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The Shepherd of the Hills -- 1959

See Credits and Review below Picture

Click on Photos to Enlarge

Late in 2005 TheShepherd of the Hills Homestead & Theater located in Branson, MO. began selling copies of this made for television special program, both in the store and on eBay. One of the first to buy and review the film was Harold Bell Wright movie expert Rick Gunter: His report:

"I have just watched the 1959 KYTV production of THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS . I have literally waited all my life to see this. My parents told me that they remembered watching this when it first aired, but I was only 2 months old.

It is probably not correct to refer to this production as a “movie.” The DVD cover states that it is a “Television Special,” and it is only of one-half hour length. In order to appreciate this, one has to understand that it is a low-budget local TV production from the 1950s. One should not expect today’s standards of cinematography and special effects and have that in mind before they plop the DVD into the player.

Movies: Wright's Greatest Sorrow

Click here to read the story:

  • How and why Wright got into the movie business

  • Which movies were actually based on his stories

  • Which were based on stories he had never even seen and quickly despised.


As I started watching it, I felt as if I was watching a 1950s educational film. None of the actors has a speaking role. All of the acting is done in a “silent movie” style. The story is narrated entirely by the 14-verse song BALLAD OF THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS and of a narrator reading selections directly from the book THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS. There seems to be an emphasis on the beginning and the end of the book. There is a quick explanation by the narrator of some of the middle of the story, but it is mostly just left out. That is how they are able to fit it into ½ hour. The story may be confusing to someone who has not read the book.

Except for the parts that are left out, this production follows the book much closer than either the 1942 or 1963 movies. Since the narration of this one came directly from the book, one could say that those parts follow the book “exactly.”

One part that I found particularly compelling was the scene where Little Pete led The Shepherd and Dr. Coughlin through the cave to where Howard lay mortally wounded. Those scenes were filmed in Marvel Cave with only the natural light of the torches they carried in their hands. It nearly gave me goose bumps to watch that. As the narrator read the story from the book, it was almost as it I was watching actual news footage of the actual event. They walked through Marvel Cave in places that exactly fit the descriptions in the book. As the dim torch light flickered against the cave walls in that old b&w low-quality film, it was like watching an old newsreel from the turn of the century.

For anyone who is a fan of THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, I would definitely recommend this DVD. It is not great drama, but great Ozark TV nostalgia." --
Thanks Rick
Shepherd of the Hills, Awards Presentation Edition, K.Y.T.V. Television, Springfield, Missouri. Shepherd of the Hills Farm, Branson, Missouri. Seal says, TV Radio Mirror, Award for 1959-60. (This is the standard Grosset and Dunlap edition of the book, with a special dust jacket.)
Lloyd "Shad" Heller, star of the outdoor play at the Shepherd of the Hills Farm in Branson, playing the shepherd.

     The only published information about this movie I have found so far is in the TV Radio Mirror of April, 1960, the issue in which the magazine announces their annual awards for the "Best" and the "Most Original" radio and television programs for the year. After giving awards to the top 16 national shows and performers, such as The Huntley-Brinkley Report, Playhouse 90, Art Carney, Art Linkletter, Arthur Godfrey, Red Skelton, The Chevy Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Rifleman, The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone, the magazine turns its attention to local and regional programming. For some reason, regional seems to mean mostly the Midwest. The nine winners are from St. Louis, Mo; Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis-St. Paul (twice); Chicago, Louisville, Columbus, Ohio; Springfield, Missouri; and Detroit.

"The Most Original Program on [Regional] TV"  award went to KYTV in Springfield, Missouri for their narrated musical production of The Shepherd of the Hills. Here is what the story says (Please note that the book sold one million copies, not 16 million):

"Look Homeward to the Hills."

THE novel "Shepherd of the Hills" by Harold Bell Wright, an early 20th Century story of the Ozarks, told a tale of simple people confronted by sin, by guilt and eventual redemption. Within the structure of the story lie deep religious feeling, a strong sense of the simple goodness of the hill folk of the Ozarks, an eerie implication that the young child born out of wedlock in the story is a modern-day counterpart of Christ, the son of Mary. When the book appeared it sold sixteen million copies, a phenomenal success for a novel published before the days of book clubs and mass distribution. Even more millions saw the theme presented as a successful motion picture, starring John Wayne.... The natives of the area, forty miles south of Springfield, Missouri, where the action of the picture was laid, have treasured the places and things mentioned in the book. They remain exactly as they were when the novel appeared at the turn of the century.... Last summer, this classic story came to life again. Under combined sponsorship of Shepherd of the Hills Farm, Marvel Cave and the Retail Merchants Committee of the Branson, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, a project got under way to video-tape the story for TV presentation. Station KYTV of Springfield and Dixon-Baker Associates got to work. Aided by drama students from Central Missouri State College at Warrensburg, who portrayed the acting roles, and a spoken narrative background, the story began to unfold. Music and lyrics for a fourteen-verse "Ballad of the Shepherd of the Hills"-which carries much of the action of the play-were composed by Will Mercer, singer and composer with the Red Foley Jubilee U.S.A. program. The song was started when Mercer visited Inspiration Point near Branson, Missouri, where much of the action takes place, and was completed while Mercer was on tour. The song, when completed, had been written in seven states and two foreign countries.... On August 5, 1959, KYTV moved $250,000 of mobile video tape equipment into location near Branson. And within one full day's shooting the action was recorded. The sound track consumed six hours of work. Editing of tape and film took a week, script preparation nine days. At 12: 30 P.M. on September 7, the show was aired, to immediate public response. A second run appeared on September 15 in evening time. And since then the only known "on location" video-tape dramatic show ever made in the Midwest has had multi-station scheduling. Our congratulations to KYTV!


Character       Actor
Jim Lane Al Cummings
Old Matt Roy Gertsun
The Shepherd Lloyd "Shad" Heller
(Director) Bob Irwin
(Narrator) Larry Dixon

Availability: eBay or:

The Shepherd of the Hills Theater
5586 West Highway 76
Branson, MO 65616

$14.95 plus $4.50 for Priority Mail shipping.

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11