When thinking about the longest-running western series, your mind most likely gravitates towards the old classics Bonanza and Gunsmoke. But let's not forget about Death Valley Days, the radio show turned TV series that aired for 18 seasons throughout the 50s and 60s. Unlike other major western shows of the time like Rawhide or Wagon Train, Death Valley Days was an anthology series, each week recounting true stories from the Old West, mostly taking place in California's Death Valley and Nevada. The host would introduce each episode in addition to starring in many themselves and really give viewers a picture of what life was like for pioneers in the Wild West.
Here are some things you might not have known about the old western series.
1. The series was originally a radio show created by Ruth Woodman
Woodman continued writing the series after it transitioned to television, which had numerous highly-rated episodes including "The Little Dressmaker of Bodie," "The Death Valley Kid," "How Death Valley Got Its Name," "The Lost Pegleg Mine," "Claim Jumpin' Jennie," "Cynthy's Dream Dress," "Land of the Free," and "Little Oscar's Millions."
2. The show was Ronald Reagan's final acting work
Future President Ronald Reagan was one of the hosts of the series from 1964-1965 but left to run for Governor of California. As we know, he went from a B-list actor to President of the United States and never looked back. There are rumors that starring on the show actually helped Reagan win Governor but who knows if that has any truth to it.
3. Stanley Andrews was the longest-running host as "The Old Ranger"
Reagan jumped in as host after Andrews' exit after 12 years. He was followed by Rosemary DeCamp (1965), Robert Taylor (1966-1969), and the show ended with former Tales of Wells Fargo star, Dale Robertson (1969-1970).
4. Merle Haggard narrated the re-broadcasts
Even though the show ended in 1970, country star Merle Haggard stepped in to narrate some old episodes in 1975. If you're tuning in for reruns today, you just might hear his voice!
5. There's a Gene Autry connection
Gene Autry's production company actually produced the series with the country singer acting as executive producer. Despite its origins as a radio show, it was initially conceived as a TV series by the advertising agency McCann-Erickson, who represented Autry's company Flying A Productions.
6. There were countless recognizable actors who guest-starred on the series including:
Denver Pyle appeared in 10 episodes including the classic "Swamper Ike."
Gordon Jones appeared in the episode "Rival Hash Houses."
James Griffith appeared in the episode "She Burns Green."
Character actor Rick Vallin appeared in "The Bandits of Panamint."
Hal Smith appeared in "The Little Bullfrog Nugget."
George J. Lewis appeared in "The Bell of San Gabriel."
7. The series got a second wind decades later with reruns on Starz
Somehow, despite its impressive 18 season run, Death Valley Days was all but forgotten years later. Since the series was sponsored by Boraxo (leading to issues with other networks picking up the series due to advertising rights on the show), the series ended up never going into syndication. It wasn't until a recently revitalized version of the show was made available for viewing on Starz that old audiences were able to take a trip back down memory lane. If you have a subscription to the premium network, you have access to all 18 seasons!