A Good Crop of Top Pop Cowboys

by cowboylands

National Day of the Cowboy brought out all the panting western fetishists who love their cowpokes dearly, as well as the more serious side of cowboying, embodied by the rodeo riders and horsemen and horsewomen of the good old days–the 1980s, that is. “Proud Cowboys Still Tall in the Saddle” is the headline. The photos say it all.

I have to go into more serious reportage soon or drown in pop-culture-flavored brew, but before I talk about something serious in the next post, like western water rights, or the dizzying dynamic of environmentalists and ranchers (or maybe just post another beefcake shot), here’s another fine list of favorite pop culture cowboys, compiled by tastemakers Entertainment Weekly on July 26, just for the Day of the Cowboy. Glad they can stretch themselves now and then and move from boob shots to holster shots. 

The Lone Ranger (1949-57) Kemo Sabe copyright 2007 es

Thumbs up. Obvious, but he does personify the white-hat style of good. His type is for the clean-cut kind of man or woman. But they really should’ve included Tonto, who was an icon of patience with Caucasian folly. 

CLINT EASTWOOD Thumbs up. Naturally. From TV star to movie figure to director: He’s West 24/7. Looks great in a holster and ages well, like a good Californian wine. 

JOHN WAYNE Thumbs up, but only because of which movie the Duke liked. This is another ho-hum, of course, but best not to be too flip about this great pop culture cowboy–his own favorite movie he made was The Searchers, in which he played a lonely, embittered, vengeful asshole. Who turns out okay in the end. it showed that he does have acting chops. Unless he really was a lonely, embittered…naaah. 

ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS Thumbs sort of up. A sweet inclusion. For those who like their cowboys and cowgirls with sugar frosting on top. 

The Howdy Doody Show (1947-60) Thumbs down, way down. I’m sorry, but ventriloquists’ dummies are creepy, Howdy Doody or not. Well, especially Howdy Doody. 

Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles (1974)

courtesy the Everett Collection 

Thumbs up! “Somebody help that poor man!” This guy made a good part in a satire interesting, and it was the first movie that told me that cowboys need not be white. Another one who looks good in a holster. And those threads rock. 

Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005) Thumbs up. They were hot and bothered much of the time, and self-tortured the rest, but for a short while, they were able to ride the range together. 

Bud Davis in Urban Cowboy (1980). Thumbs I don’t know. Maybe you have to be a two-step fan to go for this one. Although seeing the move would help decide….

Curly Washburn in City Slickers (1991). Thumbs down, although he was good. But come on…this over his portrayal of the gunslinger in Shane????

Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy (1969). Regretfully, thumbs down, although he was a fantastic character. He personifies the next stage of pop culture icon–the wanna-be cowboy and so he just doesn’t fit. Ennis and Jack had it easy compared to Joe Buck and Ratso.

Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke (1955-1975). Thumbs up. There are a couple of reasons Gunsmoke was one of the longest-running shows on TV, and Arness is one of them. 

The Magnificent Seven (1960). All of them? Not all are magnificent. Thumbs up and down. McQueen and Coburn get the prize.

The Cowboy in the Village People.

courtesy Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis Thumbs way up, sweet Jesus, thumbs way up. My favorite memories of my stultifying high school years are of the big jocks of the school shaking their fannies to “YMCA.” If they only knew….or maybe they did? 

Ben Cartwright in Bonanza (1959-1973). Thumbs forgetting what they are doing. He didn’t do it for me, but I guess he’s for a different generation. Maybe if he took off his shirt more? 

Both as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993); Wyatt Earp (1994). I have to say thumbs down, but Kurt Russell was quite respectable as the gun-happy Earp. 

Calamity Jane in Deadwood (2004-2006).

Thumbs way up, cocksucker. This motherfucking broad finally was portrayed by an actor who could fucking shoot and shoot the shit as well as Calamity could.

Cordell ”Cord” Walker in Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001). Thumbs down, because he is an alien. No self-respecting cowboy would get plastic surgery, bucko. 

The voice of Woody in Toy Story (1995). Aaaaw. Thumbs are sucked here. But a great story. Okay, okay, why not. Thumbs up. Sheesh. 

Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Thumbs down. The real Annie Oakley wasn’t a showboat like this one. 

Looney Tunes. Thumbs down, but I know this little guy has shouted his way into many hearts. Just not mine. 

Augustus ”Gus” McCrae and Woodrow F. Call in Lonesome Dove (1989). Thumbs down to Duvall, but great actor. Thumbs up to Tommy Lee Jones, who personifies West Texas. 

Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993). Thumbs up. He emoted that crazy-dangerous “getting Western” feeling. Tourist stores in the town of Tombstone actually sell ceramic tiles of his likeness. That is totally getting Western. 

All in all, not bad, I think! EW gets a thumbs up for bringing the pop culture cowboy list into the millennium. There are a few more I would add, but the virtual trail calls….










Leave a Comment to “A Good Crop of Top Pop Cowboys”

  1. I mean here I am a Jew-Girl from the Lower East Side with NO IDEA of how or what America is and WHO KNEW I was so turned on by cowboys!!!! I am now a woman.

  2. That’s exactly what Molly of The Virginian felt! She became a woman when she achieved the love of the cowboy-man. But I think the romance is still there. I would go for an astronaut, for example, or a race car driver. Totally, I would go for a race car driver.

  3. There’s a cowboy/actor painfully absent from this list: Clint Walker/Cheyenne.


    No man embodied more integrity, virtue, and physical beauty in a western. – Billy

  4. As soon as I saw his godlike visage I understood why you use “painfully.” Exquisite.

    Thanks for adding him. I’ll contact Entertainment Weekly and tell them they’re missing one, shall I?

  5. Clint Eastwood went on record as saying his favorite movie was Outlaw Josie Wales.
    (I say this only because his movies got me started on my current path of Sin, Degradation and Cheap Westerns)

    Tommy Lee Jones did an excellent job in The Missing as well.

    How about Robert Conrad in Wild Wild West?
    I could never figure out how he got his pants on without a portable sewing machine.
    Will Smith starred in the rather forgettable remake.

  6. Oh Yeah,
    Buck and the Preacher,
    starring Sidney Portier and Harry Belefonte
    Portier directed that one,
    and starred with James Garner in Duel at Diablo

  7. All Tommy Lee Jones has to do is stand in front of the camera. He is the West. Amazing in No Country for Old Men. It took me back to feeling at one with Ride the High Country–all the disappearance of the West and the West way of life–but with blood and a psychopath.

    Robert Conrad is still wearing his pants, I’m sure. I’ve forgotten the remake, because I’m still thinking of Robert Conrad’s pants. thanks.

    Portier directed a western? Sheesh, I am behind the bullet on this one….’

  8. Yup,
    it was his directorial debut.
    Damn good job, too.

  9. Check this out for a ride down the ol’ dusty trail……


  10. co; Cowboy ism transcends race,religion,class and gender. Check out Gay cowboys http://cowboyfrank.net/ Deep down I think we all can identify with the Cowboy.

  11. I love Cowboy Frank! I’ve been peeking on his site for a while now. He has a great story, He’s very straightforward about his likes and lusts (very cowboy of him), and he’s got the goods, I’m sure, in more ways than one!

  12. and now, a Korean Western
    The Good The Bad, and the Weird

  13. Looks perfect! The trio of flamboyance, cool, and deadly. Where was I when this came out? Camping in WVA?