Feb 2, 2016

From Muscle Beach to the Cimarron Strip: TV Westerns

By the time I started watching TV in the 1960s, the Western was stale, outdated, staggeringly unhip; my friends and I could stomach only those few that involved a flashy new gimmick, like Wild Wild West or Alias Smith and Jones.  But for the Boomers growing up in the 1950s, they were as iconic as Pinky Lee and Father Knows Best.  

The Western heroes were usually the discovery of gay talent agent Henry Willson, so they were gay, bi, or at least gay-friendly.  They usually wore full leather, buckskin, or other less-than-revealing garb, but they were not averse to revealing stunning physiques for the movie magazines, and even for the AMC’s proto-gay Physique Pictorial.  Guy Madison (who went so far as to pose nude) in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock (1951-56)

Rugged movie star Hugh O’Brian in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61);

Clint Walker of Cheyenne (1955-63).

William Smith of Laredo

Richard Boone of Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-63)
Robert Horton of Wagon Train (1957-65)
Rory Calhoun of The Texan (1958-60)
George Montgomery of Cimarron City (1958-60)
Scott Brady as Shotgun Slade (1959-61)

The Western hero traditionally displayed little heterosexual interest: dames were characteristic of an emasculating civilization, along with government, education, opera, and church.  Instead, they had a  “sidekick,” a life partner of the same sex, usually someone of inferior rank due to race, age, or socioeconomic class, who provided an emotional or spiritual energy.  The sidekick is an essentially American phenomenon, and its homoerotic import has been noted for at least thirty years, since Love and Death in the American Novel.

Most of the sidekicks of the 1950s were elderly, corpulent, or buffoons, perhaps because clowns minimze the homoerotic impact of their devotion.  The fat, hee-hawking Andy Devine, later on Andy's Gang played “Jingles,” Guy Madison’s sidekick in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock.  

Or they were father and son, as in The Rifleman.

 But we can locate several same-sex partners whose homoerotic bond was not miminized:

Indian agent Tom Jeffords (future Days of Our Lives hunk John Lumpton), who fell in love with...um, I mean befriended...handsome, muscular Chief Cochise (Michael Ansara) in Broken Arrow (1956-57).

 John Bromfield as The Sheriff of Cochise (1956-60) with Stan Jones his faithful deputy.

John Smith and Robert Fuller of Laramie.

Yancy Derringer (1958-59), an ex-Confederate soldier turned gambler played by Jock Mahoney, and X Brands as his Native American companion.