Country of origin United States
First episode date 5 October 1956
Presented by Dick Powell
Cast Dick Powell
Also known as ''Zane Grey Theatre''
Theme music composer Joseph Mullendore
Original language(s) English
Final episode date 18 May 1961
|Created by Luke Short
Charles A. Wallace|
Similar The Rifleman, The Dick Powell Show, Trackdown, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Tales of Wells Fargo
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, sometimes simply called Zane Grey Theatre, is an American Western anthology series which ran on CBS from 1956 to 1961.
Created by Luke Short and Charles A. Wallace, Zane Grey Theatre was originally based on the short stories and novels of Western author Zane Grey, but as the episodes continued, new material was included. Aaron Spelling wrote twenty Zane Grey episodes. The series opened each week with a prelude of the episode followed by the introduction, the firing of a gun, with the proclamation: "From out of the West, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater." Much of the musical score was handled by Four Star's Herschel Burke Gilbert.
Powell appeared as various characters in 15 of the 149 episodes and hosted the entire run. A half-hour program, Zane Grey Theatre debuted at 8:30 Eastern on Friday, October 5, 1956, and ran until the end of the 1960-1961 season, when Powell switched to NBC for a new hour-long anthology of drama and comedy called The Dick Powell Show.
Zane Grey Theatre was ground-breaking in that five episodes were developed into subsequent series: Trackdown (from "Badge of Honor") starring Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, Johnny Ringo (from "Man Alone"), starring Don Durant, both on CBS, The Rifleman (from "The Sharpshooter") with Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain on ABC, The Westerner on NBC (from "Trouble at Tres Cruces"), starring Brian Keith as Dave Blassingame, and Black Saddle (from "Threat of Violence") with Chris Alcaide instead of subsequent series star Peter Breck as the gunfighter-turned-lawyer Clay Culhane), also on ABC.
In addition, Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen playing the bounty hunter Josh Randall, was a CBS spinoff of Trackdown, and Law of the Plainsman, starring Michael Ansara as a Harvard-educated, Native American U.S. Marshal, was an NBC spin-off of The Rifleman.
Outdoor sequences for many episodes of the series were filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.
The episode Decision at Wilson's Creek, which premiered May 17, 1957, near the end of the series' first season, featured guest star John Forsythe, still four months shy of his debut on Bachelor Father in fall of that year. Forsythe played a Confederate soldier who aroused suspicion and scorn with his decision to quit the Army. Outdoor sequences for the episode were shot on the famed Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., known as the most heavily filmed outdoor location in the history of the movies and television. A number of scenes take place amid a grove of oak trees on the location ranch that later came to be known as the Midway Oaks, with one of the trees — a multi-trunked oak that leans heavily to one side — becoming known as the Forsythe Oak, named in honor of John Forsythe's appearance in the episode. The Forsythe Oak remains in place today in the back yard of a private estate on the former Iverson Movie Ranch.
In "License to Kill" (February 7, 1958), Macdonald Carey plays Tom Baker, a wounded sheriff facing the arrival of unruly cattle drovers. The mayor, played by Jacques Aubuchon, hires Lane Baker, portrayed by John Ericson, as the town marshal to assist the sheriff but against the sheriff's wishes. Lane turns out to be the sheriff's younger brother. The two differ on law enforcement techniques but are eventually reconciled from a long-term family split. Stacy Harris plays Doc Currie, who set Tom Baker's broken arm.
In "Let the Man Die" (December 18, 1958), Dick Powell portrays Dr. Mike Reynolds, who must operate on Dolf Akins, played by Brett King, an unpopular gunfighter with a bullet lodged near his heart. Civic leaders, however, want Reynolds to let Akins die, but his own conscience and the Hippocratic Oath forbid the doctor from doing so. Akins dies in surgery, but the situation is clouded by the revelation that it was Reynolds' stepson, Nick, portrayed by Ralph Reed, not Akins, who was responsible for the killing of popular townsman Tom Menken, played by Frank Ferguson. Marsha Hunt appears in this episode as the doctor's wife, Julie.
In "Medal for Valor" (December 25, 1958), Rufus Stewart, a businessman played by Paul Fix, hires David Manning, a man with an ill wife in need of medical treatment, played by Richard Basehart, to substitute in the American Civil War for Stewart's son, Adam, portrayed by Richard Anderson. Manning, who won a Medal of Honor, returns from three years in the Army for an affidavit certifying that he was a substitute so that he can claim western land. Rufus Stewart reneges on the promise because the son, the local sheriff, is running for the United States House of Representatives. Oddly, Rufus winds up being shot to death in a confrontation that he caused, and Adam agrees to provide the affidavit to Manning. The episode does not reveal if the sheriff was elected to Congress but considers the political liability of one having hired a substitute in the war. June Dayton portrays David's wife, Kate.
In "Make It Look Good" (February 5, 1959), Arthur Kennedy plays Sam Carter, a former Confederate hired as a bank teller in an otherwise all-Union community by banker Clem Doud, portrayed by Parley Baer. It is revealed that Carter, widely disliked in the town, had for a time been a prisoner of war at Elmira, New York. Carter becomes the inside partner to two brothers, played by Ed Nelson and Richard Rust, who rob the bank, but he changes his mind and does not take part in the splitting of the $30,000 loot. Carter must confront Russ Bowen, one of the brothers who had vowed to harm Carter's wife, Jenny, portrayed by Jacqueline Scott. Robert F. Simon plays Sheriff John Hanley in this episode.
In the first of two appearances on the program, Danny Thomas appeared in "A Thread of Respect" (Feb. 12, 1959) as Gino Pelletti, an Italian tailor who arrives in a frontier town to set up a shop with his son, George, played by Nick Adams. The tailor must stand up to Jess Newton, the leader of a group of hoodlums, played by James Coburn, in order to keep his son from straying to the lawless element.
In "Deadfall" (February 19, 1959), Van Johnson is cast as Frank Gilette, a former outlaw falsely charged with bank robbery. He is framed by Hugh Perry, a corrupt prosecutor played by Harry Townes, and Deputy Stover, portrayed by Bing Russell. Convicted of the robbery, Gilette is captured by outlaws while on his way to prison, and the sheriff, Roy Lamont, portrayed by Grant Withers, is killed.
In "King of the Valley" (November 26, 1959), Walter Pidgeon plays Dave King, a prosperous rancher who quarrels with his banker over a $10,000 loan. When the banker dies of a heart attack on the job after a confrontation with the rancher, it is revealed that the bank is missing $50,000. Leora Dana plays Anne Coleman, the banker's widow and the rancher's former paramour. The banker lost the funds with a bad investment, but the irate and uninformed townspeople are blaming King. Karl Swenson appears in this episode as Will Harmon.
In December 1959, at the age of fifteen, Don Grady, who would soon gain fame as Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons, appeared in two different Zane Grey episodes, playing opposite Joan Crawford and then Dick Powell. In "Rebel Range" (Dec. 3, 1959), he is cast as Rob Faring, the young son of Crawford's character, Stella Faring, a Confederate widow who tries to reclaim her former home and Rob's birthplace from the Unionist owner, Cass Taggart, portrayed by Scott Forbes. Character actor John Anderson is cast as Fisk Madden, who tries to drive Taggart off his land and gain Stella's favor. The episode ends with Stella and Rob heading into a nearby town with the understanding that Taggart would call upon Stella for possible courtship.
In "Death in a Wood" (Dec. 17, 1959), Grady plays a young Unionist, Zachary, who grows to understand that a Confederate soldier named Lawrence (played by Dick Powell), who is holding him prisoner, is a man of decency and strength of commitment. Simon Oakland appears in this episode as a less sympathetic Confederate named Townsend.
On February 18, 1960, Zane Grey Theatre aired "Guns for Garibaldi" to commemorate the centennial of Giuseppe Garibaldi's reunification of Italy. The episode is set in Indian Creek, a western gold mining town. Giulio Mandati, played by Fernando Lamas, takes over his brother's gold claim. Though the residents of Indian Creek wanted to use the gold to finance a dam, Mandati plans to lend support to Garibaldi, who had requested financial contributions and volunteers from around the world as he launched his Redshirts in July 1860 to invade Sicily and conquer the Kingdom of Naples from King Victor Emanuel II.
Near the end of her acting career, Nancy Reagan played opposite Ronald Reagan in the January 19, 1961, episode The Long Shadow, Credited as Nancy Davis, she played a grieving widow who struggles to accept her son's death as a soldier under the command of Ronald Reagan's character, an Army major.
Other guest stars
Denver Pyle played a sheriff on a number of Zane Grey Theatre episodes.
Frequent guest stars and famous actors who appeared include the following.
The Rifleman pilot was broadcast in 1958, and a few months later, the new series began its five-year run on ABC. That episode is part of The Rifleman rerun package.
The Westerners rerun package utilizes the Black Saddle theme music, with Dick Powell's hosting segments replaced with new ones by Keenan Wynn. That format was used for a separate but connected rerun repackaging of four short-lived Western series from Four Star, Black Saddle, Johnny Ringo, The Westerner and Law of the Plainsman. An earlier rerun package was Frontier Justice, a summer replacement series on CBS in 1958, 1959 and 1961, hosted by Lew Ayres, Melvyn Douglas and Ralph Bellamy, one each summer.
The series finished at #21 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1957-1958 season, at #13 for 1958-1959 and at #22 for 1959-1960.
In June 2009, VCI Entertainment released the complete first season of the series on Region 1 DVD in the United States. As of September 2014, this release has been discontinued and is out of print.
On April 11, 2014, it was announced that Timeless Media Group had acquired the rights to the series and would release the second season on DVD on September 9, 2014. It was subsequently released on September 30, 2014. Season 3 was released on December 2, 2014.