Many Oklahomans grew up watching Westerns gathered around the family television.
This weekend, the cast of the first 90 minute Western series, “The Virginian,” gathered in downtown Ardmore to celebrate the Western tradition at the second annual May Fest.
While some of the cast members went on to other pursuits, the man under the black hat, known throughout the series only as ‘The Virginian,’ James Drury said he stuck mostly with Westerns, though not by choice.
“The Virginian was an indelible character,” Drury said. “I had a great deal of issues getting past being seen as the man in the black hat.”
After “The Virginian” went off the air, Westerns were pretty much over, Drury said.
Drury said he’s been acting since age 8.
“I flatter myself that I’m capable of a great variety of things,” Drury said.
Before “The Virginian,” Drury had roles in about 150 three-act plays, mostly classics like Shakespeare and Shaw.
Prior to being cast as The Virginian, Drury had small parts in other films, including “Ride the High Country,” which is still played on TV today. In 1954, at age 20, Drury was signed to MGM, where he made seven pictures. “I had a total of 12 lines that whole year,” Drury said. He played alongside Glen Ford and Lana Turner, among others.
“I spent that year learning when to interact and not interact with the camera, Drury said. “I had to bring all my wild stage gestures down for the camera. When you raise your eyebrow in 17mm panovision, it goes up 15 feet,” Drury said.
Just after being let go from MGM, Drury was signed with 20th Century Fox, where he stayed for two years.
“I had the distinction of being Elvis Presley’s older brother and Pat Boone’s older brother in their first pictures, “Love Me Tender” and “Bernadine,”” Drury said.
Two years later, Drury was dropped again. He began doing episodic television.
“Pretty much the first thing they did was hand me a gun and point at a horse,” Drury said. ‘“Get on the horse, and take the gun with you,’ they said. And I did it.”
Drury said he’d been on horseback since he was in diapers, as his mother had a ranch in Oregon.
Drury said after it became apparent he was an accomplished horseman, he was typecast from the start. He did a lot of Westerns, including five of the Gunsmokes, several Rawhides, Have Gun Will Travel, and one with Roy Cutland called “The Texan.” Drury also had appearances in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and “Briscoe County Jr.”
While Drury said he enjoyed his time on the stage and screen, he spends his time now with his wife, Carl Anne. Drury said she has some serious medical issues, and he is her sole caregiver.
“We get along just fine,” Drury said. “We just go through it.”
Married just over 38 years, Drury still describes Carl Anne as “gorgeous.” When they first became an item, Drury asked here where she wanted to live, anywhere in the world. She replied, ‘I live in Houston.’ So they have made a home there together.
As a result of his wife’s condition, Drury now only attends one event each year —May Fest — a celebration of the cowboy way, which has been held in Gene Autry and in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He chose to drive up, despite being 84-years old, because he says he doesn’t take his boots off for anyone.
All of the cast members of “The Virginian” who were available also gathered in downtown Ardmore for a reunion and questions from fans over the weekend. The festival included vendors, Western performers, and film showings throughout the weekend. Checkout Ardmoreite.com for a photo gallery and videos from the event.