Movie goers have been in love with cowboys for decades. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous on-screen cowboys who brought the Old West to life.
• Tom Mix was the first movie cowboy, with his debut film “The Cowboy Millionaire” released in 1909. The following year came “Ranch Life in the Great Southwest,” a documentary that showcased Mix’s skills as a cattle wrangler. During the 1920s, he made upwards of 160 cowboy films, and Mix, along with his horse “Tony the Wonder Horse,” always saved the day. Between 1909 and 1935, he appeared in 291 films, of which 282 were silent movies. He was making $7,500 a week starring in movies, but moved over to touring with a circus from 1929 to 1931 for a reported salary of $20,000 a week (about $316,000 in today’s dollars).
• John Wayne’s first leading role was in 1930’s “The Big Trail,” in which the 23-year-old Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison) played a young fur trapper, not a cowboy, for the sum of $105 per week. The film was a box office flop. Wayne was a singing cowboy (via dubbing) in 1933’s “Riders of Destiny,” and received his first “A” movie break in 1930 as The Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach,” launching his career of 179 film and television productions. He was a cattleman driving his herd on the Chisholm Trail in 1948’s “Red River,” and again in 1972’s “The Cowboys.” But Wayne’s stardom wasn’t limited to cowboy films, as he starred in several war dramas and romance stories. But we remember him well for his 80 Westerns throughout his career.
• Clint Eastwood’s first well-known cowboy role was that of Rowdy Yates on the long-running TV series “Rawhide,” chronicling the saga of the adventures of an 1860s cattle drive. Eastwood was paid $750 per episode for the first season, which premiered in 1959. By its final season in 1965, that number had jumped to $119,000. Production frequently called for filming 12 hours a day, six days a week. Eastwood went on to star in 12 notable Westerns, including “Fistful of Dollars,” “Pale Rider,” and “High Plains Drifter.” He’s a four-time Oscar winner.
• Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones starred as two former Texas Rangers on a cattle drive to Montana in 1989’s four-part mini-series “Lonesome Dove.” The program received 7 Emmy wins out of 18 nominations, including a Best Actor win for Duvall. It was watched by 26 million viewers. Duvall was a cattle drive cowboy again in 2003’s “Open Range” opposite Kevin Costner as their crew drove cattle cross-country. Duvall broke six ribs during the filming after being bucked off a horse. There were 250 cattle on the movie set, handled by professional cowboys.
• A lighter version of the cattle drive movie was released in 1991, when Billy Crystal starred in “City Slickers.” His character along with two of this friends, all suffering from a mid-life crisis, embarked on a two-week Wild West cattle drive, where they were under the intimidating eye of Curly the trail boss. There was nothing easy about this vacation, with the Manhattan residents experiencing lost cattle, assisting in the birth of a calf, and fistfights among crew and guests in this comedic “cowboy” movie.