Lee Majors was chosen to be Heath Barkley out of hundreds of actors
With James Dean's agent, anything is possible.
A show like The Big Valley was guaranteed to be a hit from the moment of its conception. First and foremost, everyone loves a good Western. When done properly, the genre guarantees a perfect storm of love and upbeat action that's sure to ensnare any audience. Secondly, the series was created with powerhouse Barbara Stanwyck in mind for the lead role of matriarch Victoria Barkley, which meant that the series was sure to be led with greatness.
But what about casting other members of the Barkley family? Apparently, the production team was determined to find the perfect actors for the job, which meant that they needed to leave no stone unturned. Luckily, their efforts weren't in vain - as the search allowed them to discover Lee Majors, who played the perfect Heath Barkley.
According to an interview with the Copley News Service, Majors claimed that 500 other actors were also auditioning for the role. The funny thing is that becoming an actor wasn't Majors' first career choice. He said, "I figured I'd teach or coach, and I'd work either in Florida or California, which has the highest pay for teachers." However, Majors was able to convince James Dean's old agent to take him on as a client, though it took some effort.
According to the North Adams Transcript, the agent informed Majors that he'd need to take some acting lessons before he agreed to work with him. Even after the agent had taken Majors on, it wasn't smooth sailing. Majors stated, "I was terribly depressed because Mr. Clayton [his agent] refused to let me do even bit parts. He told me, 'I can get you a bit role, but then you will be playing bits for the rest of your life.'"
However, Majors' agent knew what he was doing, and it wasn't long before he was able to secure the spotlight that his client deserved. Majors said, "When he finally did arrange a screen test, it was for the role of Heath in The Big Valley."