In the late 1960s, Gunsmoke and The Big Valley were rivals, vying for viewers on opposite networks every Monday night. Gunsmoke, which lasted a whopping 20 seasons, was obviously the juggernaut, finishing in the top 10. With the iconic Barbara Stanwyck as its lead, The Big Valley developed a loyal audience and magazine covers but modest ratings.
That’s all five decades in the past now.
The TV shows have a lot in common, especially when it comes to casting. Up-and-coming actors of the era often appeared on handfuls of westerns. There was bound to be crossover. Let’s look at some notable names with roles on both The Big Valley and Gunsmoke.
Gunsmoke: Doyle Phelger / Judd Print / Lou Stone / Guerin (4 episodes)
The Big Valley: Jack Follet / Harry Dixon / Clovis / Gabe Skeels / John Weaver (5 episodes)
Few thespians booked as many guest spots on the westerns as this versatile character actor. In four short years, he appeared on nine episodes between the two titles, playing nine different men. He was on Lancer and Bonanza, too.
Gunsmoke: Stanger / Harry Webb / Diggs / Link Parrin (4 episodes)
The Big Valley: Davey Dunigan (1 episode)
Johnson would slip on a cowboy hat for Gunsmoke both before and after his time on Gilligan’s Island. In “The Long Night,” he popped up alongside Bruce Dern. On The Big Valley, The Professor broke stereotype and portrayed a thief, the brother of fellow guest star Charles Grodin.
Gunsmoke: Lt. Cal Tripp (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Vern Hickson (1 episode)
The late Loggia was mesmerizing as a gun for hire in “The Profit and the Lost,” a season four outing of The Big Valley. He was on the other side of the law on Gunsmoke, playing a good-hearted military man who helps protect Chief Joseph, a real life character of the Nez Perce tribe.
Gunsmoke: Crego / Ben Tiple (2 episodes)
The Big Valley: Tate (1 episode)
The hard-as-nails action star stepped onto the Gunsmoke set twice in the mid-’50s. A decade later he would square off against Barbara Stanwyck in “Earthquake,” when the two are trapped in a church cellar that links to a gold mine.
Gunsmoke: Gearshon Gorofsky (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Lud Akely (1 episode)
In 1973, the same year as his breakout role in American Graffiti, Dreyfuss portrayed the son of a Russian-Jewish farmer who moves to Dodge. Half a decade earlier, the young actor was a highlight on Valley as a teen forced to raise his siblings.
Gunsmoke: Thorp / Britton (2 episodes)
The Big Valley: Mariano Montoya (1 episode)
A master of disguise on Mission: Impossible, Landau was also a man of many faces on TV westerns. He shifted gears from Mexican rancher to outlaw with ease.
Gunsmoke: Fred Bateman (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Brett Skyler (1 episode)
On The Big Valley, Shatner fantastically acts as a slick college pal of Jarrod who is suspected of counterfeiting cash. The Enterprise captain again entertains his darker side on Gunsmoke, portraying a con artist. Both episodes aired in 1966, the year Star Trek took off.
Gunsmoke: Emmett (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Major Jonathan Eliot (1 episode)
West was far more Joker than Batman when he appeared on The Big Valley, playing a psychopathic Civil War hero. It’s a delicious turn from his heroic image. On Bonanza, he was a fiancé in danger of being murdered by a man hit on the head by a barrel.
Gunsmoke: Billy Kimbo (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Leon Grell / Jimmy Sweetwater (2 episodes)
In the fantastically titled “Plunder!”, which also features a scene-stealing Cloris Leachmann, Hopper is one of three men protecting an evacuated town from looters.
Gunsmoke: Flory Tibbs / Boni (2 episodes)
The Big Valley: Fay Kelly (1 episode)
One time Miss America contestant and eventual Phyllis star, Leachman logged many hours on western sets early in her acting career. Wagon Train, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Rawhide, Laramie — you name it, Leachman was on it.
Gunsmoke: Elena Kerlin / Lulu / Bonnie Mae Haley (1 episode)
The Big Valley: Muriel Akely (1 episode)
In “Blue Heaven,” the best of her three Gunsmoke appearances, Ladd was the alcoholic mother of Kurt Russell.