One of the reasons I started writing westerns was being thoroughly addicted to television westerns in the fifties and sixties and seventies. I loved them all, but I certainly had my favorites: “The Virginian”, “Rawhide”, “Wagon Train,” “Cimarron Strip,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and on and on. Of course I also liked “Bonanza” and “The Big Valley” and other family oriented westerns, but the ones that really appealed to me featured the lone tough hero with a well-concealed heart of gold. He’s the hero I wrote in my westerns, including the one published in September, “The Lawman.” He’s the hero I truly love.
One trivia answer: the most popular genre on television during the 1950’s and 1960’s was westerns. There were several hundred western series during those decades. In checking a list of series for this blog, I found some that entirely escaped me. “Bordertown,” for one. “Brave Eagle” for another. And then “The Californians.”
I have mourned their loss. Oh, a few producers have tried. There was the “Magnificent Seven” that had a brief run. And the “Young Riders”. But none had the impact and staying power of their predecessors. I fumed and fussed, and finally had to be satisfied with Encore’s Western Channel where I’ve happily indulged in the nostalgia of “The Virginian”, “Gunsmoke”, and the enigmatic Paladin.
I was going to blog about something else today, but then on Saturday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Cracker Barrel (I go only once a year to get country ham and their wonderful cheesy hashbrowns because that’s about all my body should have in one year). Now Saturday is not a good day to go. Everyone in Memphis goes on Saturday morning, and there’s always a waiting time. Waiting times mean browsing. Browsing means sales. It always does for me, anyway, because it’s a great place to find some oddity that’s great for a gift basket or dirty Santa gift or little token of appreciation to someone.
I found the mother lode this time: an entire rack of collections of old western television series. Among them was a CD with the first season of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” with Steve McQueen. All 36 episodes. My fingers itched to grab all the series, but I disciplined my self and only took the McQueen series. Now if “Rawhide” had been there, I would have been in real trouble. Still, I might have to check back next week. Minus the country ham.
In any event, I don’t know if you all remember “Wanted: Dead and Alive.” Steve McQueen played Josh Randall, a moody bounty hunter who used a Winchester sawed-off shotgun. He was a man of few words who gave half – or even all – of his reward money to charity, then disappeared. I remember him as being absolutely relentless in pursuit of a wanted man but protective of children and women. I’m sure he had a secret somewhere, but I’ll have to listen to the series to discover it. I might add I was/am a huge Steve McQueen fan. Maybe it was the smoldering blue eyes. Or the quirky grin. Or the laconic aloneness.
Now I look forward to hosting a “Wanted” Dead or Alive” marathon and inviting my niece and grandnieces, all of whom I’ve addicted to westerns as well.
And I had to share my find with you, just in case you share my obsession and have a Cracker Barrel nearby. Thirty six episodes for $12.99. There were also seasons of “The Virginian,” “Wagon Train,” “Bonanza” and “The Rifleman.” And then there was a three-CD library of episodes from a variety of western series.
What is your favorite western from the past? And why? And do you mourn, as I do, their absence from the small – or maybe not quite so small – screen today?