Q & A: Guestward, Ho!

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

I can’t seem to find reference anywhere to a TV series I remember from way, way back…say 1965?

Family of city dwellers gave up on modern life and open a tourist lodge out in the woods someplace. Dad’s idea; wife and kids are skeptical, but pitch in… They meet a ‘savage Injun chief’ who befriends them (like the kind on ‘F Troop’)…I can almost sing the theme song: ‘…Westward Ho-oh, oh, oh…Westward Ho!’

I’m thinking of it at this time, because I remember a running gag in one episode: Dad put the ‘snow’ on the Christmas tree and keeps saying so, hoping some visitor will compliment him on what a nice job he did. No one does! Finally, when the Indian chief drops in, sees the tree, and asks ‘Who put the snow on?’, frustrated Dad points to his wife and says ‘She did!’ Chief turns to her and says, ‘Great job, Mrs. –: lights up the whole tree!’

Shed any light? Thanks for your consideration.
Scott

This sitcom, titled Guestward, Ho! (or Guestward Ho! or just Guestward Ho), has a bit of a confusing history. It was based on a novel of the same name written by Patrick Dennis (author of Auntie Mame), first published in 1956. It told the story of Bill Hooten, a New Yorker who buys a dude ranch in New Mexico and moves his family — wife Babs and son Brook — out West to run it. According to a September 10th, 1956 article in The New York Times, a play based Guestward Ho! — written by Dennis and Turner Bullock — was in the works and would likely open on Broadway in the fall of 1957 [1].

On January 16th, 1957, however, the paper reported that the project had been dropped and CBS had purchased the rights to the property (not specified was whether the rights were for the original novel or the stage play or both) “for eventual production as a television spectacular” [2]. Then, on January 30th, it was revealed that Edward Hartman would be producing a sitcom based on the novel [3].

Eleven months later, on December 24th, The New York Times reported that Jeanne Crain would star in a Guestward, Ho! pilot for CBS with Ralph Levy producing; production would start in January of 1958 [4]. According to the December 30th edition of Billboard the network was negotiating with Crain to star in the series [5]. A February 3rd article in Billboard included Guestward, Ho! — with Jeanne Crain in the lead — as a pilot in contention for the 1958-1959 season [6]. The series never materialized.

Here’s where things get complicated. Although I have found no mention of it in contemporary sources I have access to, a variety of books about Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance or Desilu relate that Vance (best known as Lucy’s gal pal Ethel Mertz) starred alongside Leif Erickson in a Guestward, Ho! pilot for ABC in 1959. In Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, for example, Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert explain that Desi Arnaz purchased the rights to the property after CBS dropped its option and brought in Ralph Levy to direct [7].

Recall that Levy was mentioned in connection to the Jeanne Crain pilot for CBS. Were two pilots filmed, one starring Jeanne Crain for CBS and the other Vivian Vance for ABC? Or did CBS decide not to move forward with its pilot and only one pilot, produced by Desilu, was actually completed? Either way, although ABC was not happy with the Vance/Erickson pilot, it didn’t totally wash its hands of Guestward, Ho!. Val Adams reported on April 13th, 1960 that a sitcom starring Joanne Dru, Mark Miller, Flip Mark and J. Carrol Naish would take over the 7:30-7PM time slot on Thursdays during the 1960-1961 season [8]. Dru and Miller would play Babs and Bill, Mark their son Brook and Naish a Native American trader named Chief Hawkeye (he learned about business from The Wall Street Journal).

Advertisement for Guestward, Ho!
Advertisement for Guestward, Ho! – September 29th, 1960
Copyright © The New York Times, 1960 [1]

Guestward, Ho! premiered on Thursday, September 29th opposite Law of the Plainsman on NBC and To Tell the Truth on CBS. Richard F. Shepard called it “an example of Hollywood formula film TV at its best and brightest,” explaining that “it is necessary to categorize the show so that it may be lauded as a credit to its class rather than as a shattering innovation for the mass medium” [9]. He praised the premiere as “professionally painstaking and slick in script, production and setting. By dint of its high polish it achieved an entertainment level well above that reached by most of its rivals” [10].

Here are the lyrics to the theme song, written by Earle S. Hagen and Arthur Hamilton:

Guestward Ho!
Over the Mountains, Guestward Ho!,
Over the Plains, Guestward Ho!
Under a sun so hot that it can rattle your brains,
Together we roam like a stage
Over rattlesnake and sage
Guestward Ho!
Guestward Ho!

Guestward Ho!, over the mighty river
Faithfully on we go,
Climb with those dragging feet
Guestward Ho!

Bury the mountains, Guestward Ho!
Bury the Hills, Guestward Ho!
Bury whatever threatens our family’s pioneer plans,
And so with spunk and with romance,
We’ll live out our western dance,
Guestward Ho!,
Guestward Ho!

The series ran for 38 episodes during the 1960-1961. It was not renewed for a second season.

Works Cited:

1 Gelb, Arthur. “2d Book By Dennis To Be Dramatized.” New York Times. 10 Sep. 1956: 31.
2 Gelb, Arthur. “Kheel Will Rule On Stage Dispute.” New York Times. 16 Jan. 1957: 35.
3 “2 New Film Series On C.B.S. Agenda.” New York Times. 30 Jan. 1957: 59.
4 Godbout, Oscar. “New TV Comedy On A.B.C. Jan. 20.” New York Times. 24 Dec. 1957: 21.
5 “Producers’ Rank About Par On Number Of New Pilots.” Billboard. 30 Dec. 1957: 4.
6 “Nets Vary Widely On Show Types For Fall.” Billboard. 3 Feb. 1958: 6.
7 Sanders, Coyne Steven and Tom Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. New York: HarperCollins, 1993 (Page 153).
8 Adams, Val. “C.B.S. Commissions Noah Story On TV.” New York Times. 13 Apr. 1960: 79.
9 Shepard, Richard F. “‘Guestward Ho!’ Opens.” New York Times. 30 Sep. 1960: 55.
10 Ibid.

Image Credits:

1 From The New York Times, September 28th, 1960, Page 79.

2 Comments

  • Chuck Collins says:

    For some reason it reminded me of PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES only set in the country.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Desilu also produced the “GUESTWARD HO!” series, with Joanne Dru replacing Vivian Vance as “Babs Hooten” from the original unaired pilot (Arthur Hamilton also composed several musical numbers for “THE LUCILLE BALL-DESI ARNAZ SHOW” {“THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR”}).

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