Jan 13, 2009
Sunset Carson: Six Gun Heroes
Sunset Carson (born Winifred Maurice Harrison in 1920) had a brief career in a string of B-westerns in the latter half of 1940's, produced by Republic Pictures. After having travelled the circuit as a trick shoot artist for so many years, in 1980 he was hired by a South Carolina public television station to host the series "Six Gun Heroes", in which he would introduce a B western from the 1930's or 40's. I caught the show circa 1983-4 when Erie PA's PBS affiliate WQLN used to broadcast it on Saturday nights at, if memory serves, 7:30 PM. which would be followed by "Q Classics" (featuring a twin-bill of classic movies which would be repeated the Sunday afternoon of the following weekend). In those days, I was still trying to convince my mother that the big TV set in the living room wouldn't screw up with such newfangled gadgets as converters or VCR's, so to see anything outside of channels 2 to 13, I would ascend the stairs to the little black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears in my room to watch the show at Channel 54 on the UHF dial.
I've always loved westerns, but in this period, I was particularly ravenous for them. While early on the bar had been set for me with my adolescent viewings of For a Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time in the West, in truth any oater, big or small would be a television event for me. CBC had periodically shown matinee westerns in the stream of RKO second features they would routinely show on Saturday mornings (those times are deserving of a post all their own), but I had not yet seen any B westerns of the "singing cowboy" variety (in which stars like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry would often play characters with their own names) until I began watching "Six Gun Heroes". Even at that young age, I was struck by how innocent these films were, as they were geared toward pre-teen boys, therefore people seldom died (or certainly not in a gratuitous fashion), and the only smooching going on would likely be with Trigger. Having already been introduced to spaghetti western nihilism at such an impressionable age, these movies appeared quaint even then, but I still appreciated their charm.
"Six Gun Heroes" ran for an hour, including Carson's wraparound segments. The films he presented usually clocked in at just under an hour on their own, so I am uncertain if the movies were trimmed to fit a broadcast schedule. The titles I can remember seeing on the show include Springtime In the Rockies and Oh Susanna, both with Gene Autry (the former was the first B western I ever saw that used automobiles; the latter featured a memorable scene where Autry lip-synchs to a phonograph record in order to get out of prison); The Vigilantes of Boomtown, with Allan "Rocky" Lane as Red Ryder (co-starring little Bobby Blake, after "Our Gang" but way before "Baretta"); and His Brother's Ghost, in which Buster Crabbe's twin brother gets murdered, and therefore poses as his brother's ghost to fight the bad guys. (The latter synopsis should tell you how much of an open mind one needed to appreciate such films). I haven't watched any of these pictures in years-- it would be fun to relive their charms all over again.
Sadly, I have no memory at all of Sunset Carson's segments as the host, other than the finale, where we would see a silhouetted image of a cowboy riding in front of a horizon at dusk, while the cheap Chyron titles rolled, and this song played (which remains in my mind a quarter century later):
"...and you ride
Into the sunset
Just so long for a while."
This musical interlude may have subconsciously played a role in my faithful viewing of the program, as the lyrics encapsulate the restless wayward spirit of my youth, and why I most remember this moment from "Six Gun Heroes". This spoke to the little cowboy in me, much as the original films must have done to their audience back in the glory days of the Saturday matinee.