THE LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS – THE GARRY VERSION

“Lock n’ load” was the political slogan of a presidential candidate I was covering in the ’80’s. He wore a white Stetson and a gold string tie over his flowered cowboy shirt. As a reporter, I was objective and clear-headed. As a lifelong fan of movie cowboy heroes, I was privately incensed. You don’t use cowboys as currency for political favor. Not with me. My heroes have always been cowboys.

“So, who is your favorite cowboy hero?” the candidate asked, clearly trying to curry a reporter’s favor. I leaned back in my chair – just like Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp slowly leaned back in his chair outside the saloon in “My Darling Clementine.”

Actually, it was a good question. But I knew the politician was just trying to win me over just like they tried to ingratiate themselves with the townspeople in so many westerns.

The politician stared at me with a smile. One of those smarmy smiles, like he was going to clean me out in a game of 3 card monte at the local saloon with all the boys looking on from the bar, beer foam over their grins. You could hear giggles of anticipation. He arched his eyebrows: “John Wayne, right?”

He was so sure of himself as we locked eyes. I sighed. Eyes locked for long minutes before I slowly responded, “I never hurry a man who wants to die.” The politician’s broad smile became quizzical. “What?”, he asked, “What picture did Duke say that line?”

I held my smile. “George Peppard, ‘Rough Night In Jericho'”, facing off Slim Pickens’ nasty deputy”. A good, underrated western, I observed. With Dean Martin as town boss, cattle baron, and top dog villain. “Dino was so natural in westerns. I wish he had made more of them,” I continued with the pol just looking at me.

“But what about the Duke?” the candidate pushed back, playing with his string tie.

I was pacing myself now, trying not to unload with a torrent of movies, actors, and memorable lines. Cowboy heroes? It was like asking a kid what flavor ice cream as he stared into one of those old drug store soda fountains with myriad flavors.

As a kid, it was John Wayne as the favorite silver screen cowboy. He was “The Duke”. The fella no bullies trifled with and no women sassed. I loved the way Wayne strutted with that particular gait and the way he slow-talked with emphasis always on the first syllable of his words, pausing before he finished his line for emphasis.

However, Duke Wayne wasn’t always available at the neighborhood movie house. That’s where I bonded with the cheaper B-movies which were plentiful. The B-movie trail was full of heroes like Johnny Mack Brown, Tim Holt, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and the younger guns like Rory Calhoun, Audie Murphy, Rod Cameron, George Montgomery, John Payne, Joel McCrea and RANDOLPH SCOTT.

Randolph Scott! He looked like he was born in the saddle. He usually rode a palomino, wore two guns, hats with nice brims and kept his dialogue to a minimum.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in “Ride the High Country.”

Scott kissed women but didn’t waste time with mushy romantic dialogue. “I’ll be back” was his way of declaring genuine affection. It’s not for nothing that Mel Brooks has a line dedicated to Randolph Scott in “Blazing Saddles,” his brilliant spoof of westerns. During the late 1940s and 50s, the Universal-International Studio specialized in lean, color westerns that starred many young actors just learning their trade. You could see the early versions of Audie Murphy (forever young), Rock Hudson, Clint Walker, Dennis Weaver, Tony Curtis, David Janssen and James Garner, just to name a few who would become stars.

The Magnificent Seven

There were also the gritty character actors like Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef, Jock Mahoney, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Richard Jaeckel, L.Q. Jones, Leo V. Gordon, Dub Taylor, Strother Martin, Jack Elam, Jack Lambert, James Best and so many more who would achieve acclaim. Back then, they were the bad guys, the roughnecks and the fellas who menaced the women, the steers and challenged our heroes to duels on Main Street at High Noon.

If Duke Wayne was my favorite silver screen cowboy, he would have competition as I grew up. There was Jimmy Stewart who jumpstarted his lagging career after World War Two with a series of now classic westerns made during the 50’s – usually with director Anthony Mann. I now consider these westerns 101: “Winchester ’73,” “Bend Of The River,” “The Naked Spur,” and “The Man From Laramie.”

John Wayne (left) and James Stewart (right)

Stewart evolved from the idealistic, good natured Jefferson Smith of the 1930s to the troubled, conscience-stricken hero of the 1950s often bent on revenge. Joel McCrea followed the same path. From rom-com leading man of the 30s to no-nonsense westerns, beginning in the late 40s. The teaming of McCrea and Randolph Scott in Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride The High Country” (1962) came out the same year as John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Both films began the farewell to silver screen heroes as we knew and loved them.

John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, the man who really shot Liberty Valance, dies as an unknown pauper, remembered only by his close friends. The “Print the Legend” line excludes Wayne’s character from his rightful accolades as does history so often in our real life study of the old west.

Tombstone

Joel McCrea, in one of the most poignant death scenes in westerns, tells old pal Randolph Scott he doesn’t want others to see him this way. McCrea, on the ground, expires – his old face and eyes shutting in a memorable close up with funeral music taking us through the closing credits. An elegy to westerns and silver screen cowboys we knew them.

To some degree, Clint Eastwood brought back westerns in the 1990s, but we seem to know too much to make them like we used to make them. They are so much grittier. Meaner of spirit and often lacking in any kind of humor.

And now, it’s time to watch “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again. To the westerns we love and have passed into history, cheers!



Categories: Anecdote, Arizona, Garry Armstrong, Movies, old movies, western movies

Tags: , , , ,

16 replies

  1. WHEN I WAS 17, A FRIEND OF MY FATHER’S WHO WAS PRODUCING B WESTERNS, WANTED ME TO WORK IN SOME OF THEM BECAUSE I WAS A GOOD RIDER AND CONSIDERED “PRETTY.
    I WANTED TO DO IT, BY MY FATHER KIBOSHED IT. HE DIDN’T WANT ME SUBJECT TO THE TREATMENT YOUNG WOMEN OFTEN SUFFERED ON TH SET. BY THE TIME I WAS VISITING THE SETS WHEN I WAS A PUBLICIST FOR DESILU, I KNEW HOW TO HANDLE THE GUYS AND WE HAD A GOOD WORKING ATMOSPHERE.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, THERE USED TO BE A THEATER IN HOLLYWOOD THAT PLAYED ONLY B WESTERNS. . I ATTENDED OFTEN.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Garry and I had a couple of those too. Both were a long walk from home, but they were cheap (10 or 11 cents), so if you walked you could buy popcorn. We were young and walking was okay. Turned out Garry and I went to the same movie houses but since he is 5-years older than me, by the time I was hiking there with my girl friends, he was in the Marines. We caught up in college.

      It’s nice that we share a love of westerns. I’ve gotten very sensitized to treatment of Indians and while you can’t exclude them from all westerns — you’d miss most of the movies that way — I do try to NOT watch ones that I find offensive, which have turned out to be a lot more than I expected. That’s what you get, I suppose, from having Native friends.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia, the best place in town.

      There’s nothing like a lean B-western with a clear sense of right and wrong.

      I guess I spent much of my youth riding those silver screen trails. Now, the last roundup is approaching.

      Gotta go. I’m burnin’ daylight, Patricia.

      Like

  3. My husband lets me know when a Randolph Scott movie is on TV. I will always take the time to watch him. To me he was always a great blend of John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It has taken me a while to learn to enjoy Randolph Scott, but I have. I have a few other faves including “Along Came Jones” with Garry Cooper, “The Cheyenne Social Club” which has both James Stewart and Henry Fonda (they were best friends) and so many more. I was very disappointed that the cowboy life was never mine. For a long time, that’s what I was planning 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Lois, your husband has wonderful taste. YOU and Randolph Scott westerns.

      I agree Scott was a blend of Wayne and Stewart. Scott actually did several westerns for Wayne’s production company (BATJAC) when Duke was busy acting in other films. “7 Men From Now” is such a film. Scott probably is better than Wayne would’ve been in this film. Scott and Wayne team up for the excellent ’41 version of “The Spoilers” that has that epic 11 minute fist fight at the end. Marlene Dietrich was the love interest – for both guys? A man never talks about a lady in saloons, Pilgrim.

      Randolph “The Gentleman From Virginia” Scott (Bio title)– did a number of classic westerns in the 50’s. They were lean, well acted and directed. Budd Boeticher was Scott’s director for films like “Ride Lonesome, “The Tall T”, “Comanche Station” and “Buchanan Rides Alone”. The supporting cast always had wonderful villains like Claude Akins, Lee Marvin, James Best, Leo V. Gordon and even Lorne Greene in a pre “Bonanza” screen appearance. Pa Cartwright was a slimy bad guy in a Scott western.
      The teaming of Scott and Joel McCrea for “Ride The High Country” was inspirational and, probably, Sam “the Wild Bunch” Peckinpah’s finest film. As mentioned, John Ford teamed Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne the same year, 1962, for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, certainly an elegy for the old westerns we loved as kids.

      Probably the best western, in my opinion, was John Ford’s “The Searchers” (’56/WB). Duke Wayne gave the finest performance of his career as the bitter, racist and lonely hard case. Wayne’s Tom Doniphon was the cumulative western hero – from William S. Hart to Clint Eastwood – whose inner demons prevent him from finding any happiness except a solitary life on the range. Truly, the best western I’ve ever seen.

      A side note: I met Buster Crabbe back in the 80’s. Crabbe, of course, was most famous for his “Flash Gordon” movie serials — staples for young movie mavens in the 40’s and 50’s. Crabbe also played Tarzan and a number of westerns through the late 60’s.

      Buster Crabbe’s favorite cowboy hero? Tom Mix!

      My Heroes have Always Been Cowboys.

      That’s a take!

      Liked by 1 person

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