The Code of Jonathan West (Unsold Pilot)
Fess Parker starred in this unsold pilot for a half-hour drama about a former Confederate soldier who would rather preach than fight.
In 1960, several years after hanging up the coonskin cap he wore as Davy Crockett but before spending six seasons playing Daniel Boone on NBC from 1960-1966, Fess Parker starred in a pilot for a half-hour post-Civil War adventure series. The proposed series was initially known as Mr. Preach but the name was soon changed to The Code of Jonathan West. It was under consideration by CBS for the 1960-1961 season .
Parker played the title character, a former Confederate officer wandering the West trying to find a place for himself and purpose in life. Jonathan “Jonah” West wasn’t a true man of the cloth, just a kindhearted, principled man who knew The Bible as well as he knew how to handle a gun.
The pilot episode for The Code of Jonathan West was called “The Aftermath” and was produced by Hampshire Associates and Fespar Enterprises, the company started by Fess Parker. Hampshire was co-owned by John Paxton and Harry Tatelman. Paxton wrote the script for the pilot and Tatelman served as producer. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur. Fred Steiner composed the score.
“The Aftermath” is set in Arkansas in April 1865 as the Civil War was winding down. The plot involves Jonah witnessing the killing of a former Confederate soldier by a former Union soldier . William Challee played the killer, Martin Redway, who claims it was an accident. That doesn’t stop the dead man’s brother, Hardy Coulter (played by James Best), from firing up the townspeople and forming a posse to track down and lynch Redway.
Jonah visits the dead man’s wife and children to break the terrible news and later confronts Hardy and the posse and tries to convince them not to murder Redway. Jonah is helped by his friend Ernie (played by Sammy Jackson, Jr.), who has some sort of personality disorder and is also known as Galoot. Ernie is the first to hear of President Lincoln’s assassination and spreads the news.
John Cole played the ill-fated former Union soldier. The cast also included John Hambrick, William Phipps, Stephen Joyce, Maurine Dawson, Gina Gillespie.
Fess Parker told Hedda Hopper the post-Civil War setting of the series meant there were endless possibilities for stories. “I think that field is richer than the westerns which have been the gold mine of the industry. There an be 10 or 15 shows on this era without scratching the surface for several years” .
“The Aftermath” was one of several pilots that CBS tested on General Electric Theater. It aired on Sunday, April 17th, 1960 from 9-9:30PM. Interestingly, it aired opposite an episode of ABC’s The Rebel, a similar series the starred Nick Adams as a former Confederate soldier wandering the West seeking personal redemption and meaning. That series ran for two seasons from 1959 to 1961.
CBS decided to pass on The Code of Jonathan West and “The Aftermath” was the only episode produced. Had it been picked up, episodes would have seen Jonah travel from town to town helping those in need. It is unknown whether Sammy Jackson, Jr. would have co-starred as Jonah’s sidekick Ernie/Galoot or if there would be any other regular characters.
The Library of Congress has a copy of “The Aftermath” in its collection as broadcast on General Electric Theater. There must also be at least one print of the pilot under the title Mr. Preach circulating among private collectors.
2 A lengthy summary of “The Aftermath” can be found on pages 284 and 285 of Chris Fujiwara’s Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998).
3 Hopper, Hedda. “Hollywood.” Hartford Courant. 15 Apr. 1960: 9.
Originally Published December 16th, 2015
Last Updated December 16th, 2015