Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters ( 1963 )

"By riverboat and wagon train, Old Doc McPheeters crossed the plains, 
And told his son, keep moving on there's gold in old California, 
Go westward ho, young Jaimie-O, and you'll find fortune and fame." 

With these words began The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, a short-lived, but very entertaining, western series that aired on Sunday nights on ABC in 1963. It was geared towards adventure-seeking young teenage boys just like Jaimie. 

Kurt Russell, who had guest-starred in a number of television series, was given the titular role in this hour-long show when he was but 12 years old. Jaimie is the son of Sardius "Doc" McPheeters ( Dan O'Herlihy ) , a scalawag gambler who is lured to the West by the prospect of dazzling gold ( and the opportunity to escape his creditors ). Together they head out from Kentucky to California, encountering rampaging Indians, thieves, stampeding buffalo, and sundry other adventures along the wagon trail route. Mid-way through the series we are introduced to rugged wagon master Linc Murdock ( Charles Bronson ) who becomes a friend and a surrogate father to Jaimie boy.  Also cast in the series was Mark Allen and Meg Wyllie as Mr. and Mrs. Kissel, a God-fearing couple who are heading out to the sunshine state along with their singing sons, played by four of the Osmond brothers. 
Jaimie also featured a female lead in the personage of pretty Jenny ( Donna Anderson ), a 17-year old orphan. Each episode of this juvenile variation of Wagon Train cast a slew of veteran actors and up-and-coming players such as Leif Erickson, Mariette Hartley, Lloyd "Crash" Corrigan, Susan Oliver, Kathy Garver, Ruta Lee, David McCallum, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. 

The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters was based upon the Pulitzer prize-winning book of the same name by Robert Lewis-Taylor. The series had a easy-going quality about it, reminiscent of a Mark Twain story, with Russell providing first-person narration of all the sights and sounds he was beholding for the first time....the preparation of the wagon train, meeting Indians up close, and encountering unsavory characters at every corner. Jaimie may have initially thought that heading out West would be fun, but along the way he grows into a stronger lad from all the lessons he learns about people. 
Television writer John Gay was the story editor of the series and, like the book, he kept the savagery of the new frontier real in each of the scripts. This sense of danger kept the series exciting and engrossing for young boys. 

The premise for The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters was quite good and the series was very well made, but the time-slot it was given just didn't enable the show to take off. When you have a choice between The Ed Sullivan Show, My Favorite Martian, and Disney's Wonderful World of Color, would you watch a western? Parents didn't, but many children did, however, and today they fondly recall this series as well as its catchy theme song ( the Bee-Gees released a single from this theme ). It was also popular enough to have a few product tie-ins, including a Gold Key comic book release, and an Ideal boardgame. 
After the series was canceled, MGM produced Guns of Diablo ( 1964 ), a color feature film based upon the final episode "The Day of the Reckoning". For this film, Charles Bronson and Kurt Russell reprised their characters from the series. 

The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters has not yet been released on DVD, but it was circulating on television twenty years ago, so surviving copies of the show can be found. Until then, young Jaimie-O's fortune and fame must wait. 

4 comments:

  1. Sounds really cute! I wouldn't mind giving it a try if it ever came to DVD.

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    1. I wonder if the show ever will get a DVD release, but I'm sure it will appear one day on Youtube!

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  2. I've never read a review of the TV series, but this was a fun, informative read. I am a fan of both Russell and Bronson and have seen the movie, which I thought was entertaining.

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    1. It's a rare show, and difficult to find for viewing, but if you get a chance to see it, some of the episodes were really entertaining!

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