John McIntire replaced the stars of two different TV westerns after their untimely deaths
John McIntire came on halfway through Wagon Train and The Virginian.
Image: The Everett Collection
Actor John McIntire seems like the perfect choice to star in a western. Whenever he wasn’t working, he liked to spend time on his 640-acre ranch in Montana. The property was so far removed from his life in Hollywood that it didn’t even have electricity!
This real-life cowboy background may be part of the reason McIntire was hired to replace an actor who passed away on two different 1960s TV westerns.
Ward Bond played wagon master Major Seth Adams on the series Wagon Train from 1957–60. The veteran actor, who had played a similar role in the 1950 film Wagon Master, was in poor health for most of the series. He wore a brace on his left leg, a lingering result from being struck by a car on Hollywood Boulevard in the early 1940s. When a horse broke loose on the set of Wagon Train, Bond twisted his hip when saving an extra from the being struck by the animal, according to the book Television Western Players, 1960-1975: A Biographical Dictionary. The injury was so bad, producers considered writing Bond out of the series. He soldiered on, suffering from chronic ulcers and fueling himself on a reported 45 cups of a coffee per day.
When Bond died suddenly of a heart attack in 1960, producers brought on McIntire to play the new wagon master. McIntire portrayed Chris Hale and was introduced in a 1961 episode aptly named “The Christopher Hale Story.”
He stayed with the show until it ended in 1965. Wagon Train originally aired on NBC but switched to ABC in 1962 for its last three seasons. A new series, The Virginian, premiered on NBC in September of 1962. It was filmed in color and was the first 90-minute western on TV.
The Virginian ran for nine seasons (the name changed to The Men from Shiloh for season nine) and featured many cast changes over its run. The show was set in late 19th century Wyoming and revolved around the men working on the Shiloh Ranch.
The owner of the ranch was originally Judge Henry Garth, played by Lee J. Cobb, but Cobb left the show near the end of season four. John Dehner was cast as the new owner, Morgan Starr, but the character wasn’t well received and didn’t last long.
Starting in season five, Charles Bickford played the latest owner of Shiloh Ranch, John Grainger. The changes worked and the show garnered high ratings. Unfortunately, halfway through season six, Charles Bickford passed away.
He was replaced by — you guessed it —John McIntire.
McIntire played John Grainger’s brother, Clay, who took over the ranch. Clay Grainger’s wife on the show, Holly, was played by Jeanette Nolan, who was married to John McIntire in real life!
After The Virginian, McIntire continued to have a long career in Hollywood up until his last role as Amos Reed in the classic Tom Hanks film Turner & Hooch.
You can see McIntire on Wagon Train beginning with "The Christopher Hale Story" beginning today, February 14.