HUNKY COWBOYS: The Western Heroes We Love

bonanza.jpgMy first crush was on Little Joe Cartwright.  I went to bed at night dreaming scenes of living on the Ponderosa with that dreamy studmuffin, and I resented every actress who played a romantic interest opposite Michael Landon.  I guess I age myself drastically (as if my children hadn’t already done that) when I admit to watching The Lone Ranger in black and white on our Zenith portable every Saturday afternoon, and to admiring the length of fringe that dangled from Tonto’s deerskin tunic.  I owned one much like it in the 60s. 

clint_eastwood_josie_wales.jpgAnd yes, even then, Clint Eastwood charismatically held a young audience in awe with his role as Rowdy Yates on the series Rawhide.  Yee haw!   Head ’em up, move ’em out! Wagonmaster, Ward Bond wasn’t exactly a typical leading man, but Wagon Train held America’s attention weekly.  It must have been Robert Fuller. 

john_wayne.jpgThe Big Valley — I have a son named Jared by the way — Bat Masterson, The Texas Rangers, Maverick, Sugarfoot, The Rebel, The Grey Ghost, Have Gun Will Travel, Paladin, The Virginian, and let us not forget John Wayne and all the western movies of our early years, shaped our young minds.  I mean, who could forget Fess Parker in a pair of buckskins?  

fess_parker_daniel_boone.jpgThe American West is a much-romanticized part of our history, our heritage.  We all know that life in Dodge City was dirty, that hundreds of men, women and children died along the trails on their way west, that bathroom facilities were nonexistent and hygiene at a disgusting low, but we’ve chosen to remember and glorify the courage and the pioneer spirit of those men and women who forged our nation and ‘civilized’ the West. I dare say none of us read romance for a reality check.  The condition of our society and the situations that surround us in everyday life may be why escaping into the pages of a book is so appealing.   

cheyenne.jpgIn a romance we know no matter what befalls the characters, good triumphs over evil, and happily-ever-after is in the wings.  

Our western hero exemplifies strength, loyalty, capability and security. The rancher/farmer’s sweat and blood are imbedded in his land-as deeply as the riverbeds and the roots of the ancient trees.  The land may have been his father’s before him, or he could have broken his back to earn it.  In any case he will die to keep it.  Solidarity.  And any man who would pour this much passion into his land, will love his woman even more ardently.clint_walker.jpg

The western hero can hold his own when it comes to raising the children he’s fathered, too.  He loves animals and children and protects and nurtures them.  He will fight renegades and weather and anything in his way to lay claim to his child. The cowboy/rancher can be a blend of the alpha-beta male, a loner and a man not in need of the things a woman can ‘do’ for him.  He can make it on his own because he can cook over a campfire and fix anything that breaks, but he appreciates a woman’s differences and skills, and eventually accepts the nurturing she needs to give.  He needs the love and gentleness, and the ‘taming’ she represents.  

dalerobertson.jpgTo nearly all women I’ve spoken with on the subject of westerns and cowboys, physical appearance plays a major part in the attraction.  The reality was that dungarees or Levis were not exactly slim cut or sexy.  Dungarees were stiff and probably dirty, and few real cowboys fit the image of the Marlboro man, but our fantasy cowboy has a lean backside in a pair of tight-fitting jeans, long legs, and that ever-present Stetson pulled low over his eyes.  Ever notice how a pair of chaps invariably draws the eyes to the uncovered sections of denim?

Our man wears his Colt strapped to his thigh, the holster rides his lean hips, and his spurs jangle.  This dangerous guy exudes sex appeal.   

sugarfoot2.jpgOur western hero is a hard body due to demanding work on the range, riding and roping, chasing outlaws, stopping the runaway stage, and sleeping on the ground.  He’s untamed, a little wild, and a lot sexy.  He doesn’t need a gym membership or a Stairmaster. These men work from sun up to sun down, except when they’re sweeping the heroine off her feet, and are not prone to laze away afternoons in front of the television.  For me, Kevin Costner was much more appealing in his duster in Wyatt Earp than on the golf course in Tip Cup.  And Sam Elliott without his hat and holster is just a trifle disappointing.  

big-valley.jpgThe western heroine is his equal.  She is not a helpless simpering female, but a woman with a goal of her own.  The simpler times allow us the imagery of less physical perfection and less emphasis on glamour.  Who wouldn’t rather be the height of appeal without having to wax, pluck, mousse and workout?  The reality of period clothing and lack of modern convenience is something few of us would actually care to experience, but our heroines don’t miss air conditioning or showers or microwaves.  Like her male counterpart, the western heroine beats the odds and overcomes adversities by sheer determination.  These are the strong, capable, courageous women we’d all like to be.  

jack_palance.jpgThe western villain can be the land, the weather, or the nastiest, smelliest dirtball who ever got his just reward.  Here’s where the line between right and wrong has changed.   Our television screens weren’t the only things that were black and white in the early days.  The concept of good and evil didn’t bear the current shades of gray.  

marshall-dillon.jpgIn the old westerns, the lines between right and wrong were clearly delineated.  If you stole a horse, you hung.  The villain accepted his punishment because he knew he’d done wrong.  The bad guys always got it in the end.  Justice was swift.  The good guy came out on top.   And just like identifying the hero by his white hat, you could tell the bad guy by his disreputable looks and black clothing.  Wouldn’t that be nice today?  There was a code of ethics among villains, too. Recent westerns have portrayed situations more realistically.  Native Americans weren’t the bad guys.  Heroes grew more three dimensional, too. 

But all things evolve.  I mean I didn’t stay in love with Little Joe.  I transferred the crush to Adam, probably because I was growing older.  Now I haven’t watched those Bonanza reruns in many years.  I think I’m afraid Lorne Greene will start looking good.

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25 thoughts on “HUNKY COWBOYS: The Western Heroes We Love”

  1. Cheryl, this blog is a masterpiece! You just explained to me why I write westerns. The characters, the values, the elements are so real and raw.
    LOL, to me Lorne Greene is already looking kinda cute…but larger-than-life Matt Dillon will always be my hero.

  2. Cheryl, the western is one of mystery, charisma, and the hunky cowboy. I loved all of the old TV shows, but my interest now has moved to more recent westerns like the new 3:10 to Yuma and Lonesome Dove and The Outsider. The recent shows seem to be better written and smarter. We have to have quicker plots and meaner bad guys. Guess times have changed and we lost our innocence. I still like the old ones though. They’re what I cut my teeth on.

    Great blog!

  3. LOL Isn’t that the truth about Loren Green. We watched Play Misty for Me last night. Clint Eastwood in … I think the movie was done in 1971. Yikes he was good looking. Yes, even in high waisted, avacodo green, polyester pants. And long wavy hair. My husband and sat there realizing he was eighty-ish now and talking about, if he was good looking in 1971, remember how he looked as Rowdy Yates?
    Ah, so hard to let our heroes grow up. James Garner was so amazing looking in Maverick. Aged well, but still, that youth just glowed.
    And Lee Majors in Big Valley, hmmmmmmmmmmmm….
    Okay, I certainly distracted myself from the subject. 🙂
    And I watched The Lone Ranger and Sky King (a new kind of cowboy) and Roy Rogers in black and white, too, Cheryl. And I’m certainly a youngster. 🙂
    I actually remember getting our first TV. I was about four. And yes, stop doing math, we were poor so we didn’t get a TV until……..1980.

    Okay, just suspend disbelief and move on people!

  4. Thank you, Elizabeth! Smooches!

    Thanks, Taryn.

    I agree that westerns have evolved with the times, Linda. But I do miss that distinct line between black and white.

    I do believe, you Mary. I do believe, I do believe.

  5. Patrick Wayne was interviewed on a tv show recently and said his father made like 171 movies over his 50 year career, most of them westerns. That’s 3 movies a year, every year and then some. They say, John Wayne is the biggest movie star in the world. Even to this day. I loved learning about him and feel he WAS everything the fantasy cowboy was – tall and handsome and strong of character. And I do like the old code of honor in westerns – the good prevailed, the bad got their due! What’s wrong with that?

  6. I must also say WOW Cheryl..this blog really is a masterpiece!!! The part about what they pour into and how much they love their land..and how they’d be even more aggresive and loving with their women (to sum up your description)…WOW..I realy enjoyed reading this one!

  7. This was a GREAT blog Cheryl. I too, had a crush on Little Joe. It’s the first T.V. show I remember watching on a regular basis. I think you’re right on the mark on all of your points. This was one of the best I’ve read.

  8. My husband is a farmer…darn near a rancher because we have a beef cattle herd, so lets call him one, huh?
    There is something different about a man who lives off the land. We’ve had friends who lost their farm or quit farming and they really don’t do well other places…well, that’s not right. They make GREAT employees…but they don’t take orders well or GIVE orders well. They’re just so used to being their own boss and doing everything themselves. And they seem to miss the land all their lives, even while they’re making far more money somewhere else.
    There’s a guy in our hometown who farms weekends and is an ironworker for a day job. My daughter saw him working as a foreman on the roof of the First National Bank tower in Omaha.
    Okay, this was the tallest building in Omaha, built by a big corporation and he’s the FOREMAN? This had to be the top job on the top project, earning top dollar for any iron working in the state, right?
    But all he wants to do is farm.
    I’m fond of saying, My husband puts in a 40 hours week by noon on Wednesday.
    The man has so many skills.
    I’ll comment on how much he knows about motors and he’ll scoff.
    I say, “So, honey, compare yourself to normal people, not specialists.” 🙂
    He knows more about motors than anyone other than a mechanic. More about wiring than anyone but an electrician, more about doctoring animals than anyone but a vet. The list goes on and on.
    One downside to that is we used to have this nasty tempermental lawn mower that would NOT START. So, he’d start it for me. He’d pretty much remove the entire workings of the lawnmower, then get the motor running, then reassemble the mower piece by piece and I’d be all set.
    Then he’d leave and the mower would die and not start again.
    I used to fanticize about shoving the thing over the edge of a bridge and unloading a shotgun into it as it fell into the river. In my fantasy there was a very satisfying explosion too, there had to be or my husband would have fished the thing out, patched the bullet homes, dried it off and gotten it going again.
    He’d say, “That mower’s got a Briggs and Stratton Engine. Made in America. It’ll run forever.”
    If I had occasional dreams about chasing my husband with the lawnmower, well, that’s the price he had to pay for being a rancher.

  9. Nothing wrong with the bad guys getting their dues, Charlene. I’m with you. Wish I’d seen that show on John Wayne.

    Well, thank you, Melissa and Betsy. It’s always a safe bet to talk about cowboys. LOL

    I love your stories, Mary. You could do a blog on the lawn lower!


  10. My mom wouldn’t let us watch Bonanza. She said it was too violent and she always called it Banana. We watched Ed Sullivan instead.
    If anyone wants to do a blog on him, I am so, so ready to comment!!!!!!!!!!

    I think I tried spinning plates, inspired by an act on Ed’s show.

    Mom could be violent herself.

    Wasn’t that sweet, really, when you think about it? That Bonanza was too violent? when you look at it now, it’s so mild.
    I am NOT letting her watch Die Hard with me, that’s for darn sure.

  11. Wonderfyul post Cheryl! I think I must have watched entirely too much tv as a teenager–I recognize almost all of those pictures. Gotta say John Wayne is my all time western hero!

  12. Hey! I still watch those Bananza reruns sometimes. And yes I was struck on Little Joe when I was growing up. He was just so cute. Adam was to. I always thought my brother looked like Hause.

  13. Oh, I *loved* Bonanza! I watched it on Saturday afternoons, right along with Gunsmoke (speaking of great heroines, I always loved Miss Kitty!) I’d have to say Little Joe was my favorite too, until I figured out he was Pa on Little House on the Prairie. LOL.

    Thanks for the great blog, Cheryl!

  14. That was wonderful Cheryl!

    Mary – I loved the comments about your husband.

    Julie – I wanted Charles to be my Pa.

  15. I agree with everything you said – and watched all the shows. I got to see Bonanza and Ed Sullivan lol. With only 3 channels back then you didn’t have a lot of choices lol. And we always had to watch what my dad wanted which luckily was all the cowboy shows you mentioned above.

  16. Cheryl, thanks for the trip down memory lane of all my favorite heros/shows, including Sky King (my Calif cousin named his son Skye.) Heard/saw Roy recently-his accent comes from Ohio- didn’t remember it being so DREAMY!

  17. Mary, my Mom let me watch Bonanza but was upset over violence when I saw John Wayne’s the Comancheros at a 6th grade bday party- the theater had projector problems with the chosen film so that was the alternate.

  18. Oh my gosh, I love all these pictures, Cheryl 🙂

    Can’t recall the name of actor who played the rugged, experienced cowboy in City Slickers…but I fell in love with his character *LOL* That thar was a real cowboy 😉 Weathered as he was *g*

    Thanks for the fun post, Cheryl!

  19. Hi Sherri and Julie! Michael Landon was still cute as Pa. Carolyn looked too old for him, though. jmho

    I know what you mean about three channels, Jeanne. Telling our kids about that is like saying we had to walk to school in the snow. They just don’t get it. And life before Internet?

    Howdy, Lou!

    Stacey, do you mean Jack Palance?

  20. Feminine women cross-dressing as ” cowboys ” is very sensual and excitingly sexual to me all my post-pubescent life. My sexiest cowgirl is Jane russell as ” Mike ” the outlaw leader of a gold robbing gang named collectively as ” The Torch ” from the 1952 movie ” Son of Paleface “. Jane wears the sexiest cowboy duds , consisting of : black stretch ski pants as her riding pants, black cowboy boots with her stirrup pants nicely taut into her boots, black skin tight shirt showing beautiful cleavage, modified cowboy Stetson hat, Lone Ranger ” Bohlin ” type black gun belt, twin holsters, shiny bullets on belt, silver spurs, elbow length leather fringed gloves; what a sight ! Roy Rogers who also has great looking/sexy cowboy duds , has his clothes ” swiped ” by Bob Hope for a little while. Jane Russell later on pistol whips Roy rogers from behind into unconscienciousness but fails to strip Roy of his ” fancy ” duds to put those clothes on herself to add to her ” cowboy wardrobe “. Jane would have looked super sexy prancing around in her new conquest clothes, pretending to be Roy Rogers, ” King of the Cowboys “.She would looking ” stunning ” in Roy’s piped trimmed pants and beautiful designed boots.

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