It’s true, you may not want to read this if you’re a lover of Hollywood’s version of the old West! But I live twenty minutes from the screen capital of the world. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t meet someone, or speak to someone, or SEE someone related to the industry. My very own daughter will soon have in-laws high in the ranks of television and movie producing, but I digress.
Some people ask, why don’t we see more westerns on the screen?
The answer might be as simple as the bottom line. Time period movies are very costly. Setting up towns, designing the costumes, acquiring the props of everyday items used in the west is expensive. Notice they don’t make “B” movie westerns, better known back in the day as Audie Murphy or Ronald Reagan films because in order to make a western, big stars, like Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Renee Zelwigger, Ed Harris or Kevin Costner have to be associated with the project to bring in the big producing dollars.
I am looking forward to the new western movie called Appaloosa which does look terrific. If we’re lucky, we get one really great western per year!
So, what is fact and what is myth in the Old West?
The towns we recognize on the silver screen may not have looked like that in real life. A town usually was plotted out to have many more streets than just one down the center of town. In movies, rarely do we see residential homes in town, yet the majority of people living in the area, aside from ranchers and farmers, did live within the town’s limits in houses. Most homes were located at the end of the streets to avoid summer dust and spring mud as people drove by. Decent folk, often wanted to stay away from the center of town, where saloons brought in gamblers and drunks. Also, good people segregated their families from the part of town known as the “dead line” where brothels and immoral practices were doing business.
Towns in the west were dirty, smelly and cramped (except Wildflower Junction) with most buildings right next to each other so if one would catch fire, often the entire street burned down.
Railroad towns were formed in the shape of a T where the top portion being the street paralleling the railroad and the straight part being the main street in town.
Lawlessness in the West, has been blown way out of proportion. Yes, there was crime, but not to the extreme that we see onscreen with shoot-outs and duels and bank robberies happening in every other scene. Dime novels helped to spur this myth with gunfights in the streets and stagecoach robberies and stories that were clearly made up fantasies of some very imaginative writers. The true story is much more boring, of hard work, and fending for oneself and trying to make ends meet. Many did carry guns, but that was less for protection from gunmen and more to hunt for food and to protect themselves from wild animals. In fact, many towns had ordinances that made it illegal to carry guns in town. People entering the town often stopped by the sheriff office to surrender their weapons during their stay. Yes, the frontier, mountain and plains towns had some violence, but many would more likely die from starvation, thirst, falling off a mountain or horse, freezing, snakebite or being attacked by wild animals.
Not nearly as romantic, is it?
Here are some widely used scenes in movies and maybe even in books that are have truly failed when actually tried, according to the TV show Myth-Busters.
Procedure/Experimental Design: Build a wild west jail and attach a strong rope to the bars. Attach the other end of the rope to a horse. Make the horse gallop as fast as he can with the most power possible to try to pull the bars off the wall.
Results: The horses couldn’t pull the bars out.Conclusion: Required force not capable of being supplied by horses.
Procedure/Experimental Design: —- To build a jail wall to the specs of a true old west jail cell
Conclusion: —- A stick of dynamite will potentially kill the person you are attempting to free and barely loosens the bars enough to remove them
Busted or Not Busted: —-Busted
So, I guess what we lovers of westerns have to do, is suspend our disbelief for a few hours and simply enjoy the aura of the Wild West.
Just pretend you didn’t read this.
And tell us what other westerns clichés you notice that couldn’t possibly hold true? What favorite western, either book or movie depicted the grittiness and truth that was the Old West?
Since our 2nd Prize Sizzling Stampede Contest winner didn’t claim their prize, post a comment and we’ll draw a name randomly today for that wonderful prize of two autographed books and a Tom Selleck DVD!
Click on cover to purchase from Amazon