We loved them, we cheered for them, we cried for and with them, we sighed if/when the hero finally returned the heroine's love, devotion, loyalty... etc. Previously, I'd explored sidekicks and villains in western films. Today, it's time for the women who stood by and behind their men.
Here's a few I've found - many I've seen in movies and on television. Several have interesting backgrounds and awards. I'll start with my favorite.
MAUREEN O'HARA - The fiery-tempered red-headed Irish actress was a hit in several westerns with the Duke. Pictured to the right is the duo in McLintock! Maureen also starred with John Wayne (and shared remarkable on-screen chemistry with him) in two non-westerns, The Wings of Eagles and The Quiet Man. In her own words - "I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn't take any nonsense from anybody. He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn't take any nonsense from anybody. As a man and a human being, I adored him." (Chicago Tribune, May, 2013) Maureen starred in a few other westerns but McLintock! and Big Jake are my favorites.
GAIL DAVIS - I barely recall seeing Gail Davis in Annie Oakley when ABC rebroadcast the TV series after the 1950s show ended. But I enjoyed her portrayal. Strong, gutsy women, that's what I loved seeing, and Gail starred in many western films with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. She also had roles in many television western shows. In her own words - "Back then I knew (Annie Oakley) was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way." (from the Gail Davis exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame) Loved the pigtails, too.
JENNIFER HOLT - I don't remember seeing her by name, but I'm sure I watched a few films with my dad that had Jennifer featured as the heroine. She joined the cast of movies starring Hopalong Cassidy, Russ Hayden, Rod Cameron, Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter, Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue. The B-westerns were popular then and are still replayed (on occasion) on the TMC channel - usually on Saturday mornings or afternoons. All but eight of the 48 films she made were westerns. Maybe ya'll remember her, even if I don't. That's a lot of film credits, so I figured she belonged here in the list.
AMANDA BLAKE - I was fascinated by the actress' name (born Beverly Louise Neill.) We ended up naming our daughter Amanda, by the way, since it was so unusual (although the poor kid shared the name with at least three others in every school class.) Her beauty mark also intrigued me. Was it real? Ha! I missed the earlier shows where she was more than just owner of a saloon (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Ahem. As Miss Kitty, she had a heart of gold on the television western show Gunsmoke and kept Marshal Dillon company for 19 long years. Did you know Beverly first worked as a telephone operator? In 1968, Amanda Blake was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at Oklahoma City's National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum - the third actor, after Tom Mix and Gary Cooper! Not bad, Miss Kitty.
BARBARA STANWYCK - Well, I can't leave her out since she ruled the roost as Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley. I have to admit I preferred watching Bonanza over this show and Gunsmoke (sorry, but Little Joe caught my fancy along with his paint horse.) Barbara ruled in Hollywood as a first-rate actress in many roles, both villainous and heartfelt, and she was successful as the wealthy widow of a 1,000 acre California ranch based loosely on history. The Hill ranch, established in 1855 and owned by Lawson Hill until his 1861 murder, was taken over by "Auntie Hill" - his wife Euphemia - who was the matriarch over their three sons and one daughter. Today the ranch lies beneath Lake Camanche in Calavaros County, near Stockton.
HAILEE STEINFELD - Give me some leeway here. My favorite book is Charles Portis' True Grit, and I knew back in 1969 that actress Kim Darby was too old for the role of Mattie Ross in the film True Grit with John Wayne. So when the Coen brothers remade the movie in 2010, the year before Double Crossing was published, I cheered for Hailee's wonderful performance. She was perfect. Even the Duke would have agreed! Hailee portrayed Mattie with the right blend of innocence, savvy perspective about life's low points and die-hard determination. I'd suggest her to portray Lily Diamond if I had input and a film contract for my book. I hope to see her in more westerns.
Well, that's my list. Who are your favorite western film and television heroines? Leave a comment below. Happy trails!
Meg Mims is an award-winning author with two western historical mysteries under her Eastern belt. She lives in Michigan, where the hills are like driveway slopes and trees block any type of prairie winds. LIKE her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her books on her website.