There’s a lot of talk in the martial world these days about Western versus Eastern styles of fighting – which is better, more effective, more realistic. This got me thinking about one of the more American forms of Western fighting – the kind practiced by rootin’, tootin’, gosh-golly-real cowboys!
The ’50’s and ’60’s were the Golden Age of television cowboys with over 100 different Westerns being created and shown, and you could always count on the Guy In White to prevail in any battle with the Guy In Black, even when (as was usually the case) Guy In Black would cheat, usually stroking his fancy mustache in the process.
Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) was one of the pioneers of TV Westerns, making his debut in June of 1949. While he often relied upon his six-shooter to see justice done (as did most of the TV cowboys), he also occasionally got embroiled in some good ol’ fashioned town riots …
In July of 1950 Gene Autry showed up to share the cowboy fightin’ duties in between his breaking out into song. He even once fought long-time rival Roy Rogers, with a lot of Jujitsu-style throws – wonder where he learned THEM?
Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons, from 1955 to 1975, for a total of 635 episodes and was the United States’ longest-running prime-time live-action television drama. Macho, macho Marshall Matt Dillon was always clean-cut and neatly dressed and, at least in this clip, showed a nice collection of fighting techniques – joint locks, throws, punches, even a bitch-slap early in the fight!
When you say “TV Western” many people first think of The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore) and his companion Tonto (Jay Silverheels). Five season’s worth of episodes – 221 in total – were filmed. Moore sat out the third season due to a contract dispute, being replaced by John Hart, but returned for the last two seasons.
This clip from the final season (the only one filmed in color) highlights The Lone Ranger’s fighting abilities. Note that he does a lot of throws and grappling – maybe he was into the MMA …
(Fight starts around 2:00)
James Garner played Maverick, the first TV Western with a sense of humor, from 1957 through 1963 for 124 episodes. One of the highlights was this fight with guest star Clint Eastwood – frankly, they look like two little schoolboys mixing it up at recess, but I guess that’s TV!
Have Gun, Will Travel featured Richard Boone as “Paladin”, a sort of roaming trouble-shooter who preferred using his wits to his fists. The series ran from 1957 to 1963 and in the series, his punches mainly consisted of wild hay-makers with the occasional jab. Unfortunately, Have Gun, Will Travel videos are always taken down from YouTube so I cannot show you in this article 🙂
Bonanza was a popular series in the early ’60’s and had Dan Blocker as “Hoss”, a big, happy feller that seemed to always get a whuppin’ whenever he fought … (starts around 2:00) –
The “rural purge” of 1969, where parent’s advocacy groups lobbied to have TV Westerns removed because they were thought to be too violent (!), lead to a kinder, gentler Western.
… until, of course, Walker, Texas Ranger came around …
Hey, at least they finally got someone who knew what they were doing!