|Also known as|
|Theme music composer|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||284 (list of episodes)|
|Original release||18 September 1957 –|
2 May 1965
Wagon Train is an American Western series that aired 8 seasons: first on the NBC television network (1957–1962), and then on ABC (1962–1965). Wagon Train debuted on September 18, 1957, and became number one in the Nielsen ratings. It is the fictional adventure story of a large westbound wagon train through the American old West, from Missouri to California. Its format attracted different famous guest stars per episode, as travelers or as residents of the settlements they encountered. The show initially starred supporting film actor Ward Bond as the wagon master (replaced upon his death in 1960 by John McIntire) and Robert Horton as the scout (subsequently replaced by Robert Fuller).
The series was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Ward Bond, and by the 1930 early widescreen film The Big Trail directed by Raoul Walsh and starring 23-year-old John Wayne in his first leading role as the buckskin-clad scout and featuring Ward Bond in a prominent supporting role.
The series influenced the development of Star Trek, pitched as "Wagon Train to the stars" and launched in 1966.
The series chronicles the adventures of a wagon train from St. Joseph, Missouri, across the Midwestern Plains and the Rocky Mountains to Sacramento, California. It features the trials of the series regulars who conducted the train through the American West.
Episodes revolve around the stories of guest characters portraying members of the massive wagon train or encountered by it. Many starring roles were played by already famous actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Bette Davis, Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin, and Joseph Cotten. Episode titles routinely emphasize the guest characters, such as "The Willy Moran Story" and "The Echo Pass Story".
As a favor to Ward Bond, film director John Ford joined the show to direct a 1960 segment titled "The Colter Craven Story", which includes many members of the "John Ford Stock Company", momentarily featuring John Wayne speaking from the shadows and billed in the credits as "Michael Morris".
The regular cast includes these:
In the first four seasons Ward Bond was billed above Robert Horton in the opening credits. In season five Horton rotated top billing with relative newcomer John McIntire, a practice which subsequently continued with McIntire and Robert Fuller rotating top billing from episode to episode when Fuller joined the series in the seventh season.
During the sixth season, Horton had left and Fuller had not yet replaced him, so McIntire carried the show with the supporting cast. Neither Bond nor McIntire, both veterans of dozens of supporting roles in movies, routinely had a leading role in theatrical films, although Bond did in at least one B-picture. Rivals Bond and Horton frequently quarreled on the set, an extensively publicized development at the time, while their characters disputed within the episodes. According to Scott Eyman in his biography of John Wayne, Bond's jealousy of Horton was fueled by Horton receiving more fan mail. Eyman stated Bond would try to limit Horton's screen time and interfere with any good lines Horton might be given in the scripts. They eventually reconciled shortly before Bond's death.
Main article: List of Wagon Train episodes
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||39||September 18, 1957||June 25, 1958||NBC||23||27.7|
|2||38||October 1, 1958||June 24, 1959||2||36.1|
|3||37||September 30, 1959||June 22, 1960||2||38.4|
|4||38||September 28, 1960||June 21, 1961||2||34.2|
|5||37||September 7, 1961||June 13, 1962||1||32.1|
|6||37||September 19, 1962||June 5, 1963||ABC||25||22.0|
|7||32||September 16, 1963||April 27, 1964||N/A||N/A|
|8||26||September 20, 1964||May 2, 1965||N/A||N/A|
Taking inspiration from John Ford's 1950 film Wagon Master, Revue Productions conceived of a semi-anthology series with an emphasis on strong storytelling and quality direction with weekly guest stars known for their work in motion pictures and other media but retaining a regular cast of characters to provide a touchstone for audiences.
At an initial budget of US$100,000 (equivalent to $965,000 in 2021) per segment, Wagon Train episodes cost over 40% more than most contemporary hour-long Westerns, allowing it to film on location in California's San Fernando Valley and afford its expensive guest stars.
The show ran for 284 episodes over 8 seasons: the first aired on September 18, 1957, and the final segment was broadcast on May 2, 1965.
The series aired for most of its run in black-and-white. That briefly changed during the show's fifth season (1961–62) on the NBC network, to help promote the sales of parent company RCA's color television sets.
When the original Ward Bond episodes were broadcast weekday afternoons on ABC beginning in 1963, a new series title "Seth Adams Trailmaster" was given to the episode to avoid viewer confusion because Wagon Train was still on the ABC evening schedule. A new theme song, the "Trailmaster Theme", written and conducted by Stanley Wilson, was used for these syndicated episodes. The later episodes from the John McIntyre era were syndicated under the simpler title "Trailmaster". All episodes eventually reverted to their original titling after the series left the air. The 75-minute episodes were usually syndicated separately, sometimes shown on local stations as "movies".
In 2004 Alpha Video released three episodes of Wagon Train on DVD. Four years later Timeless Media Group released a DVD selection consisting of 12 episodes on three discs. Also in 2008, it released The Complete Color Season, a 16 disc box set with season seven and 16 select episodes from the other seasons. From 2010 to 2013, Timeless Media Group released the series in eight box sets of one season each, and the seventh season lacks the bonus episodes.: 89
Gene Roddenberry said he pitched Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the stars", referring to the concept of a recurring cast on a long journey with famous guest stars becoming the focus of various stories. In his March 11, 1964, initial pitch document, he wrote, "Star Trek is a Wagon Train concept—built around characters who travel to worlds 'similar' to our own".