Saturday, October 22, 2011

Early 50's TV "Feminist" Returns to TV

Television in the fifties at times was very liberated in its portrayal of women as being able to perform many different jobs.

This statement may come as a surprise to those who think of female television characters in the fifties in terms of sitcom housewives like June Cleaver on "Leave it to Beaver". It may be an even bigger surprise that "liberated" women were often found on television westerns.

Dale Evans was one of the first to appear on TV in what would normally be considered a male role. On the "Roy Rogers Show" she ran a cafe with a male employee in a western town. When necessary she would strap on her six gun and help Roy and the sheriff catch the bad guys just like the male heroes. Dale could shoot the guns out of the bad guys' hands just as well as Roy could. In the first episode Dale put on a shooting demonstration at a local celebration.

Dale was married to Roy in real life, but on the show both were single. Both used their real names on the show.

The program referred to Roy as "King of the Cowboys" and Dale as the "Queen of the West". Ironically, the "King of the cowboys" was part Choctaw.

An interesting aspect of the show is that it was set in the contemporary era. Motor vehicles appeared at times, especially a jeep named Nelly belle, but most of the time the characters were riding horses.across country in an area which seemed to have a shortage of improved roads.

RFD-TV has brought back "The Roy Rogers Show" after purchasing Roy's stuffed horse Trigger. The network specializes in rural oriented programming including shows dealing with farming and ranching. It's schedule also includes cooking shows, travel shows and various music shows including old music programs such as "Hee Haw". Dolly Parton fans can see her on the old "Porter Waggoner" program. Loretta Lynn is a regular on "The Wilburn Brothers Show".

Dale Evans wasn't the only woman who helped enforce the law in old westerns. Gail Davis portrayed "Little Sure Shot" "Annie Oakley". Annie was the sheriff's niece and helped the deputy catch the bad guys when her uncle was in "another part of the county". She was usually the one who figured out who committed the crimes. A couple of episodes of the "Gene Autry Show" even had women sheriffs.

Incidentally, many western bad "guys" were women, including a woman banker on "Roy Rogers" who killed farmers with mortgages so she could sell the farms to someone else.

Saloon owners often were prominent characters in westerns and some of those saloon owners were women, particularly Miss Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) on "Gunsmoke". Like Dale Evans she had a male employee who took orders from her.

Lily Merrill (Peggy Castle) was a similar character on "Lawman" which is currently running on Encore's Western Channel. An earlier female saloon owner on the program was a killer who was able to get away with her crimes until the Lawman convinced the judge to seat an all female jury. She decided to plead guilty.

Women appeared in various roles on other westerns including operating stage lines, owning ranches and even participating in trail drives. "Timmy's mom" June Lockhart appeared in a couple of episodes of "Have Gun Will Travel" (also on the Western channel) as a frontier doctor.

Characters like those played by Dale Evans and Amanda Blake provided girls growing up in the 50's with female role models who weren't wives and mothers.

In a previous post I criticized the new "Charlie's Angels" which has now been cancelled. I wasn't the only one who recognized it was a bad show.

No comments: