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Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

I grew up watching cowboys on TV. That might date me, but why try to hide it? When I was growing up, my siblings and I watched Roy Rogers every Saturday morning at my grandmother’s house. It was a huge treat for us (and for my mother, although I didn’t recognize it at the time). For years, we never missed an episode of Bonanza. Maverick? The Rifleman? Rawhide? I loved them all. To this day, I have a friend who still idolizes Paladin of Have Gun, Will Travel (you know who you are, Liz). Something about those Western heroes resonated with me as a young girl and still does.

The concept of “The West” has stirred the American imagination since we first became a nation. The West was a wide open place full of limitless possibilities—a place where a person could invent, or reinvent, himself. For better or worse, the realities of life on the frontier stripped away the veneer of civilization and exposed a man for who he really was.

The icon of the West in nineteenth century journalism and literature was the cowboy—lawmen and outlaws are just variations. These men were portrayed as stalwart, courageous, and true to their own code of honor, whether that code fell within the law or not. They were taciturn and independent to a fault. What a challenge for a strong woman!

Hollywood has brought us some of the best examples of the Western hero, but to appreciate the archetype you have to look back before the anti-hero of recent Western movies to the golden era of the ‘forties and ‘fifties. When you think “Western hero”, most people think of John Wayne, and many film critics have rated The Searchers as the greatest Western of all time.

But I never cared for the tortured character of Ethan Edwards. I much prefer the Duke in an earlier, lesser known film, Angel and the Badman, in which he plays a gunslinger who is nursed back to health by a Quaker girl and is ultimately forced to choose between the violence of his old life and his burgeoning love for her. It’s definitely the stuff of which great romance novels are made.

However, my nomination for the ultimate Western hero is Gary Cooper as Sheriff Will Kane in High Noon. A man who has vowed to kill Kane is scheduled to arrive on the noon train. Tension mounts as Sheriff Kane tries to find someone in town to stand up with him against the outlaw, but one after another the townspeople fail him. Everyone tries to convince him to run away, including his lovely bride, Amy (played by Grace Kelly), but Kane refuses. We see the sheriff’s growing fear as the hours count down toward noon, but he refuses to give in. Will Kane is the embodiment of true courage—not the lack of fear but standing resolute in the face of it. And in the end, he’s saved by the courage of the woman who loves him. Amy conquers her own fears and acts against deeply held beliefs to save her man. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Real Western heroes are strong, brave, and selfless. They’re grown-ups. I love charming rogues as much as the next woman, but when it comes to a hero, give me a cowboy. Whether your hero is a vampire, a cop, or a spy, there are few things sexier than a man doing what a man’s got to do.

What do you look for in a hero?

My latest release, Harvest of Dreams, explores many of these themes, and I think my hero can hold his own with the best of them. Here’s a brief blurb:

Alone on her farm in the middle of a blizzard, young widow Lisa McAllister labors to give birth to her first child. Help arrives in the strong hands of a stranger wearing a six-gun. Lisa has no reason to trust this man who makes a living by violence, even if he is on the right side of the law. Men and their guns have already claimed the lives of her father, brother, and husband, and she’s determined to protect her son at any cost.

Jared Tanner, a security agent for the stagecoach, has been on his own since he was twelve. Against his better judgment, his feelings of protectiveness toward Lisa and her baby turn to something deeper, and he is tempted by the possibility of a family of his own. Can their tender new love survive when an act of ultimate violence threatens to tear them apart?
Thanks for joining me today, and I invite you to visit me on the web at


Brenda Whiteside said...

Growing up in Arizona, I watched the cowboys on tv and in real life. Love them!

Maria Zannini said...

Oh my gosh, Angel and the Badman is one of my all time favorites. When I found it on DVD I couldn't buy it fast enough.

Must watch it tonight. :)

Virginia C said...

You are speaking to my heart, Alison! Historical Western Romance is my favorite genre. I love westerns of all kinds. Being a Southerner, I also love Civil War romances and stories set in the South. However, for me, nothing beats a western in its purest form. By that, I mean a stalwart cowboy and his lady, the land, and the life. When a cowboy truly loves, he loves with all his heart, forever. His woman is as cherished as his values, his “cowboy code of honor”. Not always in words, but in deep, deep feelings. Feelings as true as the blue of a Texas bluebonnet.

I love, love, love my cowboys and men of the Old West! The love of my life is Sam Elliott : )Sam has no peer as a Western star. Also, his voice alone would make all the seams come loose in your clothes! One of my favorite words is “courtly”, which to me means respectful and mannerly. Who could resist a courtly cowboy, hat in hand, when he says “thank you, Ma’am”? A lady journalist who was once lucky enough to interview Sam Elliott described him as “courtly”. I knew that : ) Tom Selleck makes a mighty fine man of the West. He and Sam Elliott are great friends and costarred in two great movies based on Louis L'Lamour stories: "The Sacketts" and "The Shadow Riders". Tom Selleck was recently inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum for his work in Western films.

Tim Daly. "The Outsider". Tim Daly. I have watched this movie more times than I can count, and it hasn't cooled down yet. Tim Daly : )

Gary Cooper. Grace Kelly. "High Noon". The wonderful theme song sung by Tex Ritter!

Robert Fuller & Robert Horton; James Drury & Doug Mcclure (from “The Virginian”); Peter Breck, Lee Majors, Richard Long (the Barkley brothers from “The Big Valley); The Cartwrights–especially Guy Williams as cousin Will Cartwright (he also had the title role as TV’s Zorro and Professor John Robinson in “Lost in Space”); James Garner as “Maverick” or just James Garner; James Arness, Ken Curtis, Dennis Weaver from “Gunsmoke”; Clint Walker as “Cheyenne”; Lee Horsley from “Paradise”. Robert Conrad in “The Wild, Wild West”–the original “steampunk”! I love them all, and there are just too many more to mention.

However, one of the greatest TV Men of the West was Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown in “Cimarron Strip”. In my opinion, this is one of the best westerns ever put on the screen. The episodes which pitted Stuart Whitman against Richard Boone, whose character called Marshall Crown by the name “Tricky Jim” were outstanding! If you can ever find a sexier lawman than Stuart Whitman, please let me know! Those looks, those eyes, that strut and that voice!

Richard Boone--"Paladin"! We lived in Nevada when I was in the first grade, and my mother worked in a gift shop. She met lots of celebrities, including Richard Boone. I still have the calling card with the identifying graphic of the chess piece for the “Have Gun— Will Travel” series. Mr. Boone autographed it for Mom! He was extremely masculine, compelling and charming! He was an excellent actor, very serious about his craft.

I also adore John Wayne. Not a perfect man, but my goodness, what a man! From what I’ve seen, read, and heard from his films, and articles and interviews, he was the real deal. I love his older, iconic cowboy image. The scence from True Grit where he takes the horses reins in his mouth, and charges forward, blasting away with two pistols is forever burned in my brain. If you watch John Wayne in his early films, you will see a very sexy, charming, “look ‘em in the eye” kind of guy. What a physique! If he focused his undivided attention on a woman, I think she would have been in big, big trouble! No wonder they called him “Duke” : )

Jean P said...

Love Westerns, big fan of the John Wayne, loved watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.

Kasey said...

Gary Cooper I love you! I think he kicked ass in High Noon. It was so poignant, him standing on his own when everyone had abandoned him. I think it really speaks to America’s image of itself—an individual, a fighter, brave, strong. That’s the reason that movie resonated with so many people. I remember analyzing this movie in one of my film classes in school. Even after all these years, it still captivates an audience…

Kasey said...

I also like Tombstone with Val Kilmer as Doc holiday! :0)

MarthaE said...

Ohh- I love a strong, honorable hero. And sometimes even bad guys can show honorable traits. 3:10 to Yuma came to mind.

Melissa Blue said...

I always loved Lonesome Dove...