I’ve been asked about my favorite Western icon frequently enough since publishing Strong Convictions that I figured it’s time for me to address the topic in a post here on my website. In the process, I hope I don’t start a firestorm. Opinions regarding who or what constitutes an icon can vary considerably. And once folks settle on a personal favorite, they can tend to be a bit tetchy about their choice.
When it comes to Old West icons, a few are obviously almost universally venerated–John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Ford. But my favorite doesn’t come from among these Western giants. I find John Wayne’s acting stilted (blasphemy, I know), so I can’t pick the Duke as my first choice. Eastwood? More of a Spaghetti Western kind of guy. Classics though his films and roles may be, I’m not the biggest fan of that brand of Western. And Glenn Ford? Very commendable, but again, not my very favorite.
I really like the image that Kevin Costner projects as Charlie Waite in Open Range. His Wyatt Earp was quite good. And Dances With Wolves is most certainly a classic. We lovers of the Old West owe Costner a debt of gratitude for his considerable support of the Western genre of films and literature. Still, in my humble opinion, Costner’s resume as a Western actor is just a bit too short for me to be able to claim him as my number one Western icon.
People often forget Tom Selleck when discussing Western icons, but his filmography includes quite a few Westerns, not the least of which was a motion picture adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Last Stand at Saber River. I also recall enjoying Selleck in Crossfire Trail (based on a Louis L’Amour novel).
In no way can I vote for Val Kilmer above the other personalities mentioned thus far, but his portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone was so memorable that I believe it to be nearly iconic in and of itself.
And the Author’s Favorite Is…
Well, I’ve rambled on for long enough on the topic, so I’ll keep you in suspense no longer. My favorite Western icon would have to be…Sam Elliott.
Often relegated to supporting roles, Elliott nonetheless portrays Old West characters in quintessential fashion. You’ve got to admit, the man not only has the mannerisms and speech down pat, but he was born to look the part–lean and lanky with that trademark cavalry-style mustache. The image of Sam Elliott that repeatedly comes to my mind is that of his Conn Conagher. His Virgil Earp was impressive, too.
Honorable mention would have to go to Robert Duvall, whom I’d put in the same class as Sam Elliott. While Duvall’s look is different, it’s equally authentic. And his delivery is classic. If Elliott strikes me as the lawman type, then Duvall is the consummate trail boss. He’s a little crusty, yet completely likable. I particularly enjoyed his performance in Broken Trail.
Without doubt, a lot of you will hold a different opinion as to who deserves to be crowned the classic Western icon. Some of you may be ticked that I didn’t even mention your choice. That’s fine. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below. I’m sure other readers would love to hear your ideas on the subject of favorite Western icon. I know I would.