James Drury, The Virginian

This page is dedicated to James Drury who, in my opinion, embodied all the traits of Owen Wister’s “horseman of the plains.” To support my claim, I will be listing words used by the author himself to describe his famous cowpuncher, together with supporting scenes and dialogue from the TV series. Thanks is due the show’s writers, of course, for remaining true to the book, but without Mr. Drury I feel they would not have been so successful. He is uniquely qualified to portray this complex character with an ease that transforms fiction into reality. James Drury is the Virginian, more than any actor who appeared in the role before or after him!

more beautiful than pictures

Lounging there at ease against the wall was a slim young giant, more beautiful than pictures. His broad, soft hat was pushed back; ...and one casual thumb was hooked in the cartridge-belt that slanted across his hips. [Chapter 1, The Virginian]


“Yes, seh, there is a right smart of oddities around. They come in on every train.”...What had I done to elicit that veiled and skilful sarcasm about oddities coming in on every train?[Chapter 2, The Virginian]

a gentleman

On this occasion he had come off the better gentleman...Here in flesh and blood was a truth which I had long believed in words, but never met before. The creature we call a gentleman lies deep in the hearts of thousands that are born without chance to master the outward graces of the type. [Chapter 2, The Virginian]
“Take the Virginian...he can be hard as a rail hammer, but he's gentle with people, animals...he's a born gentleman!” [John Grainger in the episode Lady of the House ]


The Virginian’s entrance produced a slight silence. He had done wonders with the wash-trough, and he had somehow brushed his clothes...“Why, you’re clean! You’ve had a shave right now.”[Chapter 2, The Virginian]

has a reputation

“Who’s that talkin’?” said one of the men near me, in a low voice.
“Trampas.” “Who’s he talkin’ at?” “Think it’s the black-headed guy he’s talking at.“ “That ain’t supposed to be safe, is it?”[Chapter 2, The Virginian]

black hair

The dealer had styled the Virginian “a black-headed guy.” This did well enough as an unflattered portrait. [He] certainly had a very black head of hair. It was the first thing to notice...[Chapter 3, The Virginian]

good poker player

“Awhile ago,” said Steve, “you had won three months’ salary.” “I’m still twenty dollars to the good,” said the Virginian. [Chapter 3, The Virginian]


the Judge’s trustworthy man... had been sent to meet a stranger and drive him to Sunk Creek in safety, and this charge he would allow no temptation to imperil. [Chapter 3, The Virginian]


I now told him that I supposed he had saved both our lives. But he detested words of direct praise.[Chapter 4, The Virginian]
“My friend, I expect there’s some things he does a whole lot better than me....No man’s got everything, don’t look for idols, Jim. One way or another every man’s clayfooted.”[The Virginian in The Long Way Home ]

thinks he understands women

“Your very sincere spinster,” he read aloud slowly...“I reckon she is about twenty...your real spinster don’t speak of her lot that easy,” he remarked. [Chapter 5, The Virginian]
“She’s just like any other woman - she thinks with her heart instead of her head.”[The Virginian in Hour of the Tiger ]

boyishly proud

He was still boyishly proud of his wild calling, and wore his leathern chaps and jingled his spurs with obvious pleasure. [Chapter 6, The Virginian]
“You figure you’re as good as the two of them put together.” [Judge Garth in the episode Woman From White Wing ]

respects the dead

[the narrator sees the Virginian burying the hen Em'ly] “I have buried some citizens here and there...that I have respected less.”[Chapter 6, The Virginian]
“The dead have to be buried...There’s some things you make time for, Walker.”[The Virginian in Ride To Misadventure ]

clever and shrewd

The Judge laughed....“I’m afraid he’s pretty nearly as shrewd as I am. And that’s rather dangerous in a subordinate.”[Chapter 7, The Virginian]
“I don’t know how you got them to run or why, but I figure they’re decoys, set up by you...You’re a very smart fella.”[Winthrop to the Virginian in The Fortress ]

calms a baby

[James’] wife looked in from the kitchen to caution him about humoring little Christopher...but when she saw her baby grow quiet in the arms of the Virginian, she smiled at that cow-puncher and returned to her kitchen. [Chapter 9, The Virginian]
“Esta bien. Toda esta bien. Duerma te.” [The Virginian soothing a frightened child in Mountain of the Sun ]


They came to a river ... Two wheels sank down over an edge, and the canvas toppled like a descending kite. The ripple came sucking through the upper spokes ... Then a tall rider appeared close against the buried axles, and took her out of the stage on his horse ... and [Molly] found herself lifted down upon the shore. [Chapter 9, The Virginian]

protective of a woman’s reputation

They laughed loudly at the blackguard picture which [Trampas] drew [of Molly]; and the laugh stopped short, for the Virginian stood over Trampas. “You can rise up now, and tell them you lie, ” he said.[Chapter 10, The Virginian]
“You would’ve ruined that girl’s reputation just to get to the railroad?!...Look, she’s a decent girl! She never would’ve been able to look at her father’s face again if she made that trip with yu’, whether yu’ touched her or not!”[The Virginian in Big Image, Little Man ]

knows how to waltz

Few in the Bear Creek Country could waltz, and with these few it was mostly an unsteered and ponderous exhibition; therefore was the Southerner bent upon profiting by his skill. [Chapter 10, The Virginian]


Jealousy is a deep and delicate thing, and works its spite in many ways ... “There she goes,” said Lin. “With Uncle Hughey again,” said the Virginian, sourly.[Chapter 10, The Virginian]

green-grey eyes

What color they [his eyes] were baffled her still...It seemed to her that sometimes when she had been looking from a rock straight down into clear sea water, this same color had lurked in its depths. “Is it green or is it gray?”[Chapter 12, The Virginian]
[Left, a closeup of James Drury as the Virginian in Felicity’s Spring ]

mindful of duty

I had known a little, but not to the very deep, of the man’s pride and purpose in this trust...“...they’re goin’ back to Sunk Creek with me accordin’ to the Judge’s awdehs.”[Chapter 15, The Virginian]
“Don’t worry, Mr. Grainger, I’ll get ’em back...I hold myself responsible.”[The Virginian in Ride to Delphi ]

somewhere between religious and un-religious

“One God and fifteen religions...That’s a right smart of religions for just one God ... I ain’t religious. I know that. But I ain’t un-religious. And I know that too.”[Chapter 18, The Virginian]
“You can’t believe that God would hold you to a promise you made when you didn’t know what you were getting into!” [The Virginian to the missionary Kathy in Mountain of the Sun ]


[Trampas] revealed his expectation of being dismissed by [the Virginian.]“Go back to your job, Trampas, if that’s all your complaint. You’re right about me being in luck. But maybe there’s two of us in luck.”...the Virginian would not use his official position to crush his subordinate.[Chapter 21, The Virginian]
“I run that foreman’s tail today and he’s gonna make me pay for it.” “No he won’t, he’s not like that.”[Trampas and Faraway discussing the Virginian in Ride A Dark Trail ]

merits the Judge’s confidence

The Judge brought his fist down on the table, and not lightly this time. “I’d make him lieutenant-general if the ranch offered that position!”[Chapter 21, The Virginian]
“They don’t come any finer.”[Judge Garth talking about the Virginian in Felicity’s Spring ]

left home at an early age

“I have earned my living since I was fourteen. And that’s from old Mexico to British Columbia.” [Chapter 22, The Virginian ]
“Seems to me I hired a kid one time fresh outta the state of Virginia.” [Slim Jessup in Fifty Days to Moosejaw ]


Often, instead of Shakespeare and fiction, school books lay open on [the Virginian’s] cabin table; and penmanship and spelling helped the hours to pass.[Chapter 23, The Virginian]
“Molly gives me books and she makes me read ’em!” [The Virginian in It Tolls For Thee ]

knowledgeable about ranching

He could turn off a business communication about steers or stock cars, or any other of the subjects involved in his profession, with a brevity and a clearness that led the Judge to confide three-quarters of such correspondence to his foreman. [Chapter 24, The Virginian ]
“I work by one principal: to learn everything there is to know about each business I invest in, and to learn it from the best. Well, I’ve made inquiries; you are the best foreman in this area.” [Robert Gaynor to the Virginian in A Matter of Destiny ]

wants children

“We’re expectin’ a little McLean down on Box Elder. That’s what you’ll be expectin’ some of these days, I hope.” “Yes,” murmured the Virginian, “I hope so too.” [Chapter 29, The Virginian ]
“I can just see this room filled with laughter and children’s voices.” “Girls, all looking like their mother.” “And boys, with their father’s eyes and smile.” [Felicity Andrews and the Virginian in Felicity’s Spring ]

a loyal friend

“Steve and I started punching cattle together at the Bordeaux outfit, north of Cheyenne. We did everything together in those days--work and play...You have a friend, and his ways are your ways. You travel together, you spree together confidentially, and you suit each other down to the ground.” [Chapter 31, The Virginian ]
“I won't sit still for anything like that. I mean he’s my friend.” [The Virginian talking about Trampas in Echo of Another Day ]

a good tracker

He looked down at the trail, and then he very slowly turned round in his saddle and stared back steadily at me. “There’s two of them,” he said...“It’s two, you see, travelling with one hawss, and they take turns riding him.” [Chapter 32, The Virginian]
“The Virginian can track a rabbit all the way to St. Louis.” [Trampas in Echo of Another Day ]

fast on the draw

“Three of us saw his gun out.” And [Scipio] vented his admiration. “You were that cool! That quick!” [Chapter 35, The Virginian]
“You just don’t carry that gun - you know how to use it....You’re not afraid of anyone or anything.” [Mark Shannon to the Virginian in You Take The High Road ]


Was this youth with his black head of hair in her lap the creature with whom men did not trifle, whose hand knew how to deal death? Where had the man melted away to in this boy? [Chapter 36, The Virginian ]
“Before I go back to town, I want you to stop acting like a little boy and talk to him.” [Molly to the Virginian in It Tolls For Thee ]

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(Compilation © 2004 by Alice Munzo, all rights reserved, with material from the book The Virginian by Owen Wister, © 1902 by The Macmillan Company, and from the television series “The Virginian” © 1962-1970 Revue Productions, Universal TV and Universal City Studios)
(rev. April 2, 2004)