“Death Valley Days” was TV’s first and longest-running western anthology series. Every episode was based on a true story from western history and tried to stay as close to the facts as possible, although some compression was required for some of the more complicated narratives. Famous figures were often the subjects of these episodes, but more often the stories focused on ordinary people settling the west and some of the common problems and conflicts they would face. Only a handful of episodes took place in Death Valley, but the series took its name from that location because it was the source of the product manufactured by the company which sponsored the series, Pacific Coast Borax Company, which used the show to advertise its cleaning product, 20 Mule Team Borax. The show wasn’t the property of a single network (CBS, NBC or ABC), but was instead syndicated to stations across the country which aired it when and how often they deemed suitable. The series had begun as a radio program that ran from 1930 to 1945, before being revived as a TV series in 1952 and running until 1970. It started out in black-and-white, but shot some episodes in color in its 12th season in 1963 and went full color in its 13th season in 1964.
I’ve been researching TV shows filmed in color in the 1950s and determining how many examples of such shows I have in my collection and how many are available on DVD and it’s basically amounted to the discovery of a whole new world. For a long time, the only 1950s shows I’d actually seen in color had been what I’d finally seen after I got a color TV set for the first time in 1978. These were “Adventures of Superman,” with George Reeves, and “Bonanza.” Of the Bonanza episodes I saw back then, I’m really only sure of one that was from the first season (1959-60), “Enter Mark Twain,” which guest-starred Howard Duff as a reporter named Samuel Clemens recently arrived in Virginia City and which aired in 1959. It’s quite possible that I saw some color episodes of “The Lone Ranger” back then, although I may be confusing that memory with the color “Lone Ranger” spin-off movies that were produced in the 1950s that used to run on local TV from time to time.