Though the TV Westerns were starting a downward trend, there was still a need for the adventures of a strong matriarch and her brood of grown kids.
The Barkley family included widowed mother Victoria (Miss Barbara Stanwyck), eldest son and lawyer Jarrod (Richard Long), rowdy son Nick (Peter Breck), only girl Audra (Linda Evans), bastard son Heath (Lee Majors), and youngest and rarely seen son Eugene (Charles Briles).
Over the run of the show, the Barkley clan dealt with murders, rustlers, bigots, prejudice, political scandal, PTSD (though it wasn’t called that), corruption, rabid wolves, mountain lions, dynamite, forest fires, and folks that just didn’t like rich families named Barkley.
Friends and enemies of the Barkleys included: Western staples Royal Dano, Claude Akins, Dub Taylor and son Buck; Bing Russell; Richard Anderson; LQ Jones; James Gregory; in everything at the time Harold Gould, Virginia Gregg, Nehemiah Persoff, J. Pat O’Malley, John Hoyt, John Dehner, Dabbs Greer, and Kevin Hagen; Gavin MacLeod; Paul Fix and Johnny Crawford; Robert Fuller and Julie London, with a Bobby Troup cameo; Adam West, Yvonne Williams, and Van Williams (Batman, Batgirl, and Green Hornet); Sheree North; Jeanne Cooper; Eve Plumb; Pernell Roberts; Wayne Rogers; Mako; big names (either current or future) Dennis Hopper, Yaphet Kotto, Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Buddy Hackett, Diane Ladd, Ellen Burstyn, Milton Berle, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Baxter, Karen Black, Regis Philbin, Cloris Leachman, Ron Howard, Martin Landau, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Dreyfus; Keye Luke; Joe Don Baker; Judy Carne; Arlene Golonka; Russell Johnson; and Joyce Jameson.
As I mentioned before, Heath was a genuine bastard son, the product of a romance between Tom Barkley (Victoria’s dead husband, but he wasn’t dead at the time of the affair because it was scandalous, but not THAT scandalous) and another woman when he was in a bad way. In fact, a few episodes were devoted to this bit of scandal, including the pilot when Heath first shows up to claim the Barkley name and an episode in which Victoria travels to Heath’s hometown to found if Tom loved Heath’s mother and if he loved her. Pretty deep and saucy stuff for a Western.
Part of the afternoon Western line-up at the time, I got sucked into watching because there was nothing else on. I quickly noticed defining character elements: Jarrod frowns; Heath glares; Audra frets; and Nick (my favorite) punches people. And Victoria Barkley? Oh, she just kicks ass. Seriously, the woman could handle a gun and a whip and she went up against anyone without flinching. I wouldn’t mind being her when I grow up.
Maybe with less blue eye shadow thought.