There were few TV shows that made a greater impression on me growing up than did this classic western, The Big Valley, which ran on ABC from 1965-1969. From its stellar cast featuring the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley, (the matriarch of a close-knit, proud and prominent family in 1878 California,) well-written/action-packed scripts, to stirring music, The Big Valley remains a standout in the barren plains of TV mediocrity.
The first TV drama to feature a powerful female lead (a woman the commercials proudly proclaimed had “backbone and bite”), it also dealt realistically with situations formerly taboo for TV. It began by revealing that Victoria’s husband, Tom Barkley, a prominent, wealthy cattle rancher now deceased, had been involved in a secret affair leading to the birth of an illegitimate son. In addition to the ranch, the family controlled gold and silver mines, citrus groves as well as logging camps.
This five-disc (episodes on “A” and “B” sides) boxed set contains all 30 of the show’s first season episodes, including its pilot. A few of these episodes were available years ago on poor quality VHS tapes, but this fantastic release represents the first time that the entire first season of the series has been available to the public in ANY format! As such, most of these episodes have not been seen uncut since the show aired more than 35 years ago.
The pilot, which introduces the powerful and proud Barkley family, depicts the conflict when the illegitimate son, Heath, abruptly arrives at the huge Barkley Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, near Stockton, Calif., in the midst of a range war and claims his birthright.
After the recent death of his mother, Heath had learned his father’s identify. None of the Barkleys had known of his existence, and it is later revealed that Victoria’s husband had broken off the brief affair with Heath’s mother and that she had never told him that she was pregnant. Victoria immediately accepts Heath and soon treats him as one of her own sons.
In addition to Miss Stanwyck (who performed many of her own stunts despite her age), the cast included Richard Long as eldest son, attorney Jarrod, Peter Breck as son and ranch foreman Nick, Lee Majors as Heath, Linda Evans as daughter Audra, and during its first season, Charles Briles as youngest son Eugene, a character who was dropped without explanation. Napoleon Whiting portrayed the family’s servant, Silas, throughout the series.
First season episodes included in this set are: (Disc 1, Side A) Palms of Glory; Forty Rifles; Boots with My Father’s Name; Young Marauders; (Disc 1, Side B) Odyssey of Jubal Tanner; Heritage; (Disc 2, Side A) Winner Lose All; My Son, My Son; Earthquake!; The Murdered Party; (Disc 2, Side B) The Way to Kill a Killer; Night of the Wolf; (Disc 3, Side A) The Guilt of Matt Bentell; The Brawlers; Judgment in Heaven; The Invaders; (Disc 3, Side B) By Fires Unseen; A Time to Kill; (Disc 4, Side A) Teacher of Outlaws; Under a Dark Star; Barbary Red; The Death Merchant; (Disc 4, Side B) The Fallen Hawk; Hazard; (Disc 5, Side A) Into the Widow’s Web; By Force and Violence; The River Monarch; The Midas Man; and (Disc 5, Side B) Tunnel of Gold; and Last Train to the Fair.
As of this writing, the studio had not announced what, if any, special features would be included in the boxed set.
Just a few of the guest stars in this first season were Andrew Duggan, John Anderson (Richard Dean Anderson’s father), Jeanne Cooper (Young and the Restless), Katharine Ross (The Graduate), Charles Bronson, Warren Oates, Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible!), Ron Howard, Anthony Zerbe, Claude Akins, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), William Shatner (Star Trek), Bruce Dern (Laura Dern’s father), Jill St. John, George Kennedy, and James Whitmore.
Here’s hoping the remaining seasons of this award-wining series will be released ASAP! We can also only hope that this means other studios that own the rights to other worthy vintage westerns, like The High Chaparral, will get the message that there is an appreciative audience anxiously waiting and begin releasing these episodes on DVD complete season boxed sets.
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*Note: This series looks fantastic on DVD and what’s better is that they are all unedited. There are scenes here that I’ve not seen in years!
I’ve had most of the Big Valley episodes on tape from television. Most of them are obviously edited, due to the commercials. This is my favorite western series. I am so glad they are releasing this!
While I didn’t grow up when the Big Valley was originally aired, I still watched it most mornings during the 70s-80s. I tried Bonanza a few times, but found the Big Valley more appealing. Barbara Stanwyck had even said, “Our show is grittier and more realistic than Bonanza. Our stories have to do with hardships and dangers of living in the west.” Plus, the Barkley ranch is a cattle ranch…for real cowboys!
Okay, first I have to mention my favorite western character. I know Lee Majors (Heath) and Linda Evans (Audra) received much attention, but to my mind the “perfect” cowboy will always be Nick Barkley (Peter Breck). It took most of Season 1 for them to really get his outfit down. He first wears a small hat and not too-colorful outfit before changing to the large hat, brown shirts and black leather vest and gloves which will mark him as the ever-tempermental tough cowboy of the west.
The series is about a matriarchal family living in Stockton, California. While the famous Ponderosa may boast more land, the Barkley ranch, overall, probably boasted more wealth in all its business ventures from cattle to peach groves to mines and land. The Barkley’s were also renowned not only by the California government, but even in Mexico and other states.
There is first son Jarrod, who prefers his law practice to sweating out in the hot sun taking care of the ranch. He is often cool-headed and logical, preferring diplomatic approaches to more violent ones. He’s a wizard in the courtroom and he proves that he won’t back down on a principal, no matter the cost. Richard Long played this character beautifully. Ever suave, Jarrod could be a hit with the women who liked is handsome, intelligent ways of doing things. He is often at odds with Nick, as Jarrod prefers more diplomatic approaches to solving problems than the fist-a-cuffs of Nick.
Middle son is Nick Barkley. Nick is in charge of the ranch. He has some 100 or so men to look after who help to maintain the ranch from cattle to blacksmithing, to taking care of the trees and horses. He is fiery and tempermental, a complete opposite to his older brother, Jarrod. Nick is passionate and will speak his mind no matter what anyone says or does. Nick also loves a good fight, and he’ll take on two or three men in a bar-room brawl, if necessary. Especially sensitive to criticism of himself or his family, he is extremely protective. Victoria quoted him once, “When Nick is pushed he pushes back with everything he has.” Peter Breck also incorporated Nick as a fierce and deadly gunman. He was clocked at six-hundredths of a second on the draw by a western magazine that has him down as the fastest in television history.
Youngest son is Heath who is actually a half-brother to the family. He shares the same father, Tom Barkley, but a different mother. Heath, in the pilot, storms the Barkley ranch after his mother dies to take what is his. At first he gets more than he bargains for when Nick confronts him, suspecting Heath to be a spy for the railroad. Heath’s character lies between Jarrod and Nick. He will fight when pushed, but he will also be more diplomatic as well. He’s often quiet and brooding in his demeanor. Ironically, the person he’s closest to his Victoria. He also enjoys being with Nick, and the two of them share some great adventures throughout the series. He also has a special affection for Audra, probably because they are both the youngest, and Audra is the first Barkley he comes across. There are also more episodes involving Heath than any other character. Lee Majors was a new-comer to acting and Barbara Stanwyck actually took the then young actor under her wing. During the course of four/five seasons, you will see him really shape his character. You’ll also notice that his southern accent becomes much less distinct than in the first season.
The Ponderosa never had a regular beauty on their show, but the Big Valley did! Linda Evans, while not going to win over anyone with her acting, did so as far as eye-candy is concerned. Linda was even quoted as saying, “Believe me, I know why I’m on the show.” As the feisty Audra, she plays a character who loves helping children and the poor, but she can also be fiery and tempermental. She even says, “Nick is the only one who understands me.”
Last and certainly not least is Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria. Barbara had already had a more than successful film career. Loving the outdoors and the old west, Stanwyck tried for years to have a…
Here’s a great SPECIAL FEATURE to include in a future BIG VALLEY set: The 50 minute TV special titled “Portrait: Barbara Stanwyck” filmed on the set of The Big Valley. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of Miss Stanwyck,
Peter Breck, Richard Long and others as they film an episode (and kid around a bit). Exerpts from it can be seen in the TNT Stanwyck biography “Fire and Desire”.
It’s owned by the sons of the producer Rick Spalla (Cinesconic Records, Los Angeles, 323-469-3146). PLEASE RESCUE IT from their vault before it’s lost to posterity!!!!