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Fabulous 50’s Cowboys

Do you remember Howdy Doody Time?

famous cowboys

I grew up in a cowboy culture, both inside my house and out. My dad loved watching Westerns right up to the end of his life. And I came of age in Northern Wyoming where real life cowboys and cowgirls walked the streets, herded animals, and competed in rodeos. 

I don’t think cowboys started in the 50s, but perhaps they moved from the pages of penny novels to the screens both large and small? 

It’s kind of funny that the 50s had the extremes of fascination with space and the western past, but just as robots and alien invasions entertained us, so did cowboys like Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers. 

Some of the best Western series on TV in the 50s were: 

  • Lone Ranger
  • Bonanza 
  • Have Gun Will Travel 
  • Maverick
  • Wagon Train 
  • Rawhide
  • The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
  • The Cisco Kid

I still remember a lot of these, because as mentioned above, my dad was a fan. 

The most popular kid’s TV show of the 50s was Howdy Doody. This freckle-faced puppet in cowboy boots and his sidekick and creator Buffalo Bob (Bob Smith) pioneered children’s television programming. A unique feature was the Peanut Gallery—onstage bleachers seating about 40 kids. Each show began with Buffalo Bob asking, “Say kids, what time is it?” and the children replied, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” 

I’m kind of relieved I have no memory of the show, though I am familiar with the phrase. lol

Along with the many Howdy Doody toys for sale, there were also Roy Roger (who I do remember) holster sets, toy western guns, spurs, and sheriff badges. Kids’ cowboy outfits for dress up with embroidered horse and accents, and rows of fringe on the pants and shirts were also popular along with red felt cowboy hats and kids’ leather cowboy boots. 

Another iconic 50s show was Disneyland’s five feature Davy Crocket’s Frontierland Adventures. We used to love this show! I think Davy Crockett might have been my first crush. lol

“Davy Crockett Indian Fighter” 12/15/54

“Davy Crockett Goes to Congress” 1/26/55

“Davy Crockett At the Alamo” 2/23/55

 “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” 11/16/55

“Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” 12/14/55

And in 1955, Frontierland opened as one of the five original lands at Disneyland. 

Davy Crocket raccoon skin caps became a big 50’s fad among baby boomer kids. 100 million dollars’ worth of raccoon caps sold in one year. Other Davy Crocket merchandise including cap guns, wristwatches, books, moccasins, and lunch boxes were highly popular as well. 

In the 50s moviegoers also loved westerns. Here are 15 of the best western films of the 50s:

1.        The Searchers (1956)

Phenomenal tale of a tragic hero. A must-see.

2. Shane (1953)

A showdown between good and evil. 

3. The Naked Spur (1953)

Jimmy Stewart plays a ruthless bounty hunter in this psychological drama.

4. Oklahoma! (1955)

Classic Robert and Hammerstein musical with “Oklahoma” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “People Will Say We’re in Love” 

5. The Man From Laramie (1955)

A classic western tragedy with James Stewart. 

6. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

A poor farmer needs the $200 reward for watching a captured outlaw until the 3:10 train so he can feed his family. A tense psychological drama.

7. Rio Grande (1950)

The first teaming of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. 

8. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

Burt Lancaster plays Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas plays Doc Holliday.

9. Cowboy (1958)

An East-meets-West story with Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford. 

10. Alias Jesse James (1959)

Bob Hope is rescued by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, James Arness as Matt Dillon and Fess Parker as Davy Crockett.

11. The Tin Star (1957)

Henry Fonda plays a sheriff turned bounty hunter.

12. Warlock (1959)

Henry Fonda plays a hired gunslinger and Anthony Quinn plays his faithful companion.

13. Trail of Robin Hood (1950)

Roy Rogers saves a Christmas tree business with help from an all-star posse of western heroes.

14.      Man Without A Star (1955)

Kirk Douglas plays a ranch hand who matches wills with a savvy cattle baroness played by Jeanne Crain.

15.    The Big Country (1958)

Directed by William Wyler, starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives.

Just reading the names of these shows and movies brings back so many memories of my past and of my dad—who was also a Louis L’Amour fan. A lot of the movie stars in the Westerns also appeared in a the war movies that were filmed during and after WWII. One of my favorites, Kelly’s Heroes, has a scene that is very much an homage to the old-time Westerns. 

So, have you ever worn a raccoon skin cap or strapped on some toy six-shooters?

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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