Western Portraits, Unsung Heroes and Villains of the Silver Screen

All of the photographs in the hardcover book Western Portraits, The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen were shot in color, then converted to frontier-era-style sepia tone. This pre-sepia, color shot shows True West’s Firearms Editor, Phil Spangenberger, depicting a buffalo hunter with his “Big Fifty” (.50-90) Shiloh Sharps, and his Cimarron Firearms “45,” single-action revolver. Phil has worked both behind and in front of the camera in Hidalgo, Wild Wild West, American Outlaws, Mel Gibson’s Maverick, the History Channel’s Wild West Tech, Tales of the Gun and many other shows.
– All photos Courtesy of Steve Carver Photography –

Those of us who love Westerns recognize certain actors the moment they appear on the big or small screen. Several have become stars like Karl Malden, Bruce Boxleitner, Bo Hopkins and David and Robert Carradine. Many others are recognized merely by their faces, although their names may not be as well-known by the average moviegoer.

Bruce Boxleitner has starred in many Westerns including How the West Was Won, Kenny Rogers’ Gambler TV features, I Married Wyatt Earp, Wild Times, Aces N’ Eights and more. In Western Portraits, outlaw Boxleitner stands ready to shoot it out with the law, well-armed with what appears to be an 1892 Winchester, his Peacemaker Colt and a backup ‘77 Colt Lightning in his waistband. For extra insurance his .45-70, 1873 Springfield carbine is nearby. Besides his work in Westerns, Bruce is a favorite with science fiction fans of the shows Babylon 5 and Tron.

Fans of the cinema will undoubtedly appreciate the efforts of photographer and film director, Steve Carver (Lone Wolf McQuade) in creating a colorful collection of 19th-century-style portraits of the good, the bad and the questionable character actors of movies and TV, and those whose jobs keep them behind the camera. Carver’s hardcover book, Western Portraits, The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen, published by Edition Olms AG, uses a unique photographic technique that required extended time exposures, creative lighting and special photographic equipment to create sepia images similar to those of the classic photographs of Edward Sheriff Curtis and other late 19th- and early 20th-century portrait photographers. Twenty-three years in the making, Carver’s collection—of 83 of filmdom’s most respected character actors and behind-the-scenes creative personalities—offers a unique look at the men and women who’ve so colorfully brought the Old West to the screen.

Screen legend David Carradine graces the cover of Western Portraits, The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen by photographer/film director Steve Carver. Featuring 83 of the most respected character actors and behind-the-scenes creative personalities in Westerns, this colorful work offers a unique look at the men and women who’ve brought the Old West to the big and small screen.

Each personality, dressed in period duds, was photographed in a different authentic Western setting—a cabin, teepee, saloon, etc.—complete with period props, firearms and other frontier furnishings. Gun fans will especially enjoy seeing the array of Colt revolvers and shotguns, as well as Sharps, Springfield, Winchester and Henry rifles packed by the personalities. Each image tells a story simply through the character and the scene. Film biographies on each entry were written by award-winning novelist/film journalist/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, the work’s co-author. As an additional treat, the foreword was penned by famed movie producer/director Roger Corman, who offered his thoughts on the importance of America’s iconic genre, the Western.

Cowhand Al Fleming has just rounded up his gear before saddling up. Packing his hogleg Colt in cross-draw fashion, a double-barreled scattergun and an 1892 Winchester wait to be stored in the outfit’s wagon. Although Fleming often worked behind the scenes in Westerns, doing makeup, designing and constructing period-correct costuming (he’s wearing buckskin trousers of his own making), and other historical consulting work, his towering frame and Western appearance brought him onscreen in a number of oaters including Wild Bill, How the West Was Won, Wagon Train, Lawman and TV’s Magnificent Seven.
Lovely Barbara Luna, who’s appeared in over a hundred TV and feature films, gets serenaded, before whirling around the cantina’s dance floor. Watch out, though, this beautiful señorita packs more than charm in her flowing dances; she has a Storekeeper’s model Colt 1877 Thunderer to tuck behind her fan…just in case that hombre to her right gets a little rambunctious! Luna has starred in trail dust sagas incuding Disney’s TV Zorro, Tales of Wells Fargo, Death Valley Days and the feature Firecreek, among others.

Western Portraits, The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen features portraits of the cinema’s familiar faces, including Hugh O’Brian (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp), L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, Flaming Star), Richard Herd (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Clu Gulager (The Tall Man, The Virginian), Mitchell Ryan (Monte Walsh, High Plains Drifter), Martin Kove (Wyatt Earp, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood) and others. You’ll enjoy perusing the photos of the actors, and see some behind-the-scenes personalities, like Rob Word, film producer and creator of the internet’s popular A Word On Westerns celebrity interviews, which has received 10 million views as of this writing. There’s even a couple of faces you wouldn’t expect to see in a work on Western films—comedians Buddy Hackett and Louis Nye, and you can read of their Western connections.

Just idlin’ his time away in the barn…until the ramrod of the outfit shows up, Tom Bower is an actor who can morph into about any character needed, from comedic to serious. A veteran of many Westerns, he’s played memorable parts in frontier-period films like TNT’s Riders of the Purple Sage, Buffalo Soldiers and The Avenging Angel, and on the big screen in Appaloosa, and PBS’s The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, to list just a few.
Bobby Carradine’s portrait looks as if he’s saying, “I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badge!” The frontier detective got his film career off to a great start as one of John Wayne’s young drovers in one of the Duke’s classics, The Cowboys! Since then, he’s been in other notable Westerns like The Long Riders, Tom Selleck’s remake of Monte Walsh and Django Unchained, along with several other non-Western roles, including the wildly popular Revenge of the Nerds feature comedies.

I was humbled to have been selected to pose for this volume because of my own career, both behind and in front of the camera in movies, television, and producing and performing in live Wild West shows around the world. Besides being a feature writer for True West, Guns & Ammo and other magazines, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a historical consultant for movies and TV, and as a gun coach to Charlton Heston, Mel Gibson, Tom Berenger, Milla Jovovich, Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe, to name a few. Yours truly has also appeared onscreen in The Mountain Men, Wild Wild West, Hidalgo and other oaters, along with a featured portrayal of a bad hombre in the DVD flick Vengeance Trail. For TV, my work varied from appearing as a firearms/Old West “expert talking head,” and as a mounted re-enactor, to casting players for a number of shows, and doubling as an assistant director for several scenes in quite a few documentaries. These included the History Channel’s Wild West Tech, Conquerors, The Texas Rangers and Tales of the Gun; the Discovery Channel’s Unsolved History; episodes for the American Heroes Channel; and other cable network presentations. Looking back, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to make much of my living in such colorful and enjoyable pursuits.

Few actors have left the powerful impressions that R.G. Armstrong has, portraying the iron-willed, sometimes good and sometimes wrong-doing, law of the Bible or the gun, characters. With memorable roles in the classic Westerns Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid and so many more, his powerful frame, steady eyes and resolute depictions, have left us with a legacy of unforgettable performances.
Nobody messes with lawman Richard Herd, with his Colt smokewagon in one hand and a double-barreled scattergun in the other and a no-nonsense look on his face. While you may not immediately think of veteran actor Herd appearing in a Western, he’s certainly done his share of shoot-’em-ups, having guest-starred in cowboy favorites like Support Your Local Sheriff, The War Wagon, Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.
“Who says women can’t ride or shoot?” says cowgirl Stefanie Powers, a veteran actor and accomplished equestrienne who’s proficient in the outdoor action often required in doing Westerns. Having ridden a long trail full of varied cinematic credits, this strong, pretty lass has broken cowboys’ hearts and shown off her Wild West capabilities in horse operas including John Wayne’s McLintock!, Lancer and The Magnificent Seven Ride! and in TV’s Kung Fu, Bat Masterson and more.
Gun-totin’ beauty Ruta Lee beautifully dresses up her Victorian ladies’ boudoir set with her double-barrel shotgun. Ruta has co-starred in 10 feature films including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Bullet for a Badman, and played over 50 TV roles in Westerns like Gunsmoke, Maverick, Rawhide and Wagon Train. Ruta Lee is also one of the most delightful ladies you’d ever have the pleasure of meeting.

If you are a Western film fan, you’re going to enjoy the intriguing images and interesting text in this 264-page, 8½ by 10½-inch hardcover volume. Retailing for $50, this is much more than a coffee table book; it’s a captivating and informative “Who’s Who” of the celluloid West. I’m sure you’ll love it.

Author’s Note: If you would like to purchase a copy of Steve Carver’s Western Portraits, The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen, it is available at Amazon.com.

Phil Spangenberger has written for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor.

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