Death Valley Days
Early logo of Death Valley Days
Presented by
StarringSee list
Narrated byMerle Haggard (1975 re-broadcasts)
Theme music composerHerbert Taylor
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons18
No. of episodes452 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Jack Wheeler
  • Anthony Wollner
Running time25 min.
Production companies
  • McGowan Productions
  • Flying A Productions
  • Filmaster Productions
  • Madison Productions
Original release
ReleaseMarch 1, 1952 (1952-03-01) –
April 24, 1970 (1970-04-24)

Death Valley Days is an American Western anthology series featuring true accounts of the American Old West, particularly the Death Valley country of southeastern California. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945. From 1952 to 1970, it became a syndicated television series, with reruns (updated with new narrations) continuing through August 1, 1975.[1] The radio and television versions combined to make the show "one of the longest-running Western programs in broadcast history."[2]: 43 

The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, makers of 20 Mule Team Borax and Boraxo, and hosted by Stanley Andrews ("The Old Ranger") (1952–1964), Ronald Reagan (1964–1966), Robert Taylor (1966–1969), and Dale Robertson (1969–1970).[3] Hosting the series was Reagan's final work as an actor; he left the series in 1966 to run for Governor of California.[3]

The television series was conceived by Pacific Coast Borax Company's advertising agency McCann-Erickson through company executive Dorothy McCann and Mitchell J. Hamilburg, who represented Gene Autry's Flying A Productions.[4]


Death Valley Days is one of the first anthology series to appear on television, featuring different characters and stories each episode.[5] The stories were based in fact, all within the legends and lore of California's Death Valley. Style varied by episode, with some being drama and others comedy. Most were human-interest stories of miners and homesteaders in Death Valley, where borax was mined.[1]

Advertisements for the company's best-known products, 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry additive, Borateem, a laundry detergent, and Boraxo, a powdered hand soap, were often done by the program's host.

As the series continued on the air, episodes began to focus on nearly any portion of the American West, not just the Death Valley country. Most episodes portrayed events in the late 19th century, the heyday of the "Old West". Some, however, were set in much earlier times, especially the Spanish colonial era, and a few recounted stories from the early 20th century.[6]: 80–82 


Stanley Andrews as "The Old Ranger", first host of Death Valley Days

Each of the 452 television episodes was introduced by a host. The longest running was "The Old Ranger," a character played by veteran actor Stanley Andrews from 1952 to 1964.[3]

Following the departure of Andrews, all subsequent hosts appeared under their own names, starting with Ronald Reagan, the former host of CBS's General Electric Theater. Reagan appeared in 21 episodes of Death Valley Days, including the 1965 segment "A City Is Born" in which he played mining developer Charles Poston, the "Father of Arizona".

When Reagan left to run for Governor of California, he was succeeded by Robert Taylor.[3] Like Reagan, Taylor appeared as a character in some of the shows, including "The Day All Marriages Were Cancelled" (1966), also based on the career of Charles Poston. He portrayed Horace Bell in another 1967 episode, "Major Horace Bell."[7] That same year in the episode "Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party," Taylor played James Kelly of San Francisco.[8] After playing Porter Stockton in another 1967 episode "Halo for a Badman",[9] he would portray Texas John Slaughter, a role most associated with Tom Tryon, in the 1968 episode "A Short Cut through Tombstone".[10]

Taylor became gravely ill in 1969, and after 69 episodes was succeeded by Dale Robertson, former star of two other Western series, Tales of Wells Fargo and Iron Horse. Robertson served as host and occasional actor for 23 episodes until production of new episodes ceased in 1970. In 1975, the show briefly returned in reruns, with singer Merle Haggard providing narration for some previously produced episodes.

The commercial spokesperson for the show was Rosemary DeCamp.[1][11] When the show began in 1952, Dorothy McCann gave DeCamp a long-term contract to have DeCamp and her daughters appear in the commercials.[12] She also appeared in four episodes.[12]

While the series followed the anthology format, with all new stories and characters in each episode, the series utilized many character actors over its 18-year run. Some, (such as Don Haggerty, John Pickard, Gregg Barton, Michael Vallon, James Seay, Guy Wilkerson and Roy Engel) appeared in multiple episodes over the entire run of the series.


Main article: List of Death Valley Days episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedBlack & White / Color
First airedLast aired
1181952 (1952)1953 (1953)Black & White
2181953 (1953)1954 (1954)Black & White
3181954 (1954)1955 (1955)Black & White
4211955 (1955)1956 (1956)Black & White
5171956 (1956)1957 (1957)Black & White
6251957 (1957)1958 (1958)Black & White
7331958 (1958)1959 (1959)Black & White
8381959 (1959)1960 (1960)Black & White
9301960 (1960)1961 (1961)Black & White
10261961 (1961)1962 (1962)Black & White
11261962 (1962)1963 (1963)23 B&W, 3 Color
12261963 (1963)1964 (1964)16 B&W, 10 Color
13261964 (1964)1965 (1965)Color
14261965 (1965)1966 (1966)Color
15261966 (1966)1967 (1967)Color
16261967 (1967)1968 (1968)Color
17261968 (1968)1969 (1969)Color
18261969 (1969)1970 (1970)Color
Total4521952 (1952)1970 (1970)283 B&W, 169 Color

Background and production


In 1930, the Pacific Coast Borax Company was looking for ways to market their products, including 20 Mule Team Borax. Working with their New York advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, they settled on creating a radio program to highlight Death Valley, the obscure location of much of the company's borax mining operations. McCann copywriter Ruth Woodman, who had experience with radio copywriting, was selected to write the show. As a long-time New Yorker, Woodman had never been to Death Valley and the initial story of the discovery of borax was written entirely from reference books. Woodman eventually decided to visit Death Valley, and eventually made several trips there to research story material for the show, which eventually became a radio hit.[6]: 79 

In 1945, the radio show was dropped in favor of other material, but after nearly eight years, the show was re-developed for television as the Pacific Coast Borax Company sought to develop material for the new medium.[6]: 79  Originally, McCann was interested in one minute advertising spots on television, but found so few available that full program sponsorship was more feasible. With more than 750 scripts from 14 years of radio programs, they already had the content to adapt.[13]

For its first two years, the series was produced by Gene Autry's Flying A Productions.[4] In 1954, Dorrell and Stuart McGowan left Autry's Flying A to form McGowan Productions, bringing Death Valley Days along with them.[14] Filmaster Productions, Inc., which produced the first several seasons of Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel, and Playhouse 90 for CBS Television, took over production of the series in 1959, specifically noting that production company president Robert Stabler had a reputation for producing shows on-time and under budget.[13] Production was later handled by Madison Productions.[15]


Ruth Woodman had previously researched and written all of the scripts for the show's radio run. When the show was re-worked for television, she continued to write all scripts for the first five years of production, at which time she became the show's story editor.[2]: 48  The series required historical accuracy for its stories, breaking out of the standard Western genre plotlines, instead focusing on actual pioneer events.[13]


As an anthology, the cast changed with each episode. When Filmaster took over production in 1959, one of their immediate changes was to use bigger name Hollywood actors.[13]


Although parts of the series were filmed in Kanab, Utah[16] and Apacheland Studio in Arizona,[17]: 148  the series was primarily filmed in Death Valley National Park,[17]: 130 [6]: 80  Segments were done on location, and shot on short, three-day schedules.[12] Filming would take place approximately six times per year, and while on location, the cast and crew would stay at the Pacific Coast Borax Company's Death Valley resort, the Furnace Creek Inn.[6]: 80  Host segments for the final cut were filmed in studio.[12]

Under the production of Filmaster, the production schedule was to complete two half-hour episodes per week, with final cut host segments shot at Producers Studios in Hollywood.[13]


Under the Death Valley Days title, the program was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which during the program's run changed its name to U.S. Borax Company following a merger. The "20-Mule Team Borax" consumer products division of U.S. Borax was eventually bought out by the Dial Corporation, which as of 2014, as a division of the German consumer products concern Henkel, still manufactures and markets them. Rio Tinto Group absorbed the U.S. Borax mining operations in 1968[18] and now owns the TV series.[19]

Although Rio Tinto still has a financial stake in this show because copyrights are still held by U.S. Borax, the major rights are now held by Element 5 Media, LLC for the broadcast rights and home video rights.[citation needed]


Paul Korver's company Cinelicious in Hollywood was part of the restoration of the TV series Death Valley Days, restoring 458 half-hour film episodes. Cinelicious worked with U.S. Borax Film Archives and Rio Tinto Group in preserving the TV series. The 16mm, and 35 mm film of Death Valley Days was scanned at 4K resolution for film preservation on a Scanity starting in 2013.[20]



Beginning in 1952, the series began by using unconventional methods. First, the show was syndicated to local markets rather than released nationally. Second, they aired new programs every other week, rather than weekly. At the time, the conventional approach was exactly the opposite - national release on a weekly schedule in order to achieve a consistent audience. However, McCann-Erickson felt that the previous popularity of the radio program would overcome those obstacles, a theory that was proven in their first season of high Nielsen ratings.[21]

McCann achieved success marketing the show directly to local stations, starting with 64 in the first season, expanding to 73 in the second, their only general difficulty being one and two-station markets.[21]


During the latter years of the series, some new episodes were still being made while older episodes were already in syndication. In some markets, new episodes could even be running in competition with older ones. To make it easier for viewers to distinguish between old and new, some blocks of syndicated Death Valley Days episodes were shown under other series names and with different hosts. This was common practice at the time among syndicated series because it was easy to reshoot the hosting portions of an episode without affecting the main content.[citation needed]

Some of these episodes were re-run with different sponsorship under the title The Pioneers[13] with host Will Rogers, Jr. Similar rebroadcasts were done under the names Call of the West hosted by John Payne, Frontier Adventure hosted by Dale Robertson, Trails West hosted by Ray Milland, and Western Star Theatre hosted by Rory Calhoun.[6]: 80  Little had to be changed other than the 20 mule team and the bugle call.[13]

The restored TV series continues to be rebroadcast on channels such as the Encore Westerns Channel and GRIT.[22]

Home media

Shout! Factory (on behalf of Element 5 Media LLC and Rio Tinto), has released the first two seasons on DVD in Region 1.[23][24] Both seasons were released as Walmart exclusives. The third season was released on March 21, 2017[25] The thirteenth season was released on July 31, 2017, as a Walmart exclusive. Then, on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, the title "went wide" with a general retail release.[26] The fourteenth season was released on January 2, 2018.[27]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 18 March 29, 2016
The Complete Second Season 18 July 12, 2016
The Complete Third Season 18 March 21, 2017
The Complete Thirteenth Season 26 October 3, 2017
The Complete Fourteenth Season 26 January 2, 2018


Starting from the first season of the television series, McCann-Erickson noted that they saw a rise in sales of 20 Mule Team Borax. They also noted an increase in visitors to the Furnace Creek Inn, a Death Valley resort owned by show sponsor Pacific Coast Borax.[21]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient Result
1953 Billboard TV Film Show Awards Best Western TV Film Program Death Valley Days Won[28]
1953 Freedoms Foundation   Ruth Woodman (for episode "The Land of the Free") Won[2]: 49 
1955 Emmy Award Best Western or Adventure Series Death Valley Days Nominated[29]
1961 Western Heritage Awards Best Factual Television Program Ruth Woodman and Nat Perrin (For episode "The Great Lounsberry Scoop") Won[2]: 49 

See also


  1. ^ a b c Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 342. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. Retrieved March 30, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d French, Jack; Siegel, David S. (November 5, 2013). Radio Rides the Range: A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929-1967. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-1254-6.
  3. ^ a b c d McNeil, Alex (1996). Total Television: the Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present. New York: Penguin Books. p. 209. ISBN 0-14-02-4916-8. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "A's Death Valley; More Product Plans". The Billboard. June 21, 1952. p. 11 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Roman, James W. (2005). From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-313-31972-3.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Yoggy, Gary A. (1995). Riding the Video Range: The Rise and Fall of the Western on Television. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-0021-8.
  7. ^ "Major Horace Bell". Death Valley Days. Season 15. Episode 21. April 26, 1967.
  8. ^ "Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party". Death Valley Days. Season 16. Episode 1. October 7, 1967.
  9. ^ "Halo for a Badman". Death Valley Days. Season 15. Episode 17. March 2, 1967.
  10. ^ "A Short Cut through Tombstone". Death Valley Days. Season 17. Episode 9. November 22, 1968.
  11. ^ Terrace, Vincent (October 6, 2022). From Radio to Television: Programs That Made the Transition, 1929-2021. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-4766-8836-7.
  12. ^ a b c d DeCamp, Rosemary. "34". Rosemary DeCamp: Tigers in My Lap. Midnight Marquee & BearManor Media.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "U.S. Borax's Big Gun for 31 Years" (PDF). Broadcasting. July 31, 1961. pp. 23–24, 26. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  14. ^ "McGowan Org takes Death, Dr. Christian". The Billboard. June 5, 1954. p. 8.
  15. ^ Aaker, Everett (June 8, 2017). Television Western Players, 1960-1975: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. p. 460. ISBN 978-1-4766-6250-3.
  16. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton: Gibbs Smith. pp. 289, 291. ISBN 978-1-4236-0587-4. Wikidata Q123575108.
  17. ^ a b Agnew, Jeremy (September 24, 2020). The Landscapes of Western Movies: A History of Filming on Location, 1900-1970. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-4223-9.
  18. ^ "Timeline – Rio Tinto". December 19, 2010. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010.
  19. ^ "Rio Tinto restoring old TV series 'Death Valley Days'".
  20. ^ Bunish, Christine (November 2013). "Post, Picture and Sound Restoration: Using Post Tools and Techniques to Preserve Historic Work". Post Magazine.
  21. ^ a b c McCann, Dorothy B. (December 5, 1953). "Death Valley's Spot Booking Gets Results". The Billboard. p. 10.
  22. ^ "Death Valley Days". Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  23. ^ "Death Valley Days DVD news: Announcement for The Complete 1st Season: Collector's Edition –". Archived from the original on December 11, 2015.
  24. ^ "Death Valley Days DVD news: Announcement for The Complete 2nd Season: Collector's Edition –". Archived from the original on December 23, 2016.
  25. ^ "Death Valley Days DVD news: Release Date for The Complete 3rd Season: Collector's Edition –". Archived from the original on December 30, 2016.
  26. ^ "Death Valley Days – One For The Gipper: Ronald Reagan Hosts 'The Complete 13th Season' DVD set available soon exclusively at Walmart, then 'wide' at retail in the fall –". Archived from the original on June 19, 2017.
  27. ^ "Death Valley Days – Date For 'The Complete 14th Season: The Ronald Reagan Years, Collector's Edition' Reagan's final work as a professional actor comes to DVD in early January –". Archived from the original on July 27, 2017.
  28. ^ "Billboard 1st Annual TV Film Show Awards". The Billboard. February 21, 1953. p. 20.
  29. ^ "Death Valley Days". Television Academy. Retrieved January 23, 2023.

Media related to Death Valley Days at Wikimedia Commons