The Best TV Westerns of The 1950s & 1960s – My Childhood Faves Part II


Based upon the Warner Bros Western “The Boy from Oklahoma”, released in 1954, “Sugarfoot” (also known as “Tenderfoot” over here in the UK) debuted on the ABC channel in September 1957.

Will Hutchins as Sugarfoot

Will Hutchins appeared as the lead character Tom Brewster, the role originally played by Will Rogers Jr. in the earlier film. Hutchins starred as the amiable correspondence law graduate for four years in all sixty-eight one-hour-long episodes until the cancellation of the show in 1961.

Brewster is the antithesis of the usual cowboy hero, foreswearing gunplay (unless necessary), fisticuffs, whiskey and the like, hence the nickname Sugarfoot.

Occasionally comedic in tone, the series instead features Brewster using his wits and his lassoing talents to outsmart the dumb bad guys who cross his path.

The character of Tom Brewster, in line with other Warner Bros TV cowboys, crossed over and appeared in “Cheyenne”, “Bronco” and “Colt 45”.

Towards the end of the final season, Hutchins made an uncredited appearance in Maverick as a frontier lawyer who, upon being asked by Beau Maverick (Roger Moore) “Are you the one they call Sugarfoot?” replies “Sugarfoot? Never heard of him”.

When it comes to guest stars the series enlisted Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper (as Billy the Kid), Adam West (as Doc Holliday) and Jack Elam, who played sidekick Toothy Thompson in a couple of shows in the last season.

James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dorothy Provine and James Garner also popped up at one time or another.

Robert Altman stands out from the list of series directors of the show, helming two episodes.

In terms of notable scriptwriters, the series featured material provided by the likes of Alan Le May, Dean Reisner and Leo Gordon.

There appears to be no definitive reason as to why “Sugarfoot” was cancelled after only four seasons but either way there’s enough evidence out there to indicate the show was highly regarded by contemporary audiences of the time.

The theme tune to the show was written by Max Steiner who composed the melody for a Warner Bros / Randolph Scott movie coincidentally called “Sugarfoot”, released in 1951. Mack David then added lyrics to the song as used in the TV series.

Wagon Train

Debuting on 18th September 1957, “Wagon Train” starred Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams and Robert Horton as trail scout Flint McCullough.

Other regular cast members in the early seasons included Frank McGrath as trail cook Charlie Wooster and Terry Wilson as wagon team member Bill Hawks. Bond and Horton would feature on an alternate basis in each episode.

I vividly remember watching the series on British TV in the early 1960s and always finding myself mildly disappointed if the opening credits declared “Tonight Starring Ward Bond” as that would indicate McCullough was up ahead scouting for Indians, which was code for he won’t be appearing in this episode tonight so there won’t be too much action to keep young boys entertained.

Each episode ran for an hour and quite a few of them were titled after the name of whatever character featured in the show that week such as “The Sally Potter Story” and “The Colter Craven Story”, the latter directed by none other than John Ford.

His involvement was quite apt considering the series was supposedly based upon the Ford movie “Wagon Master”, released in 1950 and coincidentally featuring Ward Bond as well.

“Wagon Train” proved to be an extremely popular show, running until 1965 and clocking up 284 episodes over 8 seasons.

At one point it overtook the ratings for “Gunsmoke” making it for a while the most popular TV program in America.

The show suffered a major blow when Ward Bond died suddenly in 1960 of a heart attack at the age of 57 halfway through season 4. His replacement, John McIntire, who had been a guest star in one of the episodes in the previous season, stepped into the breach as wagon master Chris Hale, and those wagons just kept a rollin’ for another four years.

Other recurring characters over the years included Michael Burns, Scott Miller and Robert Fuller, the latter taking over as main scout Cooper Smith from Robert Horton who left the show in 1962. 

Notable guest stars during the run of “Wagon Train” included actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Neville Brand, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters and a certain Michael Morris aka you-know-who, John Wayne, appearing in a long shot at the end of “The Colter Craven Story” as General Sherman.

Some of the directors who cut their teeth on the show before graduating to the big screen include Ted Post, Richard Donner, Arthur Hiller and Andrew V. McLaglen.

The theme music changed a number of times over the years but for my money the best one was composed by Jerome Moross, who also wrote the equally stirring soundtrack to “The Big Country”. Enjoy:


On September 10th 1955, John Wayne, taking time out from his as Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers”, introduced the first episode of “Gunsmoke”, a CBS TV series that ended up becoming one of the longest running shows in the history of American television.

The series was adapted from a popular radio show which featured William Conrad in the role of Marshall Matt Dillon, chief law enforcer for the town of Dodge City, Kansas.

The radio version actually continued to run for another six years after the debut of the TV show, whilst the live-action version ran for over six-hundred episodes in a twenty-year run that finished in 1975.

The main star of “Gunsmoke” was of course James Arness, an actor who at the time the series began was contracted to Wayne’s Batjac production company, hence the prologue from Duke himself.

The other main characters in the series included Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams, but the most popular member of the cast apart from Arness was Dennis Weaver as Chester, a role that made Weaver world famous.

During the run of the show other regular characters would turn up including a young Burt Reynolds as town blacksmith Quint Asper, as well as Ken Curtis, playing Festus Hagen in the style of the older brother of Charley McCorry from “The Searchers”. Veteran Western character actor Glenn Strange also joined the show in 1961 in the recurring role of bartender Sam Noonan.

Guest stars in the series throughout the years included the likes of Bette Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Kurt Russell and Ben Johnson.

The show also attracted some notable directors during its run including Andrew V. McLaglen, who directed nearly one-hundred episodes, as well as Arthur Hiller and Mark Rydell.

During the early years, Sam Peckinpah contributed a few scripts to the show, although one was apparently rejected for its presumably violent content.

After “Gunsmoke” finished in 1975, Arness reprised the role of Matt Dillon in a series of spin-off TV movies, the first one in 1987 entitled “Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge” which featured former cast member Amanda Blake as Kitty.

Four more TV movies were produced, the last of them, “Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice”, debuting in 1994.

Check out John Wayne’s filmed introduction to the very first episode of “Gunsmoke”.

Tales of Wells Fargo

Airing initially on American TV in March of 1957, “Tales of Wells Fargo” was yet another in the long list of television cowboy programs from that era beloved of baby boomer kids the world over.

The star of the show, gravel-voiced Dale Robertson, played Jim Hardie, who drew with his left hand and punched with his right.

Originally broadcast in black-and-white as half-hour episodes and running for six seasons through to 1962, the final season returned as one-hour programs in colour.

In the two hundred episodes that Robertson appeared in he played a “roving investigator / “special agent” for Wells Fargo, the actor also serving as narrator for the exploits of his character and given to statements such as “I’m Jim Hardie.. and only the good Lord and the company know where I’ll be tomorrow. Sound like trouble? Trouble’s my business”.

Hardie’s exploits took him all over the West in search of various varmints, killers and the like who had done harm to the reputation and well-being of the Wells Fargo company.

During the course of the series, he would also encounter some very interesting guest stars along the way.

A lot of them were still to make their mark in either TV or on the big screen at the time but a list that includes names such as Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughan, Lee van Cleef to cite but a few indicates the calibre of acting talent available at the time.

One observation I would make about the show that slightly disappoints is the fact that it didn’t really have a memorable theme tune in the tradition of other cowboy series at the time such as “Gunsmoke” or Wagon Train”. However, I did find a “Tales of Wells Fargo” song on the internet which some of you might find interesting:

Have Gun Will Travel

Another series from the golden age of the cowboy TV Western, “Have Gun Will Travel”, arrived courtesy of CBS on September 14th, 1957.

Created by Sam Rolfe, the show, which consisted of over two-hundred twenty-five-minute episodes, ran for six years, finishing in April 1963.

During the run it made a huge star of leading man Richard Boone as Paladin, a role he would be associated with for the rest of his career. As the name suggests, the enigmatic hero of the show is a latter-day knight available for hire as an investigator, albeit one who is also an accomplished gunman, sword fighter and a student of martial arts.

Paladin’s preferred home is the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco where he poses as a bit of a polymath, expert at chess, playing the piano, good at poker and other various talents as a cover for his real job as a mercenary.

He is also gifted in speaking several different languages. The show didn’t feature that many supporting characters, the main one being that of Kim Chang, a Chinese bellhop played by Kam Tong.

As with so many other Western shows of the time, “Have Gun Will Travel” also attracted a plethora of talented guest stars over the years including the likes of Peter Falk, Angie Dickinson, Ben Johnson, Charles Bronson and George Kennedy.

The show also boasted a very impressive group of writers including Sam Peckinpah, Gene ‘Star Trek’ Roddenberry and Bruce ‘Mission Impossible’ Geller, to name but a few.

Directors of the series included Andrew V. McLaglen, Richard Donner and Ida Lupino, with Boone taking the opportunity to helm quite a number of episodes too.

The program was so popular that several episodes were adapted for a radio version of the show, which debuted a couple of years after the TV series had started. Paladin was played by actor John Dehner, the radio series running until the end of 1960.

Naturally, there was also a memorable theme song to accompany the TV series. Composed by Boone, Rolfe and actor/singer Johnny Western, “The Ballad of Paladin” is played at the end of each episode. It charted on both sides of the Atlantic in 1962. The song is also referenced in the film “Stand By Me”, released in 1986.

Here’s a clip for the closing credits of “Have Gun Will Travel” featuring the theme song: 

For part 1 and the introduction to this series of TV Westerns of the 50s and 60s please go to

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Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

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