In my last post, I talked about the bomb shelter my father built in our basement. Every time I walked down the wood plank steps to our basement, I slammed right into the Cold War because the closed door to the shelter was located at the bottom of the stairs.
During this time, the majority of television shows I watched were some form of Western. Cowboy shows.
You know what that means. Guns on TV and toy guns in the neighborhood, the stores, and yes, my house.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Cold War and guns went together. It seemed acceptable that the cowboys had guns to protect themselves against the bad guys who also had guns. And it seemed imperative that the homesteaders had guns to protect their families and property, just like we had the Bomb Shelter in our basement with the shotgun and . . . oops, I guess I forgot to mention that in the last post.
According to Shadows of the Past website, from the 1940s to the 1990s there were 145 different Western shows on TV. An enormous number of these were in the 50s and 60s.
My early favorite was The Lone Ranger (I suggest you read the section in this Wikipedia article about the code of conduct by Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels) which I eagerly awaited in reruns every Saturday. However, there was another show which began the same year (1949) and didn’t last as long, but had an enormous influence on early fifties culture. That was Hopalong Cassidy, a “good” cowboy who dressed all in black, giving the lie to the popular notion that only the bad guys wore black.
According to Wikipedia:
The enormous success of the television series made [William] Boyd a star. . . . The series and character were so popular that Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the cover of national magazines, such as Look, Life, and Time. Boyd earned millions as Hopalong ($800,000 in 1950 alone), mostly from merchandise licensing and endorsement deals. In 1950, Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the first lunchbox to bear an image, causing sales for Aladdin Industries to jump from 50,000 units to 600,000 units in just one year. In stores, more than 100 companies in 1950 manufactured $70 million of Hopalong Cassidy products, including children’s dinnerware, pillows, roller skates, soap, wristwatches, and jackknives.
Like other children of the fifties, I had a Hopalong Cassidy costume. Mine was a cowgirl outfit, all in black with white plastic fringe. It came with a cowboy hat and a hip holster and pistol. I cannot remember if the holster was doubled sided for two guns or was only one-sided. I don’t know where the costume came from as I remember it being an important part of my play attire from my earliest memories. I regularly wore it for play until it eventually wore out.
I had a feeling that my parents were hoarding photos of me in this costume, and I was contenting myself with snooping online for other kids in their Hopalong Cassidy costumes (I found two young cowgirls), when I happened upon a photo of me in my costume. And it’s exactly the way I remembered it.
I’m not cropping the above photo because I want to keep it for interior details about the period.
My friend Mark who lived next door used to play Cowboys and Indians with me. We argued over who had to be the Indian because everybody knew the Indian couldn’t be allowed to win (me being sarcastic). I had an edge because of my fringe, my brimmed hat with chin string that could be tightened, and my six-shooter.
A change that occurred . . .
Item by item, my Hopalong Cassidy outfit wore out and disappeared from my life. As it did, I grew a little older and wasn’t as fascinated by the Cowboys and Indians game as I once was. However, when I was with my cousins, who were younger, we did play. I remember by then wanting to be the Indian because I could be “different” and use a bow and arrow.
By the time I was nine, playing at being an “Indian brave”* had become an obsession, resulting in me studying my “bible,” the Grey Owl catalog of “Indian supplies,” and spending my extremely limited spending money, earned by doing chores, on beads and a purse craft kit and “oxblood” skin paint.
By then the dark and dank feel of the Cold War had become for me the shining Space Race.
* Note: yep, I’m aware of the pitfalls here of using the terms “Indian brave” and “Indian” by today’s standards. But I’m talking about 1957-1964.