Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wagon Train - "The Martha Barham Story" - 1959

The Wagon Train episode of “The Martha Barham Story” is one in a string of television appearances Ann Blyth made in a variety of shows and genres in the immediate years following her last film, The Helen Morgan Story (1957), which we’ll talk about down the road.  There was no expectation by Miss Blyth or anybody else at this time that this would be her last film, but circumstances conspired together such that good scripts were not forthcoming, the studio system was not there anymore to plug her into the old assembly line of roles, and what offers did appear were often filmed far away from Hollywood.  As she told syndicated columnist James Bacon,

“All the movie scripts offered wanted me to go to Europe and for such a long time…I just felt that I couldn’t be separated from my family that long…I think long separations, no matter how understanding the husband or wife, have broken up more Hollywood marriages than any other single factor.  No script is worth that.”

She was also the mother of three.  At 31 years old, she was not ready to completely abandon her career.  TV anthologies filmed in Hollywood allowed her to slip in and out of a variety of roles with minimal disruption to her family, and with steady frequency.  In October 1959, she appeared in a skit on the Ford Star Time Hour variety show with Art Linkletter in an episode called “The Secret World of Kids”.  She played a new mother caring for her infant and sang “An Irish Lullaby”.  Vincent Price was another guest.

The following month, she appeared on Wagon Train, and in December, a tense drama in The DuPont Show with June Allyson.  There was more TV in early 1960, and her star planted along with others on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  By the end of year, she gave birth to her fourth child, a baby son.  She had traded a film career in these years for a juggling act.

On Wagon Train, season 3, episode 6, broadcast November 9, 1959, she plays the haughty daughter of a frontier fort commander, played by Dayton Lummis.  She is a former love of show star Robert Horton, but displays disdain for him now when he rides through the stockade because she has a new fiancé, an officer on her father’s staff, played by Mike Road.  

Also, she regards Mr. Horton with frank disgust because he enters the fort with his best friend, a Sioux named Curly Horse, played by Read Morgan.  Miss Blyth’s character, high tempered and tempestuous, is bigoted toward Indians.  Her father may regard one tribe over another as allies or enemies, but she lumps them all in the same category as inferiors, which earns an even greater repugnance than an enemy.

Horton renews acquaintance with her, teases her, but bristles at being called a “renegade white” for his friendship with Curly Horse.  They might both be well rid of each other, except a truce with the Sioux is on shaky ground.  White hunters are shooting the buffalo, taking the hides only and leaving the meat to rot in the sun, which infuriates the Sioux because their people are starving.  Ann’s officer fiancé, in a frontier gesture at proving both his manliness and his devotion to her, shoots a buffalo and skins the hide to give to her as a wedding present.  This last buffalo carcass is the last straw for the Sioux, who capture the fiancé to make an example of him.

By the way, look for a young Warren Oates as an exhausted cavalryman reporting on the ambush.

Curly Horse is asked to act as intermediary.  He is not happy about the job, and we see a man uncomfortably caught between two cultures, and torn.

Meanwhile, the Sioux’s enemy, the Cheyenne, have attacked the fort and killed pretty nearly everybody, including Ann’s father.  She has escaped, hidden the fort, where Robert Horton finds her, hysterical, terrorized and half out of her mind with hatred.  He saves her from a second-round attack, and when she faints, he carries her out of the garrison loft, down a ladder, through the fort and out to where he tied his horse.  I know she didn’t weigh a lot, but he must have been exhausted.

Strong-willed, shouting, sick with hatred, she resists going with him, but he puts her on his horse and off they get, as fast as they can, before the Cheyenne spot them.  In the wee hours of the night, she walks away from their camp, taking his horse, hoping to get to the next fort, but the Sioux catch her, and through her, catch Mr. Horton.  They are both taken prisoner, reunited with her fiancé, and Curly Horse, who has to pretend to hate them to save his neck.

Henry Brandon plays the angry, murderous son of the chief who wants to take Ann for his woman.  We last saw Henry in the same position in The Golden Horde (1951) discussed here, as the son of Genghis Khan, who wanted to take Ann for his woman.  Poor Henry’s in a rut.

The Sioux have are going to torture the men, and tie them to stakes, setting a ring of brush around them on fire. 

Curly Horse slyly crafts their method of escape, which requires Horton to wrap skins around his bare feet so he can walk on hot embers carrying the fiancé over his shoulder in the wee hours when the village is asleep.  Horton does a lot of heavy lifting in this episode.

They will take horses and ride to a distant spot, where Curly Horse will meet them, hopefully with Ann, whom he will to free by himself.

There is a long, dramatic scene of Horton carrying the injured fiancé out of the fire, but in a sense, it’s kind of a wasted moment.  He’s the star of the show, the regular who’ll be on next week.  We know he’ll be okay.  Ann and Read Morgan are the couple on whom the climax should focus.  Instead, they all show up at the meeting place at the right time, Ann is humbled and grateful to Curly Horse, and Horton brushes her off kindly when she begins to fall for him again.  She goes off with her fiancé, status quo.

What would have been more interesting is seeing the exchange between Ann and Read Morgan when he knocks out the fellow who’s been guarding her, and saves her.  Does she resist him as she resisted Horton, thinking he’s up to no good?  Does she scream, is she so frightened of her ultimate fate as Henry Brandon’s new woman that she clings to Curly Horse as her rescuer?  How do they interact with each other in the intimacy of escape?  At what point does she decide she’s been wrong about her bigotry and come to regard Curly Horse with gratitude?  It’s a big message in this episode, where we begin the 1960s with looming social issues of equality and brotherhood of man, and come to face our blatant prejudices as a nation.  Westerns are no longer about shooting the Indian.  There’s more going on in the West now, even if it’s just the back lot. 

Instead, the episode falls back on pure manly daring-do that is uncomplicated and untroubled by conscience.

But the episode ends with a shocking scene.  The Sioux discover that Curly Horse has betrayed them, and they beat him to death. 

We don’t know if Robert Horton will ever learn the fate of his friend, or if Ann, one day telling the adventure to her children and grandchildren on the prairie, will ever comprehend how much Curly Horse gave up to save her.  But we see it, and our inability to tell them what happened, and to watch them go off to resume their presumably happy lives, unknowing, is a powerful and ironic indictment of the ignorance and waste of bigotry.

Wagon Train season 3 is available on DVD.

Come back next Thursday for more TV, this time a double-header: a comic episode of Wagon Train where Ann plays a saloon gal who has to hide the fact from her visiting father; and a modern drama from The Dick Powell Show called “Savage Sunday” where she plays a sassy Washington correspondent at a New York newspaper.

Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner, September 2, 1958, “Ann Blyth, Screen’s ‘Little Lady’ Now a Saloon Singer” by James Bacon, p. 3

As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

 THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
 UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.


Kevin Deany said...

I've never seen this, but would like to.

Thanks to DVD and stations like Me-TV, I've become very fond of these TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s. Often, there are so many familiar faces in supporting casts, they almost feel like mini-movies. I've always felt that way about PERRY MASON.

George Sanders was the guest star on a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Me-TV ran last week. The other night I watched a GUNSMOKE that had William Shatner and Ben Johnson as guest stars.

All good stuff.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I know what you mean, Kevin. Looking back on these shows from this distance, it's amazing how many famous and future-famous people we'd see. I do not currently get any of those retro-TV stations, and I'm envious of people who do. A few years ago I was away from home on business, and I almost missed a meeting because my hotel had one of those stations on its cable service, and I couldn't tear myself away from DRAGNET, which I hadn't seen in years.

Caftan Woman said...

Curly Horse's fate is heartbreaking.

On a purely selfish heartbreaking note, I wish this had been the sort of episode where Ann and Robert could have given us a song or two.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Are we the only two people who thinks of these things? Jeez. Still, she gets to sing a wee bit in the next Wagon Train post.

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