Cover image for How Hollywood invented the Wild West
How Hollywood invented the Wild West
George-Warren, Holly.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Pleasantville, NY : Reader's Digest, 2002.
Physical Description:
224 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1995.9.W4 G46 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN1995.9.W4 G46 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As real cowboy life waned in the American West at the end of the nineteenth century, the mythology of the Wild West took over - in books, songs and Hollywood films. Today, the word 'cowboy' conjures up images of steely-eyed gunslingers, loyal steeds, and campfire melodies but as this book shows, the 'real' Wild West was far from the mythic landscapes created by the American movie industry. This sumptuously illustrated book traces the emergence of the romantic myth of the cowboy from dime novels, the silent Tom Mix films and early matinee idols such as Roy Rogers, to the TV cowboys of the 1950s, John Ford's mythic landscapes of Monument Valley and Hollywood's efforts at representing the 'true' West in films such as 'Dances with Wolves'. It contains a whole chapter devoted to cowboy costume, from the Stetson and flowing neckerchief to the lavishly embroidered and fringed shirts beloved of movie cowboys and country singers. Meticulously researched and powerfully written, this authoritative book shatters the legend and celebrates the genuine frontier pioneers.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The demise of the real-life cowboy more or less coincided with the development of the motion picture, which preserved the legend of the Old West for another 100 years. In 1894, Buffalo Bill himself starred in one of the earliest movies, and Great Train Robbery (1903) is often considered the first narrative film. In functional if not insightful fashion, George-Warren traces the genre from its beginnings, covering silent stars William S. Hart and Tom Mix, singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, lesser-known cowgirls and African American cowboys, and the midcentury TV-western boom. Big-name stars like Wayne and Cooper get their due, as do leading directors, including John Ford and Anthony Mann. Later chapters look at revisionist approaches, such as the spaghetti westerns of Italian director Sergio Leone and the uberviolent films of Sam Peckinpah. The western all but disappeared in the 1980s, but George-Warren says Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven proves its continuing vitality. Using a 10-year-old film to defend the western's viability might be heard, however, as a discouraging word. Gordon Flagg

Publisher's Weekly Review

One hundred years ago, cowboys were a driving force in popular culture, "giving life to the brand-new motion picture industry, riding on the coattails of the still-solvent but fading traveling Wild West show extravaganzas, and the still-flourishing dime novel publishing boom." Asserting that cowboys "never really went away," journalist Holly George-Warren presents Cowboy: How Hollywood Invented the Wild West. Fantastically illustrated with vintage movie posters and film stills, the book covers the films of actors from Roy Rogers to Clint Eastwood; the western musicals of Gene Autry; cowboy style from Stetson hats to pointy-toed boots; and legendary cowboys such as Hopalong Cassidy and Buffalo Bill. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

These two books explore the Western film genre, which is almost as old as the movie medium itself. In Cowboy, George-Warren (How the West Was Worn) offers a loving, well-illustrated tribute to the Western and its lore, from dime novels to Stetson hats. As the author points out, the connection between the Hollywood Western and reality was often a bit tenuous. Cowgirls, singing cowboys, and matinee idols (including unlikely figures like Cagney and Bogart) may have ruled the box office, but directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Anthony Mann brought mythmaking, spectacle, and hard-edged realism to the genre. Westerns peaked in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s and have rarely appeared since on television or at the multiplex. Cowboy certainly doesn't break any new ground, but George-Warren provides a glimpse of what we have lost, and public library patrons are likely to enjoy the nostalgic text and pictures. Music historian Green, also a member of Western swing group Riders in the Sky, resurrects a nearly forgotten era in his thorough history of the singing cowboy. Singing cowboys were numerous, but only a few, notably Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tex Ritter, achieved lasting success. However, as the author notes, even after Hollywood lost interest, singing cowboys influenced country music and regional television. Singing cowboys have enjoyed a modest revival on stage and records in recent years, though it seems the tradition in Hollywood has ridden into the sunset permanently. Cowboy is recommended for all public libraries, while Singing should find a place in large country music and film collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.