Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 12, 2019

TEN GREATEST Western Movie Horses: Part 2 Topper, Silver & More

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Wonder Horses, like Tony, sometimes shared top billing with their stars (Old Lobby Card)

(TEN GREATEST Western Movie Horses – Continued from Part 1)

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William Boyd on Topper

TOPPER

Hopalong Cassidy was an itinerant cowboy hero, originally created for dime novels in 1904, who grew into an enduring draw in western movies and early television programs. Hoppy, who originally got his nickname from having a wooden leg, was portrayed on screen from 1935 to 1954 by the venerable William Boyd. Through nearly all of it – more than 140 films and TV shows – he was accompanied by his trusty mount, Topper.

Boyd acquired Topper, a two-year-old white stallion, in 1937. He was originally a stunt double for another horse named King Nappy. When that horse was injured, Topper moved into a leading role. He got his name from Boyd’s wife Grace, whose favorite book series was “Topper”.

Topper was renowned for his gentle demeanor, willingness to follow commands, and to patiently put up with fans petting him, stroking his mane and even pulling his tail.

Boyd’s fortunes faded through the 1940s, but in 1949 when television was just entering American homes, he gambled everything, offering the fledgling NBC network the rights to show Hopalong Cassidy episodes. It paid off, as NBC gave him a weekly slot as to produce the pioneering western series. Early episodes got such high ratings, NBC couldn’t wait for new episodes to be filmed; so they started editing down the 1930s feature films to TV lengths.

The handsome white Topper and the black-clad Hoppy made an iconic pair. So iconic, in fact, they were the first western stars immortalized on school lunch boxes (of which millions were sold). At one time in the mid 1950s, more than 100 companies were making Hoppy and Topper merchandise.

But by 1954, the phenomenon had begun to wear off; Topper and Hoppy (and Boyd) retired. Topper died in 1961 and is buried in a pet cemetery in Calabasas, California, near the areas where most of their films were made.

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Clayton Moore on White Cloud

SILVER

“Hi-yo Silver! Away!”

Who can forget those thrilling words of yesteryear, belted out by the Lone Ranger, at the start of nearly episode of the long-running serial. But who remembers the actual horse?

In a 1938 episode of the original Lone Ranger radio serial, Silver was formally introduced; the Lone Ranger had saved him from an enraged buffalo, and thus earned undying loyalty and companionship. But Silver had been a fixture of the earliest episodes, which began airing on a Detroit radio station in 1933. Their popularity was such that they were in demand for public appearances; a white horse, named “Hero”, was rented for his mount (Another white horse, Silver’s Pride, also made public appearances as “Silver”.); his trainer was the masked ranger.

But, was there a real “Silver”? It’s complicated.

In 15 Lone Ranger movie serials produced by Republic, 1938-40, a ranger on a white horse was featured; in fact, Episode 1 was entitled “Heigh-Yo Silver”, and the horse is given top billing, along with Chief Thunder-Cloud (Tonto); the actor who played the “man of mystery”, the Lone Ranger himself, is not credited – and not revealed until Episode 15. The horse in that serial was actually a white stallion named Silver Chief, which was also ridden by Thomas Mitchell’s character in Gone With The Wind. (Another well-known movie horse, Silver King, is sometimes – erroneously I believe – given credit for the role.)

But Clayton Moore, the actor most associated with the Lone Ranger role, chose a different horse when he revived the dormant franchise in 1949.

Moore selected a gentle 12-year-old stallion originally named White Cloud from the Hooker Ranch in California’s San Fernando Valley. Moore liked that the horse was a commanding 17+ hands high. He became known as Silver #1 and appeared in all but the third season of the show’s seven-season, 221-episode run, when Moore was replaced. Moore’s replacement, John Hart, didn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) ride Silver; so the horse also got a replacement, in the form of Hi-Yo Silver, his former stunt double. This horse became known as Silver #2, a temperamental stallion who had to share screen time when Moore returned in 1953 along with Silver #1.

Silver #1 is the horse most often depicted as rearing up on his hind legs, with Moore aboard, in publicity materials. Silver #1 was retired due to old age in 1956, died in 1959, and is buried in North Hollywood; Silver #2 also retired to quiet ranch life after that, and died in 1974. Actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, once said neither Silver was not particularly fast afoot; his trusty mount, Scout, could easily out-gallop them both.

In retrospect, “Silver” might not be as worthy a choice here as many other “movie” horses, because a) “Silver” was actually a whole host of horses, and b) the entire collection of them didn’t appear in that many feature films. But it’s tough to top Silver in name recognition.

(Footnote: One of Silver’s stunt doubles, Traveler, became the famous mascot of the University of Southern California’s football team.)

screen shot 2019-01-12 at 10.57.45 amSTARDUST

My vote for the most beautiful horse in the movies goes to Stardust, the gorgeous dark palomino ridden by Randolph Scott in at least a dozen (by my count) of his western films, 1948-1960. (Pretty sure Alan Ladd also rode this horse in “The Iron Mistress” in 1952.)

The horse’s distinctive mane almost covered its neck; its golden tail touched the ground. It had a broad white face and four white stockings.

In Comanche Station (1960), Scott rode a final time on Stardust (a young Hal Needham was Scott’s riding stunt double) in what was supposed to be Scott’s last film, which completed his series of “Ranown” westerns with director Budd Boetticher. (He came out of retirement in 1962 to make Ride The High Country, but used a dark buckskin.)

A lot of people apparently agree about Stardust, because there are dozens of video tributes on YouTube, featuring this horse. But the sad thing is there seems to be very little information available about this horse, where it came from, where it ended up after Scott retired. Almost zip. (Gene Barry rode a horse named “Stardust” for most of the 108 episodes of the Bat Masterson TV series, 1958-61, but old clips show a bay with white-stockinged rear legs.)

Scott confirmed in interviews that Stardust was his favorite horse. He apparently did not own the horse, but it was made available for him to ride in almost all of his many cowboy movies, particularly those made in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine, California.

Any additional information on Stardust that readers might provide would be most welcome.

screen shot 2019-01-12 at 12.22.22 pmPIE

Pie, a beautiful and fractious little chestnut gelding, was Jimmy Stewart‘s favorite mount, starring with him in 18 or more movies, starting with Winchester ’73 in 1950.

Before that, Audie Murphy and Glenn Ford had tried, largely unsuccessfully, to ride Pie. “He was a maverick,” Stewart said in a 1972 interview. “He hurt a lot of other people who tried to ride him.” The horse crashed into a tree with Ford aboard and nearly caused him serious injuries.

“The horse was amazing to me; I rode him for 22 years,” Stewart noted. “I got to know him like a friend.”

Stewart added that he could give the horse complex verbal directions, that the horse could understand and execute on the set. “I actually believed he understood about making pictures,” he continued. “I ran at a full gallop, straight towards the camera, pulled him up and then did a lot of dialogue, and he stood absolutely still.. He never moved. He knew when the camera would start rolling, and when they did the slates; his ears would come up.”

In one scene for The Far Country (1954), the horse needed to amble along – riderless – down a dark side street, make a right turn down main street, and walk slowly out of the shot, while a small bell jingled on his saddle. The director asked if Pie could do it, and Stewart said, “I’ll talk to him.”

“Pie did it in one take,” he remembered proudly. “The director couldn’t believe it.”

Stewart said he offered many times to buy the horse, but it was owned by “a little girl named Stevie Myers, who is the daughter of an old wrangler for Tom Mix and W.S. Hart. When he retired, he gave this horse to her.” Pie retired in 1968 after appearing with Stewart in Bandolero.

When Pie died in 1970, Stewart arranged for him to be buried on his ranch.

(Footnote: “The Pie” in National Velvet (1948) was another horse, named King Charles, a descendant of War Admiral and Seabiscuit.)

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John Wayne, riding Dollor, into movie history

DOLLOR

Surprisingly little is known about the many horses John Wayne rode during his nearly 50 years of making over 250 cowboy movies. There is even speculation the Duke didn’t care all that much for horses. But he did have a couple of favorites: Steel, at the height of his career, 1948-54, and Dollor at the end of it.

Wayne rode Dollor (sic) in both of his, arguably, most memorable scenes on horseback, the fateful shootout in True Grit (1969) and the fence jumping scene at the end of the movie.

Dollor was owned by Dick Webb Movie Productions, but the Duke got to like the big sorrel gelding so much that he negotiated exclusive movie rights for him. They appeared together in True Grit, Chisum (1970), Big Jake (1971), The Cowboys (1972), The Train Robbers (1973), Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist (1976). “Ol’ Dollor” was even mentioned by name a couple of times in that script.

After the actor’s death in 1979, his beloved horse was sold to a couple in Dallas, who claimed they used to play John Wayne movies for him, because the Duke’s voice calmed him. Dollor died in 1995, and was reportedly stuffed like Trigger.

I prefer to remember both of them like this:

Sadly, I can’t think of another memorable western movie horse that’s come along in the past 50 years. Cowboy movies are rarely made anymore, as the fabled American West fades further and further into history.

Wonder horses of the silver screen really are relics of a bygone era.

Jerry Garrett

January 12, 2019


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