The TV series, "Cheyenne," was one of several Western themed weekly programs on television in 1950s America. Its success and that of so many others like it in that decade seemed almost assured. Many children of the 1940s grew up with Western matinée movies at local theaters. Those were the days before TV took off five years after the end of World War II.
I recall vividly my frequent Saturday bicycle rides with my brother or neighborhood friends to the Swan Theater in Columbus, NE. Those kids' matinees cost just nine cents, and that left a penny out of our dime for a bag of popcorn.
Most of the matinée movies we saw weren't new. They were films from the past decade or more that we probably hadn't seen. When a new Western movie came out we might get to see it at an evening showing at the bigger Columbus Theater. Of course, the price there was 20 cents and popcorn cost a nickel. But we kids were happy with the matinees following the adventures of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, the Cisco Kid, Lash Larue and the Lone Ranger.
With the rapid rise of TV at the start of the 1950s, the movie houses began to see a steady decline in audience numbers. And, those daytime Western entertainers of the past were getting into the new medium as well. The Gene Autry show aired from 1950 to 1955, and the Roy Rogers show ran from 1951 to 1957. Hopalong Cassidy had a TV series from 1952-54, and the Cisco Kid was a favorite TV series from 1950-56 starring Duncan Renaldo. The Lone Ranger, who was played by different actors in movies, as was The Cisco Kid, had a long-running TV series from 1949-57, with a 30-minute weekly show that starred Clayton Moore. It ran for 221 episodes. Moore also starred in the 1956 feature length film, "The Lone Ranger."
With Westerns so firmly established among the viewing public, it's no wonder that new Western series would become very popular on TV. But, the new series and heroes took on a little more mature look. Now they appealed as much to adults as to kids. Indeed, many of the latter were now the adults themselves.
"Cheyenne" was one of the favorites among the many long-running Western TV serials. It ran from 1955 to 1962 and starred Clint Walker. It was second in popularity only to "Gunsmoke," which became the longest running live action TV series in history, airing from 1955 to 1975. And, the enduring popularity of Westerns would continue in the movies and on TV through the 1970s. "Maverick" aired from 1957 to 1962, "Have Gun – Will Travel" ran from 1957 to 1963, and "Wagon Train" ran from 1957 to 1965. Even before these faded out, other series were born. "The Rifleman" aired from 1958 to 1963,"Rawhide" ran from 1959 to 1965 and "Bonanza" ran from 1959 to 1973.
More Western series' were born as some of the earlier ones faded. "The Wild Wild West" and "The Big Valley" both ran from 1965-69, and "How the West Was Won," aired from 1976 to 1979.
Those were times and a type of wholesome entertainment that the whole family could enjoy. Few of today's theater offerings or TV programs fit that category. And, today's $5 and $10 theater popcorn is a far cry from the five or 10 cents one paid in 1950 — even adjusted for inflation. Top movie stars in the 1940s might make $100,000 for a single movie. Today they get $5 to $10 million or more. Inflation in the movie industry appears to be about 500 to 1,000 percent greater than for the American economy overall. That may be one reason why so many more people stay home and watch TV instead of going to the movies.
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