Head ’em up, Move ’em out, Move ’em out, Head ’em up
(cross posted at The Impolitic)
It’s 6:30 Saturday morning and a faint glow is just starting to emerge at the horizon. A gentle 70 degree breeze is sifting through my 17th floor window while I surf the blogs and wonder what to write about this morning. I decide on morals and good character.
Honesty: Telling the truth, and facing the truth, even when it might be uncomfortable.
Courage: The guts to stand up to evil even in the face of danger.
To me, the answer is obvious! What better examples of integrity, honesty and courage than the great American western heroes! It’s a no-brainer.
So lets “whistle me up a memory….” and return to those “thrilling days of yesteryear” with a tribute to the truly great men of America’s past, the TV cowboys.
Early cowboys wore white hats or rode white horses, smiled alot and never killed anyone. Roy Rogers was a family man with his wife Dale, his horse Trigger, dog Bullit and even his jeep had a name – Nellie Bell. Like Hopalong Cassidy played by William Boyd and Gene Autry, Roy was a singing cowboy. He was a little too goody goody for my taste and when he had his horse stuffed and placed in the family home, I felt just a little queasy.
Around this same time was The Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) and his jolly but stupid sidekick Pancho. I can still hear them at the end of each episode, smiling and laughing as they exchanged, “Hey Cisco…Hey Pancho!”
One of the most famous and long lasting of the early TV heroes was Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger. With his immaculate clothes, his white hat and horse, and his partner Tonto, he was the epidomy of truth, justice and the American way.
Who can forget Fess Parker as Davey Crockett which Disney said was the show that opened the floodgates of the ’50s westerns.
I was too young to really appreciate any of those but I did watch them. My favorites came a little later. Has it been a while since you thought about Rin Tin Tin and his faithful master Rusty and Lieutenant Rip Masters? And how about Wagon Train with Ward Bond as the crusty but likable Trail Boss, Seth Adams and Robert Horton as his ramrod, Flint.
And we all remember that other Trail Boss, Gil Favor, who along with his young and impetuous ramrod, Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) and Wishbone the cook, drove cattle every week on Rawhide. (you’re hearing Frankie Lane right now, admit it)
It was around this time that westerns changed. The horses turned from white to brown, the clothes got dirty, the beards were two days old and the six-guns got a lot more use, even killing folks occassionally.
The two most popular westerns of all time, although not my favorites (I’m saving those for last) were Gunsmoke, which ran for an incredible 20 years (55-75) and Bonanza (59-73) which ran nearly as long. I can still see the original Chester (Dennis Weaver) running on one stiff leg into the Marshalls office yelling “Marshall Dillon, Marshall Dillon, there’s a fight over at the Long Branch!” And will we really ever know if the marshall (James Arness) was boffing its owner, Kitty?
Didn’t you always love it when Hoss (Dan Blocker) had to defend Little Joe (Michael Landon) by beating the crap out of some wannabe bad guy? And Bonanza, the first western about rich cowboys, was also the first filmed in colour and the first to introduce magnificent scenery like the big screen. I can almost smell Hopsing’s coffee.
Gene Barry, who later gained fame as Charlie of Charlie’s Angels, was Bat Masterson, the professional gambler who was good with a gun and never cheated at cards. He may have been the first of the TV cowboys to get away with wearing a clean suit and a derby.
Another gambler/gunslinger but ultimate nice guy was Bart Maverick (James Garner) and his brother Brett. Garner later played a supporting role in the movie Maverick starring Mel Gibson in the title roll. He also played the scavenger in The Great Escape but my favorite Garner movie was of course, Space Cowboys.
Dale Robertson was the star of Wells Fargo and John Smith and Robert Fuller were the law in Laramie. John Russell who looked like a better bad guy than good guy and Peter Brown were the take-no-bullshit stars of Lawman.
The legendary Steve McQueen played Josh Randall, a bounty hunter with a most unusual side arm in Wanted: Dead or Alive. Steve later starred in 5 Card Stud, Papillon, The Magnificent Seven, Grand Prix and of course his classic performance in The Great Escape.
Ty Hardin played the handsome drifter Bronco Lane in Bronco. I can never get that theme out of my head, “Bronco, Bronco tearing across the Texas plain. Bronco, Bronco….Bronco Lane”. And who can forget the huge, rugged and always quiet Clint Walker as Cheyenne Brodie.
Chuck Connors was The Rifleman, a family man with a whinny son (Johnny Crawford) had a most unusual rifle.
Will Hutchins was the nauseatingly polite Sugarfoot who traveled the west with a law book in one hand and a fast gun in the other and Hugh O’brien was the legendary and no nonsense Marshall Wyatt Earp.
Sure, these were all great, all honorable men and there were many others as well. But for me, they all paled in comparison to the ugly but elegant… comfortable in both the finest hotels in San Francisco and camping on the open range… dressed in tails and tie or all in black upon his white horse…he carried a gun and a simple business card that read:
(I thought for years that his first name was Wire!)
Who was your favorite?
For great links, stories, clips and soundtracks go here.
For a huge list of links to related sites go here.
Next up: (when I get around to it) Cop Shows