I notice today is Andy Devine's birthday. He was born in 1905 and died in 1977. I remember him best as Sheriff Link Appleyard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I am reminded of the great supporting actors in westerns. I loved all the main stars, of course, and still do, but the supporting cast members were/are always a delight to see when they popped/pop up on the screen.
Supporting actors were crucial to westerns on the big and small screens and over the years they became some of the most loved characters in celluloid history. I know this will make non-western fans’ eyes glaze over but I just have to list these fine people (from memory, as they come to me):
As well as Andy Devine, Chill Wills, Harry Carey, Harry Carey Jr, John Carradine, Gabby Hayes, Ken Curtis, Hank Worden, Slim Pickens, Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Edgar Buchanan, Jay C Flippen, Robert J Wilke, L Q Jones, Iron Eyes Cody, Raymond Burr, Whit Bissell, John Larch, Hugh O’Brian, Arthur Hunnicut, Barton MacLane, Cesar Romero, Dub Taylor, Jim Davis, Dan Duryea, Frank Ferguson, Leo Gordon, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, R G Armstrong, Forrest Tucker, George Montgomery, Bruce Cabot, Strother Martin, Noah Beery, Noah Beery Jr, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Walter Brennan, Victor McLaglen, Ken Curtis, Jeff Chandler, Henry Brandon, Van Heflin, Arthur Kennedy, John Ireland, Jeff Corey, Ben Johnson, Dean Jagger, John McIntire, Ray Teal, Victory Jory, Paul Fix, Claude Akins, Rudolfo Acosta, Percy Helton, Ward Bond, Edmond O’Brien, Richard Jaeckel, Denver Pyle, Warren Oates, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Woody Strode, Sam Elliott, Bruce Dern, Jason Robards, Anthony Quinn, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance and George Kennedy.
Some of your favourite names may be missing and I fully acknowledge that some of these guys became bigger stars than others. But without them, whatever their star status, western films and TV shows would have been the poorer for their absence.
It will be noted that I have not mentioned any women in these meanderings and that is certainly not out of disrespect for the contributions made to the western genre by many fine actresses. It is just that on this nostalgic trip, this boy remembers the cowboys more than the cowgirls. That is not to say that there wasn’t a frisson of adolescent excitement when Jane Russell appeared or the warm-hearted Katy Jurado or the bossy Barbara Stanwyck or the unsettling Marlene Dietrich or the deliciously waspish Maureen O’Hara. This is a politically incorrect boy’s own trip! In this modern, sensitive age of giving and taking offence too easily, I cannot nor do I have the inclination to defend this male stance. It was just the way it was when I was a nipper.
Now let’s get back to that list of supporting actors and the flaw within.
One person is missing because I want him to be applauded all on his own as the greatest of them all, the one man who could play villains and buffoons, bad guys, good guys and those in between, the man with a face like no other, the actor that was impossible to ignore in films and on television from the mid-1940s to the mid-1990s.
Ladies and gentlemen,
join me as I salute and applaud………. Jack Elam.