The Big Valley's The Challenge Episode: James Gregory & Harold Gould Guest Star
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The Big Valley's The Challenge Episode: James Gregory & Harold Gould Guest Star

The Big Valley's The Challenge debuted on Monday night, March 28, 1968. James Gregory and Harold Gould play political rivals whose campaigns in Stockton quickly envelop the Barkley family. Regulars Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Lee Majors and Peter Breck are also joined in the cast by Regis Philbin, Eddie Firestone and Lincoln Demyan.

ABC's The Big Valley (1965-69) was one of the more successful TV westerns of the 1960s. The 1968 episode "The Challenge" guest stars James Gregory as Jim Bannard, a U.S. senator and old Barkley family friend who returns to Stockton to launch his re-election bid.

The Big Valley's The Challenge: Cast & Credits

Margaret Armen wrote the teleplay for "The Challenge," with Virgil W. Vogel directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck)
  • Nick Barkley (Peter Breck)
  • Jarrod Barkley (Richard Long)
  • Heath Barkley (Lee Majors)
  • Senator Jim Bannard (James Gregory)
  • Judge William Daggett (Harold Gould)
  • Reporter (Regis Philbin)
  • Drunk (Lincoln Demyan)
  • Jack Gill (Eddie Firestone)
  • Diner Patron (Jack Tomek)

James Gregory (1911-2002) - 20th Century Fox

The Challenge: Episode Synopsis

Senator Jim Bannard, an old Barkley family friend, returns to Stockton from Washington. Bannard is up for re-election, proposing big things for California's San Joaquin Valley including an aqueduct. Senator Bannard's opponent is Judge William Daggett, whose politics don't jibe with those of the Barkley clan.

While having dinner with Victoria, Jim Bannard, a rough-and-tumble ex-sheriff, floors a troublesome drunk who had insulted his lady companion. Later on, while staying in the same hotel, the married Bannard is lured to Victoria's room where they are photographed in an innocent yet compromising embrace. 

The photo of Bannard and Victoria is sent to Bannard along with the inscription: "Withdraw from the election." Bannard is convinced his opponent is behind the smear campaign. That leads Nick and Heath to Judge Daggett's office, where they are caught breaking and entering by Daggett himself.

Although Jim's lawyer Jarrod Barkley preaches restraint, the angry, bull-headed Bannard visits Daggett himself, telling the judge to meet him outside of town. When Daggett refuses to accept Bannard's challenge, the ex-lawman grabs a pair of dueling pistols and pursues him out on the trail where he renews his challenge.

The Challenge: Air Date & Network Competition

"The Challenge" was aired over ABC on Monday night, March 28, 1968, in the 10-11 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was The Carol Burnett Show (CBS) and I Spy (NBC). The Big Valley was preceded on ABC by the prime-time soap opera Peyton Place (1964-69).

The Challenge: Analysis & Review

James Gregory (1911-2002), who owned one of Hollywood's more distinctive voices, appeared in four The Big Valley episodes. "The Challenge" marks his third appearance on the show where he guest stars as Senator Jim Bannard, an ex-lawman and former suitor of Victoria Barkley who's now a powerful United States senator. 

As any fan of The Big Valley knows, old Barkley family friends often have their flaws, with Senator Bannard no exception. Bannard, who speaks of his ill wife Amelia and her heart condition, is mercurial, quick-tempered and prone to violence at the drop of a hat. We see this early in the episode, where Bannard punches out a drunk in a restaurant, giving political ammunition to his opponent Judge William Daggett, who later uses the ugly incident in a stump speech. 

"The Challenge" offers political intrigue, action and even a hint of a smoldering romance between Bannard and Victoria Barkley. The former comes in a compromising picture snapped by a photographer in the employ of Judge Daggett which shows Bannard and Victoria embracing in her hotel room. Fearing that the photograph could emotionally upset his wife and ruin his political career, the headstrong Bannard proposes a gunfight with Daggett outside of town. The judge of course is no match for ex-sheriff Bannard, and adamantly refuses. 

Bannard later corners Daggett out on the trail, where he once again reissues his challenge with dueling pistols, even offering Daggett the first shot. Daggett responds by whipping his opponent and driving away, with Bannard holding on to the back of the buggy. The buggy crashes and Daggett is thrown, apparently killed from a broken neck. Witnessing the incident was Victoria Barkley, with Bannard asking her to simply walk away. Victoria says she can't do that, with Bannard shaking her and knocking her to the ground. Bannard apologizes, and tells Victoria to do what she thinks is best.

Victoria tracks down the photographer in Oakville, where a violent struggle in his darkroom takes place. Jarrod Barkley is then able to break down the photographer and get him to admit his role in the blackmail scheme. There may be an inquest and even a trial in the death of Judge Daggett, but Jarrod is confident that Senator Bannard will prevail and his political career will remain on track. 

In addition to James Gregory, Harold Gould (1923-2010) gives a good performance as the conniving Judge Daggett. Look for Regis Philbin in the small role of a Stockton newspaper reporter.

"The Challenge" comes from The Big Valley's third season and is episode #86 of 112 in the series. 

Top image

  • L-r: Peter Breck, Richard Long, Barbara Stanwyck, Linda Evans, Lee Majors - ABC-TV

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

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