Anne McAllister Loves Cowboys–especially Jess Harper from Laramie

Barbara S pic
Anne McAllister

First I want to say thank you to all the members of the Pistols & Petticoats blog for inviting me to visit with you all today. Cowboys have been near and dear to my heart since I was five and fell in love for the first time.

The object of my affection was, of course, a cowboy. He was tall, dark and handsome (5’9″ is tall to a five-year old!).   I followed him everywhere, imprinting on him like a duck.

When he went away again, I was bereft. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a time when every other show on television was a western. I was enthralled.

I was also selective. One cowboy above all set my heart to beating faster — Jess Harper, the second in command at the stage stop on Laramie. (photo attribution to ABC Television) Jess was played by Robert Fuller who understood the finer points of playing a cowboy hero. He had the tall (well, taller than me), dark and handsome bits down pat. He had a gravelly baritone voice that still makes my ears tingle just to think about. Mostly, though, he understood that Jess had to live by his own moral code. The writers of Laramie seemed to understand this, too. It was a western ahead of its time in that respect.

I loved Jess not just because he was gorgeous in a rugged, rough-hewn way. I loved him for the choices he made. What Jess chose to do in any given situation was not always what the law decreed was proper. It was what deep down in his gut, he believed was right. And he arrived at that conclusion after a lot of soul searching. He anguished over the decisions he made.

Even as a child, I loved an anguished hero.

Anne McAllister cowoboy
Jess Harper from Laramie played by Robert Fuller Attribution to ABC Television

I wasn’t the only one. At a writers’ conference a number of years ago, I was tipping back in my chair, dozing a bit and contemplating lunch, when western historical author Jessica Douglass talked about cowboy — particularly Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza who she always fantasized was “her brother” with whom she had great adventures. But the real hero of her fantasies, she went on, was Jess Harper who was “definitely NOT her brother.”

All four legs of my chair hit the ground with the thump. Jess was two-timing me with her! I was appalled. So was she. But eventually we agreed that we both had excellent taste in men — and cowboy heroes — and that Jess was the quintessential cowboy hero.

We even spoke at the RWA National Conference on the topic of My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, because of Jess Harper whom Robert Fuller had made so real.

Preparing the talk we decided to send Robert Fuller a letter asking if he would like to comment on the character he’d played so well. Clearly a fan girl heart beats in most of us long after the cowboy has ridden off into the sunset.

One December afternoon, a month or so later the phone rang right when all the telemarketers and political pollsters in Iowa regularly ring. I was not enthused. Imagine my surprised when, instead of a pollster, a remarkably recognizable baritone said, “This is Robert Fuller.”

Believe me, inside this grown-up otherwise responsible adult mother of four, a 13 year old fan girl was hyper-ventilating.

Anne McAllister cover
Click to Buy ‘Last Year’s Bride’

But I managed to marshal my wits and most of my brain cells and we chatted about Jess. I was gratified to learn that he shared our view about Jess’s need to create and adhere to his own moral code. He thought it was the best role he’d ever had. He recognized and articulated his feeling about Jess’s code of honor needing to be personally arrived at. He was as passionate about it as Jess was.

Talking to him then, I realized that a Jess Harper sort of cowboy embodies what I value in all my heroes. Whether they are bull riders or CEOs, architects or archaeologists, opal miners-turned-entrepreneurs or ranchers struggling to make a living on the land they love — all McAllister heroes are at heart ‘cowboy heroes.’ They all have a personal code of honor they are trying to live up to. It isn’t always easy — in fact sometimes it causes more anguish than joy — but it’s not just a part of who they are, it’s the essence of who they are. That’s why I love them.

And I’m happy to report that I had pretty good taste when I was 13 years old!

Anne McAllister

Anne McAllister has written nearly 70 books for Harlequin, Silhouette and Tule Publishing, many of them cowboys — and all of them, at heart, no matter how they earn their living, are cowboy heroes.  
Presently she is hard at work on a four book series for Tule Publishing’s Montana Born imprint called Men of Hard Broke Creek due to come out in 2016.  One of them is the brother of her most recent cowboy hero, Cole McCullough, of Last Year’s Bride.
She has an electronic copy of Last Year’s Bride, to send to the winner chosen from among the commenters.  All you have to do to enter is tell her what appeals to you about the cowboy hero.  
She’d love to chat with you so stop by and visit!
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32 thoughts on “Anne McAllister Loves Cowboys–especially Jess Harper from Laramie”

  1. Oh my goodness, I would have fan-girled like crazy!! How fun! I grew up on a farm and always loved Cowboys. The hats, the boots and the respect and their own code they seemed to have made them a favorite.

  2. welcome,,i always did love Robert Fuller too,so cute and sexy i remember him in that role and the role on Emergency where he played the handsome doctor,,how nice of him to call and talk to you,,i wish all our heroes were so forthcoming with their time,,would make a lot of ppl very happy

    • Vickie, thanks for the welcome! I agree about Robert Fuller. I would have followed him anywhere in any role, too, confident that he wouldn’t have chosen one that made me dislike him. He was a pleasure to talk to. We chatted several timesabout the workshop Jessica Douglass and I were going to do, and when I was in California later that year, he took me out to lunch. Definitely above and beyond the call of duty! A very nice guy.

  3. oh wow Anne, to get an actual phone call from Robert Fuller? Pschye!!! I knew him best as the doctor on the show Emergency and I loved him in that. I could totally fall in love with his cowboy character though. Love, love, love me some cowboys. There’s just something swoon worthy about a man who lives by a Code of Honor. (contemp example: Gibbs on NCIS and his list of rules… there’s a little bit o’ cowboy in that)

    • Deb, yes, you’re absolutely right about Gibbs on NCIS. He’s cowboy down to the ground when it comes to code and respect and getting the job done in a no-nonsense way. No wonder I’m very fond of him.

  4. Hi Anne…..Sorry I’m late to the party. Welcome to P&P. We’re very happy to have you. I’m totally in awe of you. Robert Fuller has always been my cowboy idol of the TV westerns. The cable company here shows the old Laramie reruns and I watch every one. Jess Harper was the best character. He had it all–the looks, the toughness, the innate sense of what’s right and not veering from his set of personal rules. I model all my heroes after him.

    Congratulations on Last Year’s Bride! What a great cover. I love those two kissing by the wagon. Just so sexy. I hope you come back again sometime.

    • Hi Linda, So glad to find another Jess Harper fan. You’re right in all respects. He was a great character. Jessica Douglass and I marveled over how formative watching his character was for us thirty years later! Obviously some characters have real staying power — which in this case was a combination of great writing by people who really knew they sort of character Jess was, and an actor who took Jess to heart and gave everything to his role. It was pretty much a role of a lifetime, and Robert Fuller certainly appreciated that at the time and in retrospect. It was a great pleasure to watch him act — and an equally great (or even greater) pleasure to be able to sit down with him and talk about the impact Jess had on our lives.

  5. I think it is the taciturn self-sufficiency that appeals the most. They have a hard life for the most part and must rely on themselves to handle whatever comes their way. If it means making it up as you go along or bending the rules a bit, as long as it is for the best, so be it.
    What a thrill to have Robert Fuller call you. It shows that he is much like the character he played. I did like his character along with so many others in the westerns that populated the screen back in the 50’s and 60’s. There have been some good ones since, but not nearly enough. That plus so many of what comes out has a very different moral thread.

    • Hi Patricia, yes, the “make do” approach to getting things done when and where they needed to be done is a big part of the appeal. I score ‘competence’ very very high on my list of appealing traits — and cowboys who can get it done are right at the top.

      There were a lot of good ones in the westerns of the ‘old days’ but Jess was always the best in my book because he was a complex character. Sometimes he even made bad decisions, but they were, at bottom, for the right reasons.

  6. What a great story of Robert Fuller, yes he was an appealing cowboy.
    I loved horses and wanted to be a cowgirl and ride the range & rope those doggies!
    Carry a gun and just roam the range.. My brother was named after Clint Eastwood’s character
    Rowdy on Rawhide. I think my favorite cowboy would be Gus on Lonesome Dove.. I haven’t come
    across any Deanna’s but there have been Anna’s but there was a Dee (male)in Lonesome Dove !
    Congratulations on Last Year’s Bride!

    • Hi Deanna (I’m guessing that’s what the DK is for!), Thanks for sharing the story about your brother’s name. I’m working on a book about a Clint, who is the brother of Cole McCullough, the hero of Last Year’s Bride, right now. I thought of Clint Eastwood when I named him! Lonesome Dove was a great book and a great movie. Gus was wonderful. I had a hero named Gus once, not named after that Gus, but a Gus in my family who was a cowboy. It’s a good cowboy name!

    • Whitney, I wish we did, too. He was a great character and was played by a man who could do justice to the role. I don’t mind the reruns — getting to relive those days (and watch Robert Fuller in his prime) is not a totally bad deal!

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