This is not the most popular genre today, but it wasn’t always this way. Having peaked in the late 1960s, they continue to evoke fond memories of bygone days in the United States. Some may remember the heroic male heroes of Western cinema and television, but the strong female Western icons should also be remembered. In a genre where the lone male protagonist is celebrated, women are generally reduced to supporting parts or mere window-dressing (seems more often than not, even the horse gets greater attention than the ladies). Of the men who have fought their way into this testosterone-laden landscape. Some of the best cinematic performances have been given by women in Westerns, proving that the genre isn’t just for guys.
Western’s most famous female characters are here for you to learn about:
1. Amanda Blake
Gunsmoke starred Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty. Despite her harsh exterior, Miss Kitty has a warm spot in her heart for Marshal Matt Dillon. When Will Mannon (Steve Forrest) violently rapes her in 1969’s “Mannon” episode while he waits for Dillon’s return, she demonstrates her tenacity. In order to blunt Mannon’s swagger before the last confrontation, Kitty has him shaved down to size. Unforgettable.
2. Katy Jurado
In this historic picture, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) made a lot of noise over Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a Quaker decent girl. I never understood why. If I had survived the gunfight, I would have thanked her and settled down with Helen Ramirez (Jurado). Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) also had a role for the beautiful actress, in which she comforts her dying husband (played by Slim Pickens) along the river. The music of Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” enhances the emotional impact of the scene. Side note: In 1954, for her role in Broken Lance, Ms. Jurado became the first Latin American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award.
3. Katherine Ross
Actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford have nothing on Katherine Ross in the enduring classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from 1969. Her gracefully atop Butch’s bicycle handlebars to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” is my favorite scene. Sobering line: “I’ll do anything you want me to except one thing,” she says in film to the two-bit bandits. I’m not going to stand by and witness your demise. If you don’t mind, I’ll miss that scenario.
4. Hailee Steinfeld
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One of the best performances by a woman in any genre, let alone a Western, is given by 14-year-old Mattie as she manipulates Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and the other men around her in quest of the murderer of her father. Both the Academy Award and the BAFTA Award were presented to Ms. Steinfeld for her work as an actress in a leading role.
5. Jennifer Jones
After Gone with the Wind’s popularity, producer David O. Selznick hoped to replicate it with Lust in the Dust, an over-the-top, sensuous western melodrama (recycled in 1985 as the title of a comedy western directed by Paul Bartel, and starring Divine and Tab Hunter). A common practice in Hollywood is the casting of white actresses as “exotic” love interests. Jennifer Jones plays “half-breed” orphan Pearl Chavez, whose tumultuous romance with Gregory Peck, the shady son of her adoptive family, reaches its climax in one of the film’s sweatiest, dopiest, and most colorful scenes. In Pedro Almodóvar’s film Matador, Martin Scorsese’s favorite film is included in a brief scene (1986).
6. Michelle Williams
Inspired by real-life events in 1845, Kelly Reichardt’s low-budget film. It becomes evident that Stephen Meek, the leader of the wagon train, is in desperate need of the 19th century equivalent of a GPS throughout the two-week journey over the Oregon desert. Water and supplies are running low. While Native American marauding was a major concern to white settlers’ existence in the west, nature’s roughness and climate were just as much of a threat to their well-being as they were.
A proponent of so-called “Slow Cinema,” Reichardt’s films portray the Old West through the eyes of a woman, complete with knitting and sewing and huge bonnets. Even if the audience can identify with Michelle Williams, it’s her ability to transmit an entire universe in a single glance that makes her the most relatable character.
7. Marie Windsor
Born Emily Marie Bertelsen in Marysvale, Utah, Windsor went to Brigham Young University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She began her acting career in B movies in the late 1940s after studying theater acting with Maria Ouspenskaya. In fact, she appeared in so many B movies that she earned the nickname “Queen of the Bs.”
She had the right type of talent at the right time, to paraphrase a cliché. Marie would have been a perfect template for film and television. Ms Windsor smoldered on screen in sequences with John Garfield and others, in some of her best work, with her bedroom eyes (“they didn’t fit for a ‘goody-goody wife, or a pretty little girlfriend”). In The Killing (1956), she played the conniving, double-crossing wife of Elisha Cook Jr. (which garnered her “Look” magazine’s Best Supporting Actress award).
8. Barbara Stanwyck
Throughout her career, Barbara Stanwyck appeared in a wide variety of Western-themed films and television shows. It was her appearance as Vance in The Furies in 1950 that made her a household name in the Western genre. She posed as a wealthy heiress to a crooked father.
In the 1950s, her film career began to decline, so she turned to television. Victoria Barkley, the widowed matriarch of ABC’s The Big Valley, was her first big-screen Western role. Her Emmy Award-winning performance on The Big Valley made her a household name.
9. Raquel Welch
Raquel Welch was one of the most well-known female icons of the 1960s and 1970s. After she appeared in One Million Years B.C. in a doe-skin bikini, millions of people became aware of her. After that, she quickly became a pin-up model.
In addition to Bandolero! and 100 Rifles she also appeared in the Westerns Hannie Caulder both of which were huge successes. Burt Reynolds and Dean Martin were among the actors who praised her for injecting new life into the genre by collaborating with her.
10. Cate Blanchett
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In the movie “The Missing,” Maggie Gilkeson, played by Cate Blanchett, is a hard-working rancher who is attempting to bring up her two daughters on her own. The Missing is a Western that is not in the big-sky tradition of John Ford’s Westerns but rather in the limited, psychologically compressed form of Anthony Mann’s Westerns. The film is all earth tones and grays.
Cate Blanchett steals the show in this movie, despite the somber intensity that is provided by the legendary Tommy Lee Jones. The technical proficiency that Cate Blanchett possesses doesn’t prevent her from being emotionally spontaneous, much like Meryl Streep. Cate Blanchett’s acting precision is extraordinary. In point of fact, it appears to release it. Her piercing and genuine screams of terror when she discovers the camp where her eldest daughter, Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood), was kidnapped are heard when she first arrives there.