Western character actors: who was the best or most colorful?

by dgranger | created - 08 Apr 2017 | updated - 04 May 2017 | Public

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1. John McIntire

Actor | Psycho

John McIntire possessed the requisite grit, craggy features and crusty, steely-eyed countenance to make for one of television and film's most durable supporting players of western settings. Born in Spokane, Washington in 1907 and the son of a lawyer, he grew up in Montana where he learned to raise ...

2. Walter Brennan

Actor | Red River

In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films and the only actor to date to win three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying engineering. While in school he became interested in acting and ...

3. 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 ...

4. 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 ...

My favorite roles of this silent film star that survived to make talkies are Dextry in The Spoilers (1942) and the President of the Senate in the non-western Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

5. Lee Marvin

Actor | The Dirty Dozen

Prematurely white-haired character star who began as a supporting player of generally vicious demeanor, then metamorphosed into a star of both action and drama projects, Lee Marvin was born in New York City, the son of Courtenay Washington (Davidge), a fashion writer, and Lamont Waltman Marvin, an ...

If you think that this legendary tough guy didn't play colorful characters in his westerns, let me offer you these roles: (please note that in some of his roles, he was so confident in his acting ability that he played his tough guy images for laughs): The half sclapped tough guy Tully Crow in The Comancheros (1961), The vicious bully with psychological problems about control, free speech, and the law, Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) The drunk over the hill gunman, Kid Shelleen and his vicious no nose brother, Strawn in Cat Ballou (1965). The hard two fisted drinking and hard fighting, and immoral gold prospector Ben Rumson in Paint Your Wagon (1969). The aging cowboy Monte Walsh in Monte Walsh (1970)

6. Strother Martin

Actor | Slap Shot

American character actor who achieved considerable fame in the last decade of his life. A native of Kokomo, Indiana, Strother Martin Jr. was the youngest of three children of Strother Douglas Martin, a machinist, and Ethel Dunlap Martin. His family moved soon after his birth to San Antonio, Texas, ...

7. Edmond O'Brien

Actor | The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Oscar-winner Edmond O'Brien was one of the most-respected character actors in American cinema, from his heyday of the mid-1940s through the late 1960s. Born on September 10, 1915, in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, O'Brien learned the craft of performance as a magician, reportedly tutored by...

8. Andy Devine

Actor | Robin Hood

Rotund comic character actor of American films. Born Andrew Vabre Devine in Flagstaff, Arizona, the later-to-be Rotund comic character actor was raised in nearby Kingman, Arizona, the son of Irish-American hotel operator Thomas Devine and his wife Amy. Devine was an able athlete as a student and ...

9. Woody Strode

Actor | Spartacus

An athlete turned actor, Strode was a top-notch decathlete and a football star at UCLA. He became part of Hollywood lore after meeting director John Ford and becoming a part of the Ford "family," appearing in four Ford motion pictures. Strode also played the powerful gladiator who does battle with ...

No western actor character list is complete without him! Also his is one of the first African Americans who broke the color barrier in Professional NFL football.

10. Paul Fix

Actor | Red River

Paul Fix, the well-known movie and TV character actor who played "Marshal Micah Torrance" on the TV series The Rifleman (1958), was born Peter Paul Fix on March 13, 1901 in Dobbs Ferry, New York to brew-master Wilhelm Fix and his wife, the former Louise C. Walz. His mother and father were German ...

11. Margaret Hamilton

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

Margaret Hamilton was born December 9, 1902 in Cleveland, Ohio to Jennie and Walter Hamilton. She later attended Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and practiced acting doing children's theater while a Junior League of Cleveland member. Margaret had already built her resume with several...

Yes, the lady who played the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz", also played in a lot of westerns.

12. Jack Elam

Actor | C'era una volta il West

Colorful American character actor equally adept at vicious killers or grizzled sidekicks. As a child he worked in the cotton fields. He attended Santa Monica Junior College in California and subsequently became an accountant and, at one time, manager of the Bel Air Hotel. Elam got his first movie ...

13. Jay C. Flippen

Actor | The Killing

Jay C. Flippen could probably be characterized these days as one of those distinctive faces you know but whose name escapes you while viewing old 50s and 60s movies and TV. His distinctive bulldog mug, beetle brows, bulky features, and silver-white hair were ideally suited for roles as criminals ...

He is one of those faces you remember but can't remember the name. I remember him from one of my favorite James Stewart/Mann westerns, The Far Country (1954) that has Walter Brennan, John McIntire, Jack Elam, Henry Morgan in it too.

14. Kathleen Freeman

Actress | Innerspace

Kathleen Freeman's introduction to show business came very early in life. Her parents were vaudevillians, and she made her debut at age 2 in their act. Later she attended UCLA with intentions of becoming a pianist, but was bitten by the acting bug and never looked back. She gained experience on ...

You may best remember her for a non-western role, Sister Mary Stigmata (a.k.a. The Penguin) in both of the Blues Brothrs Films. She was Grits in "The Far Country" And Lena Nordquist in North to Alaska (1960)

15. Slim Pickens

Actor | Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Slim Pickens spent the early part of his career as a real cowboy and the latter part playing cowboys, and he is best remembered for a single "cowboy" image: that of bomber pilot Maj. "King" Kong waving his cowboy hat rodeo-style as he rides a nuclear bomb onto its target in the great black comedy ...

16. Agnes Moorehead

Actress | Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Of Irish/English ancestry, Agnes was born near Boston, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister (her mother was a mezzo-soprano) who encouraged her to perform in church pageants. Aged three, she sang 'The Lord is my Shepherd' on a public stage and seven years later joined the St. Louis Municipal ...

17. Harry Morgan

Actor | M*A*S*H

Harry Morgan was a prolific character actor who starred in over 100 films and was a stage performer. Known to a younger generation of fans as "Col. Sherman T. Potter" on M*A*S*H (1972). Also known for his commanding personality throughout his career, he tackled movies and television in a way no ...

He usually played a villain in westerns until he got onto the Dragnet TV series.

18. Arthur Hunnicutt

Actor | El Dorado

Lean, tall American character actor Arthur Hunnicutt was known for playing humorously wise rural roles. He attended Arkansas State Teachers College in his native state, but was forced to drop out in his third year due to lack of funds. He joined a theatre company in Massachusetts, then migrated to ...

My favorite is his role of Bull in El Dorado (1967)

19. Eli Wallach

Actor | Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo

One of Hollywood's finest character / "Method" actors, Eli Wallach was in demand for over 60 years (first film/TV role was 1949) on stage and screen, and has worked alongside the world's biggest stars, including Clark Gable, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brynner, Peter O'Toole,...

20. John Carradine

Actor | The Grapes of Wrath

John Carradine, the son of a reporter/artist and a surgeon, grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York. He attended Christ Church School and Graphic Art School, studying sculpture, and afterward roamed the South selling sketches. He made his acting debut in "Camille" in a New Orleans theatre in 1925. ...

But he is known more for his horror film work. Maj. Cassius Starbuckle in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

21. Edgar Buchanan

Actor | Shane

At the age of seven, he and his family moved to Oregon. After studying at the University of Oregon, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a dentist, graduating from North Pacific Dental College. From 1929 to 1937, he practiced oral surgery in Eugene, Oregon. He then moved his practice to...

22. Ward Bond

Actor | The Quiet Man

Gruff, burly American character actor. Born in 1903 in Benkelman, Nebraska (confirmed by Social Security records; sources stating 1905 or Denver, Colorado are in error.) Bond grew up in Denver, the son of a lumberyard worker. He attended the University of Southern California, where he got work as ...

23. Victor McLaglen

Actor | The Quiet Man

Rambunctious British leading man (contrary to popular belief, he was of Scottish ancestry, not Irish) and later character actor primarily in American films, Victor McLaglen was a vital presence in a number of great motion pictures, especially those of director John Ford. McLaglen (pronounced ...

Though known for his role as Squire Danaher in "The Quiet Man," he was a regular in John Ford films.

24. Will Geer

Actor | Jeremiah Johnson

Will Geer was born William Aughe Ghere in Frankfort, Indiana, to Katherine (Aughe), a teacher, and Roy Aaron Ghere, a postal worker. Will admired his grandfather, a man who said hello to trees by their Latin names and who had used what he brought back to Indiana from the California gold rush to ...

25. Dan Duryea

Actor | Too Late for Tears

Dan Duryea was educated at Cornell University and worked in the advertising business before pursuing his career as an actor. Duryea made his Broadway debut in the play "Dead End." The critical acclaim he won for his performance as Leo Hubbard in the Broadway production of "The Little Foxes" led to ...

Most of the time he played a crazy ranting gunman in his westerns like Waco Johnny Dean in Winchester '73 (1950)

26. Denver Pyle

Actor | The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

A rather wanderlust fellow before he latched onto acting, Denver Pyle--who made a career of playing drawling, somewhat slow Southern types--was actually born in Colorado in 1920, to a farming family. He attended a university for a time but dropped out to become a drummer. When that didn't pan out ...

27. Victor French

Actor | Highway to Heaven

Victor French was the son of a stuntman. His debut was a small role in Lassie (1954), uncredited. He had his first real acting experiences in western-films, where he usually played the "bad guy" due to his rather gruff look. This changed with Little House on the Prairie (1974), (as Isaiah Edwards)....

28. Ken Curtis

Actor | Gunsmoke

Considering the kind of scruffy, backwoods, uneducated, Deep-South hillbilly types he played, many people would be surprised to hear that Ken Curtis wasn't actually born in the south but in the small town of Las Animas, Colorado, the son of the town sheriff. They would probably be even more ...

Mostly known as Festus on the tv show Gunsmoke (1955), believe it or not, he was the star of many western musicals. Yes, he was a singing cowboy. Also, he was in The Searchers (1956), and even had the uncredited part of Dermot Fahy in The Quiet Man (1952) - the I.R.A. man who plays the accordion and singing "The Wild Colonial Boy", in the pub and he later informs Squire Danaher that if it wasn't for the I.R.A. not a lovely stone of his house would have been left standing.

29. Alan Hale

Actor | The Adventures of Robin Hood

Alan Hale decided on a film career after his attempt at becoming an opera singer didn't pan out. He quickly became much in demand as a supporting actor, starred in several films for Cecil B. DeMille and directed others for him. With the advent of sound Hale played leads in a few films, but soon ...

Senior, not Junior. He was once named as "The most dangerous man in Hollywood" because his acting ability as a character actor was so good that he could steal the show away from any lead actor. Note his role of Little John steals the scenes away from Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). He was Tex Bell in Santa Fe Trail (1940).

30. Walter Huston

Actor | The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

For many years Walter Huston had two passions: his career as an engineer and his vocation for the stage. In 1909 he dedicated himself to the theatre, and made his debut on Broadway in 1924. In 1929 he journeyed to Hollywood, where his talent and ability made him one of the most respected actors in ...

31. Katy Jurado

Actress | High Noon

Katy Jurado was born María Cristina Estela Jurado García into a wealthy family on January 16, 1924. Her early years were spent amid luxury until her family's lands were confiscated by the federal government for redistribution to the landless peasantry. Despite the loss of property, the matriarch of...

32. Michael Parks

Actor | Red State

Michael Parks is known as an actor's actor by his peers with a breadth of astonishing range that has allowed him to portray stunning contrasts--sometimes in the same film, like in Tusk (2014), starring in dual roles as an erudite serial killer opposite Justin Long, and as a feeble rube opposite ...

33. Anthony Zerbe

Actor | The Omega Man

Hailing from Long Beach, California, talented character actor Anthony Zerbe has kept busy in Hollywood and on stage since the late 1960s, often playing villainous or untrustworthy characters, with his narrow gaze and unsettling smirk. Zerbe was born May 20, 1936 in Long Beach, and served a stint in...

Breed in "Rooster Cogburn" and "The Young Tiders" which is currently being shown on Get TV.

34. Chill Wills

Actor | The Alamo

Colorful character actor of American Westerns. Named "Chill" as an ironic comment on his birth date being the hottest day of 1902. A musician from his youth, he performed from the age of 12 with tent shows, in vaudeville, and with stock companies. While performing in vaudeville in Kansas City, he ...



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