In Memoriam: 'The Virginian' Star James Drury's Impressive Career

James Drury stars as the titular character in television series 'The Virginian', circa 1965
May 29, 2020 - 13:25 / Laura Pérez

James Drury was active in the film industry since the mid 1950's. Better known for his role in The Virginian, the 85-year-old actor lived in Houston and, until his death in April 2020, and regularly attended a series of Western Festivals across the United States.

Born in 1934 in New York City, James Drury acted for the first time when he was only 8 years old in a children's Christmas play, and four years later he made his professional acting debut in a touring company of Life With Father

James Drury attended New York University where he studied classical acting and he was actually credited with 12 major Shakespeare roles, however, he left the theatre in New York and went to Hollywood in 1954.

His first appearances on screen were in the 1955 films Blackboard Jungle, Love Me or Leave Me, and The Tender TrapDuring the 1950's he also starred in a couple of television shows like Gunsmoke in 1955, Alfred Hitchcok Presents in 1958, and Playhouse 90 in the same year. 

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But 1962 was probably one of the most important years in James Drury's acting career, as he was cast in the American Western television series The Virginian, in which he appeared in a total of 249 episodes from 1962 to 1971. 

The series had one of the most demanding production schedules in TV history, since thirty 90-minute episodes were produced every season. "There were times when we had five Virginian episodes shooting on the same day," the actor recalls. 

James Drury stars as the titular character in television series 'The Virginian', circa 1965

The Virginian star James Drury passed away at 85

The last time we saw James Drury in The Virginian was in 1971 and right after that the actor returned to theatre. Also from 1971 to 1972 he played the roles of "Sheriff Tankersley" and "Sheriff Lom Trevors" in Alias Smith and Joneslater on he starred in the 1974 American drama/adventure series Firehouse as Captain "Spike," and in 1993 he portrayed Captain "Tom" in the classic action crime show Walker, Texas Ranger

His most recent appearance on screen was in 2005 in the film Hell to Pay, as "JT Coffee." The actor was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 1991.

James Drury at the 15th annual Golden Boot Awards in 1997

James Drury: 1934 - 2020

In his personal life, James Drury was married to Cristall Orton from 1957 to 1964, then he was married to Phyllis Mitchell from 1968 to 1979, He married his third wife Carl Ann Head since 1979 and they were married until her death after illness on August 25, 2019.

At the time of his passing, he lived in Houston and has an extensive traveling schedule to Western Events and Autograph Shows across the United States, where he usually speaks about the West and how cowboy values shaped the country. He was also an avid sportsman who enjoyed sailing, snow skiing, and golf.

James Drury passed away from natural causes on April 6 2020, he was 85 years old. May he rest in peace...!

James Drury with former wife Phyllis Mitchell in 1971