Maybe you were watching television in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or perhaps you have been told by someone who was, how much “Western” viewing was available on TV back then.
It was a peak year for Westerns on television in 1959 with 26 different programs airing in one week. During one week in March, 1959, eight of the top ten shows were Westerns.
The “Hopalong Cassidy Show” was the first television Western. The show was compiled for television from the 66 films made by William Boyd.
“The Lone Ranger,” played by actor Clayton Moore, with his horse, “Silver,” and Jay Silverheels as Tonto followed closely.
The 1959 Western program lineup included “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “Laramie,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Bonanza,” “The Virginian,” “Wagon Train,” “The Big Valley,” “Maverick,” and others.
“Gunsmoke,” with James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon and a stellar cast including Dennis Weaver as Chester, Milburn Stone as “Doc” Adams, and Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty, posted 20 years on Saturday nights as TV’s longest running Western.
Another deputy/sidekick to Marshal Dillon was Festus, portrayed by Ken Curtis. Burt Reynolds was added to the cast in 1962 for a stint as a blacksmith. A radio version of “Gunsmoke” aired from April 1952 to June 1961. It starred William Conrad as Marshal Dillon.
“Bonanza,” which ran for 14 seasons, starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the Cartwright family, who was widowed by three wives, each of which mothered a son. The oldest son, Adam, was portrayed by Pernell Roberts; Dan Blocker was “Hoss” and “Little Joe,” the youngest son, was played by Michael Landon. The Cartwright family lived at the Ponderosa Ranch.
(In case you’re interested, and you might not have known if I hadn’t run across this fact while I was seeking information on the stars of “Bonanza” – Blocker, Roberts and Greene all wore hairpieces throughout the series).
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