The best TV Western actors bring a whiff of nostalgia back to the glory days of the old West, where cowboys were kings and free to wander the open land with the cattle they herded.  TV Westerns had their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, and many actors became permanent icons in the American imagination. 

  1. James Arness.  Best known for his role as Marshall Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” Arness played the part of a benevolent sheriff from 1955 to 1975.  Arness was voted number one Western TV Star by television critics for 1959 to 1960, a coveted award for best TV Western actors.  His brother was well known actor Peter Graves, who played the spy leader Jim Phelps, in “Mission Impossible.” 

  2. Lorne Greene.  Well known for his work as Pa (Ben) Cartwright on “Bonanza,” Greene played the family patriarch in this role.  The American western television series ran on NBC from 1959 to 1973.  The show ranks as the second longest running western series, with “Gunsmoke,” being the first.  In 1964 Greene had a hit with the ballad, Ringo.  During the 80s he became an active advocate of environmental and wildlife issues. 

  3. Michael Landon.  Landon played Little Joe on “Bonanza,” youngest son of Ben Cartwright.  Landon had a horse named Cochise on the show, which was later made into a toy model in 2009.  Landon later appeared as Pa (Charles) Ingalls, in “Little House on the Prairie,” a pioneer TV series of the Laura Ingall’s Wilder book, which ran from 1974 to 1983.    

  4. Lee Majors.  Best known for his role as Victoria Barkley’s (Barbara Stanwyck) illegitimate son, Heath Barkley, in “The Big Valley.”  He beat out over 400 other young actors for this coveted part.  The show ran from 1965 to 1969.   Majors later played Colonel Steve Austin, in the “Six Million Dollar Man,” a TV series about a bionic man.  He married actress Farah Fawcett in 1973, and they divorced in 1979.

  5. Clint Eastwood  Eastwood is one of the best TV Western actors.  He successfully  bridged the gap between TV and film in his long standing career.  Eastwood started his career with the TV series “Rawhide,” in the role of Rowdy Yates, a benevolent, “white hat,” cowboy.  The show ran from 1959 to 1965.  Eastwood made his transition to film in 1964, when he went to Rome to star in the spaghetti Western, “A Fistful of Dollars,” where he played the role of Joe, or “The Man with no Name,” a foreigner who arrives in town during a bitter feud between two families. 


-Ellen Wilson