Horses of Hollywood Westerns
Updated: May 11
Baby boomers grew up with a steady stream of westerns stampeding across the screen. Westerns embodied the American character (or what we wanted to believe it was!): gritty, independent, can-do, righteous, and willing to get the job done, whatever the cost. (More in a future post about the Western genre!) Westerns were most popular from the 1930s to the early 1960s, during the decades that the automobile replaced horses and horsepower for farming, transportation, and industry went by the wayside. In a way, westerns were a swan song for the beloved horse that had built our nation, fought our wars, pulled our covered wagons, planted and worked our farms, and transported us through life for most of human history.
Horses played a lead role in the thousands of westerns produced over a half century of cinema: usually thundering across the wilderness during gunfights, wars between whites and Indians, or charging in the traces of runaway stagecoaches.
The photo gallery below is nowhere near complete. There were SO many more equine stars we could have mentioned! (It killed us we didn't have room for a picture of Mr. Ed with Mae West.) Can you identify the four-legged super stars below and their sidekick humans? What were your favorites? BE SURE TO READ THE PHOTO CREDITS. They have some great trivia!
PHOTOS & TRIVIA: (1) TV Series, 1956-1958, Broken Arrow, with Michael Ansara as Cochise and his paint. Anyone know the paint's name? The TV series was a spin-off of the 1950 movie, Broken Arrow, starring James Stewart and Jeff Chandler as Cochise. Both the series and the movie were some of the first Hollywood productions to depict Native Americans sympathetically and presented Cochise as a man of integrity and quiet dignity.
(2) Roy Rogers and his famous Palomino, Trigger appeared in the Roy Rogers TV series 1951-1957 and over 100 films! Rogers took Trigger to children's hospitals many times where Trigger would climb flights of stairs to the children's rooms. Trigger was a registered Palomino, half Thoroughbred stallion that Rogers found at a ranch near Hollywood early in his career. He immediately fell in love with the horse and in 1938 agreed to pay $2,500 for him, which he purchased in payments over many years on his meager salary. But, he said, it was the best investment he ever made.
(3) TV series (1949-1957) The Lone Ranger and his white stallion, Silver. More than ten movies were also based on The Lone Ranger. The series started first as a radio serial in 1933. The first episode began when the Lone Ranger saved the "fiery horse with the speed of light" from a buffalo attack. The monster, 17-hand stallion was probably a Tennessee Walker. Silver had a very spirited stunt double that was an Arabian-Saddlebred used for Silver's signature rear and trained by legendary Hollywood horse wrangler, Glenn Randall.
(4) TV series Zorro and his black stallion, Tornado (aka "Toronado" in Spanish) 1957-1961. More than 30 Zorro movies were also made. A black Quarter Horses named Diamond was used for the TV series. For the 1998 Mask of Zorro movie with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zita-Jones, three black Friesians and a jet-black Mexican Mustang were used for filming. The famed Hollywood wrangler, Corky Randall, son of Glenn Randall, came out of retirement to work on the film.
(5) Lee Marvin as drunken Kid Shelleen in the 1965 comedic western, Cat Ballou, on his equally drunk steed. Marvin also played Kid's evil twin, Tim Strawn, and won an Academy Award. When he accepted his Oscar, he raised his gold statue and gave his horse half the credit: "Half of this probably belongs to a horse out in the Valley somewhere". The director of the film, Elliot Silverstein, insisted that the horse be propped up against the wall with its legs crossed for a scene. The trainer argued that horses don't cross their legs. But, after several hours of feeding the horse sugar cubes and pushing it up against the wall, the director finally got his shot! Smoky, the horse, did get an acting award. In 1966, he won the Craven Award, named after Richard C. Craven, the first director of the American Humane Association of Hollywood, and given to animals who demonstrate their skills in supporting roles.
(6) TV series (1950-1956) The Cisco Kid, played by Duncan Renaldo, on his magnificent paint, Diablo. His sidekick, Pancho, played by Leo Carillo, rode Loco, a beautiful Palomino. The Cisco Kid was one of the very few TV series to feature Hispanic leads.
(7) Seven-time Academy Award winning movie, Dances with Wolves (1990) with Kevin Costner on his buckskin cavalry horse, Cisco, a Quarter horse. (There will be a future NFTF post about the filming of Dances with Wolves in South Dakota and the state's film director who scouted locations for Kevin Costner!)
(8) Wife and sidekick of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans with her buckskin Quarter Horse, Buttermilk.
(9) Famous actor Joseph Cotton with donkey, Brighty, in 1966 movie, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, based on Marquerite Henry's beloved book. Based on a true story of a burro named "Bright Angel," who lived in the Grand Canyon from1892 to 1922, carrying water from a spring below the rim to tourists. He was gentle and popular with children. Brighty was the first to cross the suspension bridge built over the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon and carried materials to help build it. The burro became a celebrity and accompanied U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt during a Grand Canyon excursion.
(10) TV series, 1955-1960, Fury. Fury was a purebred American Saddlebred black stallion named Highland Dale, who also played Black Beauty!
(11) Jennifer Jones on Dice in 1946 movie, Duel in the Sun, also starring Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotton, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore. Dice was a stallion out of an Arabian/Thoroughbred stallion and a Saddlebred/Thoroughbred mare. On command, he could play dead, kneel, count, bow, pull a revolver out of a holster, pick up a hat, push someone with his nose, yawn, and walk upstairs. His considerable talents were underutilized in Duel in the Sun, but he sure looked great with sultry Jennifer Jones holding her rifle, gunning for Gregory Peck!
(12) Young Montana boy, Ken McLaughlin, with his horse, Flicka, in TV series 1955-1960, a spin-off of the 1943 movie with Roddy McDowall, and its sequel, Thunderhead (1945). Based on the popular Mary O'Hara 1941 book.
(13) The 1958 Walt Disney movie, Tonka (also known as "A Horse Called Comanche"), featuring Sal Mineo as a Sioux warrior who survived the Little Big Horn and a horse he calls "Tonka," a mixed-breed horse of Custer's 7th Cavalry named Comanche that actually did survive the battle. However, much of the series was highly fictionalized.
You may enjoy these related posts:
-Hollywood's Greatest Trick Horse
-For the Love of Horses (& Mules!)
-The History of Appaloosas
-Dances with Wolves (Parts 1, 2 & 3)
"Horses of Hollywood" was originally posted June 14, 2019 on Facebook and NotesfromtheFrontier.com
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