When the Mouseketeers were first hired each was given a screen test to assess their potential for film projects. Based on the results, director William Beaudine Sr asked producer Bill Walsh if he could use Darlene Gillespie as "Corky". Walt Disney ok'd the choice, and Darlene was immediately packed off to riding school. Her mother recounted in an interview how Darlene came home every day aching and sore, but immensely pleased with her good fortune.
At fourteen, Darlene was older than Corky, but looked the part. Despite years of dance lessons she still retained some baby fat, and was very short for her age. Her braids and freckles went well with plaid, denim, and a cowboy hat, and Darlene's brash confidence suited Beaudine's conception of the character. Beaudine was an early exponent of what came to be called camp in the sixties. He encouraged Darlene's natural tendency to overact, and a certain degree of hokiness in the other actors as well. Fortunately, he had toned down this inclination for his first Disney project, The Adventures of Spin and Marty.
Beaudine had come up with the basis for this story in late April of 1955. A long-time acquaintance of Walt Disney, he pitched the idea to him in early May. Walt bought it and hired Beaudine to direct his own treatment. The serial would use readily-available western props, costumes, and locations. It was assigned to be filmed during October, after the show's broadcast debut. Because Beaudine would be tied up with directing Circus Day shows and The Adventures of Spin and Marty, Bill Walsh hired outside writer Lillie Hayward to do the teleplay. Impressed by Darlene's voice, Walsh had songwriting couple Paul Smith and Gil George come up with four songs for the series: My Pa, Uncle Dan, Buckwheat Cakes, and Little One.
It isn't known how much of the story Hayward provided. Most likely she simply broke it into episodes and wrote the voice-over narrative. Beaudine would already have known what camera angles he wanted in each scene, so she likely didn't bother with specifying shots. Hayward probably also added scenes for the songs. The writers avoided pinning down the story to a specific time and place. It's obviously a western US mountain locale; the presence of hand-crank telephones in such small communities suggests a time period anywhere from 1885 to 1900.
The writers also employed a plot device that would become common to nearly all the MMC "fictional" serials, by making the protagonist an orphan or member of a single-parent household. This allowed the child a greater degree of independence for adventures, and gave them a built-in sympathetic advantage among viewers, in a world where two-parent households were the norm.
Each episode of this series was eleven minutes in length, allowing for four minutes of commercials and station breaks to make up the standard fifteen-minute serial segment. However, this serial used a recapitulation of the previous episode's action with a voice-over narration. This recap was around one and a half minutes, meaning that each episode really contained slightly more than nine minutes of new material. The commercial break was inserted, not into the middle of the episode, as with other serials, but between the recap and the current day's action.
The dog used to play White Shadow was named Harvey, and according to a widely-quoted interview with Darlene during the 1970's, was poorly trained and handled by its owner. Playing the part of the thieving bear cub Snitch was a little sun bear that appears to have wandered in from Southeast Asia. The mating of Duchess the coyote and White Shadow, while not genetically impossible, was a very unlikely event.
The series was largely filmed at Corriganville, a movie ranch in the San Fernando Valley owned by Ray "Crash" Corrigan (no relation to the actor Lloyd Corrigan). Some exterior scenes were filmed at Cedar Lake, near Big Bear in the San Bernadino Mountains, while interior scenes were shot at the Burbank studio.
Buddy Ebsen, who played Sheriff Matt Brady was a well-known character actor who had a successful year at Disney playing Davy Crockett's sidekick. His romatic interrest for this story was Veda Borg as cafe owner Dolly Porter. William James Lloyd Corrigan (1900-1969), who played Uncle Dan, was the elder child of two San Francisco stage actors, James Corrigan and Lillian Hiby. His parents switched to silent films in the twenties, and Lloyd joined them in 1925, handling both acting and directing chores in his long career.
Robert "Buzz" Henry, who played the Durango Dude, had an extensive list of credits as an actor from age four up. At age ten he starred in a couple of "B" westerns, but gradually shifted to supporting roles as he got older. Most of his adult credits were as a stuntman and second unit director. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971 on his fortieth birthday.
Charles Courtney, who played the Nevada Kid, alternated between heroes and villains. He had a five-year run on television as the Lone Ranger's nephew, and also played Billy the Kid for one of William Beaudine's campy horror-western films of the mid-sixties. Like Buzz Henry, Chuck's later credits were mainly for stunts, and two of his four sons followed him into that line of work. He passed away in 2000, at age sixty-nine.