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 1 Day 2 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.