Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jimmy Stewart’s West: The Six Shooter , radio western drama

For over seventy years, Jimmy Stewart has entertained audiences with his gentle and soft-spoken manner. Even in the rough and often violent world of the Movie western, Stewart maintained a non-hurried polite demeanor. In almost all of his seventeen western films, Stewart portrayed a hero who sometimes appeared less confident, slow to react, and a bit fumbling(The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes to mind).

The Man who Shot Liberty Valance

But through it all, he managed to ride into the scene with an assurance of character that promised the viewer that this man will win the fight, whether in the character of a green horn as in Liberty Valance, or the pacifist father in Shenandoah.


And, like any western hero, Stewart’s characters fought for the good of society and made it their quest to rid the frontier of “uncivilized” influences. And, even though Stewart has joined the ranks of others, like John Wayne, as a “Man of the West” and has become one of Hollywood’s best-known actors of the western genre, it was in the medium of Radio where Stewart developed a truly unique western character.

Unknown to many, including me, Jimmy Stewart loved radio drama and appeared in almost as many radio broadcasts as he did movies and stage plays. His radio career spanned over seven decades, starting with Yellow Jack in 1934 and ending with his last performance in a Thanksgiving special, which aired on November 22, 1990. He was best known for his appearances in the Lux Radio Theatre, which first broadcast in 1937. Lux Radio Theatre, a CBS showcase, played to a weekly audience of over 36 million people. Hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, programs consisted of feature length films compressed into one-hour radio plays. Stewart starred in such classics as Destry Rides Again, It’s a Wonderful Life, Winchester ’73 and the Philadelphia Story, to name a few.

Winchester '73

The popularity of the western in the early 1950s and the misguided need of NBC to compete with the new medium of Television, NBC Radio developed a new western called The Six Shooter and stared Jimmy Stewart. Universal Films and their radio subsidiary, Revue Productions, employed Stewart at the time. The series began September 20, 1953 and ran until June 24, 1954. Stewart played Britt Ponset, an easy-going, soft–spoken and slow-to-draw cowboy who would drift into a western town, fix what needed fixing and then drift on to another town. The opening narrative describes Britt Ponset as, “the man in the saddle is angular and long-legged; his skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother–of- pearl. People call them both, The Six Shooter.”

Jimmy Stewart’s West, as portrayed in The Six Shooter, is the West on the “verge” of civilization; cowboys marry and settle down to grow crops and tend to their families, mining towns, whose mines are played out search for other revenue, the railroad crosses the West taking the place of old wagon trails, and there are fewer and fewer Indian “problems.” The Six Shooter is well written and Stewart’s narrative gives a vivid picture of people and place.

So, if you have the time, sit back, close your eyes and listen to Jimmy Stewart’s West.

Click on Jimmy for 30 min episode of The Six Shooter. Episode entitled, Red Lawson's Revenge.

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