Robert "Music Man" Preston, who shuns television, comes out of Connecticut, and the brilliant Rosemary Harris, last seen in "Holocaust," dons pioneer garb for "The Chisholms," the six-hour CBS series on a Virginia family migrating west in the 1840s.
Evan Hunter's script, based upon his novel, tempted blueblood talent for the Thursday night spring series which begins Thursday, March 29, and runs April 5, 12, and 19 respectively. Elmer Bernstein wrote the music using themes from Aaron Copland's "Applachian Spring," "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo," and the sharp-eyed, demanding documentary maker, Mel Stuart, directed for producer Alan Landsburg, another documentary lover who switched to Hollywood drama product thus avoiding starvation.
Landsburg and Stuart didn't cut corners either after inking the talent. The company began shooting last September in Illinois, moved to Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado, finishing amid snow flurries around the Rockies in early November. At times, the company worked on the heels of the "Centennial" crew, striving feverishly to make deadlines. Since the scenery was often "Centennial's" ace card, one can hope "The Chisholms" may be as fortunate.
The show is "A little history lesson," says young Ben Murphy, cast as Will, the oldest Chisholm boy, a pioneering tale seen through the eyes of a migratory family. With "Roots," "Centennial," "From Here to Eternity" and now "The Chisholms," commercial television has found a gimmick--fairly authentic American history conveyed through family drama. If you slumbered through history in school, you can play catch-up this season by watching the tube.
Ben Murphy vouches for the authentic side. In barren Nebraska, Ben and company stared at the original wagon ruts of early travelers, while off in the distance stood Jail House Rock, a solitary beacon on the horizon, a welcome landmark in the old days.
"We opened in Peoria, Illinois," said Ben. "It was just right as an old river town. If you were coming from Virginia in those days, you would travel by river to Missouri, then take a wagon train out of St. Joseph. In the show, we get as far as Colorado before winter sets in and our story ends. This is not a pilot either, ready to take up for the trek to Oregon in future chapters, but a complete story on its own."
Raised in Tennessee, Chicago, and Arkansas with summer memories of life on grandfather's farm, Ben Murphy is another transplant with the sense to buy California land while living frugally. A handsome kid with a California look, Murphy was spotted at nearby USC in the theater department and signed by Universal scouts.
The kid spent 11 years under contract to Universal, working "The Name of the Game," a lead in "Alias Smith & Jones," followed by the part of Lorne Greene's sidekick in the short-lived "Griff" series.
Looking back Murphy admits he made a mistake as the green college kid signing on with Universal Studios. "I should have said No," he said. He had no security, no freedom, and he wound up losing interest in studying.
Two years ago when the studio contract ended, Ben dropped out of the business. A year of study with coach Charles Conrad, marriage, and tennis have turned Ben around. To get "The Chisholms," Ben went in and read for the part, earning the job on his own ability. It was a heady victory.
When Murphy is not in drama class, or
out reading for a job, he can be found on a tennis court. You
see, Murphy has become a tennis addict, a man who has been out
in the sun too long. Ben took up the game five years ago, and
now he's determined to be national champ of the 30- to 35-year-old
bracket. Crazy, of course, but the actor is spellbound by the
game. With such determination Murphy is dangerous.
Back to Articles List