Recliner Time: The Evolution of Westerns in TV and Film


Gene Autry, the legendary singing cowboy of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s won the hearts of Americans with his golden voice and rugged good looks. Someone said, “He used to ride off into the sunset and later he owned it!” 


Oh yes, the cowboy era. I grew up watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, John Smith, William Smith, Robert Fuller, John Wayne, James Drury, Doug McClure, Audie Murphy, Dale Robertson, the Cartwright men, the Barkley brothers, the men of Wagon Train; James Arness and his friends who kept law and order in Dodge City; and a host of other stars. Those were TV’s simpler times, as the plots usually consisted of the bad guys versus the good guys. Fist fights – shadow boxing and play acting – were common and it seems that most everyone got shot or at least pistol whipped almost weekly! However, blood was rarely seen. Those cowboys were a tough lot! Same channel, similar plots, same time next week!


In those days, most small boys – myself-included – received toy guns for Christmas and spent hours pretend shooting the bad guys in the old West. As far as I know, owning a play gun had no adverse effect on my psyche, but that’s another blog.


It recently occurred to me why I now sometimes binge on old westerns – the cowboys of my boyhood. They bring me deep satisfaction. When I was a young boy, my dad sat in his recliner while watching TV westerns, and sometimes invited me to sit beside him. It was in those moments I felt especially close to him. Otherwise, he was often emotionally distant from me. Old westerns still draw me close to my dad’s memory – those occasional precious moments in my childhood.


Not long ago, my young grandson visited our home, and following family tradition, I shared my recliner to watch Yellowstone. How I cherish time with that boy! Kevin Costner offers a stellar performance. However, something terrible was wrong. We had to find another viewing option, as “f-bombs” were flying everywhere. What has happened?


Other more up-to-date westerns also bring disappointment, as they feature not only a bad guy – good guy plot, but insist on including widescale bloodshed, unreasonable cursing, and immoral scenes. Remove those, and the westerns from 1940-1970 reappear. I would love to watch, Tombstone, Deadwood, Outer Range, Lonesome Dove, 1883, 1923 and others, but it’s hard getting past the filth to enjoy the plot. I’m sad. Something as “American” as an enjoyable, simple western has been spoiled by declining cultural norms. Sadder still is the realization that aside from inappropriate westerns, much of what pours into our living rooms today also disqualifies child viewing.  


So, I’m determined to make “recliner time” a regular feature in my grandson’s life, even if it means watching Blue’s Clues, or other children’s television series.

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