|1981 - 1984
Set in the Dakota Territory of the 1870s,
this western drama starred Merlin Olsen as John
Michael Murphy, a bearded frontiersman who
impersonated a priest to keep a group of gold
miner's orphans from being handed over to the
not-so-caring local county officials Mr. Rodman
(Charles Tyner) and Miss Tuttle (Ivy Bethune.
wanted to put the children in a territorial workhouse
John carried out his scam with the assistance of black
friend, Moses Gage (Moses Gunn), a prospector and Mae Woodward
(Katherine Cannon), a young teacher.
lived in an area called Gold Hill, named for the Gold Hill Mine,
formerly owned by Philbert Potts (Steve Levitt), an odd fellow who
talks to the ghost of his dead mother.
John Murphy, Moses, Will and Mae
Rodman and Tuttle, the county officials were constantly trying to get the
children from Father Murphy's care. Rodman even stooped so low as to
have his own son Archibald, (Jason Tomarken) infiltrate the
orphanage and get some dirt on Father Murphy. But that plan failed
when the boy felt so loved by Father Murphy and the children that he
refused to tell his father a secret he had learn, namely that Father
Murphy was indeed an imposter.
When John's deception was finally exposed, however, he married
Mae and adopted all the children to keep them together. John's true
identity was revealed by Emma (Donna Wilkes), a teenager who fell in
love with John and when rejected, ran to Rodman and spilled the
beans on John's cover up.
The Children of
Gold Hill School
Other folks in John Murphy's life included:
- Richard Bergman as Father Joe Parker, a handsome but bumbling
priest who occasionally assisted John Murphy at the Gold Hill
- Timothy Gibbs as Will Adams, an orphan who warned John and
Moses they were going to be robbed. In appreciation, they hired
Will as their cook and later adopted him along with a bunch of
other recently orphaned children.
Byron Thames as Matt Sims, an orphan who fell in love with
- Kirk Brennan as David Sims, Matt's older brother.
- Amanda Peterson as Elizabeth Garrett, the daughter of the
town's ruthless businessman, Richard Garrett.
Lisa Trusel as Lizette Winkler, an
orphan, apprentice seamstress and
Scott Mellini as Ephram Winkler,
Jenny Beck as Henrietta, an orphan.
- Bob G. Anthony as Griffith, the storekeeper in Jackson.
- Warren Munson as Dr. Thompson, the town physician.
Charles Cooper as Sheriff, the local lawman
Chez Lister as Eli Matthews, a streetwise black orphan that
John and Mae adopted while on their honeymoon
after the boy's grandfather dies.
Christopher Stone as
the famed author Samuel Clemens (aka "Mark Twain") who set
up a newspaper in the nearby town of Jackson to battle the
influences of Richard Garrett,
(Burr DeBenning), an evil
businessman. Orphans Will and Ephram were hired as
copyboys/reporters and became the
inspiration for Twain's characters Tom Sawyer
and Huck Finn (Will and Ephram were seen white
washing a fence and rafting on a river).
Mine the dog, John's pet
Initially, John Murphy arrived in Gold Hill on a cartload of supplies slated for the Dakota Territory. But
it was only after
Paul Garrett (Burr DeBenning), a greedy town baron (Richard Garrett's
hired bandits to gain
control of all the local gold fields, did John decide to stay
behind and tend to all the children orphaned by the onslaught of
killings caused during a mine strike. Sadly, the local priest was
also killed in the raid and so John assumed his identity as a holy
John Murphy with
two of his boys
As time passed, more children sent to John Murphy, including a
mentally challenged girl who turns out to be good with horses. She
tamed a wild horse, rode in the territorial fair and won a purse of
$1000 for Father Murphy to use for the orphan's care.
Another child was brought to the orphanage by his mother because her
husband physically abused him. When the boy's father tried to get
the boy back, the powerful John Murphy accidentally killed the man while
trying to restrain him.
More adventures of John Murphy and company included:
- A pregnant suicidal teenager
- An embarrassed bed-wetter (David)
- An orphan boy who worships his father's gun fighting life.
- Stolen Fourth of July fireworks rescued from a saloon safe.
- A dying Mountain man delivers a boy to the John's care. The
"he" turns out to be "she." Later, her allergy to strawberries
saves the day when the warden of the workhouse fears all the kids have
smallpox and releases them.
- An old man who goes back to school.
- A fleeing female bank robber who poses as a nun.
- The kids saving Laddie the horse from the slaughterhouse.
- A drunken father forces his son to tell the location of
an alleged gold mine after the boy finds a lone nugget.
- A former Confederate army bugle boy who seeks refuge at the
orphanage but finds it hard to treat Moses as an equal.
- A withdrawn blind girl comes alive when Moses introduces her
to the piano.
- A young orphaned heir is kidnapped to keep him from claiming
his rightful inheritance.
- Will runs off to St Louis when he finds out a new room is
not for him but for the Murphy's expected baby.
- A story telling old timer falsely claims that John and Moses
are bank robbers (Grizzly and Whisper Man) then the real one shows up in town.
- Matt witnesses a robbery but is reluctant to tell the sheriff
because one of them is his friend who has a sick mother.
- Eli, Matt and Ephram procure a mail-order-bride for Moses.
TRIVIA NOTE: Merlin Olsen was a
former defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams
NFL football team. Olsen played Jonathan Garvey,
on THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (1977-81);
and Aaron Miller, an Amish man from Pennsylvania
who relocated his family to California on the
short-lived drama AARON'S WAY(1988).
Moses Gunn played a
black cook/ranch foreman on the TV
THE COWBOYS, who helped a widow
raise a bunch of homeless boys.
Produced by Michael Landon, FATHER MURPHY was filmed in Hollywood and at the
Old Tucson Studios and theme park near Tucson,
Obituaries: Moses Gunn: 12/16/1993
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