SHANE – 10 Facts About The 1966 TV Series Starring David Carradine And Jill Ireland

SHANE on getTV

“Shane…come back!” eight-year-old Joey Starrett pleads, as his hero rides off into the sunset. That iconic final line from Shane (1953) – ranked in the top 50 movie quotes of all time by the American Film Institute – proved prophetic, as the titular gunslinger returned thirteen years later for a short-lived TV series. And you can see that rarely rerun Western classic Sunday mornings at 10am ET on getTV!

David Carradine stars as Shane, now working at the Wyoming homestead he helped save in the movie. Jill Ireland is Marian, his newly widowed boss. Christopher Shea plays her son Joey, fatherless and lobbying for the title character to take the job. Added for the series is Marian’s father-in-law (Tom Tully), because two sexy singles living together in a tiny cabin wouldn’t fly in the Old West (or in 1960s primetime). Also returning is evil cattle baron Rufe Ryker (Bert Freed), who apparently recovered from the fatal gunshot Shane delivered in the film’s climatic gunfight. (Nowadays we call that a “retcon.”)

The series aired for one truncated season on ABC before hanging up its six guns. But, with an on-going narrative that bridges all the episodes, and the longing looks between the two leads, Shane has a decidedly contemporary vibe. Here are some fun facts about a Western series that took a bullet far too soon:

1. Shane began its life on the page.

In 1946, 39-year-old journalist Jack Schaefer wrote a three-part Western story for Argosy Magazine. Rider From Nowhere told the story of pioneers trying to make a home in the Wyoming Territory with land acquired via the Homestead Act of 1882. Houghton Mifflin published the complete story under the title of Shane in 1949, and the novel became a hit. More than twelve million copies were sold, with dozens of editions, and translations into thirty languages. Although there are differences – the kid is older in the book and acts as the narrator, for example – the novel tells the same story as the movie and TV series. Schaefer would write many more Western stories over the next three decades, notably Monte Walsh (also adapted for the screen in 1970 and 2003).

2. It’s based on a true story.

If you have any interest in American history and Western folklore, you’ve probably heard of the Johnson County War. This violent conflict pitted ragtag homesteaders against established ranchers and cattle companies who sought to acquire public domain land in the Wyoming Territory during the 1890s. The bloody conflict was also depicted in Michael Cimino’s Western epic Heaven’s Gate (1980). And it’s even more front and center in the Shane TV series than it was in the movie, particularly as the season progresses.  

3. The 1953 film won an Oscar.

Alan Ladd, then best known for film noir, was cast as the title character in George Stevens’ 1953 movie version for Paramount. The film was a box office success and scored six Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Director (George Stevens), Supporting Actor (Jack Palance and child actor Brandon De Wilde as Joey), and Screenplay (A.B. Guthrie Jr.) It won the Oscar for its gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by Loyal Griggs. Shane was the final film for Jean Arthur (Marian), and one of the first for Palance (credited as Walter Jack Palance).  

4. The TV show is both a sequel and a reboot.

The series does not retell the movie story; rather, it picks up where the film left off, but with key changes. Marian’s husband Joe has died, her father-in-law Tom has come to live with her, and the land baron Ryker has redoubled his efforts to drive the “sodbusters” from the Territory. But perhaps the biggest change is in the age of the stars: Carradine and Ireland are both 30, a decade younger than Ladd and 23 years younger than Arthur was in 1953. Marian’s attraction to Shane is subtextual in the film, a longing infused with melancholy. In the TV series, it’s straight-up text, with an angsty Ireland often gawking at the brooding and frequently shirtless Carradine.

5. The TV show and movie share a theme.

One of the most memorable aspects of the 1953 film was the lush score by composer Victor Young, a 22-time Oscar nominee. Happily, producers of the TV series chose to use his rousing title composition “The Call Of The Faraway Hills” as the theme song for the series. Additional scoring for the TV show was by Jerry Fielding, later to be an Oscar nominee for The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

6. Christopher Shea voiced an iconic cartoon character.

Eight-year-old Christopher Shea receives an “introducing” credit in the series, but his distinctive voice was already familiar to TV viewers. In 1965 he played Linus Van Pelt in the now-iconic A Charlie Brown Christmas and he would voice the character four more times, including in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). He also played Oscar and Felix’s neighbor Philip on The Odd Couple.

7. The series had a tough timeslot.

Shane premiered on September 10, 1966. The hour-long series aired on ABC at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday nights, opposite Jackie Gleason’s top-rated variety show on CBS and the popular family show Flipper on NBC. Shane struggled in the ratings and the series was quietly pulled after just 17 episodes. The finale, which brought the simmering romance between Shane and Marian to the forefront, aired on New Year’s Eve 1966.

8. David Carradine went on to primetime success.

Six years after Shane, David Carradine was cast in the role he remains best known for today: as Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine in ABC’s Kung-Fu. Like Shane, that series was set in the Old West and aired on ABC. Unlike Shane, it survived for three seasons. Seven performers who appeared on Shane would join Carradine on Kung-Fu, including Henry Wills, the only actor to appear (as a Ryker henchman) in both the 1953 film and the 1966 series.

9. Jill Ireland had famous husbands.

When Shane debuted in 1966, the British-born actress was married to actor David McCallum, then starring as Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Ireland also made five appearances on the series.) They split in 1967 and, a year later, she married Charles Bronson. Ireland had met Bronson when he and McCallum worked together in The Great Escape (1963).

10. Bonus! What happened to the cast of Shane?

After his Emmy-nominated role on Kung-Fu, Carradine enjoyed a busy career in film and TV. Highlights include Lone Wolf McQuade (the 1983 film that inspired Walker, Texas Ranger) and Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues, a 1990s sequel series. Quentin Tarantino was such a fan of his that he cast Carradine as Bill in the Kill Bill movies and made him known to a whole new audience. Carradine died in 2009 at age 72. Just 10 days after the last episode of Shane aired, Ireland filmed a role she’s still known for today: as a botanist who falls in love with Spock on Star Trek. She continued to work in movies and TV, sharing the screen 18 times with husband Charles Bronson. She died in 1990 at the age of 54. Finally, after appearing in the TV movie A Little Game (1971), Chris Shea retired from acting at age 13. He made one final appearance on Friday Night Lights in 2008 and died in 2010 at age 52.

11. Bonus! Logan (2017) is a Shane homage.

The classic Western informs almost every frame of the popular Marvel film Logan, with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) referencing it and Laura (Dafne Keen) quoting it. We won’t spoil, but if you’ve seen it you know what we mean.

Shane airs Sunday mornings at 10 am ET on getTV. For more, visit the getTV schedule.

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