James Drury, Star of NBC’s The Virginian,’ Dies at 85

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Universal Pictures/Photofest
James Drury in the 1967 film ‘The Young Warriors’

He played the laconic rancher with no name on the revolutionary series. Among Westerns, only ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza’ lasted longer.

James Drury, who starred as the no-name, no-nonsense foreman of the Shiloh Ranch on The Virginian, one of the longest-running Westerns in the history of television, died Monday of natural causes. He was 85.

Drury died at his home in Houston, his assistant, Karen Lindsey, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Preparing for his most famous role, Drury appeared in several Westerns on the big screen, including Good Day for a Hanging (1959) with Fred MacMurray, Ten Who Dared (1960) at Disney and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962), working opposite Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea (who starred in the 1946 film The Virginian).

Drury also supported singers Elvis Presley and Pat Boone in their respective movie debuts, Love Me Tender (1956) and Bernardine (1957).

Based on Owen Wister’s 1902 novel of the same name, The Virginian was launched by executive producers Roy Huggins (Maverick77 Sunset StripThe FugitiveThe Rockford Files) and his son-in-law, future Columbia and Universal studio chief Frank Price.

It aired for 249 episodes on NBC over nine seasons, from 1962-71, and among Westerns, only CBS’ Gunsmoke (20 seasons) and NBC’s Bonanza (14) lasted longer. Drury and his co-star Doug McClure, who played the fun-loving Trampas, were the only cast members to appear in every season.

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