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The End of the Silent Westerns: The 1920s

In the last decade of the silent Westerns, Tom Mix is the Number One cowboy.  However, he has a number of stars working to capture that title.  The list includes Harry Carey, Jack Holt, Art Acord, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Fred Thomson, and Ken Maynard.  Except for two actors, all prove a stability to go on into the talkies and, if fact, play lead roles into the 1940s.  All supply in their Westerns a mixture of riding, fighting, shooting, comedy and drama.

Ken Maynard is the most clearly showy, trying to out do the daring feats of horsemanship of Tom Mix pictures.

A former preacher, Fred Thomson has glamour.  Some consider his the most handsome of the period Western stars.  He mixes effectual stunt action with clear ethics.

Hoot Gibson relies comedy with the minimum of action and never carries a gun. 

Buck Jones movies often include humorous interludes; however, he reaches substantial force as in Joaquin Murieta in The Avenger (1932).

Harry Carey begins making one reel Westerns with Griffith at Biograph; however, he gains stardom with Universal.  Director John Ford directed many of these films.  He often plays a character named Cheyenne Harry, a good guy bad guy quality.  Carey does not have matinee idol looks.

Originally cowboys, Art Acord and Jack Holt, though very popular at the box office, are the least stylish of all the 1920s Western stars.

The thrill of a Wild West show excites Col. Tim McCoy that he runs away from home.  In Wyoming, he becomes skilled with cattle and horses.  In addition, he is an Arapaho Indians expert and Indian liaison for The Covered Wagon (1923).  His film career includes starring in a series of Westerns for MGM in the late 1920s and for Columbia films of the early 1930s.   In his films, he works hard, within the formula limitation, to bring some historical values and themes.  In End of the Trail (1932), McCoy plays an army officer sympathetic to the Arapaho Indians (he serves as an technical advisor on The Vanishing American,(1925) one of the most pro ‑ Indian features).  McCoy shots the film entirely on location at the Arapaho reservation in Wyoming and its Indian scenes are convincing that the studio uses them in other films.  The Western repeatedly swings between historical fact and fantasy, Tim McCoy is one of the few B-Western stars that go with facts.

Historical reference is common in the Western.  An example is In Old Oklahoma (1943), a typical Republic picture about the Oklahoma oil industry in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.  In the storyline, we find that the hero (John Wayne) is a member of the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War.  Unable to secure oil leases, Wayne goes to Washington to appeal to the President, who is Teddy Roosevelt.  Since Teddy leads Wayne and the other Rough Riders in the charge up San Juan Hill led by Teddy, the President greets him with open arms, grants the leases and makes a speech about the pioneering spirit being �the essence of America�.


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