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Monday, January 02, 2006

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE TELEVISION WESTERN

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Because of the holidays, I took a week off from the column for a little R and R. In its place are a couple of columns from March and April of 2005: "The Rise and Fall of the Television Western" and "The Cavalcade of Television Comedy (part two): The 1960's." I hope you enjoy them and I'll be back next week with some new stuff. JM)

Always popular with the American public, the Western graduated from kiddie fare to adult status in the mid 1950's.
The Western had been popular with the American public since time immemorial. One of the first movies ever made was "The Great Train Robbery" (1903). This ten minute, fourteen scene film was supposedly based on a true event that took place "out west" (although actually filmed in New Jersey). Throughout the silent era the Western continued its popularity with stars like the Farnum brothers and Hoot Gibson. In the 1930's, movie serials became popular as matinee fodder for the kids. The Western made its appearance in the form of Gene Autry's "Radio Ranch" serial and others. William Boyd made his debut as Hopalong Cassidy in 1935 and by 1948 had made sixty-six feature films. Other popular western stars of the screen included Roy Rogers, Bob Steele, and Tex Ritter.
In spite of some adult features ["The Westerner" (1940), "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943)], the Western was aimed primarily at juvenile and rural audiences. By the late 1940's, many of these films were being shown on television and drawing strong ratings. William Boyd in particular enjoyed success with his weekly "Hopalong Cassidy" programs which were simply edited versions of his many "B" Western films. In 1949 Hoppy was ranked number seven in the Nielsen ratings which created a bonanza of endorsements for Boyd.
With the success of "Hopalong Cassidy" came some made for television Westerns. Movie heroes like Autry and Rogers came on board with their own shows along with popular transfers from radio like "The Cisco Kid" and "The Lone Ranger". As the 1950's reached their mid point, there were classier productions made like "The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin" and the Disney productions of "Davy Crockett".

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