Wednesday, August 19, 2020

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Wagon Train - The Maud Frazer Story, 1961 and The Caroline Casteel Story, 1962


Hamlette's Soliloquy and Along the Brandywine are our hosts for the online celebration Legends of Western Cinema Week, during August 17 - 21. The celebration of your (our) favourite westerns will certainly brighten the summer of 2020.

Continuing a look at TV western icon Barbara Stanwyck with classic episodes of Wagon Train. Barbara Stanwyck's first foray into television westerns was on Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre where she guest-starred four times in 1958 and 1959. After the cancellation of The Barbara Stanwyck Show, she appeared on Rawhide in 1962 and four episodes of Wagon Train from 1961 - 1964.


Wagon Train aired for eight seasons from 1957 - 1965 and followed the stories of various pioneers seeking a new life in the west. Stuntmen turned actors Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath as scout Bill Hawks and cook Charlie Wooster were consistent cast members throughout the series run. Ward Bond played wagon master Major Seth Adams and Robert Horton scout Flint McCullough.

Ward Bond's untimely death in 1960 led to recasting the wagon master with John McIntire as Chris Hale. Robert Horton left the show at the end of the fifth season and Denny Miller joined as scout Duke Shannon that year. Michael Burns was youngster Barnaby West for the last three seasons and Robert Fuller played scout Cooper Smith for the final two seasons.


THE MAUD FRAZER STORY
Written by Norman Jolley and Alfred Van Ronkel
Directed by David Butler
Aired Wednesday, October 11, 1961

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Maud Frazer who, along with her husband Isaac played by Russ Conway are leading a wagon train to California. Maud has convinced Isaac to leave the train when they reach a place called South Pass where there is said to be a verified gold strike. Isaac feels his responsibility to the travelers but he is besotted and controlled by his wife. Scout Flint McCullough from the Chris Hale train has warned the Frazers of the threat of Indian attack which they ignore. Maud wants that gold.

Russ Conway, Barbara Stanwyck

Ambushed as they approach the mountains, all of the men in the Frazer train are killed. Before he dies, Isaac implores Maud to think of her responsibility and leave behind her greed. In little ways Maud begins to soften yet when she speaks of the gold to the other women, she is not wrong. What sort of life will they have without men and without money when they reach California? Only poverty lies in their future unless they go back for the gold. Nonetheless, when McCullough again shows up offering the pioneers a spot on the Hale train, the women vote to join up.

Robert Horton, Barbara Stanwyck

The sparks that have flown between Maud and Flint convince her that she can seduce the scout and get his help in returning to South Pass. Flint is attracted to Maud but tells her that if he was all about the gold, he would have gone after it already. Leaving the wagon train at night, Maud is disturbed by strange noises in the dark, lonely night but suppresses her fright by thinking of the gold. A wounded cavalry trooper played by Wesley Lau dies in her arms begging her to get to Chris Hale and warn him of the rampaging Indians. He dies sensing Maud's conflict.

Maud finally sees her duty is to the others and rushes toward the wagon train while Flint and Duke race to find her. Fatally wounded by pursuing Indians, Maud dies in Flint's arms wondering why it took her so long to find and understand what is truly important in life.


THE CAROLINE CASTEEL STORY
Written by Gerry Day
Directed by Virgil W. Vogel
Aired Wednesday, September 26, 1962

Barbara Stanwyck stars as a captive of an Indian tribe who gets help from a greedy trader played by Robert F. Simon when he recognizes the locket she is wearing belonged to Caroline Casteel. Ten years ago Caroline was taken in a raid and her grieving husband's $10,000 award for her return remains valid.

Robert F. Simon, Barbara Stanwyck

The woman anxious to return to her own world is not Caroline Castell, she is a former "working girl" called Lily. Nonetheless, she knew Caroline and that knowledge makes up for the changes she and Mr. Casteel played by Charles Drake (see A Man's Game) find in each other. Caroline's young son played by Roger Mobley is thrilled to have a mother yet harbors guilt at her capture.

Charles Drake, Barbara Stanwyck

The ladies of the wagon train are welcoming at the beginning but their judgment turns to suspicion and sniping when "Caroline" continues to wear comfortable mocassins, speaks of the good people she knew during her captivity, and touts the efficacy of medicinal herbs. Those herbs come in handy when the children of the wagon train become ill although it is not until Jamie Casteel is cured first that the others come with hat in hand.

Frank Casteel was not immune to the thoughtless gossip of the others and in an epic argument, Lily confesses and relates that the gentle and loving Caroline that she knew would not be able to understand his attitude. Frank and the other members of the train are shown to be moved and changed by their encounter with Lily.

Lily realizes Chris Hale had long ago figured out her story but kept it to himself in the belief that everyone deserves a second chance. Lily leaves the train with names of Chris's friends who can help her, and allowing Frank and Jamie to return to their life in the town.

The Caroline Casteel Story marked the first time Barbara Stanwyck worked with director Virgil W. Vogel. Vogel would direct Stanwyck in two other episodes of Wagon Train made during the program's 7th season, with episodes in colour and running 90 minutes. The Molly Kincaid Story starred Carolyn Jones with Barbara Stanwyck as freighter Kate Crawley. The Kate Crawley Story chronicled the romance between Kate and wagon master Chris Hale. Virgil Vogel would later direct 48 episodes of The Big Valley.

In a 1965 New York Times interview Barbara Stanwyck said that Virgil Vogel "knows as much about making westerns as the old master John Ford." 



Tomorrow, we feature Barbara Stanwyck's crowning television western achievement, The Big Valley.












16 comments:

  1. Well, as you know, I saw the “Caroline” episode when I wrote about WAGON TRAIN earlier this summer, and I liked that episode a lot. I had said how I liked that the writers weren’t afraid to show the wagon train settlers as flawed, even though they were the ones with whom one would sympathize. Were there any recurring characters among the “civilians”? (Probably not.) The other episode sounds pretty good too.

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    1. During the first season there were recurring characters among the travelers. They brought the season full circle by reaching their California destination by the final episode. That through-line seemed to go by the boards after that year.

      One of the things which make me a Wagon Train fan is that they tell their stories with a lot of grey, not the black and white some might imagine from the time.

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  2. GERRY DAY(a woman) wrote an ep of THE BIG VALLEY and four eps of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. She also wrote five eps of PEYTON PLACE-they aired in 1965.

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    1. Sitcoms, mysteries, westerns, and soaps - Ms. Day had quite the filmography. Also The Black Hole and The Watcher in the Woods for Disney. Well done.

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  3. Gotta hand it to Stanwyck - she always seemed ready to try new media, with stage, movies, radio, and then moving into TV when it became available. My sense is that she saw it as an acting job, like any other acting job, so she didn't look down on it. No doubt, if she were alive today, she'd be live-streaming on Youtube or running her own podcast!

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    1. No doubt at all! Stanwyck loved to work and placed no status on the work, such as movies being better than TV. It was the work that was important and she gave it her all.

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  4. Paddy Lee, I'm really enjoying your write-ups on Barbara Stanwyck's Western TV work. I think more should be written about this part of Stanwyck's working career.

    "The Caroline Casteel Story" reminded me some of the character that she portrayed in TROOPER HOOK(filmed in 1956, released 1957). In both stories she had been captured and lived for many years with the Apache in TROOPER HOOK and she was currently living with the Ute tribe in "The Caroline Casteel Story."

    On another note, While Barbara Stanwyck was in Montana filming CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA(1954), her stunt work impressed the local Blackfeet tribe members who appear in the movie. They were so impressed with her physical endurance that she was given full ceremonial adoption by the Blackfeet tribe with induction into their Brave Dog Society. In later years, when co-star Ronald Reagan would meet up with her at functions he would address her as "Princess Many Victories." Although, I'm pretty sure that name wasn't given her by the Blackfeet, because they didn't have princesses or princes.

    Look forward to THE BIG VALLEY write-up.

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    1. Walter, that was very interesting about the Blackfeet and Stanwyck.

      Trooper Hook is such a dramatic story. Joel McCrea's retelling of his time in the prison is mesmerizing, and the characters are so memorable.

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  5. It was especially fun to read about "The Maud Frazer Story" as I've recently seen Robert Horton in several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He never should have left Wagon Train to take a crack at movie stardom. He returned to TV soon enough in the short-lived A Man Called Shenandoah.

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    1. Movie stardom eluded the talented and handsome actor, but I'm sure Robert Horton must have received great satisfaction from moments in his career, particularly the year on Broadway in 110 in the Shade. He was born to play Starbuck.

      Love to hear him sing the theme of Shenandoah. Say, has anyone ever made a list of actors who sang their own TV theme songs?

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  6. This was interesting. She was definitely such a prolific actress. Do you have a personal favorite out of all her work?

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    1. Stanwyck's career was so long and of such a variety. My introduction was through The Big Valley so it holds a special place in my heart. I appreciate her comedic turns more and more. Special favourite movies are Remember the Night, Meet John Doe, and The Lady Eve.

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  7. Are there any BARBARA STANWYCK movies that you have not watched but want to? For example-maybe they are not available.

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    1. Interesting. I checked the IMDb and it seems there are only three movies I haven't seen yet, A Message to Garcia, The Plough and the Stars, and A Lost Lady. There are some I don't mind if I don't see again. One I saw for the first time recently is The Other Love.

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  8. I have seen too few Wagon Train eps. These two sound excellent! Especially "The Caroline Casteel Story."

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    1. Wagon Train has many thought-provoking and interesting episodes. I can get lost in that show.

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