Everybody needs an attaboy sometimes: Keeping up with actor James Drury
James Drury remains an active individual even in retirement, as evidenced by an infectious interview debuting exclusively today. The veteran cowboy, who made many hearts flutter with his authentic, ready-for-action portrayal of television’s long-running The Virginian, visits a number of Western festivals throughout the USA each year, and fans are categorically encouraged to come meet their hero.
Drury appeared in tons of classic Western television series in his 50-year screen career, including Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Alias Smith and Jones, Cheyenne, The Rifleman, Rawhide, and more recent shows like the cheesy Walker, Texas Ranger or the tongue-in-cheek Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
His film work also contained some noteworthy elements, exemplified by his debut role as an uncredited hospital attendant in Glenn Ford’s Blackboard Jungle, one of Elvis Presley’s notorious rebel brothers in Love Me Tender, the cult sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, and Disney’s tender Pollyanna with Hayley Mills.
When his nine-year stint on The Virginian began the same year as his co-starring turn in Sam Peckinpah’s definitive Ride the High Country in 1962, Drury quickly became a household name.
Did the actor have a role model in mind for his most famous characterization? “My grandfather, John Crawford, was a quintessential Westerner”, admits Drury. “He came West with a wagon train when he was 16 years old and settled in Oregon. He had been a cowboy, rancher, dirt farmer — all the things of the land that you can be.
“I was very proud to use some of his mannerisms and expressions in The Virginian. All actors do that — they visualize whatever character they think will fit the pistol and then they try to emulate it. That’s what I did, and it worked out pretty well.”
In uncovering the man behind the celluloid image, Drury is remarkably unaffected by the pitfalls of celebrity. Personality-wise, the silent cowboy is “pretty laidback and studious. I do a lot of reading along with some writing. I just try to stay out of everybody’s path and keep things going in a way that will make my life as pleasant as possible.”
Splitting his childhood between New York City and working on his maternal grandfather’s Oregon ranch, the actor maintains a “wonderful marriage to a gal I’ve been with since 1975. Carl Ann and I were married on July 30, 1979. I spend a lot of time with her.” His tough guy image, tempered by a strong sense of humor, remains on full display, too. “I try to avoid controversy and gunfights, but I’m ready anytime somebody wants to try me,” laughs Drury. “That’s my motto.”
Time has a tendency to fly swiftly, as the 50th anniversary of The Virginian proved in 2012. Drury commemorated the occasion with numerous activities around the country. “There was a big get-together at the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles where we had eight of the surviving cast members in attendance,” says Drury. “It was a wonderful celebration. It was a big boost to us and people became aware of the show again.”
“When we went back on the air on the INSP channel, it became another big boost to us. It’s just amazing when you consider what longevity the series has. People still respond to it. They watch the episodes time and time again. I am very gratified by that.
“Now The Virginian is marking its 55th year, and my schedule has slowed down a little bit. But we still have a number of appearances. Visit my official website, TheVirginian.Net, or my Facebook fan page for additional information. I haven’t flown in years, so of course, I’ll be driving” [laughs].
So if Drury is coming to your neck of the woods, definitely make plans to interact with a true legend that remains eternally grateful to everyone who has supported him through the years. Drury fittingly has the final say on exactly why he still endures the grueling travel.
“Going to these festivals gives me a chance to see a lot of my old friends,” reveals the Peckinpah alumnus. “For instance, I always enjoy catching up with my costars on The Virginian, such as Gary Clarke and Roberta Shore, or my buddy, actor Robert Fuller, who guest-starred in two episodes — ‘A Welcoming Town’  and ‘Flight from Memory’ .
“It’s great to get together with people you worked side by side with over 50 years ago, and it feels like it was yesterday. We all have that immediacy because we remember when we were making films together. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of it.
“Of course, my fan club, ‘The Posse’, arrives from all over the country to see me. They’re lifelong, dedicated fans of The Virginian. I had no idea I had so many people out there who were so dedicated [Drury’s Facebook fan club numbers well over 3,500 members].
“The fans could just not be nicer. They come in, buy our merchandise and pictures, and give us all kinds of attaboys. That means patting somebody on the back and saying, ‘Attaboy!’ Life is full of trouble and everybody needs an attaboy every day if they can get it. The fans sure give me that, and I appreciate it very much” [Drury succumbed to natural causes during the devastating Coronavirus pandemic on April 6, 2020, just 12 days shy of his 86th birthday].
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PART TWO of the James Drury interview finds the perpetual good guy revealing for the first time anywhere that he experienced a chance encounter with none other than box office champion John Wayne outside a Paramount wardrobe department in the late ’50s. To read the rest of the tantalizing tale, head on over to “James Drury’s Brush With Greatness: Encountering Genuine Article John Wayne.” The third chapter revolving around Ride the High Country can be found below.
Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Ride the High Country’ according to dirty rat James Drury [PART THREE OF THE JAMES DRURY INTERVIEW]
An unearthed interview finds “The Virginian” reminiscing over the iconic 1962 western, Warren Oates, Joel McCrea and…
Revelations from Elvis’s rebellious ‘Love Me Tender’ brother tempered by a Benedictine nun [PART FOUR OF THE JAMES DRURY INTERVIEW]
Presley’s cinematic debut was a 1956 Civil War-set western costarring James Drury of TV’s “The Virginian.” Mother…
A warmhearted retrospective with ‘Big Valley’ cowgirl Linda Evans
The 1960s family western costarred future Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors, Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck, Richard…
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