Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy

Overview

In this innovative take on a neglected chapter of film history, Peter Stanfield challenges the commonly held view of the singing cowboy as an ephemeral figure of fun and argues instead that he was one of the most important cultural figures to emerge out of the Great Depression. The rural or newly urban working-class families who flocked to see the latest exploits of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, and other singing cowboys were an audience largely ignored by mainstream Hollywood film. Hard hit by the ...
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Overview

In this innovative take on a neglected chapter of film history, Peter Stanfield challenges the commonly held view of the singing cowboy as an ephemeral figure of fun and argues instead that he was one of the most important cultural figures to emerge out of the Great Depression. The rural or newly urban working-class families who flocked to see the latest exploits of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, and other singing cowboys were an audience largely ignored by mainstream Hollywood film. Hard hit by the depression, faced with the threat -- and often the reality -- of dispossession and dislocation, pressured to adapt to new ways of living, these small-town filmgoers saw their ambitions, fantasies, and desires embodied in the singing cowboy and their social and political circumstances dramatized in "B" Westerns. Stanfield traces the singing cowboy's previously uncharted roots in the performance tradition of blackface minstrelsy and its literary antecedents in dime novels, magazine fiction, and the novels of B. M. Bower, showing how silent cinema conventions, the developing commercial music media, and the prevailing conditions of film production shaped the "horse opera" of the 1930s. Entertaining and thought-provoking, Horse Opera recovers not only the forgotten cowboys of the 1930s but also their forgotten audiences: the ordinary men and women whose lives were brightened by the sights and songs of the singing Western.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252070495
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Keep Them Clean 1
1 By the Costume We May Tell the Man: Turn-of-the-Century Fiction and the Figure of the Cowboy 9
2 Liberty's Cuckoos: Cowboys of the Silent Screen 26
3 Monodies for the Cowpuncher: Cowboy Songs and Singers 46
4 Cowboy Republic: Producing the Singing Western 77
5 Cowboy Minstrels: Series Westerns and Musical Performance 101
6 New Deal Cowboys: The Mystery of the Hooded Riders 128
Conclusion 149
Notes 157
Index 173
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