1950s Television Westerns
by Don Bell
The Lone Ranger & Silver
A number of the popular radio Westerns made the successful transition to television, and I can remember how exciting it was to finally get to see what my 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 Westerns were in the 1950s. Back then, it seemed that every other show on TV was a Western.
Here are my favorite 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's horse was called Buttermilk. This was the first show I ever saw on television; it must have been around 1952. A friend of my parents had one of the first TV sets in our area, and the picture came in on the antenna 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 December 1955.
The Lone Ranger (1949-1957) -- Starring Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger and 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 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 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. McCain's horse was called Razor.
Wagon Train 1957-1965) -- Starring Ward Bond as wagon master Major Seth Adams. Sorry, I don't recall a name for the horse.
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
And his famous business card had the line drawing of the 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 a typical Western "series," 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 theaters:
Davy Crockett King Of The Wild Frontier (1955)
Davy Crockett And The River Pirates (1956).
Numerous Davy Crockett lunchboxes, toys and imitation coonskin caps were seen in schoolyards and backyards across North America and in the UK. And 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 by my best friend and I as we tramped though the fields and woods on our farm taming our own Wild Frontier while playing Davy Crockett and Georgie Russel.
Have you seen the 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 which features a host of surprise cameo appearances by TV Western stars of the 1950s including:
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 brief appearance, but it was more for the adults as most kids were puzzled about his identity, though he seemed somewhat familiar; he just wasn't as recognizable to the younger set as the 50s TV cowboys were.
This feature length movie was marvelous fun for a kid in the 50s. Today, it's a virtual time capsule of Western heroes from the 50s. Does it ever bring back memories.
Be sure to watch it if you get the chance!
Writing this piece certainly brought back lots of happy memories. I hope reading it stirred pleasant memories for you.
And after all these years, I still love Westerns!