James Child Drury Jr. (April 18, 1934 – April 6, 2020) was an American actor. He is best known for having played the title role in the 90-minute weekly Western television series The Virginian, which was broadcast on NBC from 1962 to 1971.
Drury was born in New York City, the son of James Child Drury and Beatrice Crawford Drury. His father was a New York University professor of marketing. He grew up between New York City and Salem, Oregon, where his mother owned a farm. Drury contracted polio at the age of 10.
He studied drama at New York University and took additional classes at UCLA to complete his degree after he began acting in films at MGM.
Drury’s professional acting career began when he was 12 years old, when he performed in a road company’s production of Life with Father.
He signed a film contract with MGM in 1954 and appeared in bit parts in films. After he went to 20th Century Fox, he appeared in Love Me Tender (1956) and Bernardine (1957).
In 1959, Drury was cast as Harding, Jr., in the episode “Murder at the Mansion” on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. On May 9, 1959, early in his career, Drury appeared as Neal Adams in the episode “Client Neal Adams” of ABC’s Western series Black Saddle.
On Christmas Eve 1959, Drury appeared in “Ten Feet of Nothing” on the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. Drury portrayed a young miner, Joe Plato.
In 1960, Drury appeared in different roles in two episodes, “Fair Game” and “Vindication”, of another ABC Western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as a Confederate adventurer roaming through the post-Civil War American West. On November 16, 1960, Drury played young pioneer Justin Claiborne in the episode “The Bleymier Story” of NBC’s Wagon Train. He was also cast in the 1960 Disney movie, Pollyanna as George Dodds, the love interest of Nancy Olson.
In 1960, Drury portrayed Joe Darle in the episode “Wall of Silence” of the ABC/Warner Bros. detective series, Bourbon Street Beat. He made a memorable guest appearance on the CBS drama series Perry Mason in 1961, as he played the role of musician and defendant Eddy King in “The Case of the Missing Melody”.
He appeared in secondary roles for Disney. In 1962, he was cast in a substantial role as a lascivious gold prospector in the early Sam Peckinpah Western Ride the High Country (1962) opposite Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.
Around the same time, Drury landed the top-billed leading role of the ranch foreman on The Virginian, a lavish series that ran for nine seasons until 1971. Drury was put under a 7-year contract with Universal in 1962, and was the front-runner for the role, but he still had to audition three separate times and was required to lose 30 pounds in 30 days to secure the part. Drury reported that he had based his performance of the Virginian on character elements of his maternal grandfather, with whom he had had spent much of his childhood.
Drury and his Wilshire Boulevard Buffalo Hunters band performed 54 USO-sponsored shows for troops in Vietnam in three weeks in April 1966.
In a sequel to The Virginian, Drury continued his title role in The Men from Shiloh on NBC (1970–1971).:981 He had the lead role of Captain Spike Ryerson in the drama series Firehouse on ABC television in 1974.
In 1993, Drury had a guest-starring role as Captain Tom Price on the first three episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger, opposite Chuck Norris and Clarence Gilyard. Drury also had a cameo role in the 2000 TV movie of The Virginian starring Bill Pullman. The film followed Wister’s novel more closely than had the television series. Drury appeared in a number of films and other television programs, including The Young Warriors and the TV cowboy reunion movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw with Doug McClure, who played the character Trampas during The Virginian.
In 1991, Drury was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1997 and 2003, he was a guest at the Western Film Fair in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Personal life and death
On February 7, 1957, Drury married Cristall Othones, and fathered two sons, Timothy and James III. The couple divorced on November 23, 1964 and on April 27, 1968, he married Phyllis Jacqueline Mitchell; the marriage ended in divorce on January 30, 1979. His third marriage was to Carl Ann Head on July 30, 1979; it lasted until her death on August 25, 2019. Drury had three stepchildren from his previous marriages, a stepdaughter, Rhonda Brown, and two stepsons, Frederick Drury and Gary Schero. Drury died from natural causes on April 6, 2020.
Drury supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.
Drury was in the oil and natural gas business in Houston in the late 20th century. His son, Timothy Drury, is a keyboardist, guitarist, and vocalist who has played with the rock groups Eagles and Whitesnake.
|1955||Blackboard Jungle||Hospital Attendant||Uncredited|
|Love Me or Leave Me||Assistant Director||Uncredited|
|The Tender Trap||Eddie|
|Forbidden Planet||Crewman Strong|
|The Last Wagon||Lt. Kelly|
|Love Me Tender||Ray Reno|
|1957||Bernardine||Lt. Langley Beaumont|
|1959||Good Day for a Hanging||Paul Ridgely|
|1960||Toby Tyler||Jim Weaver|
|Ten Who Dared||Walter Powell|
|1962||Ride the High Country||Billy Hammond|
|Third of a Man||Emmet|
|1967||The Young Warriors aka Eagle Warriors||Sgt. Cooley|
|1991||The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw||Jim|
|1994||Maverick||Riverboat Poker Player||Uncredited|
|2005||Hell to Pay||JT Coffee|
|TBA||Billy and the Bandit||Grandpa||Posthumous release|
|1961||Perry Mason||Guest Star||Season 5 Episode 3|
|1955–61||Gunsmoke||Tom / Johnny Red / Jerry Cass / Booth Rider||4 episodes|
|1958||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Michael Grimes||Episode: “The Right Kind of House”|
|Playhouse 90||Jesse James||Episode: “Bitter Heritage”|
|The Texan||Johnny Kaler||Episode: “The Troubled Town”|
|1958–61||The Rifleman||Spicer / Lloyd Carpenter||2 episodes|
|1959||Have Gun – Will Travel||Tony||Season 3, Episode 21 “Hunt the Man Down”|
|1959–61||Rawhide||Rance / Johnny Adler / Kenley||3 episodes|
|1959||Lawman||Clay Troop||Episode “The Gang”|
|Lawman||Stan Bates||Episode “The Outsider”|
|Steve Canyon||Lt. Richard Muller||2 episodes|
|Cheyenne||Bill Magruder||Episode: “The Impostor”|
|Black Saddle||Neal Adams||Episode: “Client: Neal Adams”|
|1960–62||Wagon Train||Cole Crawford / Justin Claiborne||2 episodes|
|1962–71||The Virginian||The Virginian||249 episodes|
|1969||Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In||Himself||2 episodes|
|1971–72||Alias Smith and Jones||Sheriff Tankersley / Sheriff Lom Trevors||2 episodes|
|1971||Ironside||Al||Episode: “The Professionals”|
|1974||Firehouse||Captain Spike Ryerson||13 episodes|
|1993||Walker, Texas Ranger||Captain Tom Price||3 episodes|
|1993–94||The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.||Ethan Emerson||2 episodes|
|2012||Tales of the Cap Gun Kid||Ranger Captain||1 episode|