Death Valley Days (TV Series 1952–1970)
|Content Rating||TV-PG (TV-PG)|
|Awards||Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 win.|
|Company||Filmaster Productions, Flying 'A' Productions, Madison Productions Inc.|
Death Valley Days
Death Valley Days is an American old-time radio and television anthology series featuring true accounts of the American Old West, particularly the Death Valley country of southeastern California. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945. From 1952 to 1970, it became a syndicated television series, with reruns (updated with new narrations) continuing through August 1, 1975. The radio and television versions combined to make the show "one of the longest-running Western programs in broadcast history."
The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team Borax, Boraxo) and hosted by Stanley Andrews ("The Old Ranger") (1952–1964), Ronald Reagan (1964–1965), Rosemary DeCamp (1965), Robert Taylor (1966–1969), and Dale Robertson (1969–1970). With the death of Dale Robertson in 2013, all former Death Valley Days hosts are now deceased. Hosting the series was Reagan's final work as an actor; he left the series to run in 1966 for Governor of California.
The television series was conceived by Pacific Coast Borax Company's advertising agency McCann-Erickson through company executive Dorothy McCann and Mitchell J. Hamilburg, who represented Gene Autry's Flying A Productions.
In the 1955–1956 season, NBC offered Frontier, an anthology Western series similar to Death Valley Days hosted by Walter Coy. Though Frontier, a springboard for the Western actor Jack Elam, was nominated for an Emmy Award, it was cancelled after a single season.
Each of the 452 television episodes was introduced by a host. The longest-running was "The Old Ranger," a character played by veteran actor Stanley Andrews.
Following the departure of Andrews, all subsequent hosts appeared under their own names. The first was Ronald Reagan, the former host of CBS's General Electric Theater and future governor and U.S. President from 1981 to 1989. Reagan acted in twenty-one episodes of Death Valley Days, including the 1965 segment "A City Is Born." In that one, he played mining developer Charles Poston, the founder of Arizona. When Reagan entered the race for governor, actress Rosemary DeCamp filled in as the host for a short time. Then the Death Valley Days hosting position went to Reagan's friend and fellow Hollywood actor, Robert Taylor. Like Reagan, Taylor appeared as a character in some of the shows, including "The Day All Marriages Were Cancelled" (1966), also based on the career of Charles Poston.
Taylor portrayed Horace Bell in another 1967 episode, "Major Horace Bell." In the story line, Major Bell, an early settler of Los Angeles, rescues from lynching and defends a man who has been accused of murder. That same year in the episode "Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party," Taylor played James Kelly of San Francisco, who shanghaied sailors onto ships bound for the Far East with the expectation that none would return to accuse Kelly of a crime.
Taylor played Texas John Slaughter, a role most associated with Tom Tryon, in the 1968 Death Valley Days episode "A Short Cut through Tombstone." Buck Taylor (no relation) played his deputy, Billy Stiles. Ned Romero was cast as the Geronimo Kid. He played Porter Stockton in the 1967 episode "Halo for a Badman" with Marion Ross as his wife. In the story line, Stockton, an ex-convict, is hired by Mayor Engley (Roy Barcroft) as the marshal of the former Animas City, near Durango in southwestern Colorado, because local officials believe that Stockton can withstand outlaws who have robbed every gold shipment sent out of town. One of the towspeople George Neise, however, tragically thinks Stockton has not reformed but is still involved with the gangs. As Charles Marion Russell he must decide if the Old West he loves should be protected by those outside the law like Buck Don Megowan; his future wife Nancy Susan Brown gives him some inspirational insight.
When Taylor became gravely ill in 1969, he was succeeded by Dale Robertson, former star of two other western series, Tales of Wells Fargo and Iron Horse. Production of new episodes ceased in 1970, but singer Merle Haggard provided narration in 1975 for some previously made episodes.
Parts of the series were filmed in Kanab, Utah. Most episodes, though, were filmed in Los Angeles, California.
As the series continued on the air, episodes began to focus on nearly any portion of the American West, not just the Death Valley country. Most episodes portrayed events in the late 19th century, the heyday of the "Old West". Some, however, were set in much earlier times, especially the Spanish colonial era, and a few recounted stories from the early 20th century.
For its first two years, the series was produced by Autry's Flying A Productions; then from 1954 to 1959, it was handled by McGowan Productions, also known for the Sky King series. Filmaster Productions Inc., which produced the first several seasons of Gunsmoke for CBS Television, took over production of the series after 1959. Madison Productions began to produce the series in 1965.
Although Rio Tinto, successor-in-interest to the series' original sponsor, U.S. Borax, still has a financial stake in this show because copyrights are still held by the United States Borax and Chemical Corporation, the major rights are now held by Element 5 Media, LLC for the broadcast rights and home video rights.
Death Valley Days is by far the most successful syndicated television western series, the most successful television western ever in the half-hour format, and one of the longest-running and most successful of all scripted syndicated series. The end of the series, coupled with the end of Bonanza in 1973 and Gunsmoke in 1975, marked the demise of the traditional Western era in American television; by the middle 1970s, although western elements were still fairly common in modern series, such as Little House on the Prairie, pure western series were a thing of the past.
The stories used in the series were based on actual events. The episode titled "Death Valley Scotty" was based on the record-breaking run of the 1905 Scott Special chartered by Walter E. Scott, a.k.a. "Death Valley Scotty."
Under the Death Valley Days title, the program was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which during the program's run changed its name to U.S. Borax Company following a merger. Advertisements for the company's best-known products, 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry additive, Borateem, a laundry detergent, and Boraxo, a powdered hand soap, were often done by the program's host. Death Valley was the scene of much of the company's borax mining operations. The "20-Mule Team Borax" consumer products division of U.S. Borax was eventually bought out by the Dial Corporation, which as of 2014, as a division of the German consumer products concern Henkel, still manufactures and markets them. Rio Tinto Group absorbed the U.S. Borax mining operations in 1968 and now owns the TV series.
Paul Korver's company Cinelicious in Hollywood was part of the restoration of the TV series Death Valley Days, restoring 458 half-hour film episodes. Cinelicious worked with U.S. Borax Film Archives and Rio Tinto Group in preserving the TV series. The 16mm, and 35 mm film of Death Valley Days was scanned at 4K resolution for film preservation on a Scanity starting in 2013.
During the latter years of the series, some new episodes were still being made while older episodes were already in syndication. In some markets, new episodes could even be running in competition with older ones. To make it easier for viewers to distinguish between old and new, some blocks of syndicated Death Valley Days episodes were shown under other series names and with different hosts. This was common practice at the time among syndicated series because it was easy to reshoot the hosting portions of an episode without affecting the main content. Alternate series titles and their respective hosts included Frontier Adventure (Dale Robertson), The Pioneers (Will Rogers, Jr.), Trails West (Ray Milland), Western Star Theater (Rory Calhoun), and Call of the West (John Payne). The last title was also often applied to the series' memorable, haunting theme music.
Some episodes of the series were re-run with different sponsorship under the title The Pioneers.
The restored TV series is currently broadcast on the Grit network in the United States.
Two episodes of Death Valley Days are shown weekdays beginning at 6:35 p.m. Eastern on the Encore Westerns Channel.
Shout! Factory (on behalf of Element 5 Media LLC and Rio Tinto), has released the first two seasons on DVD in Region 1. Both seasons were released as Walmart exclusives. The third season was released on March 21, 2017 The thirteenth season was released on July 31, 2017 as a Walmart exclusive. Then, on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 the title "went wide" with a general retail release. The fourteenth season was released on January 2, 2018.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|The Complete First Season||18||March 29, 2016|
|The Complete Second Season||18||July 12, 2016|
|The Complete Third Season||18||March 21, 2017|
|The Complete Thirteenth Season||26||October 3, 2017|
|The Complete Fourteenth Season||26||January 2, 2018|
Awards and nominations
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|1955||Emmy Award||Best Western or Adventure Series||Death Valley Days||Nominated|
|1961||Western Heritage Awards||Best Factual Television Program||Ruth Woodman and Nat Perrin (For episode "The Great Lounsberry Scoop")||Won|