Favorite Western Stars

by fcullen | created - 18 Jan 2013 | updated - 27 Oct 2015 | Public

As a kid for whom the Saturday matinee was the top event of my week, we booed Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and any other fake cowboys who sang. There were so many great cowboy stars, many of whom could do at least some of their stunts--real athletes who didn't require doubles to do the basics like riding fast or shoot or punch--or take a punch. None of us allowed a "romantic" cowboy on our lists. And splashy Technicolor westerns devoid of the grit and grime were shunned by true aficionados. The few women who got good enough roles were generally tough old birds, although a few beauties, like Esther Ralston, were realistic enough to earn our admiration. Favorite western stars included comic sidekicks, villains and stunt people as well as the nominal heroes: the four casting requisites of a western shoot 'em up. I'm sure I've neglected some of your favorites who should be on this list. Let me know. IMDB will not allow me to read your comments except on Facebook, but I seldom have time to read or use social media: FB, Twits, etc. So if you'd like to comment directly to me, please-mail me at showbiz@lobo.net, and I'll try to post your remarks within the intros to my lists. I value all earnest comments.

1. Bob Steele

Actor | The Big Sleep

Started working with his father on stage when he was two. Later he toured in a comedy act for Fanchon and Marco. His first screen experience was at age 14, in a Pathe production of "Adventures of Bill and Bob".

Battlin' Bob Steele was small, feisty and a fine actor in dramatic roles.

2. Buck Jones

Actor | Law for Tombstone

Buck Jones was one of the greatest of the "B" western stars. Although born in Indiana, Jones reportedly (but disputedly) grew up on a ranch near Red Rock in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and there learned the riding and shooting skills that would stand him in good stead as a hero of Westerns. He...

As authentic as they came in western stars.

3. Ken Maynard

Actor | The Fiddlin' Buckaroo

Studio publicity incorrectly puts his birthplace at Mission, Texas. Ken was a trick rider with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and later with Ringling Brothers and was also a champion rodeo rider. His movie debut, The Man Who Won (1923), was the first of many for this early cowboy movie superstar. ...

Rough & tough on or off the set.

4. Bill Elliott

Actor | Old Los Angeles

Born Gordon Nance in 1904 on a farm in Pattonsburg, Missouri -- a small town about 60 miles northeast of Kansas City -- the future "Wild Bill Elliott" grew up around horses. His father was a commissioner at the Kansas City Stockyards. and at age 16 Elliott won a first-place ribbon in that city's ...

Steely, a peaceable man until, provoked, his fist or six-shooter flashed like lightning.

5. Buster Crabbe

Actor | Flash Gordon

Buster Crabbe graduated from the University of Southern California. In 1931, while working on That's My Boy (1932) for Columbia Pictures, he was tested by MGM for Tarzan and rejected. Paramount Pictures put him in King of the Jungle (1933) as Kaspa, the Lion Man (after a book of that title but ...

Earnest, likeable, good looking and athletic, he could really mix it up when the script called for it.

6. Tim McCoy

Actor | The Western Code

One of the great stars of early American Westerns. McCoy was the son of an Irish soldier who later became police chief of Saginaw, Michigan, where McCoy was born. He attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago and after seeing a Wild West show there, left school and found work on a Wyoming ranch. He ...

His character represented decency, sobriety and justice.

7. Al St. John

Actor | Billy the Kid Trapped

Al St. John was born on September 10, 1893 in Santa Ana, California, USA as Alfred St. John. He was an actor and director, known for Billy the Kid Trapped (1942), The Roaming Cowboy (1937) and The Rangers' Round-Up (1938). He was married to Flo-Bell Moore, June Price Pearce, Lillian Marion Ball and...

This veteran of silent comedies was the most acrobatic and comic of all sidekicks.

8. Charles Middleton

Actor | Duck Soup

Charles Middleton was born on October 3, 1874 in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was the son of a millionaire and did not have to work, but apparently went into acting because he needed to find a way to express himself. He worked in a traveling circus, in vaudeville, and acted in live theatre before he...

Cold, heartless evil mastermind.

9. Yakima Canutt

Assistant_director | Ben-Hur

Starting out as a rodeo cowboy and then becoming a stuntman in silent westerns, Yakima Canutt later doubled for such stars as Clark Gable and John Wayne, among others, in such dangerous activities as jumping off the top of a cliff on horseback, leaping from a stagecoach onto its runaway team, being...

Stuntman extraordinaire, action director and actor.

10. David Sharpe

Actor | Social Error

He made his first appearance before the camera at the age of 14 in Douglas Fairbanks's Robin Hood (1922) Young Dave became the National A.A.U. tumbling champion in 1925 and 1926. Still in his teens, he began taking bit parts in films. His big break came in Masked Emotions (1929). It led him to a ...

Handsomer than many film sagebrush heroes, and a decent actor, he worked more as a stuntman than an actor and seems to have prefered being the "Crown Prince of Daredevils." (Because they worked more continuously doing stunts for many film actors, and there were few who were their equals, the top stuntmen like Davey Sharpe and Yakima Canutt earned more money than the lead cowboy stars in the Poverty Row studios 6-reel westerns.

11. Charles King

Actor | The Adventures of Sir Galahad

In films since childhood (as a teenager he appeared in The Birth of a Nation (1915)), Charles King played a variety of roles in silent films, and even made a series of comedy shorts for Universal in the 1920s. However, it was as a villain in sound westerns that King achieved his greatest fame. In ...

Physically imposing, 'Blackie' was 'King' of the brutal henchmen in westerns.

12. Charles Starrett

Actor | Our Betters

While on the Darmouth College football team, Charles Starrett was hired to play a football extra in The Quarterback (1926). Impressed by the job, Starrett got the acting bug and next went into vaudeville, then regional stage work and finally to Broadway. Spotted by a Paramount talent scout, Starrett...

Square-jawed and a tall athlete, Starrett was good looking enough to play romantic roles in non-westerns, and rough and tumble enough to maker a credible cowboy hero.

13. Raymond Hatton

Actor | Male and Female

The son of a physician, Raymond Hatton entered films in 1909, eventually appearing in almost 500 other pictures. In early silents he formed a comedy team with big, burly Wallace Beery. He was best known as the tobacco-chewing, rip-snorting Rusty Joslin in the Three Mesquiteers series. He was also ...

Grand Old coot with a distinctive voice who brought solid acting chops to his wise and sincere roles.

14. Tom Tyler

Actor | Stagecoach

Popular American star of silent and early sound Westerns and serials. Raised in Michigan, he went through a number of strenuous jobs (sailor, boxer lumberjack, coal miner, etc.) before landing in Los Angeles and getting work as a movie extra and stuntman. His good looks and athletic physique (he ...

Six-foot, three, a handsome body builder who came to the screen after roughing it through his early years, proved a formindable and believable western hero, but crippling disease cut short his career and then life. He died at age 50."

15. William S. Hart

Actor | The Money Corral

A storybook hero, the original screen cowboy, ever forthright and honest, even when (as was often the case) he played a villain, William S. Hart lived for a while in the Dakota Territory, then worked as a postal clerk in New York City. In 1888 he began to study acting. In 1899 he created the role ...

One of the earliest film western stars, Hart had several things going for him: he looked like a hero, he grew up in 19th century West, and he was an experienced legitimate stage actor when he came to make movies."

16. Harry Carey

Actor | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Born in New York City to a Judge of Special Sessions who was also president of a sewing machine company. Grew up on City Island, New York. Attended Hamilton Military Academy and turned down an appointment to West Point to attend New York Law School, where his law school classmates included future ...

Like his contemporary William S. Hart, Carey adopted a stone-faced, non-nonsense visage for his westerns, and like Hart was an Easterner who went West. Both were also scriptwriters and directors.

17. Gilbert Roland

Actor | The Bad and the Beautiful

Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso, later known as Gilbert Roland, was born in 1905 in Mexico. Following his parents to the USA, he did not become the bullfighter he had dreamed of being but became an actor instead. His Mexican roots, his half macho half romantic ways, his handsome virile figure helped ...

Among the first Mexican-born actors to play romantic heroes in silent films, this seemingly ageless athlete alternated between non-western and western films, bringing dignity and strength to roles that too often demeanded Hispanics.

18. Ray Corrigan

Actor | The Three Mesquiteers

Ray Corrigan was a physical culturist and very good athlete. He began working in Hollywood, as a physical fitness trainer for movie stars. Bit parts in 1932 led to action roles in the Undersea Kingdom (1936) and The Leathernecks Have Landed (1936), the same year he began his role as Tucson Smith in...

Action actor and stuntman.

19. Rex Bell

Actor | Law and Lead

Rex Bell was born on October 16, 1903 in Chicago, Illinois, USA as George Francis Beldam. He was an actor, known for Law and Lead (1936), Broadway to Cheyenne (1932) and Too Much Beef (1936). He was married to Clara Bow. He died on July 4, 1962 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

20. Hoot Gibson

Actor | Roaring Ranch

A pioneering cowboy star of silent and early talking Westerns, Hoot Gibson was one of the 1920s' most popular children's matinée heroes. In his real life, however, he had a rather painful rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags career, a problem that seemed to plague a number of big stars who fell victim ...

21. Ben Johnson

Actor | The Last Picture Show

Born in Oklahoma, Ben Johnson was a ranch hand and rodeo performer when, in 1940, Howard Hughes hired him to take a load of horses to California. He decided to stick around (the pay was good), and for some years was a stunt man, horse wrangler, and double for such stars as John Wayne, Gary Cooper ...

22. Robert Livingston

Actor | The Bold Caballero

Bob Livingston's father was a newspaper editor in Quincy, Illinois. As a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News Bob did a story on the Pasadena Playhouse, and that got him interested in acting. In his mid-20s, he was doing bit parts for Universal and Fox and went from there to romantic roles with ...

23. Fuzzy Knight

Actor | She Done Him Wrong

American character actor primarily of Western "sidekick" roles. Born John Forest Knight in Fairmont, West Virginia, Knight joined a traveling minstrel show as a musician at age 15. He attended The University of West Virginia as a law student, supporting himself as the drummer in his own band. ...

24. Fred Thomson

Actor | A Regular Scout

All but forgotten today, Fred Thomson was a silent movie westerner who at one time rivaled 1920s heroes Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson in popularity. Unlike the early, myth-inducing demise of a Rudolph Valentino or Jean Harlow, Fred's untimely death of tetanus prevented the actor, who was at one time ...

25. George 'Gabby' Hayes

Actor | Lights of Old Santa Fe

American character actor, the most famous of Western-movie sidekicks of the 1930s and 1940s. He was born May 7, 1885, the third of seven children, in the Hayes Hotel (owned by his father) in the tiny hamlet of Stannards, New York, on the outskirts of Wellsville, New York. Hayes was the son of ...