Wednesday, October 2, 2019

THE SHELLEY WINTERS BLOGATHON: Wagon Train, The Ruth Owens Story (1957)


Erica D. of Poppity Talks Classic Film and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews are co-hosting The Shelley Winters Blogathon running from October 1 - 3. Day Day Day 3


Ward Bond stars in this western anthology series as Major Seth Adams, leader of a wagon train filled with many stories. Drought and secrets and vengeance plague Adam's wagon train in The Ruth Owens Story. Shelley Winters is the Special Guest Star in this episode from the first season of the series written by Robert E. Thompson (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) and directed by Robert Florey (Outpost in Morocco).

Kent Smith and Dean Stockwell co-star as the husband and the younger brother of the former Ruth Drew. It is Ruth's past as a "fancy woman" in St. Joseph, Missouri that is the secret that weighs her down, and the cause of a murder at her brother's hand.

Ruth and her brother grew up in a poor and abusive household. Ruth was the protector of her brother Jimmy until her father threw her out. She married her sweetheart who died of camp fever his first week in the Civil War. Left with a baby girl to care for Ruth turned to work at the notorious Silver Slipper.

Ward Bond, Shelley Winters

Ruth is traveling with her daughter, and her husband Paul, a teacher to whom two things are important, honesty and his love for his wife. When the naive Jimmy Drew comes to the wagon train in search of his sister he openly admits to one of the men that his sister used to work as a waitress at a place called the Silver Slipper. The man teases him about the type of woman his sister is and when Jimmy challenges him, Lank Carr pulls a knife on the kid, who shoots in self-defense. The only witness is the dead man's blind uncle played by Ralph Moody.

Dean Stockwell, Ward Bond

Russell Simpson is Carr's father and he demands justice/vengeance to the point of asking his other son played by Ross Elliot to conceal Lank's knife. A lynching is in progress when Major Adam's timely help arrives thanks to Ruth who ran from the camp to find him. The Major believes Jimmy's story of self-defense and arranges for a fair trial the following night. Observing Jimmy and Ruth together, the Major also becomes the holder of secrets. This secret may lead to another death. Ruth wants to keep her past hidden, and Jimmy, now knowing the truth, doesn't care what happens to him.

Kent Smith, Shelley Winters

The wagon train is still dealing with the unprecedented drought which is keeping everyone on edge. When the verdict is guilty, Ruth speaks up and pleads convincingly and heart-wrenchingly for her brother's life by confessing her past and reminding these travelers that they are all trying to leave something behind. Mr. Carr is forced to give up the incriminating knife when the blind uncle unburdens his secret that he heard Lank threaten Jimmy with "I'm going to cut you up!"

Paul tells Ruth that she could have told him anything as he loves her, and invites Jimmy to join their family as they head toward the new start that means so much to so many.

Wendy Winkelman, Shelley Winters

The opening of this episode features a charming scene where Shelley sings the spiritual Poor Wayfaring Stranger to her daughter played by Wendy Winkelman. She has a lovely, controlled voice and a sincere interpretation of the lyrics. 

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe
And there's no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that fair land to which I go

I'm going there to see my mother 
I'm going there no more to roam
I'm just a-going over Jordan
I'm just a-going over home

Shelley has no film credits in between 1955 and 1959, but plenty of television occupied her career, including seven guest appearances in 1957 including Wagon Train. Shelley, as one of my sisters aptly said, "never phones it in", and she certainly maintained her standard in The Ruth Owens Story. She honestly portrays the characters kind impulses, fear, and guarded optimism. The scene of her confession sneaks up on you and breaks your heart.

Shelley's performance of Poor Wayfaring Stranger can only be heard in The Ruth Owens Story but this version on YouTube by Burl Ives comes close to the charming heartfelt simplicity of her version.
















22 comments:

  1. Thanks for bringing this charming (as always) entry to our blogathon Paddy, I love the picture you drew up of her character - she certainly sounds a lovely and passionate woman, thanks for joining as always it wouldnt be the same without you, Gillxx

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    1. Thank you for the kind words and for co-hosting this blogathon that gave me a kick to revisit this lovely performance from Shelley.

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  2. Seven TV spots in one year? That sounds like a blessing (she was enough in-demand that she got all that work) and a curse (no film roles). Shelley must’ve hustled like crazy.

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    1. Anthology shows were in full swing and offered great roles. Wagon Train was only in its first season but would continually draw "names." Shelley had a four-year-old daughter at the time and was divorced from Vittorio Gassman. I agree, she must have hustled like crazy.

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  3. ROSS ELLIOTT did 4 eps of I LOVE LUCY. On his first one he played the director where Lucy does the commercial, that is one of the most famous episodes. He also was on THE VIRGINIAN as SHERIFF MARK ABBOTT. SHELLEY WINTERS got to work with Lucy on an ep of HERES LUCY where Shelley plays movie star Shelley SUMMERS. Lucy is to help her lose weight and at one point Shelley wants more food and lays on the floor and carries on. So Lucy goes to the kitchen for the food and Shelley quits carrying on and looks at the audience and says you don't win two Academy Awards for nothing!

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    1. Ross Elliott is an old favourite of mine.

      It's funny, but I don't remember Shelley on Here's Lucy. I watched the show when it first aired so my memory must be fading. I guess it is time I caught up on a few of those episodes.

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  4. Wonderful article on one of Shelley’s little known gems during that fallow film period in the mid to late 1950s...I believe she studied with Lee Strasberg at Actors Studio in NYC as well as doing some great television. Wagon Train had all the big stars guest starring, didn’t they? I remember seeing Bette Davis, too.

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    1. Bette made three appearances on Wagon Train. The program was a great venue for some very interesting actors. We're lucky to have them to enjoy today.

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  5. I love your posts about WAGON TRAIN for many reasons. For one, they remind just how many great actors appeared as guest stars on the classic Western. But in addition to the actors, it provided a training ground for future writers and directors and employment for veterans in the twilight of their careers. I don't recall "The Ruth Owens Story," but it--and especially Shelley's performance--sounds excellent.

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    1. Thank you. Wagon Train has become a "happy place" for me for the reasons you mention. The creativity on display by vets and rookies is very impressive.

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  6. According to imdb ROSS ELLIOTT also guest-starred on THE LUCY SHOW and HERES LUCY. Also PERRY MASON and IRONSIDE-both of RAYMOND BURRS hit series. Ross was the original actor to play LEE BALDWIN on GENERAL HOSPITAL. This was before my time. He was first on in 1963-the year it premiered. Also today is the day JACK WAGNER turns 60! He, of course, is best known for GH as FRISCO JONES. Do you know him from any of his other soap work-daytime or nighttime? I mostly know him from TV-Movies.

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    1. I only know Wagner as Frisco. Although, a co-worker saw him on stage in a musical. I think it was Grease.

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  7. I am unfamiliar with "Wagon Train" but it sounds like a really great show, especially with the wonderful Ward Bond at the healm. This episode sounds very dramatic and I can only imagine the grand performance that Shelley gives in it. As a fan of Kent Smith, I am curious to see he and Shelley's chemistry together. It's quite impressive to see the amount of stars who did guest spots on television shows back in the day. I personally love watching old episodes of Ford Theatre and the like. The acting is usually top notch. :-)
    Paddy, you are lovely and I want to thank you for joining us to remember Shelley. As Gill said, it wouldn't be a proper blogathon with you!

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    1. Thank you so much. I enjoyed being able to contribute.

      Wagon Train had so many interesting guests and episodes, I could probably go a year using it for blogathons!

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  8. I hadn't known about Shelley's TV career, but I heartily agree with your sister that Shelley "never phones it in"! She was an actress who always gave her all, and I always enjoy her full-blooded performances. Thanks for this insight on her TV career.

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    1. Thank you. Someone with Shelley's drive and energy is inspiring to watch.

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  9. Sounds a great episode. Thanks for the reminder of how good Wagon Train was.

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    1. My pleasure. Warning: I have discovered a strong addictive quality to the program!

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  10. You always have such good choices for these blogathons, CW! I'm going to hunt down this episode if just to hear Shelley Winters sing.

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  11. That's true what your sister says, Shelley Winters never "phones it in". And who knew Shelley W could sing!

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    1. Her singing surprised me. I'm only used to Lena Gogan from Pete's Dragon when my son would put that movie on a loop, and that was played for laughs or screams.

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