Pinky Pie

Big Fanny, Gunsmoke & Me

Posted on: January 8, 2011

No, I’m not looking in the mirror, unless it is the rearview mirror of my childhood.

In this case, I’m looking at U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon as he faces a desperado on the main, dusty main street on Gunsmoke. Standing with his back to the viewer, Matt (James Arness) pulled his gun and shot the bad guy (who conveniently wore a black hat). The streets of Dodge City, Kansas, were safe again – until the week’s episode began.

What jumps out of my memory is the night my mom, looking at Matt’s behind, called him Big Fanny. I started giggling because this was so unMomlike. I insisted she say it again every time the show was on. I’m sure she tired of it very quickly, especially because the show ran from 1955 to 1975 plus syndication forever more. If the truth be known, Matt Dillon (played by William Conrad) kept Dodge City safe on radio before that, although his tush was not shown on the radio.

Westerns were the stuff of movies and television in the 1950s and 1960s. I loved to pretend I was in the Long Branch Saloon on Gunsmoke swigging shots of whisky (soda)  from a shot glass and bottle sitting next to me.  I wiped my mouth with back of my hand after each shot.

I loved Gunsmoke, too, because of Miss Kitty, who owned the Long Branch. Back then I had no idea that there could be some other activities going on upstairs.

The only thing I didn’t like was when our family traveled west one summer and stayed at a motel in Dodge City, Kansas. The bathroom had no door, swinging or otherwise. Whenever I used it I screamed at Andy to stay away. I had nothing to show then, not that my big brother would be interested in his little sister.

Westerns even were on Saturday mornings. Andy and I bounced out of bed to do the all American thing – plant ourselves in front of the TV – in a way we never did on school days. Still in our PJs and with Frosted Flakes in our cereal bowls on our TV tables, we – or at least I – spent the morning watching show after show.

There was Fury, which began with: “FURY! … The story of a horse … and a boy who loves him.” Long before he was in the movie Airplane or television’s Mission Impossible, Peter Graves (Arness’ brother) starred as the adopted father of the boy who loved that horse.

We also tuned into Sky King, the story of Skyler King who lived on the Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona. He piloted his Songbird plane and with the assistance of his niece Penny and sometimes nephew Clipper. Together they captured criminals and – this was the 1950s – spies. I’m sure they were many Communist spies trying to get the secrets around them, there parts of Arizona.

I stuck around for My Friend Flicka, another boy and his horse story. This one took place on the Goose Bar Ranch in Wyoming. Johnny Washbrook played Ken McLaughlin, who was as devoted to his horse as that other boy was to Fury.

We went to Westerns at the movies, including one that my parents called “a Modern Western” because it apparently had scenes that little me should not see.

I used to beg my parents to buy me a horse. Girls – even those who live in the suburbs – could be as devoted to a horse as the boys on Fury and Flicka.

So one day, Dad and Andy went out to get me one – it turned out to be a molded toy horse. At least it was a palomino, but still it was  a bitter disappointment. To think that my own brother – my only sibling – abetted our father in this travesty of justice is still terribly hurtful.

It is because of westerns that I’ve loved going horseback riding whenever I had a chance. Near-catastrophy occurred on several rides with my friend, Jean, including the time she could not get back on her horse. The stables ran out of mighty steeds so one of us had to volunteer to ride a burro. I did. I knew even then that an ass on an ass would make a good story. But when Jean got in trouble, mine was the only animal able to ride back for help. Good thing I had watched all those westerns over the years.

By the way, looking at a photo of Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke today, his fanny doesn’t seem all that big. Fannies in general have grown some since the old West and certainly since Gunsmoke went off the air in 1975 – not that I’m looking in the mirror.

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