My pace of life picked up very significantly about the time the B western movies died away in the mid-1950s. What I had time left for were radio dramas, which still existed and were very entertaining in the mid-1950s. My favorite then and now remains the original radio series Gunsmoke.
Radio Gunsmoke started in 1952 and ended in 1961. I feel damned lucky to have caught so many of the broadcasts at the time. Even now, I still love listening to their reruns whenever I am lucky enough to find an "old time radio" series being rebroadcast on radio these days. William Conrad was Matt Dillon, and he was terrific. What a voice and dramatization of the spoken language he commanded. He would have been a magnificent Matt Dillon on television except for one thing--he had a major body weight problem, which James Arness, the one and only television Matt Dillon, never had.
Still, if you are too young to have enjoyed radio dramas, you missed the exhilarating exercise of your imagination. If you are a child of television, you have no idea what you missed, and you probably never will know the thrills that those with radio only knew through art via the radio.
As those magnificent B western movies went into history, the new medium of television treated them as though they were manna from heaven. The new medium of television really started out trying to figure out just what it was. Everything was a novelty to television. We have all seen myriad kinescope recordings of the early live variety shows and the earlier recorded live dramas. Television enjoyed no sophistication in its infancy, so it turned to movies to fill in for all the lacking original programming.
Westerns moved into television as if they had been there all along. Movies were edited down to include space for commercials, and a generation of kids in only the big cities got to see on t.v. what we enjoyed on endless Saturday matinees in the movie "palaces" of our youth. The movies of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and countless others got a reprieve from their death sentences in the movie houses.
Innovation was not long in coming, and it came in the form of westerns, made for television. THE pioneer was Gene Autry. He got in first and made the rules as he went along. His Gene Autry Show series for television lasted from 1950 through 1955, with many spinoffs. Gene's folks learned how to film and edit for television, which differed significantly from the B western movies. Others followed suit, and the made for television programming got born. I do not know how many different made for television western series there were.
Through the 1960s, they dominated the medium of television, and many were very entertaining. In the 1970s, they died away. They went from dominance to a bare presence, and they have been almost absent from television since then. Come to think of it, they have also during the same time been absent from movie theaters. The culture changed, and not for the better.
The great phenomenon of 20th century television resides in the series Gunsmoke. It has not only not been equaled, but never surpassed. Reruns today are among the best entertainment past and present that television has ever offered. Gunsmoke represents the expression of a culture before its heart and soul have been infected and rotted out with postmodernism.
Gunsmoke began in 1955, at the very end of the B western movie production and the end of the early western influences that crossed into television from those B westerns. Unlike anything before it or since, Gunsmoke ran for 20 years. Twenty years! For ten (10) of those years, it was the number one rated program on television nationwide. Gunsmoke transitioned into television as though it came whole-cloth from radio. Matt Dillon was the sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas, and was a man of resolute dedication to justice. His deputy initially was Chester Good, a few replacements of little note, and later Festus Hagan and Newly O'Brien. Kitty Russell was Matt's main squeeze and proprietress of the Long Branch Saloon. Doc Galen Adams was the town doctor and member of the inner circle.
All other characters, with a few exceptions, were more or less transient and present only to dramatize the story. One venerable and beloved character was Sam the Bartender in Miss Kitty's saloon, and played by Glenn Strange, veteran actor to more westerns than Carter had liver pills.
The stories shifted from the high action of the B westerns to more complex plots and characterizations. The fundamentals of the B westerns remained, however, particularly the values. Good always triumphed over evil, and evil was always portrayed as someone or someones violating the rights of others. Action and gun play became minor elements, but their sparse use reached out and grabbed you. Justice got done. Not mercy, but justice.
No one could watch Gunsmoke for long and not develop strong identification with the main characters. One came to feel they were friends, if not family. They dramatized the kit and kaboodle we all face in life in all kinds of similar ways. Our specific temporal context was different, but our issues were not. Their issues got resolved. Ours experienced less and less resolution as the culture moved into the postmodernist world where anything could be anything as long as nothing was absolute, where the anti-hero was better than the hero, and where anything anyone wanted to be was as valid as anything we ever considered valuable.
Today, Gunsmoke reruns on TVLand, a cable channel. Thank heavens it does. It is better than most of the fare on television, even though it left television in 1975. Almost everybody but James Arness among the originals has died, even the later characters such as Festus.
Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is being made of an equivalent character. In terms of romantic art, Gunsmoke qualifies, but it is not grand in romantic values. Still, it is so much better than the movie theater crap and the television banality of today that we have to wonder why someone does not see many dollars to be made in recreating a fabuluous series along the lines of Gunsmoke.
If our culture continues to disintegrate rather than make a turnaround toward the positive, we can take comfort that those who come behind us will have the radio Gunsmoke and the television Gunsmoke to hear and view. These will be our time capsule contents of what we were once, and what we could be again.
Anyone who gaffs off the value of art, even dramatic television art, displays an ignorance beyond understanding. Great ideas carried by means of great art make profound differences. Good ideas conveyed by means of reasonably good art also bring water to parched humans on the cultural desert. Sometimes great fires begin from humble sparks.