The Famous And Fiercest Leading Ladies Of Westerns

Westerns aren’t the most common genre at the moment, but that wasn’t always the case. They reached their peak during the late 1960s and are still a nostalgic part of Americana. While some may look back at the heroic male protagonists in Western films and TV shows, it would be a disservice to not mention the fierce female Western stars. These women proved that Westerns shouldn’t only be focused on the rugged, strong-willed males as they delivered some of the greatest performances in cinematic history. Now, get to know Western’s most iconic leading ladies.

Dale Evans Was More Than Roy Rogers’ Wife

dale evans wearing a cowgirl outfit
Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Roy Rogers most likely wouldn’t have been as successful as he was without his frequent collaborations with wife Dale Evans. She starred alongside Rogers in several films and television shows including The Roy Rogers Show, Home in Oklahoma, and Utah (pictured).

Evans is also the mind behind The Roy Rogers Show theme song “Happy Trails.” She went on to record several solo albums of religious music and hosted her own religious television show. Some of her distinct honors include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a place in the Western Performers Hall of Fame.

Why 1969 Was A Good Year For Katharine Ross

katharine ross wearing a white dress and hat in butch cassidy and the sundance kid
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

While Katharine Ross is married to another prominent Western star, Sam Elliott, she made her own name in the genre, too. In 1969 Ross starred in two of the year’s most popular Westerns, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.

She garnered worldwide acclaim for her roles by winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actress for both of the films. Costars such as Paul Newman and Robert Redford had to keep up with Ross’ fierce performances.

Barbara Stanwyck Performed In Western TV Shows And Movies

Barbara Stanwyck 119107090
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Barbara Stanwyck loved Westerns so much that she acted in both Western movies and television shows. Her most famous Western movie role was as Vance in 1950’s The Furies. She played an heiress to a father who was up to no good.

Her movie career started to dwindle during the 1950s, so she made her way to TV. She starred in small Western roles until she became the widowed matriarch Victoria Barkley on ABC’s The Big Valley. Her performance on The Big Valley earned her an Emmy Award and made her a household name.

Raquel Welch Brought Her Icon Status To Westerns

raquel welch wearing a brown skirt in 100 rifles
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

One of the most famous female icons of the 60s and 70s was Raquel Welch. Millions of people started to take notice of her after an appearance in One Million Years B.C. wearing a doe-skin bikini. Then, she soon became a pin-up girl.

Her massive success led to more film roles including her work in several Westerns such as Bandolero!, 100 Rifles (pictured), and Hannie Caulder. Many of her costars including James Stewart, Dean Martin, and Burt Reynolds thought she was able to bring something refreshing to the genre that hadn’t been done before.

Betty Hutton Replaced Judy Garland In This Famous Movie

betty hutton with louis calhern and howard keel in annie get your gun
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Those who are fans of musicals may remember Betty Hutton’s stand-out performance in the 1950 musical Western Annie Get Your Gun. Hutton was hired to replace an overworked Judy Garland in the starring role.

It was a highly fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley and had an underlying message about how much a woman should give up in order to please a man. Although her film career didn’t last that long, she was able to work with some of the greats including Fred Astaire and Cecil B. DeMille.

Jane Fonda Brought Box Office Success To Multiple Westerns

jane fonda wearing a cowboy hat and holding a stick in her mouth
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Although Jane Fonda isn’t usually associated with the Western genre, many of her most popular roles stemmed from them. Her breakout role was in the 1965 Western, Cat Ballou, as a school teacher turned outlaw. The film earned five Oscar nominations and was a top 10 movie at the box office that year.

In 1978 she starred alongside James Caan, Alan J. Pakula, and more in the Western drama Comes a Horseman. The following year she worked with frequent collaborator Robert Redford in the high-grossing Western adventure-romance movie The Electric Horseman.

Amanda Blake Spent 20 Years On This Western Show

amanda blake sitting on a horse in gunsmoke
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Amanda Blake had one of the longest careers in Western television. She was best known as saloon-keeper Miss Kitty Russell on Gunsmoke and played the role for almost two decades.

Gunsmoke aired from September 10, 1955 to March 31, 1975 for a total of 635 episodes, which made it the longest-running primetime live-action series of the 20th century. When the show was over, Blake went into semi-retirement in Phoenix, Arizona to breed cheetahs in captivity with her husband.

Jane Russell Halted The Release Of This Film By Five Years

jane russell wearing a red dress sitting on hay in the outlaw
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The list of pin-up girls of the 1940s and 1950s wouldn’t have been complete without Jane Russell. Her first film launched her to stardom as Rio McDonald in the 1943 Western The Outlaw.

It took half a decade for the movie to get a general release date because her cleavage was prominently shown throughout the promotion of the film. Russell went on to make about 20 other movies including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opposite Marilyn Monroe.

Marlene Dietrich Didn’t Let Her Accent Get In The Way Of Her Work

marlene dietrich wearing a dress in a saloon in destry rides again
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

It may sound a bit funny to cast someone with a heavy German accent in an American Western. That didn’t stop Marlene Dietrich from nailing her scenes in films such as Destry Rides Again (pictured), Rancho Notorious, and The Spoilers.

Her elaborate costumes heightened her performances and she became a style icon who inspired dozens of designers. Dietrich’s work during the Golden Age of Hollywood caused her to become the American Film Institute’s ninth greatest female screen legend of classic Hollywood cinema.

Joan Crawford Knew Westerns Shouldn’t Always Revolve Around Men

joan crawford with a cowboy in johnny guitar
Sherman Clark/General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
Sherman Clark/General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

An actress who could perform well in any genre thrown at her was the legendary Joan Crawford. One of her best Western roles was the strong-willed saloon keeper in Johnny Guitar.

Audiences thought her love story with Sterling Hayden’s character was just as compelling as her harsh conflicts with the local landowner played by Mercedes McCambridge. Crawford’s performance in the film gave a deeper look into the ideals of “proper femininity.” Her career in entertainment spanned over six decades and led to numerous awards and honors.

Katy Jurado Paved The Way For Latin American Actresses

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Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Katy Jurado got her start as an actress in Mexico and was discovered by an American filmmaker. This launched her Hollywood career to become one of the top Western film actresses of the 50s and 60s.

Cinephiles may remember her performances in films such as High Noon, Broken Lance, Man from Del Rio, and Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. Jurado was the first Latin American actress to be nominated for an Oscar and was the first to win a Golden Globe.

Claire Trevor Helped Launch John Wayne’s Career

claire trevor and john wayne in stagecoach
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

John Wayne’s breakthrough role was in the John Ford-directed film, Stagecoach, opposite Claire Trevor. Throughout the movie, the two ride a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory over panoramic shots of Monument Valley.

Stagecoach is considered to be one of the most influential films of the 20th century and Orson Welles watched it over 40 times during his preparation for Citizen Kane. At the time Trevor was a bigger star than Wayne, so her name was billed first. Trevor’s legacy lives on as the namesake for the drama school at the University of California, Irvine.

Shirley MacLaine Held Her Own Against Clint Eastwood

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John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

Shirley MacLaine is one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood with quite an impressive acting career. From comedy, drama, musical, and Western, MacLaine has practically done it all.

Her most famous role in a Western was opposite Clint Eastwood in 1970’s Two Mules for Sister Sara. MacLaine received top billing in this whimsical Western about a mercenary who meets a nun. As the nun, MacLaine led a group of rebels through Mexico. MacLaine took what it meant to be a nun and completely turned it on its head.

Julie Christie Got An Oscar Nomination For This Role

julie christie in mccabe & mrs. miller
Universal Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Universal Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Director Robert Altman referred to 1971’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller as an “anti-Western film” because it neglects to use many conventional Western stylistic tools. Julie Christie as Constance Miller earned an Oscar nomination for her performance. One scene that got everyone’s attention was the ending where Christie’s character couldn’t help save Beatty’s character from danger.

The movie was also the first of several collaborations between Christie and Warren Beatty. Her list of awards and nominations seem endless with four Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe win, and several more.

Sharon Stone Excelled In This Western Film

sharon stone wearing a cowboy hat in the quick and the dead
LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

Sharon Stone rose to fame during the 1980s and 1990s working with directors such as Martin Scorsese and Wes Craven. While she may not be known for Westerns, she gave a memorable performance in 1995’s The Quick and the Dead.

Stone played a gunfighter who travels back to a frontier town in order to avenge her father’s untimely demise. She received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress in the role of Ellen “The Lady.”

Michelle Williams Takes The Lead In Meek’s Cutoff

michelle williams wearing a bonnet in meek's cutoff
Sony Pictures/MovieStillsDB
Sony Pictures/MovieStillsDB

Meek’s Cutoff is loosely based on the historical Oregon Trail incident of 1845 and starred Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, and more. One critic wrote, “Moving at a contemplative speed unseen in most Westerns, Meek’s Cutoff is an effective, intense journey of terror and survival in the untamed frontier.”

Throughout the film, the husbands and wives on the journey often are in disagreement about whether they should go on or turn back. Williams’ character is the only one who takes the lead and shows mercy toward a Native American the others captured.

Quentin Tarantino Knew Kerry Washington Was Perfect For This Role

kerry washington wearing a purple dress in django unchained
Evenstar Films/MovieStillsDB
Evenstar Films/MovieStillsDB

Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s highest-grossing film of all time, mainly due to the incredible performances by the cast. It is classified as a revisionist Western, which means that the themes and characters are much darker than early Westerns of the 20th century.

Kerry Washington plays a slave named Broomhilda “Hildi” von Shaft and is the catalyst of the film, with her character guiding almost the entire plot. She was subsequently asked to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and won a NAACP and BET award for Best Actress.

Doris Day’s Song In This Western Earned An Oscar

doris day dressed as a cowgirl riding a horse in calamity jane
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Movie musicals were a memorable part of the Golden Age of Hollywood and someone who made her mark in them was Doris Day. In 1953 she played the titular role in the Western musical Calamity Jane, a fictionalized movie about the romance between Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.

The film was made after the rapid success of Annie Get Your Gun a few years prior. One of the songs from the movie called “Secret Love” won the Academy Award in 1954 for Best Original Song. Day went on to star in several award-winning films and even had her own television show.

Elsa Martinelli’s Groundbreaking Spaghetti Western Role

elsa martinelli wearing a cowboy hat in the belle star story
The Weinstein Company/MovieStillsDB
The Weinstein Company/MovieStillsDB

During the 1950s and 1960s Italian actress Elsa Martinelli starred in a fair share of Westerns. One of the most notable movies was 1968’s The Belle Starr Story. It was directed by the first woman nominated for a directing Oscar, Lina Wertmüller.

The Belle Starr Story was the only spaghetti Western directed by a woman and one of the few with a female protagonist. Before becoming an actress, Martinelli was a model who was discovered by Kirk Douglas. He cast her in The Indian Fighter after seeing her on a magazine cover.

Suzy Amis’ Deep Character Study In The Ballad Of Little Jo

suzy amis holding an umbrella in the ballad of little jo
Eureka Films/MovieStillsDB
Eureka Films/MovieStillsDB

While most people have probably heard of her husband, director James Cameron, Suzy Amis is one of the top Western actresses of all time. In 1993 she starred as Josephine “Jo” Monaghan in The Ballad of Little Jo.

The film was based on the true story of a woman who tries to escape the societal pressures of having a child out of wedlock. She escapes to the West and disguises herself as a man. The New York Times praised Amis’ performance, “Radiating a profound watchfulness, wide-eyed and tight-lipped, her Little Jo is a riveting study of self-discipline, courage, and emotional suppression.”

Molly Parker Gives A Versatile Performance In This Modern Classic

molly parker wearing a blue dress in deadwood
Fine Line Features/MovieStillsDB
Fine Line Features/MovieStillsDB

Although it’s rather rare to see a Western TV show made in the 21st century, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ones to check out. HBO’s award-winning Western, Deadwood, was based on real people who lived in the West during the 1870s.

Molly Parker played Alma Garret, a widow of a claim seeker who is left in a new town all alone. Instead of letting it get the best of her, she stays and accepts what is to come. Her performance on Deadwood was both commanding and versatile.

Hilary Swank’s Impressive Role In A “Feminist Western”

hilary swank wearing a bonnet in the homesman
HBO/MovieStillsDB
HBO/MovieStillsDB

When it came time to critique 2014’s The Homesman, Hilary Swank’s performance was all that critics could discuss. Even though she acted alongside numerous talented female actresses such as Meryl Streep and Hailee Steinfeld, Swank was able to authentically portray a spinster taking on a stereotypically male job.

For this reason, The Homesman has been referred to as a “feminist Western.” Women’s lives during this period in history have rarely been explored and a lot of their struggles can be compared to what women still go through today.

Diane Lane Helped Reignite The Western Genre For TV

diane lane in a white dress in lonesome dove
EuropaCorp/MovieStillsDB
EuropaCorp/MovieStillsDB

Lonesome Dove was a TV miniseries released in 1989 that starred Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Diane Lane, and more. It drew in millions of viewers, earned numerous awards, and is thought to have revived the Western genre for television.

Although Diane Lane’s character, Lorena Wood, wasn’t anywhere near wholesome, she was able to bring some heartwarming emotions and humor to the role. Some of her best scenes were opposite Duvall, which included poignant dialogue and great on-screen chemistry.

Betty Compson Was One Of The First Female Western Stars

betty compson and gary cooper looking scared
Motown Productions/CBS
Motown Productions/CBS

Released in 1919, Terror of the Range was one of the earliest Western films to date and starred a young silent film star, Betty Compson. The frontier era was only a few decades old when the film was made.

Terror of the Range was more of a collection of short films, but Compson also had a role as the glamorous Belle Starr in 1928’s Court-Martial. Even though men eventually dominated the Western genre, Compson proved that she had what it took to play a complex heroine.

Claudia Cardinale Didn’t Want To Become A Hollywood Cliché

claudia cardinale dressed as a cowgirl in the magnificent showman
John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

It isn’t hard to understand why Italian Tunisian actress Claudia Cardinale became a successful actress after winning the “Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia” award at 19-years-old. She soon became the best-known actress in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to her fame in the United States.

She starred in several iconic Westerns including Once Upon a Time in the West, The Professionals, The Legend of Frenchie King, and more. As she grew older, she grew tired of the Hollywood film industry and returned to Italian and French cinema.

Chelo Alonso Didn’t Have Any Lines In This Classic Western

chelo alonso with some pigs in the good, the bad, and the ugly
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Chelo Alonso was best known for playing the femme fatale in various movies throughout the 1960s. She was married to a production supervisor named Aldo Pomilia who happened to be working on 1966’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Her role was very brief but very memorable. She didn’t have any lines because her anguished look after losing everything said it all. Alonso thought she would retire from acting, but this film role led her to make a couple more Westerns (Run, Man, Run and Nest of Vipers).

Annie Galipeau Brings The Drama To The Western Genre

annie galipeau holding a small animal
United Artists/MovieStillsDB
United Artists/MovieStillsDB

While some may consider Pierce Brosnan to be the star of 1999 Western, Grey Owl, his performance wouldn’t have sufficed without Annie Galipeau. The movie centers on a Canadian fur trapper (Brosnan) who becomes an environmentalist after meeting a Native American who cares for orphaned beavers (Galipeau).

One of the most dramatic scenes of the movie has Galipeau crossing a frozen lake only to plunge down deep into the water. Brosnan’s character saves her and the two fall in love.

Haley Bennett Is Tough As Nails In The Magnificent Seven

hailee steinfeld wearing braids in true grit
Columbia Pictures/MovieStillsDB
Columbia Pictures/MovieStillsDB

Most of the cast in 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Haley Bennett, were praised for their performances. Haley Bennett played Emma Cullen, a young widow who hires a team of bounty hunters to liberate their frontier town.

Her character ends up becoming one of the “seven” and the entire story is told through her eyes. Many critics thought it was very similar to an action-thriller and attributed its success at the box office to the large production budget of $90 million.

Cate Blanchett Learned A New Language For Her Role

cate blanchett in front of a man with a horse in the missing
Columbia Pictures/MovieStillsDB
Columbia Pictures/MovieStillsDB

Cate Blanchett is front and center in the Ron Howard-directed Western The Missing. The film is based on Thomas Eidson’s novel The Last Ride and was set in 1885 New Mexico.

Many of the actors had to learn the Apache language for their roles. Blanchett was praised for her expert acting skills as Tommy Lee Jones’ adult daughter Magdalena “Maggie” Gilkeson. She has become one of Australia’s most accomplished actresses with two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and three BAFTA awards.

James Stewart Relied On His Military Experience In Films

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Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

James Stewart was not only a respected and beloved actor but was also a military officer. During his military career, he became the highest-ranking actor in military history, even making the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserve. He channeled some of his experience and discipline from the military into the characters he played, especially in his Western films.

He starred with John Wayne in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and is known for his other Western films Bandolero!, Bend of the River, and Broken Arrow. He has since been named the third-greatest male screen legend in the Golden Age of Hollywood, received an Academy Award Lifetime Achievement Award, and the American Film Institute named five of his films in the 100 best American films ever made.

Randolph Scott Won The Hearts of the Public

Randolph Scott
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Randolph Scott was a prominent Western actor from 1928 up until 1968. Although he was known to excel in different genres, he was most famous for playing the Western hero, which he played in the majority of his 60 films. His prowess led one critic to write: “Of all the major stars whose name was associated with the Western, Scott most closely identified with it.”

His personality worked well with his Western characters and turned his films into major box office hits. Films such as Abilene Town in 1946 helped prove his skill in the Western genre which he continued to act in, working with famous producers and directors. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1975 and won a Memoriam Gold Boot for his work.

Sam Elliot Was Destined To Be A Cowboy

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MJ Kim/Getty Images
MJ Kim/Getty Images

Sam Elliot’s acting abilities, as well as his physical appearance and demeanor, led him to be frequently cast as a cowboy or rancher in Western films. On top of that, he also said he associates with the Western tradition, having a relative who fought in the Battle of the Alamo. In part, it’s his cowboy look that helped get him into acting.

He was known to play small parts in Western films because he fit in so well until he eventually landed a role as “Card Player #2” in the Paul Newman-Robert Redford hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Elliot has also starred in other big Westerns such as The Quick and the Dead, Tombstone, and I Will Fight No More Forever.

Gary Cooper Played A Cowboy From Silent Films Into The Golden Age Of Hollywood

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in 1901, Gary Cooper had an acting career that lasted from 1925 to 1961. During that time, he was the leading role in 84 films spanning from the ending of the silent film era to the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although he acted in a range of genres, he is best known for playing the role of the American hero, especially in Western films.

He made a name for himself in the Western genre with his first sound film The Virginian, followed by filmssuch as High Noon, Man of the West, The Westerner, Fighting Caravans, and numerous others. Throughout his career, he was nominated for and won many Academy Awards for Best Actor. Cooper also took home Golden Globe Awards, Laurel Awards, and more.

Robert Duvall Is Keeping The Spirit Alive

Robert Duvall And John Pearce In 'The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid'
Universal Studios/Getty Images
Universal Studios/Getty Images

Robert Duvall is a well-rounded actor. He’s known for his different roles ranging from science fiction shows such as The Twilight Zone to Western classics like True Grit. Although he is a versatile actor, he is beloved for his Western roles in particular.

He began acting in Westerns in the 1950s in films such as True Grit, Joe Kidd, and Lawman, but continues the tradition today in movies like Open Range, Broken Trail, and Wild Horses. Duvall is credited with helping to keep the Western genre alive by maintaining to make these movies and holding them to the high standards they had during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Henry Fonda Acted In Some Of The Best

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Henry Fonda got his start on Broadway but eventually made his way to the big screen where he established himself known as one of the most prominent Western actors of all time. He made his Hollywood debut in 1935 and after achieving fame he later starred in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time In the West (1968).

He acted in other Western films such as How the West Was Won, Jesse James, Firecreek, The Cheyenne Social Club, and more. For his acting capabilities, he was named the sixth-Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute and is the patriarch of the acting family that includes Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Bridget Fonda, and Troy Garity. Although none of his major awards came from his Western films, he’s still highly regarded for his work in the genre.

Burt Lancaster Liked Playing The Tough Guy

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Burt Lancaster is known as the “tough guy” actor who liked taking on the challenge of playing demanding roles which led to his success as an actor. After gaining attention in Hollywood, he began acting in Western films such as Vengeance Valley, The Kentuckian, and The Unforgiven.

He also co-starred with Lee Marvin in the 1966 hit Western film The Professionals. Lancaster continued to act in countless Westerns throughout his career and won many awards for his acting in different genres. The American Film Institute also named him #19 of the Greatest Male Stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

Charles Bronson Was A Gunslinger At Heart

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Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Western genre wouldn’t have been the same without the work contributed by Charles Bronson. He is iconic as the typical cowboy character atop his horse, usually plotting revenge. He played all of his roles very naturally which helped him to make a name for himself as a Western actor.

Bronson’s most notable Western films included Once Upon a Time In the West, The Magnificent Seven, and Apache, although he acted in numerous others. Because he liked to play in action-packed gunfighting films, he fit right in with the Western tradition and handled all of his characters with ease.

James Arness Was The Ultimate Television Cowboy

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

James Arness was a television actor who helped to bring cowboys to the family living room every week. He is best-known for playing the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on the television series Gunsmoke for 20 years.

Along with Gunsmoke, he also acted in the series How the West Was Won which earned him a large following in the United Kingdom for his portrayal of the character Zeb Macahan. Although he was featured in a few Western films, it was Arness’ contributions to Western television programs that make him one of the most regarded Western actors of all time.

Audie Murphy Was A Real-Life War Hero

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Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

Audie Murphy truly lived a unique life. Murphy, born in 1925, was one of the most highly decorated combat soldiers in World War II. When he was just 19 years old, he received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly repelling an entire troop of German soldiers for an hour. Additionally, he was awarded every single award for valor from the U.S. Army.

After his astonishing success in the military, Murphy began a 21-year career in film. As an actor, he was best known for his roles in films like The Kid from Texas, Sierra, and The Unforgiven. He appeared in more than 40 movies during his time as a Hollywood actor. Audie Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971.

James Garner’s Television Character Was So Well-Liked That He Went On To Make Movies

Latigo, Support Your Local Gunfighter
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Much like James Stewart, James Garner was also a cowboy and a real-life soldier. He was even awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifice in the Korean War. Garner took experiences from the war and poured them into his acting, particularly in Westerns.

He became well-known through his performance as Bret Maverick in the 1950s television show Maverick and even played the same role in a few feature-length films. Although his Bret Maverick character was his most famous work, he was also in other Westerns like A Man Called Sledge, The Castaway Cowboy, and Duel at Diablo.

Lee Marvin Ended His Career As One Of The Best

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Lee Marvin was a Western actor who also was famous for his work in both television and movies. Although he started out with small features in Westerns, by the end of his career he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

One of his most notable performances was in the Western comedy Cat Ballou in 1965 in which he played the dual roles of Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn. The film also co-starred Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda’s daughter. He went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as numerous other awards for his work on the film. He was also in Bad Day at Black Rock, Gun Fury, Hangman’s Knot, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Clint Eastwood Made Everyone Want To Be An Antihero

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Before Clint Eastwood achieved numerous accolades as an actor, filmmaker, musician, and political figure, he was a Western star. He first came into popularity acting in the Western TV series Rawhide, and later graduated to Western films by playing The Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy which included A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The final film in the series, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is what solidified Eastwood as a supreme Western actor. It then led him to star in roles such as Hang Em’ High, Coogan’s Bluff, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Two Mules For Sister Sara, and more. Although Eastwood will forever remain an icon in the Western genre, most of his awards came later in his career for his directing abilities.

Steve McQueen Made Cowboys Sexy

Junior Bonner
FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images
FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Steve McQueen didn’t just earn the reputation of a cowboy, but the suavest cowboy around. His performances in Western flicks and television shows helped make him one of the highest-paid actors of all time during his career. However, he didn’t always get along with directors and producers.

He began his career in showbusiness guest-starring in a Western series titled Tales of Wells Fargo and later acted in the series Wanted Dead or Alive.1960’s The Magnificent Seven was his first huge hit.

Lee Van Cleef Was The Ultimate Villain

Sabata, Sabata
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Not only did Lee Van Cleef have the looks and mannerisms of the perfect Western villain, but he could also act the part too. At first, it was his look that helped him get the role for his early villain parts, but it wasn’t long until his talents became noticed. He made it big after he played opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon.

After that, Van Cleef played the villain in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More. He gained a lot of popularity outside of the United States for these roles and continued acting for Western television shows like The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Range Rider, and Stories of the Century.

Chuck Connors Went From Professional Athlete To Cowboy

Portrait of American Actor Chuck Connors
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

Chuck Connors was a jack of all trades. He was a professional baseball player, professional basketball player, and an actor. However, when he focused more on his acting career, he found fame starring in Western television series such as The Rifleman, the biggest hit of his career.

Here, he played the legendary role of Lucas McCain, a widower who used his skills with a rifle to exact revenge on those who had wronged him. In addition to his work on The Rifleman, Connors was also in other Western films and shows such as The Big Country, Pancho Villa, Once Upon A Time In Texas, and more.

Jack Elam Has Villain Written All Over Him

Jack Elam as J.D. Smith
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

Jack Elam is another actor who filled the ever-so-necessary role of the Western Villain on numerous occasions. Much like Lee Van Cleef, he had the look for it and also had a knack for pretending to be evil. He had a filmography of over 70 films and more than 40 television shows, many of which were Westerns.

Some of his most notable Western television performances were on The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Tales of Wells Fargo. He also acted in major Western films such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Far Country, and Vera Cruz. In 1994, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers.

Ben Johnson Is A Cowboy On And Off Screen

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

For Ben Johnson, acting in Western films came naturally considering that he was a genuine cowboy. While an actor and a stuntman, he was also a world champion rodeo cowboy. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film The Last Picture Show, a movie about a retired cowboy.

Johnson was cowboy through and through, and his rodeo skills are what got him started in Hollywood. His first role was in the film The Outlaw where he was only supposed to be helping to wrangle off-screen but somehow managed to appear in the movie. His work behind the scenes, as well as his stunt work, eventually led to an acting contract.

Walter Brennan Made It Big After Years Of Dedication

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John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Walter Brennan decided from a young age that he wanted to be an actor. So, he did his time serving as extras in movies until he scored his first role in The Calgary, a Western film.

Over the next decade, he played small roles and was in over 100 different films until he played the opposite of Gary Cooper in The Wedding Night. Slowly but surely, Brennan began to rise through the ranks and eventually went on to win three Academy Awards, proving that sometimes persistence is everything.

John Wayne Defined What A Cowboy Was

John Wayne as Cole Thornton
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Over the years, John Wayne has come to embody the essence of the Western genre. During the 1930s, he worked on a series of B films in the Western genre until he became a star after acting in John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939. From there, he starred in over 142 films and produced many of them.

Biographer Ronald Davis proclaimed that “John Wayne personified for millions the nation’s frontier heritage. Eighty-three of his movies were Westerns, and in them, he played cowboys, cavalrymen, and unconquerable loners extracted from the Republic’s central creation myth.” His most well-known roles were in films such as True Grit, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Red River, The Longest Day, and more.