It was my husband’s turn to choose which Sirius channel we listened to on our last ride. So naturally, he picked Willie’s Roadhouse – very old-fashioned country music. By very old-fashioned, I mean Grand Ole Opry old-fashioned. I mean twangy guitars and twangier voices. I mean boots and barefoot and nothing in between. I mean men wearing sequins and fringe. I mean high hair on both sexes.
But to my enormous surprise – and delight – they had a special program. Theme songs from TV Westerns!
Oh the Memories!
I LOVED TV Westerns. And I watched them ALL. And by all, I mean spurs and saddles up the wazoo! If you are younger than I (and almost everyone is) – you have no idea how many westerns there were. You could watch cowboys every single night of the week – sometimes several in one night.
I only have a vague recollection of “Hopalong Cassidy,” “Wild Bill Hickok,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “The Cisco Kid” – they were pretty much before my time. But my husband loved them, so I would wager a guess that they had lots of shootouts and no ambiguity on who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. That’s the way he still likes his shows.
The first TV Western I remember well was “Roy Rogers”. I was not impressed. It was set in modern times, and Roy and Dale had telephones and vehicles. For chrissakes, if you are going to do a Western, I want to see you ride Trigger and Buttermilk – stay out of the friggin jeep.
Here’s a summary of JUST SOME of the Westerns I remember. I didn’t use Google or Wikipedia because I want my memories and my impressions to be the ones of my childhood – unsullied by today’s adult opinions. (So I could be wrong on some – or many – or all – of the facts.)
“Wyatt Earp” – “Bat Masterson” – “Yancy Derringer” – these were all fancy-dress dandies. My Grandma liked these shows. I preferred my cowboys a little grittier even then. I didn’t want lace shirts. I wanted dusty from the saddle. A small aside: about twenty years ago I happened to meet an actual descendent of Bat Masterson. I had the song (“He wore a cane and derby hat. They called him Bat. Bat Masterson”) stuck in my head for weeks. And now I do again.
“Death Valley Days” – an anthology series narrated by Ronald Reagan. Brought to you by twenty-mule team Borax. Borax was a soap. A twenty-mule team made it a very strong soap, I guess. Or very smelly. Maybe both.
“Tales of Wells Fargo” and “Iron Horse” – same actor; almost same show. One was a stagecoach and one was a train. Other than that…
“Sugarfoot” – another of Grandma’s favorite. She thought he was very cute and sweet. He was blond. Grandma liked blonds.
“Cheyenne” and “Bronco” – two very big men. I think these shows alternated time slots. Cheyenne was a man of few words; it would have been a difficult show to watch if you were blind. The strong silent type. But the producers probably saved a lot of money on dialog.
“Maverick” – this is where the dialog budget got spent. Very snappy and clever. Maverick liked to talk his way out of trouble. There were three (or maybe four) Mavericks, but I only liked James Garner. I liked him a lot. Like, a LOT.
“Wagon Train” – heading west. Never getting there.
“The Rebel” – a confederate soldier out west. I think he had a big secret. I never understood any of the plots. He had a sporty little cap though.
“The Rifleman” – Strong-jawed Chuck Connors who was a fast-draw with a rifle. Noisy. The Rifleman had a cute son, but the son called his dad, “Paw.” Unacceptable.
“The Deputy” – “Lawman” – “Laramie” – I enjoyed these shows. I cannot tell them apart now though. I probably couldn’t then either.
“Wanted Dead or Alive’ – Young Steve McQueen. Everyone thought he was handsome but I always thought he was homely. But even at eight years old, I appreciated the way he filled out a pair of jeans.
“Gunsmoke” – This was Great Aunt Lora’s favorite. She told me she wished she were Miss Kitty – she would have liked to run the whorehouse and drink with the boys. I thought Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty were a little long in the tooth.
“Have Gun Will Travel” – with Richard Boone as Palladin, a hired gun. My father, who never ever disparaged anyone’s looks, once said, “That is about the ugliest man I have every seen.”
“Rawhide” – by far the best theme song EVER. A never-ending cattle drive with two extremely tall cowboys, Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood had a lot of sex appeal, I guess. I liked the other guy. I remember lots of stampedes and hot tempers. And nights by the campfire sort of like the farting scene in “Blazing Saddles” – without the farting. (I think.)
“The Virginian” – a 90-minute Western. Plenty of time for plot-development and selling Alka-Seltzer. The show was loosely based on the novel.- very loosely, since Trampas was the bad guy in the book and a good guy in the show. He had curly blond hair though and very good teeth, so he couldn’t be a bad guy. The Virginian, like in the book, had no name, which made it very difficult to get his attention out on the range.
“Bonanza” – the biggie – the Ponderosa of Westerns. Rich cowboys. Pa and his sons were always falling in love, and their women always died. If I met a Cartwright, I would run for the hills.
“The Big Valley” – A version of Bonanza with a matriarch instead of patriarch. I liked the premise though. The dead rich father’s bastard son decides to join the family. My little brother had sort of a crush, not on the beautiful Linda Evans, but on 60-something Barbara Stanwyck. My brother knew a real beauty when he saw one.
“Laredo” – Texas Rangers. One of the Rangers had quite a spectacular body and took off his shirt in almost every episode. My sister Claudia enjoyed this.
“Kung Fu” – Weird. Just. Weird.
“How The West Was Won” – “The High Chaparral” – “Alias Smith and Jones” – late entries in the Western drama. I was becoming old enough to appreciate a hot cowboy on a big horse. These shows had plenty.
And I could use me some now. I think I’d like to go back and get another look at Steve McQueen’s jeans.