This One’s For The Ladies
August 21, 2008
Charles “Durango” Starrett
I am grateful to be a part of a tribute that is long overdue — a tribute to the leading ladies who rode the Hollywood range during half a century of Western film production. The “B” Western heroine until now has been mostly overlooked and ignored by writers of Hollywood’s films and stars, but now Buck Rainey has made it possible for those of us who loved and appreciated the ladies of the range to read of them and their films, and perhaps for the first time to learn something of their personal lives, achievements, and defeats. The book you are about to read is a marvelous reference book and the only one that I know of that is devoted to the Saturday matinee heroines of yesteryear.
In the 17 years I made Westerns I had the pleasure of working with many actresses, and nearly all of them earned my admiration. They had pride. Whether young, new, or an actress more experienced in Westerns, the environmental conditions were the same. But in spite of the tough outdoor shooing and the wind, dust, heat, rough men, and horses, they were troupers. Such work gave them confidence and courage, and they gave of their best on camera. I remember that most of them were most pleased just to win approval from the cast and crew. They never expected to be given much of a break in the press or the studio front office, but they kept their spirits up and did their job like the professionals they were.
Naturally we cowboys got a big part of the glory, for the stories were built around us and our heroics. After us came our horses, our sidekicks, and a few beloved, noted character actors, with the heroines usually bringing up the rear on the glory trail. They deserved better, and I was always happy when one of the girls did succeed and really got the recognition she had earned.
Though sometimes just window dressing, the leading ladies often had an important, integrated role in the story. Consequently they were able to contribute to raising a “B” Western’s entertainment value far above what would be expected from its production budget. And speaking of budgets, did you konw that a lot of the girls worked for as little as $75 a week? Of course some made a lot more, but nearly all were grossly underpaid for the work they were called on to do.
Nearly all of the Western heroines I knew and worked with were nice, down-to-earth, hard-working young persons much like the working girl who goes to an office each day. They had a job they conscientiously strived to excel in, and they loved their profession just as much as the higher-paid, highly touted actresses working in the so-called “big” pictures at the studios. The leading ladies of Gower Gulch Columbia Studio had their dreams and aspirations too, and it always pleased me when a nice, talented actress was able to get her name above the title or at least ahead of the horse.
It is with respect and sincere admiration that I take my Stetson off and bow to the sweethearts of the sagebrush.
— foreword to Buck Rainey’s fine book “Sweethearts of the Sage: Biographies and Filmographies of 258 Actresses Appearing in Western Movies.”