Western Series - The first
western television star was portrayed by "B" western movie star William Boyd
(1915-72) in his role of Hopalong Cassidy. In 1949, when fifty-four of the
theatrical released "Hopalong Cassidy" films became eligible for television,
the NBC network paid William Boyd (he owned the film rights), a quarter of a
million dollars for the weekly presentation rights. His films were then
reedited for nationwide television distribution. These theatrical films
featured "Hoppy" with sidekicks Gabby Hayes or Andy Clyde.
William Boyd filmed a new set of 30-minute western adventures HOPALONG
CASSIDY/NBC/1949 costarring Edgar Buchanan as his sidekick. His reedited
theatrical films which had been filmed in the 1930s and early 1940s were
seen on local New York stations as early as 1945.
Other western cowboy stars
to make it big in the 1950s were Gene Autry who starred in his own CBS
western series THE GENE AUTRY SHOW/1950-56 and Roy Rogers "The King of the
Cowboys" who starred with Dale Evans in THE ROY ROGERS SHOW/NBC/1951-57.
1955, sixty-seven of Roger's Republic feature films and fifty-six of Gene
Autry's Republic films were syndicated in 60-minute form by MCA-TV Film
Syndication. (At the time, theatrical films had to be seven years old before
television rights could be purchased).
The first western series filmed
especially for television was THE LONE RANGER/ABC/1949-57 starring Clayton
Moore as "the masked rider of the plains" and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, "his
faithful Indian companion." Previously all westerns seen on TV were
reedited/repackaged western feature films or serials (seen originally in
movie theaters) starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Tom Mix,
The first western series to be "filmed" in color were the 176 episodes
of THE CISCO KID syndicated from 1950-56 and starring Duncan Renaldo as O.
Henry's Hispanic "Robin Hood of the Old West" and Leo Carrillo as his
sidekick, Pancho. Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Cisco and Pancho roamed
the Southwest of the 1800's protecting the innocent from ruthless
The first and only "live" televised western series was ACTION
IN THE AFTERNOON broadcast on weekday afternoons from the WCAU station in
Philadelphia on the CBS network from 2/2/53 to 1/29/54. The western
adventure series was set in the Montana town of Huberie with Jack Valentine
as a singing, guitar playing cowboy.
The first western series to be
televised in "color" was BONANZA with Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan
Blocker and Michael Landon as the members of the Cartwright Family whose
ranch, the Ponderosa, was located near Lake Tahoe in Nevada during the late
1800's. The series premiered September 12, 1959 on the NBC Network and ran
until January 16, 1973. With the exception of GUNSMOKE/CBS/1955-75 which
starred James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, BONANZA was the second longest
running western in television history.
The first ninety-minute western
series was THE VIRGINIAN televised on the NBC network from September 19,
1962 to September 8, 1971 starring James Drury as the Virginian, a
mysterious man with no past who became foreman for the Shiloh Ranch in the
Wyoming Territory of the 1880s.
The CBS network competed with the
ninety-minute format by introducing the western series CIMARRON
STRIP/CBS/1967-71 which starred Stuart Whitman as US Marshal Jim Crown who
patrolled the Kansas territory of the late 19th century.
The first reunion
of all the popular western cowboys occurred on the history making special
When the West Was Fun: A Western Reunion in June of 1979. Set in a western
saloon, the special reunited some of the best remembered TV cowboys
including The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore), Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly), The
Rifleman (Chuck Connors), The Virginian (James Drury), Buffalo Bill, Jr.
(Dick Jones), The Lawman (John Russell), The Range Rider (Jock Mahoney), and
Neville Brand, Slim Pickens, Bill Williams, Doug McClure among others.
Buick sponsored special was hosted by Glenn Ford who dedicated the 60-minute
program to John Wayne saying "This one's for you, Duke." John Wayne was
hospitalized at the time.
A similar reunion occurred in the fall of 1991
with the made-for-TV movie The Gambler IV: The Luck of the Draw starring
Kenny Rogers in his continuing adventures as a frontier gambler. The program
featured the cameo appearances of many of the classic western TV stars among
them Chuck Connors as The Rifleman, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Hugh
O'Brien as Wyatt Earp, and David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine.
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