Randolph Scott was once synonymous with the classic ideal of American manhood: steely, forbearing, straight-shootin’. But off screen, his lifestyle as a sharp-dressin’ gentleman-financier set a template for Hollywood to follow.
Randolph Scott (1898 - 1987), circa 1937. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In Thomas Pynchon’s debut novel, V, published in 1963, the anti-hero, a discharged and feckless U.S. navy sailor named Benny Profane, is watching an unspecified Randolph Scott western and comparing himself unfavourably to its square-jawed, morally righteous hero: “He was cool, imperturbable, keeping his trap shut and only talking when he had to — and then saying the right things and not running off haphazard and inefficient at the mouth.”

Profane’s admiring analysis was shared by a generation of post-second-world-war moviegoers: though Scott never won an Oscar, his lanky, laconic cowboy archetypes — reticent but resolute, diffident but dauntless, potent but private — made him one of the top box-office stars of the late 1940s and early fifties. In the 39 westerns he starred in, from 1946’s Badman’s Territory to 1962’s Ride the High Country, he not only created an image of bruised-but-unbowed integrity that became, for many, synonymous with an ideal of American manhood, he paved the way for the generation of be-saddled exemplars who followed him, from John Wayne’s doughty sheriffs to Clint Eastwood’s enigmatic Man with No Name. He took a refreshingly what-the-heck view when it came to the possibility of typecasting. “I believe in letting well enough alone,” he told the Hollywood gossip maven Hedda Hopper in a rare interview. “I’m not looking for new fields to conquer. Westerns are the mainstay of the industry. And they always make money.”


Stuart Husband


December 2020


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