27 August 2006 | bkoganbing
Barbara Stanwyck's Own Western
I just read a biography of Barbara Stanwyck and one thing that was made abundantly clear, the woman really liked westerns. She loved doing them from the earliest time in her career right up to her stint with The Big Valley. In fact one of the great disappointments in her life was not doing a film with John Wayne. Who knows why that didn't happen because the two of them were in sync politically.
But she did a bunch of them with co-stars like Joel McCrea, Ronald Reagan, Walter Huston, Barry Sullivan, Ray Milland, etc. So when it came time to choose a television project, Barbara went west.
The Big Valley cast her as Victoria Barkley, matriarch of the Barkley ranch with three sons and a daughter to hold the fort against all comers. The pilot of the show introduced her husband's illegitimate son into the household played by young Lee Majors. Her children were Richard Long, Peter Breck, Linda Evans, and Charles Briles.
Briles got dropped after eight episodes as the youngest, Eugene. They just sent him off to college in the east and he wasn't heard from again. Reading the IMDb notes on him, I find he got himself drafted. All I can say is BUMMER.
Richard Long as Jarrod was also college educated, an attorney, which was a good plot device allowing the show to get off the ranch and into town. Peter Breck was Nick, who was a tough son of a gun. I met Peter Breck a few years before The Big Valley. His family lived in Rochester, New York across from my grandparents house and he was visiting while starring in another shortlived series Black Saddle. My siblings and cousins got to meet him then. A very gracious and nice man.
Of course Linda Evans and Lee Majors both had really great careers after the show. Linda as Audra was a sweet and innocent child, not anything like Crystal Carrington. And Lee Majors got to be The Fall Guy and The Six Million Dollar Man after he was Heath Barkley. I would love to have that man's residuals.
Richard Long did Nanny and the Professor and tragically died right after the run of that show. He was always a player of great class and I enjoyed seeing him in anything he did.
The Barkleys ran into all manner of people and were constantly helping them out of their various predicaments. They were pretty rich of course, as rich as Bonanza's Cartwrights. But I really think they outdid themselves even more than Ben and his sons. Every episode seemed to end with some financial assistance to help somebody get on their feet. I'm surprised Jarrod didn't run for office with all those potential voters available.
With Lee Majors, Linda Evans, and Peter Breck still with us and even Charles Briles, I'm not sure why a Big Valley reunion hasn't been attempted. I'd like to see the Barkleys ride the range into the 20th century.