The Western is one of Hollywood's most iconic genres. It pits the cowboy, the solitary hero, against a beautiful but harsh landscape where the rule of law isn't necessarily the law of the land, where the survival of the fittest means being fastest on the draw. The Western contains images and symbols that are truly "American" such as justice, entrepreneurial spirit, patriotism, and hard work. And then there were the movie stars that brought these symbols to life.
Where would we be without John Wayne, one of the most popular movie stars of all time? How about Chuck Connors, who represented truth and justice in 'The Rifleman"? Then there was Ben Johnson, who came by his role as a cowboy honestly. He was an Academy Award-winning actor who started as a ranch hand, rodeo performer, then stuntman and actor in more than 300 films. Of course, the "singing cowboy" Gene Autry, romanticized the west and in so doing, ensonced himself on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some incredible women graced the silver screen in these Westerns, such as Maureen O'Hara, Grace Kelly, or Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez in "High Noon". Try to be quick on the draw when you match these classic Western movie stars to the image!
Born Marion Robert Morrison, John Wayne is arguably one of the most popular movie stars of all time. Although his first movie, “The Big Trail,” failed, this began his career as an actor. Wayne continued to be a major success, appearing in nearly 250 movies, directed and produced some films, and even released a solo music album.
Steve McQueen starred in such films as "The Great Escape," "Bullitt" and "The Getaway." McQueen overcame being labeled as a troubled youth to being one of the most popular and well-paid actors of the 1960s and '70s, and 25 years after his death in 1980, Steve McQueen is still considered “cool."
Burt Lancaster was a self-taught actor who learned the business as he went along. He played a variety of roles in pictures such as "The Crimson Pirate," "From Here to Eternity," "Elmer Gantry" and "Atlantic City." Lancaster became interested in acting after performing in USO shows.
Gregory Peck was enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and debuted on Broadway in "The Morning Star" in 1942. One year later, he debuted in the RKO film ”Days of Glory,” and then “The Keys of the Kingdom” in 1944. Peck won a Golden Globe for “The Yearling” in 1946.
Maureen O’Hara was known for being a great beauty of Irish heritage who had a natural talent for performing. In 1939, Charles Laughton, seeing her potential, cast her to star in the film, "Jamaica Inn." O'Hara moved to Hollywood, where she continued to act in several films, including "The Parent Trap," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "How Green Was My Valley," and "Miracle on 34th Street."
Lee Van Cleef started out as an accountant and also served in the US Navy before becoming involved in amateur theatrics as a hobby. When an audition led him to a touring company job, his performance was witnessed by Stanley Kramer who cast him as the henchman in "High Noon" in 1952, a role for which he gained great praise. He played several villainous characters, mostly in westerns but also in crime dramas, such as "The Big Combo."
Known as the “singing cowboy,” Autry starred in western movies for more than 30 years, from the 1930s to the 1960s, and won two Grammy Hall of Fame awards, in 1985 and 1997. Gene Autry was the only entertainer to receive five awards in all five categories on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Chuck Connors played basketball as a center with the Boston Celtics in 1946 – 1947. He also played baseball, which was his main interest, for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. He was recognized by a casting director at MGM and given a role in his debut comedy, “Pat and Mike.” He was featured in a total of 20 movies, including titles “The Big Country” and his biggest hit, “The Rifleman.”
Born December 9, 1916, Kirk Douglas made his debut playing the lead role in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” in 1946. He appeared in a number of movies, including “Lonely Are the Brave” and “In Harm's Way,” and has also worked alongside other great actors, including Burt Lancaster in “I Walk Alone,” which gave him his first Oscar nomination.
Joel McCrea started as a stuntman after graduating from the university in 1928. He then secured his first major role in “The Jazz Age” in the same year, which later earned him a contract with MGM then RKO. He played the role of a lawman in the 1955’s "Wichita" and in 1959 appeared in "The Gunfight at Dodge City."
Glenn Ford was spotted by a 20th Century-Fox talent scout named Tom Moore in 1939. In the same year, he made his first appearance in “Barbed Wire Fence” and continued in small scenes through 1940, after which he left acting to join the Marines in World War II. Returning to acting in 1946, Ford was given a role in the movie, “A Stolen Life,” as well as “Gilda.”
Clint Eastwood was a college dropout with an interest in acting. He found success in the mid-'50s, playing roles in B-films such as “Revenge of the Creature” and “Tarantula.” Eastwood went on to star in major blockbusters like “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). Eastwood spoke his trademark line, “Go ahead, make my day,” in the movie, “Sudden Impact,” in 1983.
Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and started his career in musical groups like “The Hollywood Hillbillies” and “Texas Outlaws.” Rogers started his acting career in 1936, with a role alongside Bing Crosby in “Rhythm on the Range.” His first lead role was in 1937 when he stared in "Sons of the Pioneers."
Walter Brennan was one of the most successful actors of American Sound Films. He won three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor. Brennan's role in the movie, “Come and Get It,” won him his first Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. He played a number of roles, from a sophisticated businessman to con artists, and could play almost any character.
Best known for the many villainous roles that he played in Western movies, Jack Elam had a very distinctive lazy eye, that distinguished him from every actor in his league. At the end of his career, he had appeared in 73 movies and more than 41 television shows.
William Holden won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1953, for the movie, “Stalag 17.” He appeared in a number of films, like “Sabrina” in 1954 and “Paris When It Sizzles” in 1964. Although he was no longer interested in acting, he was voted as one of the best movie stars of all time, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Randolph Scott is an American leading man who became one of Hollywood’s greatest and most popular Western stars. His career spanned from 1928 to 1962. Scott performed in a variety of social dramas, crime dramas, comedies, musicals, and war films.
Primarily known for his acting role in popular movies, such as “The Godfather” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Robert Duvall became one of America’s most renowned actors. In 2015, he was nominated for an Oscar in “best performance by an actor in a supporting role,” making him the oldest nominee for the Academy Award for best supporting actor.
American actor James Arness starred in the television show, “Gunsmoke,” for approximately 20 seasons, playing the character of Marshal Matt Dillon. Although he was initially hesitant, thinking a television series would be a setback to his career, he eventually accepted and became a huge success, until his official retirement at age 71.
Sam Elliot is an American actor, who primarily played cowboy and rancher roles in films, due to his lean and slender build and rich and powerful voice. He got his first big break with his role in “Mask” in 1985 and his success continues to this day with his upcoming appearance in 2017 movie, “The Man Who Killed Hitler.”
Born on May 16, 1905, Henry Fonda’s film career began to take off when he was cast in the film, “Wife.” He continued to act in several more successful films, including “The Ox-Bow Incident," “Mister Roberts” and “On Golden Pond."
Known for his special voice, Lee Marvin started out playing in supportive, soldier and criminal roles and initially acted in unrecognized character roles until a couple of directors noticed his talents. In the 1950s, he began appearing in more significant roles and went on to star in over 70 films.
Born as Charles Dennis Buchinsky, this actor served in World War II where he guided 25e missions and obtained a Purple Heart because of his wounds. In 1950, he moved to Hollywood where he began to take acting classes and received recognition in small roles which led to even bigger and more successful roles.
In addition to being an actor, James Garner was both a producer and voice artist and rose to stardom with successful light-hearted westerns, which included “Bret Maverick” and movies like “The Thrill of It All” and “The Great Escape.”
Robert Mitchum was a bit of a wild child, often being mischievous and getting expelled from several schools. He got into acting because his sister encouraged him to join a theater group but it was many years later that he rose to stardom after starring in films such as “Crossfire” and “Build My Gallows High.”
Kevin Costner was the star and director of “Dances with Wolves” in 1990. The film received seven Oscars. Costner enjoyed continued success with movies like “The Bodyguard" in 1992 and “The Untouchables” in 1987.
Barbara Stanwyck was an American actor, dancer and model who was the highest paid actress in the United States by the year 1944. She was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Actress and won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.
Charles Heston was one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men and continued to stay active on the movie scene for more than 60 years, starring in as many as 100 movies. One of his most popular roles was the character of Moses in “The Ten Commandments” in 1956.
Known for his stunning blue eyes, Paul Newman developed a love for theater from a very early age. While enrolled at Yale University's School of Drama, he was encouraged to try acting and went on to star and direct several films. He was nominated for his very first Academy Award, and his success continued to grow.
Rock Hudson appeared in almost 70 films throughout his 40-year career. Several film magazines were impressed with his work, and named him “Star of the Year.” He received worldwide support when he announced that he had AIDS. In 1985, he died of complications from the illness.
Dean Martin was a quadruple threat; an actor, comedian, singer, and producer. He formed a quick friendship and partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis while performing at a club in New York, which eventually led to them producing 16 films together. Martin went solo with his film career and is today considered one of the greatest screen performers of his generation.
This “Have Gun Will Travel'' American actor was well known for his roles in both western films and television series. He played the starring role in more than 50 films, won three “Peabody” Awards, and was nominated five times as “Best Actor” by National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Clint Walker was a high school dropout who worked a number of odd jobs until it was suggested that he would be a good fit in Hollywood due to his 6-foot, 6-inch height. He starred as Cheyenne Bodie in the television series, “Cheyenne”, which was a huge hit and aired from 1955 to 1963. Walker continued to appear in several western films until his retirement.
Alan Ladd is an American actor and television producer who, in his 30’s, found major success in Western and film noir movies. After receiving an honorary medical discharge, he returned to filmmaking but this time as a film director.
Although acting was not his first choice, Robert Ryan went on to have a successful career, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Crossfire (1947). He went on to play in popular films, like “The Professionals” and “The Dirty Dozen.” His final performance on screen was “The Iceman Cometh” in 1973, before his death in that same year.
Considered by many to be one Hollywood’s best stage and screen actors, Eli Wallach’s career began in the 1949 and lasted over 60 years. His most popular and memorable character roles included Calvera in "The Magnificent Seven" and Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
Kurt Russell was born to parents Bing Russell, an actor, and Louise Julia Russell, a dancer. He made his first debut on a television series and went on to partner with the Walt Disney Company which jump-started his career. He was nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1984.
Sterling Hayden was both an author and actor, and he played modest roles in films like "The Godfather” and “The Long Goodbye.” He went on to write two books; Voyage (1976) and Wanderer (1962).
John McIntyre was born on June 27, 1907. He started his career as a narrator and was also involved in the dramatization and arts before acting. After performing in several television shows throughout his career, he married fellow actress Jeanette Nolan. They spent 56 years together before his death in 1991.
Best known for his leading roles in television series “Search” and “Legend of Wyatt Earp,” Hugh O'Brien performed in several successful films through the years. He also started the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership organization in 1958 to help develop, inspire and encourage young people towards a brighter future.
After being enrolled in the military and receiving 33 medals and awards, Audi Murphy published his life story in a book called “To Hell and Back,” which was a huge hit. After deciding to adapt the book into a film, he starred as himself and became famous because of it.
Ward Bond has appeared in more than 200 films and his most impressive work includes, John L. Sullivan in “Gentleman Jim" and Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnson Clayton in “The Searchers.” His film career spanned more than 30 and he was known for being a perfect fit for any role.
Jack Palance was a former boxer who developed an interest in arts. He began with some small roles on Broadway and slowly rose to fame with popular films such as "Sudden Fear” and “The Professionals.” It was because of that film’s major success, he won an Academy Award.
In his early days, Slim Pickens was a well-established rodeo performer, a background which served well as he appeared in numerous western films and television shows. Some of these include “The Cowboys and Outlaws” and “The Glory Guys.” Pickens was entered into both the Western Performers Hall of Fame and the Pro Rodeo’s Hall of Fame.
Born on May 20, 1908, James Stewart became interested in performing arts from his college days at Princeton University. However, because of The Great Depression, jobs were very scarce, but after moving to Hollywood, he rose to stardom and won five Academy Awards.
John Russell grew up in Los Angeles, California, and after studying drama at the University of California, he was noticed by an agent and this led to his appearance in a number of roles, primarily as the “bad guy."
Tom Tyler was a nonprofessional weightlifter and actually set a world record by lifting 1013 pounds. He later moved on to an acting career and starred in “Let's Go Gallagher” in 1925 and, over the next four years, 28 more films.
Born Spangler Arlington Brugh on August 5, 1911, Robert Taylor displayed a variety of talents, including athletics and music. In the 1930s, while enlisted at Pomona College, he decided to join a theatre group where he played many lead roles. In 1934, a talent scout game him a contract, and Taylor appeared in his first film, “Handy Andy,” He appeared in various films throughout the years and went on to become one of the popular leading men of his generation.
Ben Johnson was an Academy Award-winning actor who was born in Oklahoma in 1918. He worked as a ranch hand and rodeo performer and was hired to take a shipment of horses from Northern Arizona to Hollywood for a location shooting. He decided to stay and work as a stuntman and double for actors, and it was with this experience that John Ford gave him a role in a movie. Johnson went on to act in more than 300 films.
Gary Cooper’s first major film was in 1926, “The Winning of Barbara Worth,” under United Artists. He then moved to Paramount in 1927 and appeared in the movies, “Wings” an “It,” both in the same year. Cooper also appeared in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in 1943. His biggest hit was “High Noon” in 1952.