The Greatest Western Cinema Sidekicks

The big stars get all the recognition, and we think it's time the sidekicks get some credit!
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The big stars get all the recognition, and we think it's time the sidekicks get some credit!
photo by Corbis

















1. Jay “Tonto” Silverheels (pictured) (1912–1980)

Born Harold J. Smith, this Mohawk from Canada teamed with Clayton Moore in 1949 in The Cowboy and the Indians. The chemistry was there from day one, so when Moore signed with ABC to star in The Lone Ranger (1949–1957), Jay tagged along as the Apache Tonto. Though Tonto may have started the series simply as the “faithful Indian companion,” he quickly emerged as a full partner in the cause of bringing justice to the West.

2. Theodore “Chill” Wills (1903–1978)

Before hanging out onscreen with John Wayne, Glenn Ford, and Henry Fonda, Wills cut his teeth vaudevilling alongside W.C. Fields and performing in a country band. He holds the distinction of being the only performer nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for a Western sidekick role, as Davy Crockett’s companion, Beekeeper, in The Alamo (1960). By far, though, his best character was the cantankerous rancher Jim Ed Love in The Rounders, both the theatrical film and the TV series.

3. George “Gabby” Hayes (1895–1969)

John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Bill “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, and Randolph Scott were among the heroes this grizzled codger tagged along after (he played the sidekick to John Wayne 15 times). He was famous for his folksy (and sometimes unintelligible) line delivery. Ironically, in real life, Hayes was well groomed, intelligent, and very articulate.

4. Leo “Pancho” Carillo (1881–1961)

Though he had a long Broadway and Hollywood career, Leo Carillo is best known for his portrayal of Pancho, the jovial though none-too-bright sidekick on the TV series, The Cisco Kid (1950­–1956). When the series began, Carillo was already 70 years old. One of the first regular Hispanic television stars, Carillo was also an active preservationist and conservationist.

5. Dennis “Chester” Weaver (1924­–2006)

Though he may have played second fiddle as Marshal Matt Dillon’s trusty helper, the limping Chester Goode, on the TV series Gunsmoke (1955–1975), Weaver’s fine acting earned him an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series. Weaver later became the star of a show as Marshal Sam McCloud in TV police drama McCloud (1970–1977).