This bit of nostalgia was spawned by a trip down memory lane yesterday. My brain went down a rabbit hole. It connected Edmund Burke and his political philosophy to the television show, Burke’s Law. But then Gene Barry starred in Burke’s Law and my favorite Gene Barry role was Bat Masterson.
That opened a floodgate of old memories. Anyone who lived in the 50s and 60s, who also had a television with at least two channels that they could watch… You had to watch at least one Western, maybe one each day. More than one? Okay, I was a tube head in those days. The television was my babysitter far too often.
Boys being boys, my friends all wanted to be Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, one of the Mavericks, or the Lone Ranger. I wanted to be Bat Masterson. I finally got my cane and derby hat, but I lost focus somewhere along the line.
I know of no one who wanted to be Rowdy Yates from Rawhide. He played the impetuous cowboy on the cattle drive opposite the lead. Whatever happened to the guy who played him? What was his name? Flint? No, no. Clint! Clint Eastwood? Sorry, the lead was Eric Fleming as Gil Favor, if anyone remembers that.
As I looked through an internet list of Western TV shows, I saw a lot that I recognized, either watching them when they first came on or in syndication.
One show that I recognized instantly was Lawman. John Russell played the Lawman, the typical look of the lawman, tall, thin, gray hair, black mustache, stern jaw. Kind of sounds like Richard Boone as Paladin (to follow). His deputy was played by Peter Brown, who had that 50s-60s heartthrob look. But the only thing I really remember about the show, other than the two main characters, was the theme song. I was singing it as soon as I saw the name of the show, for obvious reasons.
Okay, my wife could not remember Lawman, but she often sings a different theme song. And she can still remember every word of the theme for Have Gun Will Travel. Did she have a thing for Paladin or did she like the song? She was into Country / Western music, growing up in El Paso, Texas.
Here is an alphabet, almost, of the Westerns that I remember watching in the 50s and 60s. We did not get a television until 1954, and only with two good channels, but there was always syndication. Only “Q” and “X” are missing.
A – Adventures of Jim Bowie, Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock
B – Bat Masterson, The Big Valley, Bonanza
C – Cheyenne, The Cisco Kid, Colt .45
D- Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Death Valley Days, the Deputy
E – Empire
F – F Troop, Fury
G – The Gene Autry Show, The Guns of Will Sonnett, The Gunslinger (I do not remember this one, only twelve episodes, but my wife does), Gunsmoke
H – Have Gun Will Travel, Here Come the Brides, the High Chapparal, Hondo, Hopalong Cassidy
I – The Iron Horse
J – Johnny Ringo, Judge Roy Bean
K – Klondike
L – Laramie, Laredo, Lawman, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Lone Ranger
M – Maverick, My Friend Flicka
N – The Northwest Passage
O – Outlaws, Overland Trail
P – Pony Express
Q – no “Q” Westerns during the 50s or 60s
R – Rango, Rawhide, Red Ryder, The Rifleman, The Roy Rogers Show
S – Stoney Burke
T – Tales of the Texas Rangers, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Tall Man, The Texan, Texas John Slaughter, Tombstone Territory
U – Union Pacific
V – The Virginian
W – Wagon Train, Wanted: Dead or Alive, the Wild, Wild West
X – no “X” Westerns, Sorry
Y – Yancy Derringer
Z – Zorro
A few of these may be significant for odd reasons.
- If I said, “Hey, Cisco.” What would you say? “Hey, Pancho.” And holding the first vowel way too long in each case.
- Stoney Burke may not be that memorable, but it launched the title character onto a different type of show. Jack Lord was Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five O.
- Rango makes the list as maybe the best of Tim Conway’s failed comedy shows.
- I never watched F Troop until syndication. It was opposite one of my favorite shows, but I cannot remember what that show was.
- I hardly remember Red Ryder, only a couple of episodes, but a Scouting friend used the phrase, “You betchum, Red Ryder” which became a catch phrase when I was a Cub / Boy Scout leader, meaning “Yes, I can get that done right away!”
- Two of these were on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color: Davy Crockett and Texas John Slaughter. Oddly, my brother had a roommate who was a nephew, or great-nephew?, of the real Texas John Slaughter when he spent a year in college at Southwestern in Memphis, TN, now Rhodes College, I think.
- And what happened to that host of Death Valley Days? Tall fellow. Said, “well” a lot? Ronald Reagan, I think his name was. I do remember the sponsor. Twenty mule team Borax. The wagons were so heavy, it took 20 mules to pull the wagon. Do they still sell that?
We could get into why this type of show has been “cancelled” and there are many reasons. But many of those shows could easily be set somewhere other than the wild west and they could work.
My favorites from this list are Bat Masterson, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Laramie, Laredo, Lawman, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and the Wild Wild West. I know, nine is an odd number, and probably the one that I saw most in syndication was Roy Rogers. Tops for a thirty minute show was Bat Masterson, and maybe a tie between Bonanza and The Wild Wild West for an hour long show, for different reasons. Bonanza – it was simply a family show. The Wild Wild West – it was campish James Bond in a Western setting, and they never apologized.
There were a few more 50s or 60s Westerns that I did not include, because I cannot remember watching them.
If you ever saw any of 50s or 60s Westerns, even in syndication or the golden oldies channels (having recently seen a lot of Laramie), which were your favorites?