bill Hawks 1957-65), Denny Miller (as Duke Shannon1961-65), Robert Fuller (Cooper Smith 1959-65), Michael Burns (Barnaby West 1960-65), Robert Horton (Flint McCullough 1957-62) and last, but not least; everybody's Favourite Frank McGrath (Charlie Wooster 1957-65). Mr. McGrath's and Terry Wilson's being the only two players to go coast to coast with the weekly convoy of horse drawn "Ships of the Plains."
AS for Guest Stars, WAGON TRAIN never wanted for any; and it was designed to have at least one or two per weekly visitation in our homes. The list of visiting dignitaries from Hollywood's top Stars and Character Actors is as long as your arm. It included Dan Duryea, Carolyn Jones, Everett Sloane, Dana Wynter and Art Linkletter!
Each Hour-Long Drama was like a "B" Movie, telling the stories of yet again yet a different journey from oh, say Missouri to California, or the Oregon Territory, which as we all know includes the present day State of Washington as well as Oregon.
Now that mad for an awful lot of trips taking months and months; but we didn't care, as each story came to an acceptable, if not exactly always happy ending.
NOTE: * Okay, we give up! It should be Henry Daniell, not Hank Daniell. Boy, what a difference a little nickname makes! Just call it an early April Fools Joke, courtesy of Schultz and Myself!