1950s Television Westerns
by Don Bell
The Lone Ranger & Silver
Many popular radio Westerns had made a successful transition to television in the 1950s, and I can remember how exciting it was to finally get to see what my Western heroes really looked like in action, though sometimes the imaginative scenes that radio inspired proved to be a richer experience.
It's often surprising to the young people of today just how popular those classic TV Westerns were in the 1950s. Back then, it seemed that every other show on TV was a Western.
My Favorite Classic TV Westerns from the 1950s
The Roy Rogers Show (1951-1957) — Starring Roy Rogers as King of the Cowboys and Dale Evans as Queen of the West. Roy's horse was called Trigger, and Dale called her horse Buttermilk.
This was the first show I ever saw on television; it must have been around 1952. Friends of my parents had one of the first TV sets in our area, and the picture came in so snowy that I could barely make out the horses and riders, but it was so exciting to watch. I barely slept that night thinking about it and praying that we'd be able to get a TV too, though that didn't happen until 1955.
The Lone Ranger (1949-1957) — Starring Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger, and the Canadian indigenous actor Jay Silverheels as his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. The Lone Ranger's horse was called Silver, and Tonto's was called Scout.
The Cisco Kid (1950-1956) — Starring Duncan Renaldo as Cisco, and Leo Carrillo as his comical sidekick Pancho. Cisco's horse was called Diablo and Pancho's was called Loco.
Zorro (1957-1959) — Starring Guy Williams as Zorro. Zorro's horse was called Tornado.
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961) — Starring Hugh O'Brian as Marshal Wyatt Earp.
Bat Masterson (1958-1961) — Starring Gene Barry as Bat Masterson. Masterson's horse was called Stardust.
The Rifleman (1958-1963) — Starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, and his son Mark was played by Johnny Crawford. McCain's horse was called Razor.
Wagon Train (1957-1965) — Starring Ward Bond as wagon master Major Seth Adams, and Robert Horton as the scout Flint McCullough. Sorry, but I don't recall the horse having a name.
Gunsmoke (1955-1975) — Starring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon. Dillon's horse was called Buck.
Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963) — Starring Richard Boone as Paladin. Paladin's horse was called Rafter.
Do you remember the Ballad of Paladin?
Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man.
A knight without armor in a savage land.
His fast gun for hire head's the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.
Paladin, Paladin Where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, Far, far from home.
He travels on to wherever he must;
A chess knight of silver is his badge of trust.
There are campfire legends that the plainsmen spin
Of the man with the gun,
of the man called Pa-l-l-l-l-a-din
Do you remember Paladin's business card?
It featured the line drawing of a chess knight, and the words:
Have Gun Will Travel
Davy Crockett Deserves a Special Mention
Davy Crockett (1954-1955) — Starring Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, and Buddy Ebsen (later to star as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies TV show) as his pal Georgie Russel.
This was not one of your typical TV Westerns, but it proved to be more than a television show; it was an instant phenomenon, a craze — all stemming from just five TV episodes broadcast in December 1954 through 1955:
• Davy Crockett Indian Fighter
• Davy Crockett Goes To Congress
• Davy Crockett At The Alamo
• Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race
• Davy Crockett And The River Pirates.
Later in 1955, Disney edited those 5 shows into 2 feature films for release in North American theaters:
• Davy Crockett King Of The Wild Frontier (1955)
• Davy Crockett And The River Pirates (1956).
Numerous Davy Crockett lunchboxes, toy flintlock pistols, and imitation coonskin caps were seen in schoolyards and backyards across North America, and even in the UK.
Also, the Ballad of Davy Crockett was heard on the radio and sung by children everywhere. What kid from the mid 1950s can ever forget its words…
Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree
Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett
King of the Wild Frontier!
Many fun-filled afternoons were spent with my best friend as we tramped though the hay fields and woods on our farm taming our own Wild Frontier, while sometimes arguing who got to play Davy Crockett.
Have You Seen the 1959 Film "Alias Jesse James"?
In November 1959, my aunt took my cousins and me to see the movie "Alias Jesse James" at the local Odeon Theater in Peterborough. It was a comedy Western starring Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming, but it was most notable for its exciting ending that features a host of surprise cameo appearances by cowboy stars of the classic TV Westerns.
Those appearing included Roy Rogers as himself (The Roy Rogers Show), Hugh O'Brian as Marshal Wyatt Earp (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp), Gail Davis as Annie Oakley (Annie Oakley), Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams (Wagon Train), Fess Parker as Davy Crockett (Walt Disney's Davy Crocket), Jay Silverheels as Tonto (The Lone Ranger), and James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke).
Silver screen star Garry Cooper of "High Noon" fame also made a cameo appearance, but it was more for the adults as most kids in the audience were puzzled about his identity, though he seemed somewhat familiar; he just wasn't as recognizable to the younger set as the TV cowboys were.
This feature length movie was marvelous fun for kids in the 1950s, and today it's a virtual time capsule of yesterday's Western heroes. Does it ever bring back memories!
Be sure to watch the "Alias Jessie James" movie if you get the chance!
Writing this piece certainly brought back lots of happy memories. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
And after all these years, thanks to the Internet, I still love to watch those classic TV Westerns!