Tonight we are watching a Western! I love Westerns. I have so many recorded on my television right now that the memory is full! The Big Valley is one of my favorites. I first started watching The Big Valley as a child and I've never grown tired of the show.
The Big Valley ran from September of 1965 to May of 1969. Not long when you consider other shows, like Bonanza, and Gunsmoke, ran for nearly twenty years. The Big Valley was under-appreciated as far as I'm concerned. Interesting, believable story lines and talented actors made it appealing to all age groups.
Barbara Stanwyck, (made famous by her excessive use of green eye shadow) stars as the family matriarch, Victoria Barkley. She has one daughter and four sons, including one, Heath, who her late husband fathered when he experienced a brief spell of amnesia and forgot he was married. (Okay, most of the story lines are believable.)
Barbara Stanwyck and Adam West from an episode of The Big Valley.
(It's difficult to see her green eye shadow in a black and white photo, but it's there, I promise.)
Victoria's daughter, Audra, is played by Linda Evans. Audra is a bit spoiled in the beginning of the show, but later becomes obsessed with funding an orphanage in nearby Stockton, which seems to draw her into maturity. Audra is often the victim of foul play, which is a great excuse for her over-protective brothers to come to the rescue. (Okay, let's say many of the story lines are believable.)
In the real world, Evans' appearances on The Big Valley were limited at first as she wanted to spend more time with her new husband, John Derek. Linda Evans later became even more famous as Krystal Carrington in the night time soap opera Dynasty. Remember Krystal? She had one of those winged haircuts made famous by Farrah Fawcett, who later married--you guessed it! Lee Majors, who starred as Heath in The Big Valley! Hollywood is one big circle.
As for the "boys" (no matter what their age, they are always referred to as "boys" in Westerns) the youngest son, Eugene, is rarely seen as he was away at college. Eugene was played by Charles Briles, who was actually a medical student studying at Berkeley.
Next in line is Heath (Lee Majors). Heath is a strange duck in this show. I suspect that Majors' was trying to portray him as reserved, cautious, with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but to me he has the personality of a stick stuck in the mud, albeit a handsome stick in the mud. He is rarely attracted to women and often pushes them away when they are attracted to him.
When Heath first appeared at the ranch, he was rejected by Nick, but eventually, all of the family members accepted him. Mother Victoria seemed to instinctively know he was the son of her late husband. She took him under her wing and pampered him like a mother bird. Soon, he too was calling Victoria mother. (Okay, I lied. Very few of the story lines are believable, but who cares. It's a western, and westerns are always fun!)
The middle son is Nick. Nick is one of my favorite characters in the show. He is played by Peter Breck, who I believe was more handsome than Lee Majors. Breck portrays his character as feisty, hot-tempered, and always dressed in leather vests and black gloves. Breck tended to overplay the part. Nick was a bit excessive, it's true. I would guess he was more comfortable on stage. I think he's great, though. He's interesting, and fun to watch in his excess!
Jarrod Thomas Barkley is the oldest. He is also appealing as the logical and reasonable oldest child. Jarrod is played by Richard Long, and impressively well-played. Longs' performance is everything you would expect from the oldest son, a lawyer, who loves his family and watches over their every need. Richard Long was a great actor who died of a heart attack at the shockingly young age of 47.
The Cast of The Big Valley, from left to right, bottom row to top:
Linda Evans, Barbara Stanwyck, Heath Majors, Peter Breck and Richard Long.
Charles Briles, who was rarely seen in the show, is not pictured.
This brings us back to Mother, Victoria. Now, I'm not trying to be critical here. I believe Barbara Stanwyck is a fine actress, but she does have this one quirky behavior in the show--she is always wearing green eye shadow. It doesn't matter what color her clothing is--turquoise, midnight blue, purple--her eye shadow is always green. When you watch back to back shows for hours on end, as I do on my writing days, you begin to notice these things.
Even now, for instance, as I glance up at the screen, I see her in a beautiful tangerine suit dress with dark orange lapels and a soft orange scarf tied demurely about her neck and tucked into the cleavage. Her hair is meticulously styled. Her manners are everything you would expect from a wealthy community leader...and her eye shadow is that odd, drab shade of green.
At this point, you may suspect that The Big Valley was cancelled due to Victoria Barkley's excessive use of green eye shadow. Not so! The green eye shadow is my personal issue. Sadly, this wonderful Western was cancelled simply because it was 1969, a time of great turmoil in America, and Americans wanted situation comedies to ease their aching hearts from the pain of Vietnam. I suspect that if it had started ten years earlier, The Big Valley would have had a much longer run. Stay tuned...