By Joe Rector
The other night I spent time surfing the channels and all the apps to which we subscribe through ROKU. Guess what?! I couldn’t find anything to watch. Oh, plenty of programs were available, just nothing that piqued my interest. After a while, I switched to a free app and finally found an old standard favorite for me: a western/cowboy movie.
As a boy, I spent much of my tv watching time with shows of this kind. Roy Rogers had a program. His wife Dale and horse Trigger fought the bad guys in the area, and every show had a song. Even though I viewed the show, Roy Rogers was far from my favorite cowboy. The white hat and fringe cuffs just didn’t fit the kind of outfit that a cowboy would wear. The best part of most shows was the “Happy Trails” song at the end.
A better show was “My Friend Flicka.” Fury and Joey were best friends, and they lived with Jim Newton, who took the orphan boy in. The adventures of a younger boy who could ride a horse appealed to my brother and me. The horse was beautiful, and because the show aired on Saturday mornings, I never missed an episode.
“Sky KIng” was an unusual show. This cowboy didn’t fool with horses. Instead, he flew a plane. Best of all, Sky King’s niece Penny lived with him and was involved in every show, something that we boys liked.
My favorite Saturday morning cowboy was Gene Autry. He wore outfits that were a bit closer to what a man riding a horse and chasing a bad guy might have put on. Gene had a quicker temper than Roy Rogers, and he would show any scoundrel who might call him out who was the boss. I wasn’t much crazy about his singing fits on shows either, but at least Gene sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” That redeemed him in my boyhood eyes.
Local stations aired plenty of other shows and movies. We had a television that only got two of the three stations, so we didn’t watch “The Rifleman” or “Johnny Rebel.” The best of all the cowboys was John Wayne. He moseyed along without singing songs. Instead, he’d look at the meanest hombre in the bunch and either fight him or shoot him; it made no difference to him. All the women immediately fell in love with him, but John would give ‘em a kiss and head out for new adventures.
The best cowboy television show ever aired was “Bonanza.” Sunday evenings were the time slots for the show and woe unto the minister who ran long on his Sunday message. “Bonanza” is the one program that I remember Daddy liking. He watched as intently as his three sons. Ben Cartwright had three boys, and Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were dedicated to their father and their ranch, The Ponderosa.
A double treat came in the fall. That’s when Chevrolet unveiled its new models. We always watched that special, and my brother Dal dreamed of getting a new family car. Of course, these days have no waiting for a big reveal. In the fall of 1964, Daddy and Mother showed up at football practice in a new 1965 Impala. It was yellow with a black interior. We all loved that car, but little did we know that by August of 1965, Daddy would have died and our dream car would turn out to be a lemon.
I still watch cowboy shows. “The Magnificent Seven” is one I can watch over and over again. I’d bet not one in 10,000 kids have ever played cowboys and Indians or watched a cowboy movie. I hate to think about what they’re missing.