On The Big Valley, I was fortunate to get a variety of scripts with a variety of demands, which encompassed working with animals, including wildcats, an eagle, and even a wolf. Generally when there were more unusual animals involved, I ended up getting those shows. Perhaps the producers filet I worked well with critters. In fact, a few years prior I had a collie for a co-star in a family film called, Lad: A Dog; and after The Big Valley a wonderful mutt in the children’s classic, Benji. In the latter, I played a doctor who worried the tramp dog might have some kind of rash or sickness, kicked Benji out of the house (and was booed by everyone in the audience!). Actually, I have always owned animals. Humans can learn a lot from ’em. To me, one of the most interesting episodes of The Big Valley involved my Nick Barkley character and a carnivorous mammal. It was called “Night of the Wolf” which aired on December 1, 1965.
When you’re on a series doing an episode a week, many scripts tend to be pedestrian-type stuff consisting of a beginning, middle and ending and that’s it, leaving maybe one-third of the scripts being of a really high caliber with stepping stones to every climactic moment. I remember when the script for “Night of the Wolf” was dropped off in my dressing room, and the bearers of it said, “Hey, this is a really good one.” When I first read it, I had a gut feeling that it was going to be extraordinary. It was brilliantly written by a nice gal by the name of Margaret Armen, who had a knack for writing for a man. This was a survival type of story (and that’s the kind I really go for) about a man trying to survive in a situation that is tantamount to something worse than death. The storyline has my Nick Barkley character bitten by a rabid wolf. Of course, in the 1860s, there was no penicillin or any quick shot to take care of it. The wound would have to be cauterized with gunpowder and a match, and in those days, a victim such as Nick would have to wait out the 60-day incubation period and pray to God he’d live through the horrific ordeal.
It was an extremely dramatic story, and while sometimes an actor can get stuck with a mediocre director, we were fortunate to have Joseph H. Lewis for this episode of The Big Valley. Old Joe went back some years, directing Charles Starrett, Wild Bill Elliott and Johnny Mack Brown. He was an “old school” director; nothing pretentious or precocious about him——————————————————————-