1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Herman King 09

Other than he died. Of course, symbolically good cowboys never die. Just the bad ones. Reading Dan Duff's article on how he liked westerns made me realize just how much westerns meant to me growing up. Still do, only Hollywood stopped making them (except for a rare makeover, usually not nearly as good as the original). The coastal elites are too sophisticated, westerns are for us hicks in Flyover country.

Western movies were the natural culmination in popular culture of the dime store magazines and especially the novels of Zane Grey. It was said that Zane Grey recreated the Knights of the Round Table through western lore. Instead of a knight wearing that heavy armor, our knights were the cowboys, dressed in dusty everyday garb and wearing a gun for self protection. Much of what we read and enjoyed on the screen was pure baloney but we polished it a bit through our imaginations. I now realize I felt a little sheepish about loving westerns. I was told once that in my absence some classmate I don't know who) derided my reading habits to Mrs. Mitchell, saying it showed I wasn't so smart after all. But Mrs. Mitchell, bless her, defended me, saying that I needed entertainment like everyone else. I was a voracious reader from the beginning of my literacy. I remember checking out two books from Study Hall. One was Aristotle's Metaphysics, the other a Zane Grey western. Mrs. Hawks exclaimed: "You sure like a variety!" Which was true. I checked out Aristotle through curiosity, Zane Grey for entertainment.

But westerns were good for their moral value (more so than Aristotle). The good guys always beat the bad guys. They defended the weak and oppressed. And how could they sing! Especially the Sons of the Pioneers, whom I still listen to on their websites.

So what did happen to Randolph Scott and the other guys in the white hats (except Hoppy)? When westerns attempted to be "adult?" they became too gritty (I believe that's the word) for the innocent to believe in. There was more sex and the violence became too graphic. And the singing cowboy rode into the sunset. The last of the singing cowboys was Rex Allen, whom I met at the 1976 Republican convention in Kansas City. He was as tall and handsome as on screen. He promised to send me some of his recent music and unlike most celebrities, kept his promise! I interviewed some of the old TV cowboys at the Williamsburg Film Festival years later, including James Drury "the Virginian." Unlike typical film stars, western actors were usually conservative, more Middle American, with roots in Fly-over Country.

Randolph Scott did make the transition to adult westerns successfully, co-starring with Joel McCrea in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. Sam Peckinpah had originally cast Scott as the good guy and McCrea as the bad guy but reversed the roles at the actors insistence. But the film had a satisfying endings where Scott promised the dying McCrea to deliver the gold just as he (McCrea) would have done. Who can forget the conclusion with McCrea looking up at the mountains he loved as he drew his last breath.

It was an ending that befitted the old classic western.