The Best Performances in TV Westerns, Ranked

Related Articles

The Best Performances in TV Westerns, Ranked

TV westerns have been around since the dawn of home television, and over the years, some truly remarkable performances have been given. Not only do they evoke nostalgia and reminders of classic TV shows, but they remain powerful entertainment even after all these years. Many of these performances have become iconic, showcasing the very best of classic Westerns. In this article, we will be ranking the best performances from classic TV westerns, based on a variety of factors including acting, storyline, cinematography, and more.

  1. Clint Eastwood in “Rawhide” (1959-66)

Clint Eastwood’s classic performance as Cowboy Rowdy Yates in the television western series Rawhide is arguably one of the best roles ever seen in a TV western. His cool, stoic and confident demeanor was a defining part of Rawhide. With sinister sideways glances, his performance as Rowdy Yates was iconic, and it still resonates with viewers today. He prompted a sense of admiration, respect and a little bit of fear which is something difficult to pull off.

  1. James Garner in “Maverick” (1958-61)

James Garner was the original Maverick. His performance was wry, irreverent and full of wit. His quick thinking and unconventional methods of getting out of jams made him the perfect Western hero. We also couldn’t forget his great styling. His flat Stetson and tan duster overcoat made him look like a cool gunslinger no matter what crazy situation he got himself into.

  1. Steve McQueen in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1958-61)

Steve McQueen was already a rising star when he started playing Josh Randall in “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” His performance showed a sense of justice and lawfulness that had been seen in other Westerns but also added a layer of modernism through McQueen’s iconic coolness. His sense of style that blended the traditional and modern, along with his use of the iconic trench-style Homburg hat and his unique weapons, contributed to his classic performance.

  1. Audie Murphy in “Whispering Smith” (1961-62)

No list of the best performances in TV westerns would be complete without a mention of the legendary real-life war hero-turned-actor, Audie Murphy. Murphy played Detective Lieutenant Frank Morgan in the Western series Whispering Smith. His fast-talking, wisecracking style made him a favorite amongst viewers, and his versatility and ability to play both a tough, a vulnerable character and a vicious outlaw made him one of the most memorable characters in any Western.

  1. Ron Ely in “The Adventures of the Lone Ranger” (1958-61)

Ron Ely was the Lone Ranger for a few short years, but during that time he created one of the most iconic portrayals of a Western hero. He first portrayed the Lone Ranger in a series of television movies, before taking on the mantle for the full-length TV series. His stoicism and unwavering sense of justice embodied the archetype of the classic Western hero.

  1. Peter Breck in “The Big Valley” (1965-69)

Although he was best-known for his portrayal of the gunslinger Jarrod Barkley in The Big Valley, Peter Breck had several memorable roles in other classic westerns as well. His performances were always powerful and highly regarded at the time, but what set him apart was his ability to bring a strong, multi-dimensional character to the screen. Like Clint Eastwood, Breck was able to deliver a performance that engendered a sense of admiration and respect. His performance was not just a classic but also truly a timeless one.

  1. Barbara Stanwyck in “The Big Valley” (1965-69)

Barbara Stanwyck’s powerful and iconic performance as Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley is one of the best performances ever seen in a western. Her performance was strong, resilient and strong-willed. Stanwyck was able to draw the audience in and keep them invested in her character and the storylines. She was a formidable presence and her performances left a lasting impression.

  1. Lee Van Cleef in “The High Chaparral” (1967-71)

Lee Van Cleef is best known for his villainous roles, but his portrayal of Ed Jenkins in The High Chaparral showed a different side to him. He showed a softer side while still keeping the danger and intensity of a vengeful gunslinger. Van Cleef expertly juggled comedy, drama, and action and delivered a performance that was both memorable and powerful.

  1. Richard Long in “The Tall Man” (1960-62)

Richard Long played Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Longley in The Tall Man and was the epitome of a stoic Western hero. His performance was one of quiet strength and silent dignity. He captured the qualities of a classic Western hero perfectly and stands out to this day as one of the greatest performances ever seen on television.

  1. Andrew Duggan in “Lancer” (1968-70)

Andrew Duggan played the patriarch, Murdoch Lancer, in the classic Western series “Lancer.” He served as a moral compass, as well as a paternal figure to the series’ protagonists, the Lancer brothers. He portrayed a loyal, compassionate and sometimes gruff man with a justice loving spirit. Duggan’s performance was one of warmth and he shone in a the sea of strong performances in this classic show.

Regardless of the era, these classic performances will forever be remembered and celebrated. Whether it’s Clint Eastwood in “Rawhide,” Audie Murphy in “Whispering Smith,” or Peter Breck in “The Big Valley,” these actors’ performances remain a testament to the power of the Western genre. Even if your favorite performance wasn’t mentioned here, there’s no doubt that the genre has given us many great performances to remember over the years.

More on this topic



Popular stories