Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Big Family

Coming home from school as a child meant one thing... getting there and in place by 4:00pm to watch the daily reruns of The Big Valley! Born in '67, I was too young to have ever watched it in its initial four-year run. However, one day I happened to catch a rerun and caught a glimpse of fierce Victoria Barkley (played by Barbara Stanwyck), tough Nick (Peter Breck), hunky Heath (Lee Majors) and stunningly beautiful Audra (Linda Evans.)

I was basically raised an only child (one step-sister who I saw every other weekend and a half-sister who came much later), so I gravitated towards the tightly knit Barkleys (which also included dependable attorney Jarrod, played by Richard Long), perhaps enhanced by the fact that, like myself, they had a strong mother at the helm and the father was gone.

The show has an odd dichotomy to it. It began as a very realistic and serious family drama with Heath coming out of nowhere to claim his place as the illegitimate son of the deceased patriarch Tom Barkley. Victoria had long hair in a snood and Audra wore period-inspired dresses. But somewhere along the way, the show began to buck a lot of that and Victoria had a contemporary haircut and modern makeup (dig the false eyelashes!) along with plenty of kicky black leather riding ensembles. Audra's hair (which was just about the most beautiful hair ever to grace the small screen) got blonder and more modern in style and she began to look less and less like someone from the 19th century. Still, the show retained its seriousness for the most part. Some of the adventures the family underwent were quite violent and harrowing (and Barbara Stanwyck revelled in doing practically all of her own stunt work, once even being dragged on rugged, rocky ground for 150 feet!)

Yes, an occasional dud episode may sneak in, but generally the shows are captivating and entertaining, especially once the viewer begins to think of The Barkleys as a unit, devoted to each other even when experiencing their occasional brawls. What the show had, which so many shows today lack, was a sense of justice, integrity and dignity. The Barkleys always fought for what was right and just. Yes, they made mistakes, but they always did the right thing in the end. It was a family that I would have loved to have been a member of, if they'd have had me!

And what a great looking bunch they were! Stanwyck was in a class by herself in terms of latter day attractiveness and style. Premature grey be damned! Richard Long, though a bit dowdy compared to the other men, was a nice looking and debonair man. Peter Breck was dangerous and fiery (and, in some episodes, his display of manhood down near his chaps is eye-popping to say the least!) Heath was beautiful. Delectable. Audra's striking looks were almost too good to be true. (And it's a shame to see what poor Linda has done to her face of late.) A fourth son, Eugene (played by Charles Briles) was quickly written out with no explanation given aside from occasional references to college. Mr. Briles himself told me that he was drafted for The Vietnam War, which does add a sad footnote to his brief participation in the show. Thank goodness he made it through and hopefully was able to continue with a happy and contented life.

The theme song was always good, but in the 3rd and 4th seasons, it was augmented to make it more dramatic and little bit longer and this version is among the very best television theme songs of all time! Oddly, in recent syndication packages, the episodes use only two of the original four opening credit sequences. There were differences, sometimes minor, sometimes major, between all of them and it's a shame they aren't all available for viewing.


ohsohappy said...

I have been in a "Big Valley" mode for about two weeks now. Watching episodes of Season 1 and 2 that are available on DVD. I sure wish later episodes would be released because, like you, I just adore that version(s) of the theme song and face shots of The Family. My 23year old son laughs at how "dramatic" the acting is. I just sigh and reflect longingly on the good ol days.

charles kelly said...

Watched it during original run EmWed. night at 9, often had to fight with brother and sisters who wanted "The Beverly Hillbillies" which was airing opposite it.
I loved that BS was lastly billed as Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck.
Only minus for me was its' Bonanza -stealing-premise.

Poseidon3 said...

I have a thing for prestige billing like that! Ever since "and Eleanor Parker as The Baroness!" I love to be last in programs and one time a friend of mine was kind enough to stage a reading of Dorothy Parker works and put my name in a box that said, "Special appearance by..." :-D I know it's a LITTLE similar to "Bonanza" but for me was different enough with the female angle and the more obvious/on display wealth of the family to stand on its own. Thanks!