FROM THE VALLEY: Wild West Sidekick Story
BY TOM VALLEY
What's up with the cowboy sidekick?
Why would anyone take that job? Did
kids, in the old west, dream of becoming – as an adult - an abused, laughed at,
cohort of a condescending jerk who thought more of himself and horse than his
fellow human-being? Did they envision themselves doing all the dirty work
while their self-absorbed partner got all the glory, all the credit?
Oh yeah, I forgot. It's probably just a fictitious character born from the
mindset of a writer who thinks everything he dreams up should be
immortalized on paper and seen by as many people as possible. Such brazen
chutzpah. Anyhow ...
I caught an episode of “The Roy Rogers Show” on one of those triple-digit
cable-channels last week. One of those channels that seemingly runs non-stop,
“3 easy payments” commercials interrupted every 10-15 minutes by 45 seconds
of programming. Anyhow, I had to check it out.
Roy was billed as the “King of Cowboys” back in his time. He was 'da man',
the super-hero of western-action shows when television and I were both wide-
eyed youngsters looking for our place in the world.
The visual of Roy in his impeccably clean shirt, 4-inch high cuffed
dungarees, intricately designed cowboy boots and white hat gave an aura of
wholesomeness which bordered on sainthood. Carrying, not one but, two guns,
in holsters with enough sparkle to light up an airfield, he was a walking
arsenal, the swashbuckling champion of law and order.
Alongside Roy was his female co-star Dale Evans. I didn't know what their
onscreen relationship was when I was 8 years-old, nor did I care.
Nonetheless, even as a kid, it was easy to discern that there was an
undeniable pecking order among the cast of characters. Roy was the irrefutable
star of the show; and then, by all appearances, Roy's horse, Trigger, was tied
for second with Dale. Then came the dog, Bullet, followed by Dale's horse,
Buttermilk and finally, their personal jester, Pat Brady.
Brady was the sidekick of which I spoke of in the opening paragraph. He
was portrayed as a disposable buffoon when in reality he was the necessary
seasoning which made the show more palatable to those who liked a sprinkle of
lightheartedness in their programming.
The juxtaposition of cowboys on horses and Pat Brady riding around in a
Jeep didn't set off any chronological alarms for someone my age. It was what it
was and who was I to question the congruity of time set forth by an adult who
surely knew more than I.
As I re-watched this old-time favorite, the final scene in this particular
episode stuck in my craw. I was horrified. The bad guys had been arrested and
put in jail. And as Roy and Dale walked out of the sheriff's office, Pat Brady
sat in his Jeep, “Nelly-Belly,” talking to a couple of cowboys. Brady took a
cigar out of one to the cowboy's shirt pocket and lit it up. Roy and Dale noticed
and Dale casually reached over to a bystander and took the six-gun out of his
She then, from twenty-feet away, fired the unfamiliar pistol from the hip –
without taking a moment to aim - and blasted the cigar out of Brady's mouth. It
was as startling and shocking as you could imagine. And then, as parodied by
Mike Meyers in the Austin Powers movies, everyone started to laugh as the
scene faded to black. Such a display of indifference. Time certainly changes
one's perspective. Subject closed, I got nothing else on it.
Next: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels.
Tonto rode alongside The Lone Ranger and wasn't used for comic relief but
more as a subservient go-for to showcase the masked man's superiority over
everyone, particularly a Native American. “Tonto, you ride to reservation and
get your people to build 58-mile canal to tree over there where I wait to water
horse.” (Note: By eliminating pronouns and articles in his speech, the self-
appointed boss of this crime-fighting duo figured the inferior Indian would fare
better if he talked down to him like a D-student 1st grader. Okay, maybe he
didn't talk like that.)
Another: Gene Autry and Smilely Burnette. I'm not even going to say why I
think Autry wanted a sidekick. But I always wondered about the times he'd pull
a guitar out of thin air and lean over to his ragtag pal and start singing a love
ballad to him. Whatever. Nothing wrong with that – as long as the hapless-
looking sidekick was on the same page.
Anyhow, that's it. Thanks for reading what I was dreaming about and have
now immortalized on paper. Until next time ...
“Happy trails to you ...”
And that's the way it looks from the Valley.