Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

July 14, 2013

'The Virginian' appearance draws fans

There was a cowboy shooting event at the Effingham County Sportsman’s Club near Lake Sara Saturday. But Brian and Diane Littrell didn’t drive 200 miles from the central Missouri village of Cuba for any shooting.

The Littrells drove to Effingham County to see actor James Drury, whose Virginian character was one of the most iconic figures in 1960s television.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get to meet him (Drury),” Littrell said. “‘The Virginian’ was always one of my favorite programs, and he (Drury) is my favorite actor.”

Drury, who starred in all 249 episodes of the iconic series, spent several hours signing autographs and posing for photographs.

“I’m sure glad we got to work this out,” he said.

Drury, the son of a New York University professor, spent a lot of time growing up on his family’s Oregon ranch. But after attending NYU in the mid 1950s, he went to California with no intention of becoming a Western star.

“I had been trained as a classical actor, but when I got to California, they put a gun in my hand and said ‘Get on that horse and don’t get off.’” he said.

Drury said he had originally aspired to be a different kind of leading man.

“I went out to California with the aspiration of starring with Elizabeth Taylor, but they gave that role to Montgomery Clift,” he said.

Seven pictures and 12 lines later, Drury tested for the role for which he became famous — after losing 40 pounds at the behest of the studio.

“They told me on a Friday night that I had the role,” he recalled. “I had a weekend to prepare for a nine-year show.”

Drury said life on “The Virginian” set was hectic at times.

“We would often have multiple units on the lot,” he said. “There was one time we shot parts of five different (episodes) in one day.”

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