Ronald Reagan Hosts "Death Valley Days"
Death Valley Days is an American radio and television anthology about true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area.
It was created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman and ran on radio until 1945. It ran from 1952 to 1975 as a syndicated television series. It was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team Borax, Boraxo).
The 558 television stories, which had different actors, were introduced by a host. The longest-running was "The Old Ranger" from 1952-1965, played by Stanley Andrews when the series was produced by McGowan Productions, producer of the Sky King television series. Filmaster Productions Incorporated who produced the first several seasons of Gunsmoke for CBS Television took over production of the series in the mid 1960s.
Following the departure of Andrews, Ronald Reagan became the host. When Reagan entered politics, the role went to Robert Taylor. Taylor became gravely ill in 1969 and was replaced by Dale Robertson. Production of new episodes ceased in 1970. Merle Haggard provided narration for some previously made episodes in 1975. Reagan and Taylor also frequently appeared in the program as actors. While original episodes were still being made, older episodes were in syndication under a different series title with other hosts; the series could still be in competition with itself in syndication, and this also made it easier for viewers to distinguish the new episodes from the older ones. The hosting segment at the beginning and the end was easily reshot with another performer having no effect on the story. Alternate hosts and titles included Frontier Adventure (Dale Robertson), The Pioneers (Will Rogers, Jr.), Trails West (Ray Milland), Western Star Theatre (Rory Calhoun) and Call of the West (John Payne). The last title was also often applied to the series' memorable, haunting theme music.
Under the Death Valley Days title, the program was invariably sponsored by Pacific Coast Borax Company, which during the program's run changed its name to U.S. Borax Company following a merger. Advertisements for the company's best-known products, 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry additive, Borateem, a laundry detergent, and Boraxo, a powdered hand soap, were often done by the program's host. Death Valley was the scene of much of the company's borax mining operations. The "20-Mule Team Borax" consumer products division of U.S. Borax was eventually bought out by the Dial Corporation, which as of 2006 still manufactures and markets them. U.S. Borax continued to mine and refine the borates and maintained Dial as one of its customers. In 2006, Rio Tinto, the parent company of U.S. Borax. Inc., decided to merge USB with two of its other holdings, Dampier Salt and Luzenac Talc, to form Rio Tinto Minerals and moved its corporate headquarters to Denver, Colorado.
Death Valley Days is, judging from sheer number of episodes broadcast, by far the most successful syndicated television Western, the most successful television Western ever in the half-hour format, and arguably the most successful syndication of any genre in the history of the U.S. television market (Baywatch had a larger international market among U.S.-produced syndicated programs).
The stories used in the series were based on actual events. For example, the episode titled "Death Valley Scotty" was based on the record-breaking run of the 1905 Scott Special chartered by Walter E. Scott (aka "Death Valley Scotty").
* Conlan Carter portrayed L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of Oz, on a 1970 episode.
* Dennis Cross appeared three times in episodes "Treasure of Elk Canyon" (1961), and "Captain Dick Mine" and "The Rider" (both 1965).
* Ben Cooper appeared as Jason Tugwell in the 1969 episode "Biscuits and Billy the Kid".
* Jim Davis, later Jock Ewing on Dallas, portrayed a U.S. representative from Nevada in the episode "Little Washington", set in 1878 in Carson City.
* Ron Hagerthy, formerly of Sky King, appeared as Felix in the 1958 episode "Old Gabe".
* Ron Hayes appeared as Dan Bartlett in the 1960 episode "Devil's Bar".
* Dayton Lummis portrayed New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace in "Shadows on the Window" (1960), with Martin Braddock as Billy the Kid. He also played John De La Mar in "City of Widows" the same year.
* Tyler McVey appeared four times, including as a priest in the 1962 episode "Abel Duncan's Dying Wish" and in the 1969 segment "The Oldest Outlaw".
* Judson Pratt appeared twice: "The Left Hand is Damned" (1964) and as a general in "Raid on the San Francisco Mint" (1965)
* John Vivyan, earlier Mr. Lucky, appeared on Death Valley Days, guest starred in two episodes in 1962.
In the 1955-1956 season, NBC offered Frontier, an anthology western series similar to Death Valley Days hosted by Walter Coy. Though Frontier, a springboard for the western actor Jack Elam, was nominated for an Emmy Award, it was cancelled after a single season.