I have a confession. My name is Cindy and I’m addicted to old westerns on TV. While everyone else in America is watching Jersey Shore, American Idol, or The Kardashians, I’m watching 50 year old episodes of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley. I don’t watch them for nostalgic reasons, since most of them were originally shown before I was born. I watch them because they have an actual plot and story line you can follow. Nobody gets completely naked, the only cussing is the occasional “dagnabit” and the acting is pretty good. The horses are fast, some of the women are faster, and the men are manly men who will shoot you thirty seconds after they’ve said “Howdy” to you in the general store. The undertakers in some of those towns must have been filthy rich considering how many dead bodies were laying around after a couple of street or saloon brawls. When people weren’t playing cards or drinking at the local watering hole they usually hung around the jail for some odd reason. Of course there was always a mysterious stranger there waiting to be hanged for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s usually found to be innocent of his crime during the last ten minutes and it’s revealed he’s really an honest, hardworking guy who’s just a little down on his luck. He never seems to get upset about the fact he was almost hanged either. Instead the townspeople wave goodbye as he rides off into the sunset with a sweetheart that never doubted his innocence. Another thing I’ve noticed is that even though most of them are either farmers or ranchers, you never actually see them doing any work involving their crops. They may feed a chicken once in a while or ‘break’ a horse but that was pretty much the extent of any work they did. If you were a rich woman in town you always wore the latest fashions and your hair looked like you had just left the beauty shop. If you were a poor woman your clothes were plain, you always wore an apron, and your hair was messy. I guess poor women couldn’t afford to brush their hair once in a while. They were probably too busy keeping Pa, or one of the boys, from getting drunk and landing in jail.
I’ve also notice some other things in each show. I’ll start with Bonanza.
Bonanza took place in Carson City, Nevada and was set around the lives of Ben Cartwright and his three boys. No one in this town thought it was odd that Ben’s boys were in their mid thirties and had never been married or moved out on their own. Probably because they knew the fate of any Cartwright boy’s love interest. Any woman who fell in love with a Cartwright, and was stupid enough to say they would marry them, was usually either killed within minutes or she would contract a ‘fever’ that would kill her by the end of the show. Old Ben Cartwright had three wives none of which lived to see their son’s first birthday. The first Mrs. Cartwright, Adam’s mother, died in childbirth. The second Mrs. Cartwright, Hoss’s mother, was shot by an Indian. The third Mrs. Cartwright, Little Joe’s mom, fell off a horse in front of the Ponderosa and died. A couple of Little Joe’s fiancées died right after he proposed to them. Hoss, to my knowledge, never got engaged. He probably hated to see innocent women suffer. He was a big teddy bear and I love him. Adam did get engaged at least once and while she didn’t actually die, she did run off with his cousin. Smart woman. I also think it’s strange that Ben is constantly scolding his ‘boys‘. These were not kids and there’s just something odd about him telling a thirty-five year old man that he can’t go into town because he’s got chores to do. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I think Adam was hot. Even though the Cartwrights had a lot of money they only had one outfit they wore on every show. I wonder what they wore when Hop Sing was washing their clothes? I guess new clothes weren’t high on their list of priorities. In fact, with the exception of the women on The Big Valley, all the cowboys wore the same clothes all the time. No wonder none of them ever had a woman. After breaking horses and feeding chickens day after day in the same clothes I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t exactly smell like roses. Being Little Joe was dangerous too. Both of his brothers accidentally shot him at least once. Of course all was forgiven by the end of the show.
The Big Valley is a lot like Bonanza except the father figure is played by Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley. It’s set in Stockton, California. She also had two sons, Nick and Jarred, plus a son, Heath, that was really her late husband’s illegitimate child. Fortunately for him, the husband died before she found out about this son. Nobody in any of these shows ever has a living spouse. Jarred is a lawyer that has an occasional client. Like most attorneys today he ropes cattle on the side when he’s not shooting bad guys. The other two conduct ‘ranch business’ and hang around the ranch a lot. None of them have ever been married or left home either. The difference in this show and Bonanza is Victoria has a daughter, Audra. Audra doesn’t do much except sit around, get anxious, and fall in love with any scoundrel that trots up to the house . He usually ends up getting shot or run out of town by one of her brothers. Nick, Heath, and Jarred also wear the same outfits every week but Victoria and Audra are never seen in the same outfit twice. The only way you know those two are in trouble is if their hair is messy and they have a little dirt on their dresses. Anytime they go anywhere they end up getting kidnapped. They even got kidnapped at Sunday School in one episode. You would think one of the boys would have kept a closer eye on them considering their unlucky history. I wonder what would have happened if Ben Cartwright and Victoria Barkley had ever gotten together? They probably would have needed a bigger house with a basement for all their sons.
I like both of those shows but my favorite is Gunsmoke. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love all the characters in Dodge City, especially Festus. Miss Kitty runs the Long Branch saloon. Her place must have kept the local glass maker in business since her windows get broken on every episode. There’s always a fight at the Long Branch plus an occasional shoot out. Even though Miss Kitty has a questionable reputation everyone loves her especially U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon who is the star of the show. At least you assume they're in love. I’ve never seen them do more than smile at each other and maybe hug. Occasionally Miss Kitty mentions she wishes Matt would ask her to marry him. Who can blame her? She’s been waiting twenty years for him to pop the question. Personally I would have dumped him and gone for Doc or Festus. Doc can usually be found at the Long Branch. He drinks a lot but never seems to be too drunk to pull a bullet out of someone that has accidentally gotten themselves shot. Doc seldom loses a patient either. He’s pulled at least six bullets out of Matt Dillon in the episodes I’ve seen. Matt must leak like a sieve when he drinks a shot of red-eye but, amazingly, he’s usually over his injury by the end of the show. Nary even a limp either! Even though they also wear the same clothes all the time, like the characters in the other shows, you never see a bullet hole in their vests, shirts, or pants after they’ve gotten over their injury.
As I’ve said before, Festus is my favorite character. He’s dirty, lazy, illiterate, and annoying but he always comes through. My son likes him too and has even said, “That’s might thoughty of you Miss Cindy” after I’ve offered him something to eat or drink. Festus says this a lot because, in addition to his other qualities, he’s also cheap. You never see Festus pay for anything he eats or drinks. He’s a tough character but is always able to see the goodness in people. He’s proud of the fact that he’s a Haggin and has a lot of goofy relatives come through Dodge City. Most of the time they’re up to no good and Festus has to straighten them out. One relative, a cousin, was there to shoot off Festus’s ear. Not the whole ear though. Just the little dangly part that hangs down. Of course Festus stopped him There’s just something about this earthy, homespun character that warms my heart. You don’t see characters like this on shows today. In fact if they made Gunsmoke now Miss Kitty would be a lot racier and there would be no question about her reputation if you know what I mean. She and Matt would be living together and Festus would be their idiot neighbor. Wacky hijinks would ensue.
I watch these shows and wonder what happened that caused us to go from shows like this to ‘Reality TV’? Did all the good writers die off when these shows ended? Maybe it’s just cheaper, and easier, to put a camera out in front of a bunch of whack jobs and let them go crazy. Recently they have put some new westerns on TV and I like them. Dallas, which is a continuation of the program that first ran in the 1980’s is pretty good. I like Long Mire too. But for every show you have like this you have at least three shows like Jersey Shore, or Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Today’s sitcoms are even worse. Instead of writing a good story that’s entertaining, they rely on sex and bad jokes. Some of today’s TV writers seem to lack imagination and the ability to write a good story. They say they only write what people want but I don’t think that’s true. I like to think that people still appreciate a good story with likeable characters. What use to be ’shocking’ on TV is now just predictable. Every show has the same format it seems. Most of the characters cannot keep their hands off each other long enough to hold an intelligent conversation. For every smart character there’s a stupid one that you wish would just go away. You don’t see characters like Miss Kitty, Matt Dillon, Festus, Hoss Cartwright, or even Mary Richards anymore. Instead you have programs with people showing their worst sides, screaming at cameras while every other word is bleeped out. I don’t watch them for several reasons. First of all they embarrass me. Second of all I don’t care about them or their personal problems. Give me a Cartwright, Barkley, or resident of Dodge City anytime. Most of those shows were on at least forty years ago but you can still find people that care about the characters almost like they were family. Now if you’ll excuse me it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset. If you happen to mention you like my article well, just let me say that would be mighty thoughty of you.