HTWWW: The Macahans

HTWWW01 A long time ago I watched a telemovie series called “How The West Was Won”. Nothing whatsoever to do with the 1962 ‘epic western movie’ of the same name starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda,  Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, and Debbie Reynolds (and many others).

The telemovie series How The West Was Won (HTWWW) starred James Arness and Bruce Boxleitner. It is often sub-titled “The Macahans” or “the Family Macahans” because this titling is shown immediately after the main title at the start of the episodes.

HTWWW03 While I long ago forgot the actual story line, for some reason the memory of the series itself has stuck in my mind over the years. So it must have impressed me at the time.

The other day I decided to Google it and I found a lot of sites that talked about the 1962 movie—but buried in there, for the discerning searcher, were just one or two search results that actually did refer to the telemovie series.

Based on what I found I now know the following about the timings relating to the telemovie series HTWWW:

  • HTWWW02 It kicked off in 1976 with a 2.0 hour running-time pilot episode (about 2.5 hours air time).
  • This was followed in 1977 with three 1.5 hour running-time episodes (about 2.0 hours air time).
  • There were 10 episodes of 1.5 hours running-time shown in 1978.
  • The series ended in 1979 with a final 12 episodes.

Following on from that I looked for it on the torrents and I found series 1, 2, and 3. I am assuming at this stage that this is probably the entire series. They are sub-titled in Danish (or something) and the sub-titles can’t be disabled because they are in the video stream. I watched the pilot and episodes 1, 2, and 3. Loved it. Awesome stuff. Even in 4:3 with sub-titles and as a rather grainy transfer from video tape it was great viewing.

HTWWW04 I tried to find the series on on DVD so I could buy it. But the only copy I could find on was the Danish sub-titled version. Such a pity.

HTWWW features episode long, and in some cases multiple episode, appearances from many well known actors of the day including Brian Keith, Ricardo Montalban, Lloyd Bridges, Christopher Lee, William Shatner (as a blind ex-cavalry captain), Vicki Schreck, and Elyssa Davalos, to name just a few.


Something obviously happened to cause a ‘bump’ (disconnect) in the story line between the end of the first series and the start of the second series. At the end of the first series the Macahan family are all together and on the trail to Oregon complete with wagons and stock. In the first series the mother of the Macahan family is played by Eve Marie Saint.

But as series two starts the Macahan family are no longer all together on the trail to Oregon, Eva Marie Saint is not in the credits, and Zeb, the main character, is seen coming into a cavalry fort we have never seen before—when he should have been with the wagons going to Oregon. We find out about 15 HTWWW06 minutes into episode one of series two that the mother got killed in a barn fire, which seems odd considering that, as series one finished, they were on the trail and had no barns anywhere to burn. And if a main character like the mother was going to get burnt in a barn fire then why wouldn’t such an important event in this “life of the Macahan family” series have included that?

This gaping hole in the storyline takes a little getting past. I wish I could find out what caused it—lack of funding, change of production company, change of writers?

HTWWW07At the start and end of each episode, and sometimes during an episode, there is narration that gives us a timeline perspective.

The series starts around about the time of the American Civil War and then moves through about a 20 year period up until the series end in season 3. The  occasional narration puts events into perspective with key events that ‘made’ the American wild west.

HTWWW08 It is pretty obvious that the intention of the producers and the writers was to paint as faithful a picture of the ‘old’ American west as movie-making (er, telemovie series making) in the 1970s would allow. And it seems to work pretty well.





Well I am half way through and fully intend to watch the complete series. If you stuck with me this far you are probably seriously bored with this by now so I will finish off. I didn’t really intend for this post to be quite this long.