Gunsmoke's Lijah TV Episode: Denny Miller, Harry Townes & Erin Moran Guest Star
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Gunsmoke's Lijah TV Episode: Denny Miller, Harry Townes & Erin Moran Guest Star

Gunsmoke's Lijah premiered on Monday night, November 8, 1971. Denny Miller plays the title character, a wandering mountain man who is charged in the murders of the Parker family. Regulars James Arness, Amanda Blake, Ken Curtis, Buck Taylor and Pat Hingle are also joined in the cast by Harry Townes, Erin Moran, William Wintersole and Tom Brown.

Gunsmoke (1955-75) is one of television's most revered westerns. The 1971 episode "Lijah" guest stars Denny Miller as a mountain man charged in the murder of a family who's defended in court by deputy Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor).  

Gunsmoke's Lijah: Cast & Credits

William Blinn wrote the teleplay for "Lijah, with Irving J. Moore directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting cast are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
  • Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
  • Dr. John Chapman (Pat Hingle)
  • Lijah (Denny Miller)
  • Hale Parker (Harry Townes)
  • Rachel Mae Parker (Erin Moran)
  • Will Standish (William Wintersole)
  • Ed O'Connor (Tom Brown)
  • Lathrop (Woody Chambliss)
  • Dump Hart (Lane Bradford)
  • Howie (Howard Culver)
  • Judge Brooker (Herb Vigran)
  • Frank (Pete Kellett)
  • Sam Noonan (Glenn Strange)
  • Halligan (Charles Wagenheim)
  • Nathan Burke (Ted Jordan)
  • Tack (Dan Flynn Jr.)
  • Hank (Henry Wise)
  • Juror (Bert Madrid)

Denny Miller in Gunsmoke's "Lijah" - CBS-TV

Lijah: Episode Synopsis

Lijah – no last name given – wanders onto the Ezra Parker farm where he encounters three murdered family members. Hiding in the cellar is the lone survivor, Rachel Mae. While Lijah is busy digging graves for the deceased, Ezra's brother Hale rides up, going for Lijah's rifle. Lijah whacks Hale with the shovel and gathers up little Rachel, whom he calls "Ladybug," and flees the scene. Lijah and civilization don't agree with each other, and he knew he will be blamed for the murders.

Matt Dillon catches up to Lijah and Rachel Mae camped around a fire. He and the posse ride into Dodge City with the shackled Lijah, who is charged in the murders of Ezra Parker, his wife and son. Prosecuting attorney Will Standish proposes that local lawyer Homer Wayne be appointed to defend Lijah. But Homer is 80-years-old whose law practice has been limited to land deeds and the like. Matt suggests that Newly O'Brian would be a better defense counsel, as Newly has read up on the law in recent months.

The case goes to trial, with Dr. Chapman sitting in as one of the twelve jurors. Lijah continues to stare at the physician, something which the other jurors later bring up during deliberations. Rachel Mae, previously coached by her Uncle Hale, delivers damning testimony against Lijah. Eleven members of the jury vote to convict, with Dr. Chapman as the lone holdout.

Lijah: Air Date & Network Competition 

"Lijah" debuted over CBS on Monday night, November 8, 1971, in the 8-9 PM (ET) time slot. Network competition was Nanny and the Professor starring Richard Long and Juliet Mills and local programming (ABC) and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).

Lijah: Analysis & Review

The lone juror holdout theme – better known as the 12 Angry Men (1957) syndrome – is nothing new in television. It's been done many times, from All in the Family to The Big Valley to The Rockford Files. In Gunsmoke's "Lijah," it was Pat Hingle as Dr. John Chapman who was given the honors this time around, casting the single not guilty vote in a murder case which to many observers seemed cut and dried. 

Denny Miller (1934-) garners the title role of Lijah, a towering mountain man who happens on a grisly murder scene. Unfortunately, he's quickly charged in the killings, though he was merely the person who found the bodies. It turns out similar murders had occurred in Salt Springs, Hayes and Joplin. Lijah is holding a secret, one which Dr. Chapman eventually unravels. Lijah (real name: Elijah) is deaf, having lost his hearing some 20 years ago in an explosion which had killed his parents. It was Dr. Chapman who had treated the boy, teaching him how to lip read. Lijah was eventually carted off to some circus sideshow, where he was billed as the Wild Boy of Borneo. 

Erin Moran (1960-), who would shoot to television stardom playing Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days (1974-1984) and the spinoff series Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-83), appears as Rachel Mae Parker. Moran is quite a talent, crying on cue and even singing "Jesus Loves Me This I Know" around a campfire.

The villain in this episode is one Hale Parker, ably played by Harry Townes (1914-2001), who it turns out had murdered his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in order to claim their spread. Parker is one mean, devious, immoral bastard, getting his young niece to lie on the witness stand under the guise of religion, telling the girl that her parents wouldn't be allowed to enter the gates of heaven until their deaths were avenged. 

Dr. Chapman's instincts of course are dead-on, with Matt and the law eventually fingering Hale Parker for the murders. The segment ends with a bang, as Rachel falls down an abandoned well crawling with rattlesnakes. The deaf Lijah heads down the old well and retrieves her, but is bitten twice. As little Rachel Mae looks on, Lijah reassures her, "I been bit before, Ladybug, I ain't gonna die...I ain't gonna die."

"Lijah" comes from Gunsmoke's 17th season and is episode #548 in the series. "Lijah" was preceded in the Gunsmoke saga by "Lynott" (11/1/71) starring Richard Kiley.

Top Image

  • Gunsmoke's distinctive Dodge City logo - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Excellent! Your writing is amazing!