GAYS MILLS - Last week, I confessed that my childhood heroes were the silver screen cowboys. Riding into a dicey situation on a good horse and with a faithful side-kick by their side, they showed up, heroically, just in time to help somebody out.
Sometimes, a whole frontier town of pioneers in some kind of jam was aided by a drifting duo.
The heroes all had great horses of course. Those horses were a crucial part of the classic western image and an important part of the hero’s persona. Horses like Roy’s Trigger, the Lone Ranger’s Silver, Gene’s Champion, Hoppy’s Topper, Cisco’s Diablo, Tonto’s Scout, and Dale Evan’s Buttermilk were all important parts of the cast.
All of those larger-than-life characters were unique, yet similar. Most were just drifting around the young old west. All were clean cut, strong, upstanding, brave, and honest. This was before movies started showcasing anti-heroes such as the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for example. They could be mysterious: the Lone Ranger with his mask comes to mind. In a very forward-looking move, the Cisco Kid and Pancho were Latino heroes.
There was always a damsel involved, usually in distress, but at end of each short feature (only about 60 minutes!) our hero rode off to see what else he could see.
Enterprising American business made it easy to extend movie fantasies after the shows were over. In the 50s, you could, and did, buy cap pistols, lunch boxes, coloring books, comic books, pajamas, wall paper, and many other things to honor and flaunt your favorite cowboy star.
And, of course, the clothes were memorable. Authentic pictures of the old west never show the kind of clothes these movie heroes wore. Roy Rogers, in particular, was one well-dressed buckaroo. Those bold, flashy plaid shirts with fringe on the sleeves and big western yoke patterns on the back, tight pants tucked inside the gorgeous boots, fancy neckerchiefs, leather gloves, and a white Stetson hat that never came off in a fight or in flight.
Wikipedia, the online, evolving encyclopedia, has a good article on westerns. They list no less than 22 subgenres of westerns. In the article, author and screenwriter Frank Gruber lists seven basic plots for westerns:
Union Pacific story. The plot concerns construction of a railroad, a telegraph line, or some other type of modern technology or transportation. Wagon train stories fall into this category.
Ranch story. The plot concerns threats to the ranch from rustlers or large landowners attempting to force out the proper owners.
Empire story. The plot involves building a ranch empire or an oil empire from scratch, a classic rags-to-riches plot.
Revenge story.The plot often involves an elaborate chase and pursuit by a wronged individual, but it may also include elements of the classic mystery story.
Cavalry-and-Indian story. The plot revolves around "taming" the wilderness for white settlers.
Outlaw story. The outlaw gangs dominate the action.
Marshal story. The lawman and his challenges drive the plot.
I wonder who the heroes are for kids of today. There seem to be a lot of super heroes around, heroes with super powers, capes, sci-fi weaponry, and super side-kicks. There are animated heroes, galactic heroes, plastic heroes (Legos), cartoon heroes, lots of choices. The cowboys were more down to earth, literally, and easier to relate to, but times have changed. Darn few of us grew up to be cowboys, but it sure was fun to fantasize about life lived the western way.
And I still gravitate to and buy, for some reason, bold plaid shirts. No fringe. No yoke.