Northwest Passage
From left: Keith Larsen, Buddy Ebsen and Don Burnett, 1958
StarringKeith Larsen
Buddy Ebsen
Don Burnett
Country of originUSA
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes26
Running time30 min.
Production companyMetro Goldwyn Mayer
DistributorMGM Television
Original networkNBC
Picture formatColor
Original releaseSeptember 14, 1958 (1958-09-14) –
March 13, 1959 (1959-03-13)

Northwest Passage is a 1958-1959 26-episode half-hour adventure television series produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer about Major Robert Rogers during the time of the French and Indian War (1756–1763). The show derived its title and the main characters Rogers, Towne, and Marriner from the 1937 novel of the same name by Kenneth Roberts, and from the 1940 MGM feature film based on the novel. The scope of the novel was much broader than that of the series, and the second half of the book included an historically based attempt by Rogers to find a water route through North America as a "passage" to the Pacific Ocean. This attempt, lending its name to the novel and used by Roberts as a metaphor for the questing human spirit, is referenced in the first episode.

One of the earlier series telecast in color, Northwest Passage aired new episodes on NBC from September 14, 1958, to March 13, 1959.[1] Keith Larsen (1924–2006) played the lead role (originally that of Spencer Tracy in the film); Buddy Ebsen (1908–2003), later the star of CBS's The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones, appeared as Sergeant Hunk Marriner (originally played in the film by 3-time Oscar-winner Walter Brennan, who at the time of this series was starring in the TV series The Real McCoys), and Don Burnett co-starred as Ensign Langdon Towne (originally played in the film by Robert Young, at the time of this series starring in Father Knows Best).[2]

Rogers formed a volunteer group, Rogers' Rangers, determined to fight with the British against the French and their Indian allies in what later became northern New York State. The series premiere entitled "Fight at the River" featured 24-year-old Denny Scott Miller as Ranger Cooper. He was later Duke Shannon on the Western Wagon Train and the military husband in NBC's Mona McCluskey.[3]

Eight episodes, The Gunsmith, The Burning Village, The Bond Women, The Break Out, The Vulture, The Traitor, The Assassin, The Hostage were directed by Jacques Tourneur. Three episodes, The Red Coat, The Secret of the Cliff, Stab in the Back were directed by George Waggner. One episode, Fight at the River, was directed by Alan Crosland Jr.

Selected episodes

Northwest Passage, a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Production, aired at 7:30 Eastern on Sunday opposite the first half-hour of Maverick, the popular western series starring James Garner on ABC, and the alternating cycle of Bachelor Father and The Jack Benny Program on CBS. The program continued in reruns until September 8, 1959.[4]

Prior to Northwest Passage, Larsen had appeared in the title role on CBS's western series Brave Eagle, with Kim Winona (1930–1978) as Morning Star.

Movies from series episodes

From 1959 to 1961, MGM theatrically released three movies which consisted of three edited and combined episodes of the Northwest Passage television series for each film. The first was Frontier Rangers (1959) (runtime: 84 minutes), directed by Jacques Tourneur containing three episodes "The Gunsmith," "The Bond Women," and "The Burning Village." The second movie was Mission of Danger (1959) (79 min), which contained "The Red Coat" and "The Secret of the Cliff" directed by George Waggner and " "Break Out" directed by Jacques Tourneur. The last was Fury River (1961), which contained “Fight at the River” directed by Alan Crosland Jr. ,”Stab in the Back," directed by George Waggner and "The Vulture" directed by Jacques Tourneur (74 min).[5][6]


  1. ^ Woolery, George W. (1985). Children's Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946-1981, Part II: Live, Film, and Tape Series. The Scarecrow Press. pp. 374–376. ISBN 0-8108-1651-2.
  2. ^ Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 4th ed., p. 608
  3. ^ a b IMDB, Northwest Passage" Title page:
  4. ^ 1958–1959 American network television schedule, appendix of Total Television
  5. ^ April 2010 issue of Now Playing, A Viewer's Guide to Turner Classic Movies, page 9
  6. ^