Wagon Train


Wagon Train premiered on NBC, 18 Sept.1957 as one of the new cadre of adult westerns. For the next five years, the show was one of the top three rated shows in the nation, often second only to Gunsmoke. Actually, during the 1960-61 season, Wagon Train surpassed Gunsmoke and became the number one rated show on television. Though the show remained on the air until 1965, after Robert Horton left the cast in 1962, it was never in the top ten again.
The caption on this famous Life Magazine photo read: " SHOOTING IT OUT in a studio saloon, six TV western heros who never trade fire on the screen because they are all in different weekly serials stage a mock battle symbolic of the TV rating war each is out to win. Gunmen (left to right) are Clint Walker, ex-deputy sheriff from Las Vegas who plays the title role in "Cheyenne" (ABC); Jim Arness, a 6-foot 4-inch Minnesotan who plays Marshall Matt Dillon of "Gunsmoke" (CBS); Dick Boone, onetime star of TV's "Medic," now hero of "Have Gun, Will Travel" (CBS); Robert Horton, co-star with Ward Bond in expensively made "Wagon Train" (NBC) whose hour-long episodes cost $100,000 each; James Garner, the gambler in "Maverick" (ABC); and John Payne, freelance cowpoke Vint Bonner in "Restless Gun" (NBC)." Of interest to note in the above photo, shooting it out opposite one another, in true symbolic style, are Robert Horton and James Arness. 
The season and the “wagon train” started out each September in St. Joseph, Missouri, as a group of pioneers joined together under Wagonmaster Major Seth Adams, played by the veteran actor Ward Bond, to travel by covered wagons across the plains and the mountains, and arrive in June, thirty-seven episodes later (yes, that was 37, not the paltry 13 or so new episodes we get today), in Sacramento, California. Co-starring with Bond, playing the part of the dashing scout of the Wagon Train, was a relative newcomer, the very handsome redhead, Robert Horton. Each week the show would feature a guest star, often some of Hollywood’s top stars, whose story would be portrayed against the backdrop of this traveling caravan. Of course, along the way they had to fight Indians, outlaws, disease, and sometimes worst of all, Mother Nature. Additional cast included Frank McGrath, as Charlie Wooster, the cook, who often added the comic relief to the show, and Terry Wilson, as Bill Hawks, the ramrod. Both these men were experienced stuntmen in their own right and often doubled or stunted for Ward Bond. Robert Horton did most of his own stunts, much to the studio’s chagrin. The outdoor scenes for the show were filmed about an hours drive north of Hollywood, in Cnejo Valley. The area is now so built-up, nothing could be filmed there now.
Bob, Frank McGrath, and Ward Bond Flint, Charlie, Bill, and Maj. Adams Frank McGrath and Terry Wilson
Just a few weeks into the first season, rumors started to abound of friction on the set between the old veteran, Bond, and the young newcomer, Horton. As the first shows aired, fan mail started pouring in for Horton, leaving Bond, who was for the first time starring in a show rather than playing second banana to John Wayne, feeling threatened. While tension may have been very high on the set, in our living rooms every Wednesday night, we were privileged to see some of the best on-screen chemistry between Horton and Bond ever seen on television. Though many shows since have tried to duplicate that father-son, slightly more than boss-employee relationship, none has ever quite succeeded. Of his supposedly “legendary” difficulties with Ward Bond, Mr. Horton tells of the last time the two of them were together: “I'd been with him in his dressing room discussing a script two days before he died, and although Ward and I didn't always agree on things, this was a friendly discussion. When our drinks and the discussion were finished I recall saying, 'Well, Ward, we've had our differences but we sure agree on this lousy script.' As I walked across the room Ward said, 'Bobby, we don't have any lousy differences.' I looked at him, smiled, and went out of the room. These were our last words together. It was the only time he ever called me ‘Bobby’.”
At the start of the fourth season, in November of 1960, Ward Bond was making a personal appearance at a rodeo in Texas, when he suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. This could also have been the death knell for the show, but by this time Robert Horton was so popular that he was able to carry the show virtually by himself. Wagon Train was also a huge success in Great Britain, thanks in no small part to Robert Horton, who still has a large following in the British Isles. One British reviewer said, "It used to be said the TV could not create for women the great heart-throbs, the romantic lovers, the sweep-'em-off-their-feet males of the great days of the cinema. No Valentinoes, Boyers, Chevaliers...till along came Robert Horton..."
Eventually, a new Wagonmaster was found in the character of Chris Hale, played by the well-known actor, John McIntyre. This was only the first of several cast changes. At the end of the fifth season, in 1962, Mr. Horton’s contract had expired, and despite an enormous financial offer from the studio to renew his contract for another ten years, Robert declined in order to pursue a career in musical theater. Later additions to the cast included Scott Miller, Robert Fuller, and Michael Burns, but the show had lost the “Horton-Bond” magic. Even with several format changes - switching networks, going to color, going to a 90-minute format and back to 60 minutes again, changing days and times - nothing could save it, and the show ended at the end of its eighth season, in May 1965, after 284 episodes.
"Wagon Train" was sponsored by Ford for many years and Robert did several commercials for them. Below are links to two of those commercials:
Commercial 1: http://us.video.aol.com/video.index.adp?mode=2&partner=singfish&stream=http%3a%2f%2fwww%
 Commercial 2: http://us.video.aol.com/video.index.adp?mode=2&partner=singfish&stream=http%3a%2f%2fwww%
Bob, as Flint, with John McIntyre as Wagonmaster Chris Hale
The First Season
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