Encore Westerns has got a classic episode of The Virginian up in the rotation for tomorrow afternoon at 4:30pm EST…”The Accomplice” (12/19/62), in which Shiloh Ranch hand Trampas (Doug McClure) is accused of being a bank robber by a spinsterish bank teller named Delia Miller—who has an ulterior motive in fingering him because she’s trying to extort $10,000 from the real culprit. The part of Ms. Miller in this drama is played by that Benevolent Volcano herownself, Bette Davis.
I haven’t seen this particular Virginian outing—heck, the only thing I ever remembered about the show before I started watching the reruns on EW was the memorable opening with that fantastic theme by Percy Faith—but my curiosity has been piqued because not too long ago, in one of those TCM-like featurettes Encore Westerns uses as filler between the stuff on their schedule, there were a few clips of the episode accompanied by star James Drury’s recollections of what it was like to work with La Bette. He remembers that he got along famously with her, and that she took a keen interest in his career which, due to the success of the series, had really caught fire at that time. Drury considered Davis to be somewhat of a mentor.
Now—and keep in mind, this is Drury’s version of the events—he says that the producers of The Virginian later had Joan Crawford on as a guest star (“something I had nothing to do with,” he insists)…and as a result of this, the cozy relationship with Davis came to a screeching halt. I’m paraphrasing his words a bit, but I distinctly remember in the clip he observes “they had some kind of feud goin’ on there.” This prompted me to laugh out loud and wisecrack: “In other late-breaking news…water is wet.”
To be honest—and I’m certainly not challenging Drury’s veracity or anything—Crawford’s Virginian appearance, “Nightmare,” was telecast on January 21, 1970…seven some years after “Accomplice” and he became Davis’ protégé. Couldn’t it be possible that Bette just got bored being Drury’s guru or they just lost touch like chums sometimes do? (“I thought you might at least be amusing, but you turned out to be dull, and stupid and so afraid…”) I’m trying to dredge up a mental picture of Davis leafing through the TV Guide, cigarette in hand, and seeing Joan’s name in the listings (“That bitch!”) but I remain skeptical.
In any event, if you’re a Bette fan—be sure to tune in.