How John McIntire became the wagonmaster
McIntire's Christopher Hale was a natural choice to replace Ward Bond.
Sudden deaths are one of the most disruptive things that can happen to anyone. As if losing a beloved friend, family member, or colleague wasn't awful enough, mourners then find out that the world keeps turning. While grief overwhelms, the sun still comes up in the morning, and the bills still need to be paid. This is especially true of large television and movie productions, which employ dozens, if not hundreds of people who need to proceed after the loss of someone special.
Ward Bond was the star of Wagon Train from 1957 until his death in 1960. In those first few seasons, Bond was the wagonmaster, Major Seth Adams. When the actor suddenly died of a heart attack during the production of season four, he was quickly replaced by a new character, Christopher Hale, with no explanation given within the context of the show. Behind the scenes, however, the decision was much-discussed.
Christopher Hale was the second character John McIntire played on Wagon Train. Earlier, in the show's third season, McIntire guest starred as preacher Andrew Hale. Ward Bond was so impressed by the volume of mail sent in praise of McIntire that Bond suggested to producers that the character be brought back.
Producer Howard Christie told the Winston-Salem Journal, "After Ward's death, I never had anyone else in mind to play the role except John McIntire. I went to him first."
McIntire was close with Bond in real life and took the role seriously, treating his position on the show with respect in Bond's place.
"Becoming wagonmaster is a responsibility," said McIntire. "Ward made him into a national figure. Naturally, I can't play him like Bond and have no intention of doing so. Hale is going to be somewhat gentler than Seth Adams. However, I can't go too far for fear gentleness will be mistaken for softness. We're just going to work it out."