How John McIntire became the wagonmaster

McIntire's Christopher Hale was a natural choice to replace Ward Bond.

Sudden deaths are one of the most disruptive things that can happen to anyone. As if losing a beloved friend, family member, or colleague wasn't awful enough, mourners then find out that the world keeps turning. While grief overwhelms, the sun still comes up in the morning, and the bills still need to be paid. This is especially true of large television and movie productions, which employ dozens, if not hundreds of people who need to proceed after the loss of someone special.

Ward Bond was the star of Wagon Train from 1957 until his death in 1960. In those first few seasons, Bond was the wagonmaster, Major Seth Adams. When the actor suddenly died of a heart attack during the production of season four, he was quickly replaced by a new character, Christopher Hale, with no explanation given within the context of the show. Behind the scenes, however, the decision was much-discussed.

Christopher Hale was the second character John McIntire played on Wagon Train. Earlier, in the show's third season, McIntire guest starred as preacher Andrew Hale. Ward Bond was so impressed by the volume of mail sent in praise of McIntire that Bond suggested to producers that the character be brought back.

Producer Howard Christie told the Winston-Salem Journal, "After Ward's death, I never had anyone else in mind to play the role except John McIntire. I went to him first."

McIntire was close with Bond in real life and took the role seriously, treating his position on the show with respect in Bond's place.

"Becoming wagonmaster is a responsibility," said McIntire. "Ward made him into a national figure. Naturally, I can't play him like Bond and have no intention of doing so. Hale is going to be somewhat gentler than Seth Adams. However, I can't go too far for fear gentleness will be mistaken for softness. We're just going to work it out."

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11 Comments

Mike 10 months ago
Actually, Wagon Train DID explain Christopher Hale's takeover as wagonmaster.
After Major Adams's departure (unexplained), the wagon train hired Jud Benedict, played by Lee Marvin, who was an SOB who bullied everybody.
At the same time, the just-widowed Chris Hale joined the train as a passenger, headed for California.
Long episode short: Benedict went way too far, and Hale challenged him.
The episode was titled "The Christopher Hale Story", and John McIntire stayed the course for the rest of Wagon Train's run - on two networks.
ncadams27 10 months ago
John McIntire played Lt. Muldoon in the 30 min version on Naked City that aired for a single season in 1958-59. He wanted out of the show as he didn’t like living in NYC were the filming took place. His character was killed off in an on-screen car chase and explosion in an episode called “The Bumper”, which aired in March 1959. He was replaced by Horace McMahon, who continued on the show when it came back a year later in an hour-long form.
tootsieg 10 months ago
Very good article. WT was a well produced show.
Tampammm 10 months ago
And ironically, John McIntire had to be called in again about 7 years later, to come and take over a similar role on the hit Western series, The Virginian. There he became patriarch of the Shiloh Ranch, taking over for actor Charles Bickford, who also had passed away.
Runeshaper 10 months ago
Wow! Great story. Very sad, but still great.
MrsPhilHarris 10 months ago
I wonder why they never had a reason for Seth Adams’ disappearance? They should have said he got married, died or something.
ncadams27 MrsPhilHarris 10 months ago
Oddly enough, when an actor died, they would either come up with vague (if any) reason the character left (e.g., Dennis the Menace). If the actor left, but didn’t die, then they might kill off the character (think MASH and Make Room for Daddy).
justjeff 10 months ago
This casting change right after McIntyre was asked to be written out of "The Naked City" - the original, half-hour iteration of the show "Naked City"based on the classic film. McIntyre grew tired of living in New York and longed to return to the West coast, so his character was subsquently killed off.
Mike justjeff 10 months ago
Actually, John McINTIRE (sp) wanted to get back to a ranch he owned in Idaho, in a region called The Yaak.
Since Wagon Train had an ensemble cast, they wouldn't need McIntire every week, so he could spend more time in The Yaak.
All told John McIntire spent five years on Wagon Train - a year and a half on NBC, three on ABC.
justjeff Mike 10 months ago
I knew there was a ranch in the backstory, but I wasn't sure exactly where, so I didn't mention it. Thanks for filling in that gap for me...
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