Who is the greatest on-screen Cowboy of all time?

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acerretani's picture
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Ok, we all know that it's John Wayne. But, let's hear some others. Me, I like Dean Martin. But why not have both? Rio Bravo anyone?

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My Favourite..

Hollywood cowboy plays a very important role on screen and Tom Mix is one of mine favourite among the hollywood cowboys. I like the way he wore his cowboy hat with a unique style.

<3 lovely style!

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best cowboy

Robert Duvall a skosh better than Sam Elliot.

The worst have to be Dean Martin and Rick Nelson

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All Time Best Cowboys

I started watching Cowboy movies in 1948 at the Bandbox Theatre, and I've never stopped. I can't narrow it down to one, but here are my top five, in no particular order:

John Wayne - Shear volume of work

James Arness - I've seen every episode at least three times

Robert Duvall - His portrayal of Gus McRae is best all time role

Clint Eastwood - There's only one Clint

Ben Johnson - Just like someone else said "Ben wasn't acting."

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Who is the greatest on-screen Cowboy of all time?

It's John Wayne from shear presence, persona, volume of films, and as an Icon. The others mentioned are all valid, but seems people left out Joel McRae and Glenn Ford.
Kudos to the few who keep the western film alive : Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck , Sam Shepard and Kevin Costner. It's an original American Art form like Jazz. We need more Cowboys!

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Greatest Cowboy Actors of All Time...revised

1. It should go without saying…John Wayne – no further explanation needed
2. Robert Redford – This, too, should go without further explanation, but how can we forget “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “The Electric Horseman”, and “The Horse Whisperer” – just to name a few.
3. James Garner – he had phenomenal roles in television (Maverick) and on the big screen, including playing Maverick’s father in the movie version with Mel Gibson, and his role as a more modern Wyatt Earp in “Sunset”.
4. Tommy Lee Jones – he was awesome as Woodrow F. Call in “Lonesome Dove” and his portrayal of Samuel Jones in “The Missing” shows his great versatility as an actor. Add to that the modern day cowboy portrayals in “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and “No Country For Old Men” and you’ve got an actor that is still making great cowboy movies.
5. Kirk Douglas - how could I foget - he held his own with John Wayne in "War Wagon", made me cry in "Lonely Are The Brave" and played two roles in my favorite movie "The Man From Snowy River"
6. Phillip Carey – loved him as the handsome Lieutenant Dan in the musical “Calamity Jane” and as the stern and understanding Captain Parmalee in the TV series “Laredo” and everything else he donned a cowboy hat for.
7. Anjelica Huston – was outstanding as Clara, the ranch wife and love interest in “Lonesome Dove” and did a great job as Calamity Jane in Larry McMurty’s “Buffalo Girls”
8. Doris Day – Speaking of “Calamity Jane”, I idolized her portrayal in the 1953 movie and still enjoy watching it today.
9. James Drury – “The Virginia” the third longest running television western. His character was a childhood favorite. The show and Mr. Drury gave us wholesome values along with great stories and entertainment. (Congratulations on 50 years!)
10. William Smith – Joe Riley on “Laredo”, another childhood favorite and the last television Marlboro Man. His portrayal of Ranger Joe Riley was memorable in spite of his limited story lines. I loved him as a child, and watching as an adult I can’t help but wonder why the show didn’t spotlight his good looks, charm, and appeal. Definitely one of the sexiest cowboys from the television westerns of the 60’s and still so today.
Honorable Mention: Dennis Weaver – he grew from the Matt Dillion’s sidekick character, Chester, and went into leading roles plus became the modern transplanted city cowboy, McCloud.

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John Wayne will always be

John Wayne will always be number 1 just because he's John Wayne. Ive always been a fan of Robert Duvall and I also liked to watch Walter Brennan in The Guns of Will Sonnet. Dan Blocker holds a special place in my childhood as Hoss from Bonanza. Hoss was a big ole boy like me but he could still be a cowboy.

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Greatest cowboy of all time

My personal favorite is John Wayne. But there WERE so many great ones. Having grown up with Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, I would have to give James Arness the second place, having had the longest running western of all time.

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There are so many people I

There are so many actors I could include in this list, I can only name John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Ben Johnson as being in the top of the list. I would like to see new actors on the scene, after reading jennifer lawrence biography I understood she could get a role in a cowboy movie the next year.

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All time great cowboy actors.

There's no question that Ben Johnson was the real deal, and hardly had to do any acting at all. Same for Slim Pickens. Both started out as movie wranglers. Today's greats, in my view, are Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, and Tom Selleck.

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Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix.

i like Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix

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Ben Johnson was the best

Ben Johnson was the best cowboy. My favorite movie is The Outlaw Josey Wales.

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Favorite Cowboy Actor

I always like Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix.

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Greatest movie cowboy

Sure, John Wayne is considered to be #1 by most. But I like Robert Duvall too. It's like picking Joe Dimaggio or Ted Williams, I cant pick one over the other.

I do feel that Lonesome Dove is by far the best Western of all time, be it movie, tv show, or miniseries! With The Searchers right up there.

Agustus McCray is the best cowboy ever. Or maybe Rooster Cogburn?

With all due respect to Acerretani"s post, I'll say True Grit anyone?

"Aint nothin better than ridin a fine horse in new country"

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That's a tough one!

Top 10 in alphabetical order...

James Arness
Walter Brennan
Gary Cooper
Robert Duvall
Clint Eastwood
Sam Elliott
Henry Fonda
Tim Holt
Randolph Scott
Jimmy Stewart
John Wayne

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Gene Autry

Gene Autry

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Mine

John Wayne is mine favorite forever.

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Best Cowboy

The problem here is that Cowboy Westerns cover so many generations that we really need to separate them a bit. I've heard no one say anything about Gary Cooper. His performance in 'High Noon' was great. High Noon was considered the first of the 'Psychological Westerns', where it was more than just a 'Shoot 'em up'. It was a great movie with Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, and even Lee Van Cleef.

I agree that Ben Johnson was the real deal. How about Marlon Brando? He, Ben Johnson, and Karl Malden starred in 'One Eyed Jacks', a real good Western. Brando also starred with Jack Nicholson in 'Missouri Breaks', another good Western where Nicholson cut Brando's throat at the end on the movie.

And remember, Lee Van Cleef played a bad guy for about 30 years before he ever played a good guy. Did anyone ever mention Bob Steele? He was a leading man in Westerns before he played on F-Troop. Also, remember two of the greatest Western comedy actors, Don Knotts and Tim Conway...... I could go on forever.

Kansas Jack

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You make excellent points, Kansas Jack...

...and I'd add that another difficulty in naming the best screen cowboy is that some actors have been terrific in some cowboy roles, and maybe less than terrific in others. For example, Kevin Costner was the loosest (and best) he's ever been in "Silverado," and while I like "Open Range" quite a lot, he wasn't nearly as good in it, I thought. There are also actors that have sort of "dropped in" on the Western genre and given defining performances, like Val Kilmer...but we don't think of them as Western actors.

I'm with you on Ben Johnson...and I'd add that Sam Elliott falls into "the real deal" category for me. I remember Burl Ives scaring the be-jeebers out of me as a kid - and being a terrific Western bad guy.

TJ Destry

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Can the greatest on-screen cowboy of all time be named?

Top Ten Reviews names the top ten western movie actors of all time as: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Olivia de Havilland, James Stewart, William Holden, Kevin Costner, Katy Jurado, Gene Hackman, Joanne Dru and Henry Fonda in that order and you can check their website for their reasonings. I didn't notice many gals listed in your choices but I'll guess that such names as Jennifer Holt, Dale Evans, Gail Davis or even, for some of you older folks, Dorothy Page, may have come to mind before those mentioned by Top Ten Reviews but considered for greatest of all time? Doubtful.

OK, lets once and for all choose the Greatest Western Movie Actor of All Time (GWMAAT). Well...if you were to pose this question to someone around 1915 or so, the answer, hands down, would be Bronco Billy Anderson. Dang! This man made over 400 films during the silent era so he has to be a candidate but my personal favorite (and reportedly a favorite of President Woodrow Wilson) was William S. Hart.

The 20's and 30's brought 'talkies' and some of the silent screen western heros couldn't so faded away. Hoot Gibson & Tom Mix could and continued. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard, Tim Holt, George O'Brien, John Wayne, Bill Elliottt, Charles Starrett, Johnny Mack Brown and others like maybe Harry Carey for his many movies should be considered too. Dang, forgot about the Three Mesquiteers and John Ford Made 'Stagecoach' in 1939 which ushered in the era of the big time western productions. Now we have to consider the advent of technology as well as better scripted stories, better productions and how they might affect the actors. Geez, now, to this point who is the best choice for GWMAAT (I still like William S. Hart and Johnny Mack Brown).

The 40's and 50' gave us the singing cowboy. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, founder of The Sons of The Pioneers, declared Eddie Dean the best cowboy singer ever! What about Tex Ritter? Tex Ritter is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and along with Autry, Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. That has to count for something right?

So...where are we? So far I list William S. Hart, Johnny Mack Brown and Eddie Dean as my favorites for GWMAAT thus far but now we enter the realm of TV. Besides Roy, Gene and Hoppy there was Guy Madison as Wild Bill Hickok, Duncan Rinaldo as The Cisco Kid and Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger. These evolved into a myriad of TV westerns that ran through the early 70's. So of those, I like Ronald Reagan as host of Death Valley Days as well as his other big screen western movie roles and James Drury in Owen Wisters' continuing story of The Virginian. I guess I have favorites in contemporary westerns, the same ones you picked...They don't need to be named again...you know them all. Palaver Pete said it very well in a Cowboy Chronicle piece about western movies. He said " My personal rankings seem to evolve with advancements made in cinematography". That related to western movies. Again he said "What I suggest for future polls is Western Movies (both old and new) be judged by the decade in which they were produced instead of lumped together in one universal population called 'westerns'.. I agree with that as a very astute statement and I believe the same should be said of western actors.

That being said, I don't believe a greatest western movie actor of all time can actually be named but we will all, each and every one of us, always have our favorites. Isn't that really what matters after all?

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Favorite On Screen Cowboy

My favorite would have to be Sam Elliott.

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Favorite Cowboys

My favorites are Ben Johnson, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood

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It's Clint Eastwood all the

It's Clint Eastwood all the way, he has been my imagery hero in all the Louis L'Amour novels I read. His direction in the upcoming action movie is also superb. Next it would be Sam Elliot.

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Clint Eastwood as Cowboy

One of the best things about Clint Eastwood is, as movie producer (Malpaso) and a director of Westerns, he is a stickler for detail. This can be shown through the guns he uses in his films. They are period correct and used within the scope of what they are. Best examples are 'Outlaw Josey Wales' and 'Pale Rider'.....

Kansas Jack

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Greatest cowboy.....

I'd have to say John Wayne as just about everyone else. Even when he's not playing a western character, he still seems like he is.

I'll have to go with Sam Elliot (another actor who always seems like a cowboy no matter what the character ((see Roadhouse)).

Also Tom Selleck.

Robert Duvall, Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, etc........

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Harry Carey jr

Harry Carey jr

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Totally agree!

Totally agree!

RED

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I have to vote for Ben

I have to vote for Ben Johnson. The real thing. I'd put Tommy Lee Jones on the list, too, since he's a real horseman and in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in Ft. Worth.

"I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth." Steve McQueen

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top 5 silver screen cowboys

Here are mine in order:
Val Kilmer
Clint Eastwood
Sam Elliot
Robert Duvall
Robert Redford.

John Wayne did some great westerns but I had the opportunity to meet him when I was younger and his real life persona wasn't very "cowboy". He was nice and a defenite presence but he didn't have a dusty bandana around his neck and no hat on,. Thats how I remeber him.

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My List

This is a list of the ones I like, however it's not all of them just the ones I can think of:
John Wayne
Clint Eastwood
Jack Kelly
Jimmy Stewart
Sam Elliott
Tom Selleck
Ben Johnson
Gary Cooper
Walter Brennan
Robert Fuller
Randolph Scott
Roy Rogers
Gene Autry
Clint Walker
Tommy Lee Jones
Robert Duvall
Kevin Costner
Slim Pickens
Val Kilmer
Burt Lancaster
Keith Carradine
David Carradine
John Carradine
James Drury
Doug McClure
Lorne Greene
Dan Blocker
Michael Landon
Pernell Roberts
Richard Boone
James Arness
Dennis Weaver
Ken Curtis
Buck Taylor
Dub Taylor
Gregory Peck
Royal Dano
Viggo Mortensen
Lee Van Cleef
Lee Marvin
James Coburn
Steve McQueen
Charlton Heston
Lee Majors
Peter Breck
Richard Long
Gary Clarke
Bruce Dern
Henry Fonda
Charles Bronson
Morgan Woodward
Karl Malden
Many More..........

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Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall

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My 2 cents wurth...

They were all very good and provided entertainment in their own peculiar way.If I had to narrow it down to say three it would be as follows.

1. George ''Gabby'' Hayes with his rough largely unintelligible speech, that nowdaze is refered to as ''authentic frontier gibberish.''

2.Ben Johnson

3. Val Kilmer as Doc he without a doubt stole the show, so to speak.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a raindance...

If you tell the truth have one foot in the stirrup...

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Greatest screen cowboy

I have posted my list previously but I have to say that Charlton Heston as Steve Leech in the western The Big Country (one of the best westerns of all time) looked every inch of what a cowboy should be. (rugged, handsone, tall, and in charge)

If you looked up western cowboy on Google, his picture (as the foreman Steve Leach) should be next to it.

If I had a past life, I could do worse than to wish it to be as Steve Leech.

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Greatest Western Actor

For television

1.Sam Elloit
2.Robert Duvall

Movies

1. John Wayne
2. Randolph Scott
3. Gary Cooper
4. Joel McCrae
5. Jimmy Stewart

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The Duke's Birthday

Marion Mitchell Morrison was born to pharmacist Clyde Wayne and his wife, Mary, in a small town in Iowa May 26th in 1907. 103 years ago. What an impact this man made to the American Culture with the many Cowboy movies he performed in. The Many war movies, and a few detectives shows but mostly remember as the DUKE. He is more than just a legacy. He received the congressional gold metal in 1979 and the Presidential Metal of Freedom in 1980, besides being America's best Cowboy we know as John Wayne

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Dang, there are so many and you can tell I'm a geezer

Bob Steele
Wm S. Hart
James Arness
Clint Eastwood
Clint Walker
Robert Redford
Tom Selleck
Sam Eliot
Robert Duval
Tommy Lee Jones
Don Berry
Randolf Scott
James Stewart

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To me it oughta be Sam

To me it oughta be Sam Elliot. The guy's pretty much the same in all those movies, sometimes I feel he's just playing himself.

Tom Selleck is great too, but a different kind. Get Sam Elliot to play a Louis L'Amour character and you're in for a treat.

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ROBERT DUVALL!!!!!!!!!!!

Without fail, Robert Duvall's characters show exactly the best qualities in a cowboy (excepting his role in Joe KIdd). Gus McCrae, Prentice Ritter, and good old Mr Blue Bonnet of open range, were all men of absolutely incorruptible moral standards. That's the image I want people to have of our kind. Sam Elliot in turn, was a heck of a guy in his roles too. He was a close second in my eyes. No disrespect to the Duke, but the pastel pink shirts always drove me nuts.

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John Wayne Clint

John Wayne
Clint Eastwood
Richard Boone
Steve McQueen
James Stewart
Randolph Scott
Joel McCrea
Audie Murphy
Lee Van Cleef
Sam Elliott
Yul Brynner
Clayton Moore
Tommy Lee Jones
Tom Selleck

and on and on and on....

He had two companions, this Jonah Hex...one was the acrid smell of
gunsmoke...the other was Death itself.

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new guns in town

Of course there are all the greats, from Gene and Roy, to Clint Eastwood. but there are a lot of younger guys coming up that are doing a bang up job in western movies.
The first one that comes to mind in Kevin Costner. to me he seemed to have an absolute ball in Silverado, and just kept on making (im my opinion) great western movies. The other (i'm sure i'm gonna get it for saying this) is Viggo Mortensen. Maybe you didn't like Hidalgo, but i KNOW you thought Everett Hitch was great, come on admit it!
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Robert Fuller Greatest Cowboy

Jess Harper was the best cowboy with Cooper Smith a close second.

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Best on screen Cowboy

I think everyone is correct. I going to go with everyone that was named. They all are exceptional actors and have played a important role in the persona of the "American on screen Cowboy". With out them the image may have been lost. I will also agree some of these guys were not just acting they were the real deal and they were very fortunate to end up on the big screen.

F. E. Lane

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John Wayne is the image of

John Wayne is the image of the American Cowboy. Im also a fan of Sam Elliot. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall also did great when it came to Lonesome Dove. One of my other personal favorites would be Bruce Campbell when he did The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Did anyone else ever watch this?

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best actor

Ok so john wayne is still the number one, but for number two i have to say Sam Elliot. He just personifies true cowboy grit and guts. I love Robert Duvall and Tom Selleck for sure but Sam Elliot just stands out as number two

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best cowboys in film?

I have to agree, i do like John Wayne and Sam Elliott always comes to my mind as the other type of cowboy i'd come face to face with if I were in the wild west during those times. I did like Clint Eastwood too, but not sure of Viggo though. Tom Selleck, yes. I love the way Tom Selleck always adds a bit of humor to his roles...at least all of the cowboy roles I've seen him in always have a smidgen of humor and that's cool. My Dad is an all-time John Wayne fan.

julie

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the duke

john wayne but if not him then gene autry

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Gene Autry

Gene Autry!!!!!!!

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I would have to say that is

I would have to say that is is Tommy Lee Jones. He reminds me so much of my own grandpa who grew up in rural Arkansas, hitch hiked his way to Washington State were he found a job working as a ranch hand. Fell in love with the ranchers daughter and the rest is history. Tommy Lee Jones just captures that western ideal with a mind full of wisdom. My grandpa was all cowboy, even down to his line of bucking bulls he contracted to rodoes and the similarities in Tommy Lee Jones' characters make him a true screen cowboy.

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There's a few really good ones

I really like to say that both John Wayne and Ben Johnson are the best cowboy actors! I've grown up watching both of them and I really like them both!

~Jeane~

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on screen cowboy

To me the top of the list is Ben Johnson. He was the real deal. He played the second in alot of movies but he made the lead actor look good.

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flboots, you are right Ben

flboots, you are right Ben Johnson was the real deal. What you saw on screen is generally what you saw in person. He is in my top 5.

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