Western Heroes

Back in the 1940’s I was enthralled by the western movies that I attended on Saturdays. I really started when I went with my grandparent to go pick up the crops or as they call it “las piscas”. When we finished around noon, we would go downtown to deliver whatever good we picked up and get paid. I would get my usual allowance of 25 cents.

All my young uncles and aunts were allowed to go to the movies at the only theater in town. Fortunately, everybody would be there to see the latest western and a 30 minute serial of either Zorro, Batman or Captain America. Those serials are the reasons we kept going back every week. They ran 15 weeks.

All the western movies lasted 60 minutes followed by the latest news “The Eyes and Ears of the World”, a cartoon and the serial. Sometimes they would have a double feature. This kept me in the theater all afternoon because we wanted to see it twice. Most of the time we went home late night because my grandfather and his older sons would finish their business with the owners of the land we were picking.

My favorite western was the Durango Kid with Charles Starrett.  As a kid we were very naïve. Why didn’t they run out of bullets? Why was it that the Durango Kid showed up in his black outfit in a white horse and later within minutes changed to a dark horse? We didn’t question it. It was fun. Also sometimes the bad guys would be good guys or be shot dead in another movie.

Beside the Durango Kid, our regular western characters would be Gene Autry. Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, Johnny Mack Brown, Sunset Carson, Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Elliot, Tim McCoy Rex Allen, Bob Steele, hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard and there is always the sidekick, Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnett or other comedians that kept us in stiches. Smiley Burnett would always be singing a ditty which was very funny to us.

Back in San Antonio I had my choice of theaters downtown. They were the Joy, State, Prince, Texas, Aztec, Empire and the ever popular, El Obrero, so called “O’Brien. For the latest Red Ryder and Little Beaver movie we had to go to the O’Brien. For Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, the Joy theater. For Charlie Chan movies, the State theater. Later when we got older, we went to the Prince for R rated movies. There were two Spanish language theaters. Guadalupe on the West side close to where I lived and El Nacional, west of downtown. Of course there was always El Progresso across from the Guadalupe Theater.

Every western hero had a horse and we all knew the horse’s name. For example, Gene Autry had Champion, The Lone Ranger had Silver. By the way, what does HiYo Silver mean? I don’t know either but we yell it when we took off on our wooden horse (broom stick). Then there’s the Durango Kid’s horse name Raider. I don’t know where he hid the horse but he never left town with Raider. Roy Roger had Trigger and it was supposed to be the smartest horse in the west. All the heroes had their horse trained to break the windows off jails. All they had to do was whistle and the horse would come over. Sometimes they talk to the horse and it would respond with a whinney or foot stomp. By the way, Roy Rogers had his horse stuffed and placed in the Roy Rogers museum. Tom Mix’s horse, Tony, is stuffed and was last seen at the Buckhorn Museum when it was at the Lone Star Brewery. Roy Rogers wanted himself stuffed and placed on top of Trigger but that never happened.

The relationship between good looking girls in a western often confused me when I was kid. Why would the hero leave a girl at the end of the movie to go off into the sunset? Also, sometimes there are three heros in the same movie and they’re always leave together.  However, one of them seems to fall in love with the girl but leaves with the others anyway. The last thing was when the hero kisses his horse but not the girl and still rides off into the sunset. Why don’t they leave the next morning?

The only western hero that was not typecast was Bob Steele. He went on to play in a gangster movie with Humphrey Bogart and later was in F Troop, a television comedy. On occasion I would see him in other movies. Sunset Carson went on to play in one movie as a soldier in “Stage Canteen”.

There would be other western heroes but not like the 1940s where there would be repeaters with the same character and everybody knew their name and the horses name.

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