These Iconic Stars Got Their Start in TV Westerns

THE VIRGINIAN, Robert Redford, 'The Evil That Men Do, aired October 16, 1963
Everett Collection

Robert Redford showed up in an episode of Maverick nine years before he played the Sundance Kid. Harrison Ford tested his acting chops on The Virginian 11 years before Han Solo took flight in Star Wars. Angie Dickinson was just 23 in an episode of Death Valley Days 20 years before Police Woman started chasing bad guys. They, like scores of other Hollywood hopefuls, rode the range before starting on the road to stardom, and many of them launched their careers on either Cheyenne or Gunsmoke.

DEATH VALLEY DAYS, from left: James Caan, Karyn Kupcinet, Roy Thinnes, 'Shadow of Violcence,' (season 11, episode 25, aired April 24, 1963), 1952-1975

Everett Collection

Among the Hollywood notables who got their big break or furthered their career via Gunsmoke were Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Morgan Brittany (Dallas), Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and Eric Braeden (The Young and the Restless). “I loved doing Gunsmoke more than anything else,” said Braeden. “It was just such a professional group with great humor. James Arness laughed like a horse.”

Parker Stevenson (The Hardy Boys, Baywatch) also got his start on Gunsmoke. “As a kid I’d go running around the backyard playing cowboy. My dad and I loved Gunsmoke, so years later the first TV appearance I did was on Gunsmoke, and being on that soundstage was like playing make-believe in the backyard,” said Stevenson. “[And] if the horses went to the bathroom, someone would run out in a cart, with a broom and a shovel, and ‘it’ was gone just like that. I thought, man, this place is really clean!”

CHEYENNE, Dennis Hopper, 'Quicksand', (Season 1, ep. 111, aired April 3, 1956), 1955-63

Everett Collection

Though Gunsmoke was one of the longest-running TV dramas in history, it was Cheyenne that showcased the most future TV stars, among them Mike Connors (Mannix), Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), Adam West (Batman), James Garner (Maverick), Chad Everett (Medical Center), Max Baer Jr. (The Beverly Hillbillies), James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard) and Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Lorne Greene (Bonanza). Dawn Wells, who later rose to stardom as Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, also got her start on Cheyenne. She came by the Western genre honestly: Her great-great-grandfather drove a stagecoach, a skill she did not inherit. “I remember on one of the first Western episodes I did, they asked me if I could drive a buckboard,” she says. “Well, I hadn’t driven a buckboard in my life, but I said, ‘Of course I can!’ My horse got away, and they had to come get me.”

TV Westerns of the 50's & 60's
Want More?

TV Westerns of the 50's & 60's

September 2021

’50s and ’60s TV Westerns roundup, celebrating the shows and stars of their golden age.

Buy This Issue