Saturday Westerns & Movie Cowboys

Movie Cowboys: I watched an interesting program about movie cowboys on the History Channel a while back. It brought back a lot of memories. Even the parts about the '30s stars were meaningful, since many of these movies were recycled on television in the early fifties.

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There was film footage of 1930s star, Tom Mix, driving his white '37 Cord 812 convertible. This was the same supercharged car in which he died near Florence, Arizona (southeast of Phoenix) in 1940. A flagman had stopped him and warned about roadwork in progress to repair a washed-out bridge. Ignoring the flagman, Mix drove on and plunged into a ravine; the convertible flipped, resulting in instant death. The gully has since been renamed Tom Mix Wash.

Movie cowboy Buck Jones (real name: Charlie Gebhardt) was a war hero and even fought in the Boxer Rebellion. He died trying to save people in the infamous 1942 Coconut Grove nightclub fire.

Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) was a '30s cowboy star who bought all his old movies and rights in the late 1940s and, as a result, was almost broke. But Hoppy became famous again from the new medium of television and some very clever marketing on Boyd's part.

Two years later, Boyd made $17 million in merchandising royalties alone. Originally a hard-drinker who lived fast offscreen, Boyd gave up drinking and remade himself into a wholesome role model. He did a lot of charity work as well, visiting sick children in hospitals, appearing at non-profit fundraisers, etc.

As a kid, I had a lot of cowboy stuff, including the obligatory twin six-shooter cap pistol set with holster. I was a big fan of Roy Rogers and, for my Confirmation, chose "Roy" as my middle name. Of course, my parents vetoed that idea.

My bedside lamp was a Hopalong Cassidy Roto-Vue motion lamp. After the 15-watt light bulb warmed up, the lithographed inside tube would slowly revolve so that the western scene (of Hoppy chasing bad guys and a stagecoach) would move like a movie. It was very colorful with a red plastic top and base. Sometimes I wish I still had it.

Gene Autry also bought all his movies after World War II - and became one of the richest men in Hollywood. He didn't have to pay for the rights to his name, since Gene Autry was his real name.

car blogRoy didn't do nearly as well - the studio owned the Roy Rogers name. Roy (real name - Leonard Sly) only made $150 per week and had to pay out of his own pocket to have fan mail answered. Roy and Dale Evans had to make tons of personal appearances just to make ends meet. Finally, he was given merchandising rights for Roy Rogers paraphernalia and then started to make significant money.

Roy personally owned Trigger, his horse - purchased from the studio in the 1940s for a whopping (at the time) $2,500. His daughter said that, as a nine year-old, she used sneak out, ride Trigger into town and buy Cokes and mayonnaise sandwiches to feed him - they were his favorite foods.

Growing up, I thought Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy were the best of the cowboys. Gene Autry always seemed like a lightweight to me (too much singin' - not enough shootin' and fightin'). The Lone Ranger was good - but too much of a loner. And, he didn't have a funny sidekick.

Interesting trivia: perennial sidekick Gabby Hayes was a trained Shakespearean actor but made his fame and fortune by removing his false teeth, dressing in buckskins and speaking unintelligibly. Consarnit! Dagnabbit!

More trivia: the actor who played Red Ryder in the '30s-40s serials was also the voice of the horse, Mr. Ed, in the '60s TV show. (posted 12/4/04, permalink)

Saturday Movies: When I was a kid, my friends and I would head on down to the Mayfair or Merben theater in Philadelphia every Saturday to watch cowboy movies. Last Saturday, I watched an old cowboy flick from 1946 on Turner Classic Movies. It made me feel like a kid again.

The movie was 'Home in Oklahoma', starring Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Gabby Hayes. It was very hokey and had a bunch of songs by Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers but I enjoyed every minute of it.

There were a couple 1946 Fords in the film. (There is nothing quite like the sound of the starter motor on a flathead Ford V8. It makes a racket like a large tin frog being strangled. I grew up with that noise; my parents owned a 1936 Ford Tudor and later, a big, black 1947 Mercury four-door sedan.)

The movie featured several fistfights, including a vigorous one between Roy and the main bad guy - a malevolent-eyed dude with a cheesy 1940s mustache - on the flatcar of a moving train pulled by a steam locomotive.

Naturally, the bad guy eventually landed in jail. All ended happily with Dale, Roy and Gabby singing as they rode off into the sunset.

Happy trails to you, pardner. (posted 6/14/10, permalink)

Stuffed Animals: Last week, I was watching a train show on RFD-TV. During a commercial break, RFD was promoting a cross country tour featuring Trigger and Bullet from the old Roy Rogers shows.

After a little investigation, I found that both were auctioned off in July. RFD's president, Patrick Gottsch, was the high bidder, paying $266,500 for taxidermied Trigger, Roy's famous horse, and $35,000 for Roy's dog, Bullet.

sherlock blogSomeone else purchased Roy's silver dollar-encrusted 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible - the one with the longhorn hood ornament and fender-mounted chrome six-shooters - for $254,500.

RFD eventually plans to place Trigger and Bullet in a planned museum in Omaha.

During our 2002 Great California Adventure, my friend Ray and I visited the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, California - a few months before it closed. Both of us were big Roy fans from way back when, but the museum was kind-of a jumble of stuff that Roy and Dale collected over the years.

The place clearly needed the expert touch of a professional curator.

Trigger, Bullet and the Pontiac were indeed on display during our visit.

Joe with Trigger statue outside the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, CA

The Rogers family eventually relocated the museum to Branson, MO, hoping for an increase in attendance. But the venture closed barely six years later.

While it is a little creepy to imagine the carcasses of Bullet and Trigger on tour, it is good that these nostalgic relics will eventually find a home where the public can see them again. (posted 8/30/10, permalink)

Star Car: Recently, I found a photo, taken in early 2008 during my visit to a private car collection.

The vehicle is a black 1948 Ford Woody station wagon with the dashboard autographed by Roy Rogers. I don't know if this was his personal car or the one used in the 1948 movie, 'Eyes of Texas'. (posted 12/2/10, permalink)

Happy Trails: Roy Rogers rides the hood of a 1947 Cadillac:

(posted 6/15/18, permalink)

Ninety Bucks For A %$#@* Cap Gun?! You can buy a cap gun version of the Colt 45 revolver for $89.95 at hobby website Historic Rail.

Holster not included - one is available for another $30.

Cap guns first appeared following the end of the American Civil War in the mid-1860s, when firearms companies experimented with toy guns in order to stay in business. Toy guns became especially popular when the heroes of cinema and television rode through the West ridding the territories of villains.

Many cap guns were named after or endorsed by ... (more >>>)

"Oh Pancho!" "Oh Cisco!" If you're of a certain age, you'll probably remember those catchphases from the television series 'The Cisco Kid'. The 30 minute episodes ran from 1950 to 1955.

A total of 156 episodes were filmed and each featured the Cisco Kid and his English-mangling sidekick Pancho as they traveled the old west in the grand tradition of the Lone Ranger, righting wrongs and fighting injustice wherever they found it. It was one of the few television series of the period filmed … (more >>>)

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