When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the most popular types of TV series and movies was the all-American cowboy western. You could scarcely turn on your TV or go to the movies without seeing heroes such as Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, or Gene Autry.
This fascination began on the radio and in the movies and carried over into television. Among the early radio westerns were Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Have Gun Will Travel and possibly the most popular, Gunsmoke.
On the radio series of Gunsmoke, William Conrad, who later played TV detective “Cannon”, played Matt Dillon. Howard McNear was the voice of Doc. McNear would later play barber Floyd Lawson on The Andy Griffith Show. McNear was considered to appear “too sinister” to play Doc on television. Can you imagine Floyd Lawson appearing sinister??
On June 24, 1949, Hopalong Cassidy, played by William Boyd, and his horse Topper, rode across the small screen and into the homes of western film lovers. Soon other TV western series such as Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, The Lone Ranger, and The Rifleman would follow. By 1959, westerns became so popular that they dominated other prime time TV series. From 1949 to the late ‘60s, there were over 100 western series that aired on the networks.
When westerns started appearing on TV, viewers avidly waited for their favorites. In any one week, westerns often received the highest viewer ratings. Viewers were able to escape their humdrum lives to watch their favorite heroes overcome all adversaries. It was good vs bad, hero vs. villain in the old nineteenth century west.
Westerns sought to teach us the good values of honesty and integrity, of hard work, of determination to succeed, and justice for all.
One of the early TV westerns that I always liked was The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The Lone Ranger personified all that was good in people. The Lone Ranger and Tonto would always save the day without staying around for the thanks.
In my household, all the westerns got top billing. I think we watched them all. Among the family favorites was Wagon Train. The story is about the wagon train heading west. Ward Bond was the wagon master and who could forget Paul Brinegar as Wishbone the cook. They featured many famous actors and actresses as guest stars each week.
Another of my family’s favorites was Rawhide, the story of the never-ending cattle drive. This is where we first got to see the young Clint Eastwood as one of the cattle drivers, Rowdy Yates.
In the afternoon after my brother and I got home from school, there were a variety of 30 minute westerns that we both loved to watch. There was Maverick (James Garner, Bat Masterson( Gene Barry), The Rebel (Nick Adams), and Wanted Dead of Alive (Steve McQueen). Each day was different, and I’m sure lots of kids rushed home like we did to catch their favorites.
Saturdays were no let-down either with Fury, Rin-Tin-Tin, Sky King, and the ever popular Roy Rogers Show. I particularly enjoyed Roy Rogers because there was Dale Evans to represent the cowgirls.
Beginning in 1956, and lasting until 1975, was the longest running prime-time drama of all time ... Gunsmoke. It starred James Arness, Amanda Blake, Dennis Weaver, and Milburn Stone. Without a doubt, this was the most popular western of them all. I still watch some of the reruns on cable. I particularly enjoy the black and white episodes.
James Arness starred as the hero, Matt Dillon. He was not the studio’s first choice for the role. They actually wanted John Wayne. Wayne turned down the role, but recommended Arness. Others who were considered for the role were William Conrad who had been the radio Matt Dillon, and Raymond Burr.
Last but not least, who could forget Bonanza. This was the story of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his three sons, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon). They lived on their huge Ponderosa Ranch in Nevada. I recall that this came on Sunday night at 9 PM. Our family was always tuned in. You can also still watch reruns of this series on cable.
There were way too many more westerns to mention. I looked at a list on Wikipedia, and counted 197 programs appearing from 1949 until the 1990s.
That brings me to today. Some time back, I found a cookbook while browsing on eBay titled The All-American Cowboy Cookbook. I’m sharing some recipes from that cookbook today. This were all recipes submitted by either actors or actresses who played in westerns; real-life cowboys, or cowboy singers. I have noted at the end of the recipe who the recipe came from.
As always, enjoy!
Hoss’s Big Texas Chili
(Not that Dan really measured the ingredients!)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless chuck, but into 1-inch cubes
2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 to 6 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon oregano
2 10 1/4 ounce cans beef or chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 15-ounce can pinto beans (optional)
Shredded Longhorn cheese
Heat oil in a 4-quart pan over medium heat. Add the beef and stir until meat changes color, but do not brown. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Combine chili powder, cinnamon, flour, and oregano, and stir into meat. Add broth, salt, and pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, partially covered, for 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally. Add beans, if desired, and cook for 30 more minutes. May be prepared in advance and refrigerated. Re-heat before serving. Serve with “serve yourself” dishes of shredded cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, and lime wedges.
(Dan Blocker, actor who portrayed Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza.)
Ruth’s Cabbage Soup
4 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
4 8-ounce cans water
2 16-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, blend in blender with 2 onions
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon seasoning salt
½ teaspoon celery salt
2 to 3 pounds short ribs or neck bones
1 medium or ½ large cabbage
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Combine tomato sauce, water, tomatoes, and onions in large heavy pot. Add bay leaf, seasoning salt, celery salt, and ribs. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours. Shred cabbage and add to pot with brown sugar and lemon juice. Continue to cook for 2 more hours. Serve with warm black bread.
(Terrie and Ken Curtis, “Festus” on Gunsmoke, actor and singer. Ruth was Festus’ mule.)
Eatin’ speaks louder than words.
½ pound thick-sliced bacon
1 ½ cups sliced onions
6 medium potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 ½ cups milk
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Cut bacon cross-wise into ½-inch pieces and saute in a skillet until crisp. Remove, drain on paper towels, and set aside. Saute onions in bacon drippings until tender. Remove half of the onions. Arrange half of the potatoes over onions in a skillet. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add remaining onions. Top with remaining potatoes and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Pour milk over potatoes. Add half of the reserved bacon and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Sprinkle with parsley.
(Clint Howard, “Leon” the sandwich eating kid on the Andy Griffith Show), singer/songwriter and actor, brother to Ron Howard who played Opie Taylor. The boys’ real-life father, Rance Howard, played the dad in the TV series “Gentle Ben” which Clint also starred in.)
Duke’s Hominy Grits Souffle
6 cups water
1 ½ cups quick cooking grits
1 1/4 sticks butter
1 pound mild Cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, beaten
In a saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the grits and continue to boil for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and add the butter, cheese, salt, and eggs. Place in an 8 x 10 inch baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 1 ½ hours. Serve hot.
(John Wayne, actor.)
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