Friday, February 3, 2023

Deja View: "Gunsmoke" in the "Valley"

Gunsmoke was a phenomenally successful western that ran on television for 20 seasons (and had been on the radio before that - as well as during the early part of the series' run.) When it was canceled in 1975, it was still a Top 30 program (!), but its demographics weren't the "desired" ones... There were 635 episodes filmed in all. Yet I probably have only personally seen about 35 of those! Still, every once in a while I check it out, especially if there is a guest star I'm interested in seeing. Such was the case when I recently tuned in to an installment from January, 1969.

The episode begins with a stagecoach furiously tearing across a bumpy road. This being a western drama, the chances of it arriving at its intended destination are rather slim.

Inside is a sole passenger, Miss Kitty Russell (as played for 19 seasons by Amanda Blake.) She's returning from an extensive shopping spree and the coach is filled with various hats and cases of other items of hers. By this point, Ms. Blake was seriously on the verge of entering Baby Jane Hudson territory with the makeup...

I'm not joking...

The stagecoach is flagged down by a horseless rancher who needs a lift. With saloon owner Blake inside and the surprise passenger carrying a rifle and a saddle, I thought we might be in for a retread of the plot from John Wayne's Stagecoach (1939.)

I'm not joking. Ha ha!

Blake, managing to get both her head and her hat out the window, wants to see why the trip has come to a sudden halt.

We find that the man who's halted the coach is John Ericson. We have always liked Ericson and did a long ago tribute to him here.

Blake is less than trilled at having to move her stuff around to make room for an unexpected passenger, but gives up a spot for him on the opposite side. That's really the least of her troubles, though.

Soon enough, the stagecoach is held up by a pair of robbers and before it is all over, Ericson has been shot in the torso and everyone else besides Blake and him is dead!

In a truly hooty sequence, Blake takes the reins of the four horses and ferociously heads on down the road, grimacing and growling all the while. This brought to mind her 1954 role as a nomadic, sword-wielding, tribal leader in The Adventures of Hajji Baba!

I'm. Not. Joking.

Anyway, I keep getting off topic with my various shenanigans. Blake, after having to confront some gray-toothed, mining squatters, then picking up a little girl playing near the road, finally manages to get her injured pal home. It's at this point that a potential "Guest Who" post instantly morphed into a "Deja View" one...

As she approaches the mansion where Ericson lives, it's abundantly clear that the house... the very same one used for four seasons of Underworld favorite The Big Valley! The Barkley mansion of The Big Valley was very rarely photographed from the angle shown above, but I did find this example.

A more familiar angle is seen here. Though this facade looks very much like Tara from Gone with the Wind (1939), it is really not the same set. The real Tara set had been dismantled and shipped to Georgia in 1959. What remains of it can be seen at The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. The Barkley's house was built in 1947 for The Fighting Kentuckian, albeit based on Tara, and was reused many times thereafter.

I'm not joking. (Sick of me yet? I thought so.)

Ericson's mother is portrayed by veteran character actress Virginia Gregg. This iron-fisted gal is even tougher in some ways than Barkley matriarch Barbara Stanwyck.

Stanwyck could take a kick, a punch and be dragged by horses, but she was kind, fair and possessed strong moral fiber.

Gregg could crack a half-smile, but was demanding, controlling and if, the mood struck her, could turn destructive and even deadly.

Back to the subject at hand, the entrance to Gregg and Ericson's home is the very same one as The Barkley's.

Early episodes of The Big Valley were minus the door knocker that appeared later.

Inside the home, Gregg enlists Blake's aid in seeing to Ericson's bullet wound.

This paneled room is familiar to fans of Valley. Here we spy Linda Evans and Stanwyck looking over a badly injured Peter Breck.

One of the perks of Blake's assignment in this ep was getting to paw all over the writhing Ericson as mama extracts the bullet from his midsection.

As he recovers, we can see that the Barkley's draped doorway has been augmented with actual doors.

...but it's definitely the same room.

That's hardly all, though. We then see that Gregg's home is nearly exactly the same as Stanwyck's, with only a few minor changes!

I'm not joking!

As seen during this pan across the landing and staircase, they even have the same painting on the wall!

It wouldn't be so odd except that The Big Valley was still an actively running show in January of 1969! It wasn't canceled until after that fourth season was over.

Thus one might tune in one night to see Victoria Barkley coming down the stairs of her home and then a few nights later tune into Gunsmoke...

...and find Miss Kitty and others standing at the bottom of the very same stairs! It would be like watching one of the hit shows today and finding their exact set used in a competing show with an altogether different cast. It goes beyond "Bitch stole my look" to "Bitch stole my house!" LOL

I don't really know why the carpet seems to vary in color from example to example. Anything from changes in lighting to degraded video being aired. But it's the very same.

Ericson's daughter is played by Lisa Gerritsen (who would later portray Cloris Leachman's daughter Bess on Phyllis.) Her bedroom is situated on the upper landing near the stairs.

The Barkley boys passed by here often during Valley's run.

Ericson thoughtfully gazes out one of the open French doors.

Many a Barkley problem was ruminated over in these doorways.

This is actually out further on the porch, but I couldn't resist sharing this mother-daughter moment.

One peculiarity of this Gunsmoke episode is that Blake has, literally, a wagonload of new clothes in that stagecoach, but wears the same outfit all the while she's staying at Ericson's. She'd ridden for 8 hours in it, horsewhipped her way to their house and still puts it on the next day! But look at the tat-work on her breast. That's an eye-opening spot for such decoration.

See what I mean, Vern?? But also, while we're at breakfast, take note of the chafing dishes.

They're the Barkley's, too!! Did Victoria rent her place out like an Air B&B?!

The dining room is precisely the same except for some of the furnishings and the chairs at the table.

One of the Barkley's sconces has been replaced by a framed painting in Gregg's house, but much of the rest is the same.

Stanwyck was always at the head of the table, with Jerrod at the opposite end, but the others tended to switch seats depending on the episode's dialogue. Here we see Nick having a meal.

But this time Blake is in that spot.

Do get a load of this makeup. I mean, she's not working at The Long Branch this morning... It's breakfast fer cryin' out loud! Ha ha! I'm surprised she could open her eyes with these lashes on.

Another view of the dining room.

The Barkley's china, linens and so forth are more understated and less garish in color than the items used for Gunsmoke.

The Big Valley has been a Top 5 favorite show of mine for practically all my life. I adored Stanwyck and thought no one on earth was more Barbie Doll beautiful than Evans.

Then there were the occasional perks of hunky Lee Majors doing chores around the ranch, shirtless.

Gunsmoke never quite caught my attention in the same way, but - like I said - I caught this one mainly to see Ericson. (Ericson had actually played Stanwyck's little brother in the 1957 western Forty Guns.) Five years after this, he appeared in a semi-nude Playgirl spread in an attempt to shift his image, though he later regretted it as a bit foolish. (The pics had him frolicking naked with a variety of wild animals!) 

Before I bid you adieu, there is one more tenuous connection between Gunsmoke and The Big Valley that I wanted to alert you to. You remember that Amanda Blake movie I noted earlier, The Adventures of Hadjji Baba? Well Hadjji was played by John Derek, who was the husband of Linda Evans while she was on Valley. (He was forever trying to get her to break her contract and quit.) The movie opens with Derek giving a shirtless Claude Akins (of all people!) an oily, vigorous rub-down.


See? I wasn't joking...!!!  Ha ha! Til next time.


DJWildBill said...

Well, now that you've brought it to my attention, Amanda Blake does look too ornate for a breakfast table and her makeup seems to be a nod to Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched. I can see her playing Samantha's aunt: Endora's younger sister Jane.

hsc said...

When I saw that first closeup of Amanda Blake, I immediately thought, "Who did her makeup? Baby Jane Hudson?"-- and then cracked up when I scrolled down and saw you had exactly the same thought!

DJWildBill is right about a resemblance to Agnes Moorehead as Endora, but I also see a touch of Yvonne de Carlo's Lily Munster makeup as well. I suppose some of it is just that eye makeup was pretty heavy in general in the late '60s, particularly the false eyelashes. (Though usually not to this level on older women.)

OTOH, while basically the female lead, "Miss Kitty" *was* supposed to be a saloon owner, and it's been said that a lot of post-Code films and television series substituted "saloon gals" and "saloon owners" for prostitutes and madams. So yeah, she was probably not exactly an exemplar of "quiet good taste" in dress and grooming.

And having called attention to the particular decoration of that one lacy blouse she wore to the dining table, I'm surprised you resisted calling it "tat for tits." (But I can't...)

I always enjoy seeing Lisa Gerritsen turn up in old episodes of TV shows! She appeared in so many places at the time (sometimes in multiple one-shot roles on the same series over several years) that I'm surprised she didn't just pop up in THE BIG VALLEY along with the sets!

Thanks for another great post, Poseidon! I *always* love anything you post with reused costumes, props, or sets! Love to all, and be safe and well, everyone!

Ptolemy1 said...

Love! I thought you were onto the episode where dear Kitty is in a stagecoach and the thing capsizes on her out in the middle of nowhere. I loved that episode as a kid because, well, it crashes. EARLY on in the series Blake was beautiful, before the beat back drag queen era later on. Surely that face would get scuffed and muffed during the perils of the West. Perhaps take on a sepia tone as the day wore on, hahah. Miss K did love her Marshal with a capital D! Looking around I found a great article on the Barkley family mansion, who knew "Gilligan's Island" was practically in the back yard? It did trigger the original "Night Gallery" film episode "The Cemetery" memories with me (it also has my beloved Roddy in it, natch) but I could swear the columns in that episode are round, maybe they could swap them out or wrap them. Anyway, here's to Miss Kitty for paving the way for all successful drag queens today, we must pay homage to our roots! Cheers and thank you!

Ptolemy1 said...

Oh, and Ericson! What a fabulous Pan he made in "7 Faces of Dr. Lao"! Talk about childhood memories!

K Jenkins said...

I never had much interest in watching Gunsmoke ( though my parents watched it ) but I enjoyed watching reruns of Big Valley when I was a kid. I especially like the episodes that featured the dynamic Victoria, hunky Heath and beautiful Audra. Linda Evans really did look like a 1960s Barbie doll come to life in seasons 3 and 4! Too bad they never gave Miss Kitty the updated and anachronistic make-up and hair styles that Victoria and Audra were given. B
ecause Miss Kitty really did start to look a lot like Baby Jane Hudson! I also recall Miss Kitty's saloon can be seen in a couple of Big valley episodes. On that same note the "Brady Bunch" house can be seen in episodes of "Mannix". And Samantha and Darrin Stephens, Jeannie and Tony Nelson and the Partridge Family all lived in the same neighborhood! In outdoor scenes you can see that Shirley Partridge lived next door to Tony Nelson. And Samantha lived down the street! LOL I guess the producers of these programs didn't realize that these shows would live forever in reruns and sharp eyed viewers would see these same sets and exteriors were used over and over again! said...

Hi Poseidon,
My brother is as big of a western fan as I am a classic movie fan!
Whenever I drop by, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, or some other TV classic western is on... and we have a hoot riffing on the plots, acting, and guest stars.

I've often joked that latter seasons Miss Kitty and Lucille Ball had the same makeup artist... wigs neon orange, the eyebrows got higher, the false eyelashes bigger, pancake makeup more pronounced, and lip line in another county!

PS, my brother says the only guest villain that scared him was when Bette Davis starred, kidnapping Miss Kitty out of revenge! And yes, Bruce Dern was trotted out in a TV spot once again as a drooling weirdo!

Cheers and thanks for the fun post!

joel65913 said...

Another fun and informative post Poseidon!!

I was a casual Gunsmoke watcher when it was on, that is to say if nothing better was on and I remembered I'd tune in but not faithfully. However I ADORED The Big Valley!! I was too young when it was on initially to see it all the time but discovered it in reruns when I was in junior high. It ran just as I was getting home from school and I was glued to the set both out of fandom for those feisty Barkley's and as a way to avoid my homework for an extra hour!!!

That makeup job on Amanda Blake is really something else! I have to wonder if that was her choice or the demands of the producers to make sure the audience remembered she was a "fallen woman". I recall watching a decent TV movie she made right after Gunsmoke went off the air called "Betrayal" and being surprised with her minimal makeup and a softer hairstyle how perhaps not youthful but fresh she looked. Of course the setting for that film was contemporary as opposed to the Old West but it made a world of difference.

Dan said...

My family wasn’t into westerns. We loved all the variety shows. When I do catch a bit of some old western, I always find myself imagining what the makeup counter “down to the mercantile” was like. “Got some mighty fine new eyeliner in from Kansas City, Miz Barkley!”

So often I’ll see a prop or set in a TV show or movie and just know I’ve seen it elsewhere but, alas, I lack your file cabinet mind. Guess I’ll just have to keep scratching my head wondering, “ Now where else have I seen that?”

josh said...

i've seen very few episodes of GUNSMOKE with the exception of the black & white BURT REYNOLDS episodes where he played (i believe, a then controversial half breed indian???) a 'blacksmith', very cute/handsome/manly/sexy and most important - SHIRTLESS! :)

on the other hand, i've seen every episode of THE BIG VALLEY multiple times - still LOVE it! :)

as i'm sure you know and have probably pointed out many times, THE BIG VALLEY house, both the exterior & interior, are used many many many times in everybody's favorite, THE WILD WILD WEST and, if you've ever caught the JOAN CRAWFORD 1964/65 oddity called DELLA, you'll notice THE BIG VALLEY staircase, and only the staircase, prominently featured in JOAN'S house - DELLA was also a FOUR STAR production as was THE BIG VALLEY :)

A said...

The Davis/Blake comparison made me laugh out loud.

Thanks for another great post, Poseidon!


Poseidon3 said...

DJWildBill, prior to "Gunsmoke," Amanda had a pretty wide variety of parts, but along the way she (mostly) became encased the role of Kitty. She probably would have had fun on an ep of "Bewitched!"

Ptolemy1, of COURSE I have also seen that one! LOL Anything with calamity... I was pretty surprised to find out that in ALL those episodes of "Gunsmoke," Marshall Dillon kissed only one woman -- guest star Michael Learned. In one of the reunion movies, they parlayed that into her having had his CHILD! She even appeared in the telefilm. Thanks for the link about the mansion. Sad to know it's now demolished. (I'm betting your recollection about the columns is due to the fact that the painting used for "Night Gallery" clearly shows round ones, but the house in the episode is with the squares ones -- albeit, briefly seen and with even more vines on them that typically!!) And, yes, Ericson was SO erotic as Pan!!

K Jenkins, so right about all those sets and streets...! Those homes of "Marcus Welby" and Darren and Samantha from "Bewitched" and so on... It's amazing how often they were utilized. I almost did a post about it before this one because I could swear that an episode of "Mannix" had the interior set (hallway, stairs, side room) from "The Big Valley" but VERY HEAVILY redressed in garish '70s decor! Somewhere else on my site (click the tab "Deja View") I show an episode of the great show "Ghost Story" that was filmed at Darren and Samantha's. Thanks!!

Rick - LOL about Kitty and Lucy! That's about right, though...! I saw an interview with Bruce Dern (I had a roommate once who always called him "Dern Bruce") and how he was so disheartened to see a star of Bette's caliber being reduced to working on TV. But it happened to most all of them who still wished to work after the heat of their career in films had cooled. (And she did a lot of great TV work, particularly later on.)

joel65913, I've gone on (and on) about it here, but "TBV" was just an obsession of mine when I discovered it in reruns as a preteen. My stepsister and I both adored it and would call one another to rehash the episodes. Sounds like we had similar experiences. It was on at 4:00pm in my town and I was there to watch it M-F! I have "Betrayal" on a cheapo DVD and I enjoyed it a lot! But I'm a sucker for those old 74-minute TV-movies.

Dan - HA! The makeup counter... Maybe someone like Corabeth Godsey from "The Waltons" pushing the products? At the beginning of "TBV," Stanwyck and Evans had natural makeup, mostly, but man as it wore on they just went for it with the eyes and, in Linda's case, the hair. But that time period... I was watching "Laredo" over the weekend and I could NOT. BELIEVE. MY. EYES. when I saw a getup that Robert Wolders was wearing (without any irony.) Craziest outfit ever!

josh, I often like to check out Burt, too. I think Burt had Native American blood in there somewhere (he also played an Indian cop called "Hawk" back in the day) and would often get quizzed on "Hollywood Squares" with associated questions until one day he got really pissed off about it. They dropped off after that...! Joan had a field day entering "Della" down that long, long staircase. So many older shows featured grand staircases like that and they made for some memorable sequences. Thanks!

A, glad you liked this. I was gobsmacked by Kitty's lashes. At breakfast?! I didn't show it, but she had a scene in a yellow lace nightie/ensemble with her hair down and in a ribbon. Still slathered down in full makeup. The poor pillowcases...! ;-)

Gingerguy said...

There is so much here and all I saw was Linda Evans' hair. That hair! So, so gorgoues. You have an amazing eye for detail. I think the makeup on Amanda Blake is really ghastly and nothing says whore in a stagecouch faster than those eyelashes. Hot guy and fun post. Hadji Baba looks like a scream. Might look for it after I finish "Queen Of Blood"

Shawny said...

I've never seen either of these shows but I've seen the house in a movie before. The columns, the way the bluntly connect to the roof, and their thickness, made me think of more modern commercial architecture. But I can't remember the film. There was a major disaster like a flood or something. I'm probably wrong. Oh well. I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I was utterly obsessed with Evans' hair in the 2nd, 3rd & 4th seasons of "TBV." (In the earlier eps, there was a slight attempt at the period.) Not all of it was hers, just the way not all of it was hers in "Dynasty" either! At least not all the time. I should have linked to Hajji Baba, but didn't. Here is a beautiful transfer of it:

Shawny, get some rest, darlin'! ;-)