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For fifty years, from Buck Jones silents to John Wayne shoot-’em-ups, all that a celluloid cowboy needed was a horse, a hat, a gun, and a girl—in that order. The first three provided drama, panache, and suspense; the girl, though, didn’t get to do much besides swish her skirts and scream. But over the next few months, four new films mark the advent of a contemporary cowgirl, one who falls short on stereotypes while riding tall in the saddle: Uma Thurman and Lorraine Bracco star in the big-screen version of Tom Robbins’ cult novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; Sharon Stone plays a gunslinger in The Quick and the Dead; all-girl cattle rustlers live up to the title of Outlaws; and the true story of a woman rancher who passed herself off as a man is told in The Ballad of Little Jo. Clearly, another lace-trimmed cliché is riding off into the sunset. As it does, we bid a fond photographic farewell to what could be called the Dale Evans era, when men were men and women were scenery.

Raquel Welch

1972

Wearing a peekaboo poncho and little else, Welch played Avenging Widow in the R-rated Hannie Caulder. Hippie-esque touches included Welch’s hip-hugging holster and back-combed hair. Her climactic line: “There aren’t any hard women—only soft men.”

Gail Davis

1953

A real cowgirl, Davis roped and rode in Gene Autry movies before starring for four years in TV’s Annie Oakley. The real Little Sure Shot had long dark hair and favored a rifle; Davis, sort of a Western-style Gidget, sported blond pigtails and packed a pair of pistols.

Dorothy Malone

1948

Malone donned abbreviated duds for Two Guys From Texas, a musical comedy about vaudevillians on a dude ranch. Her character was almost as animated as Bugs Bunny, who provided a cameo. In 1956 Malone (who now lives in Dallas) won an Oscar for her portrayal of another Texan—the nymphomaniac oil heiress in Written on the Wind.

Barbara Stanwyck

1956

Known for tough-cookie roles, Stanwyck starred in The Maverick Queen as a saloonkeeper who pals around with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and laments, “I did what I had to do to get where I am.” Crime doesn’t pay; she dies in a shoot-out, protecting the man she loves.

Jane Russell

1952

Though Russell debuted nine years before in Howard Hughes’s Billy the Kid epic The Outlaw, in Montana Belle she played an outlaw herself—Belle Starr. Gene Tierney and Elsa Martinelli also tackled the role of the Western crime queen, who actually hailed from Missouri.

Ella Raines

1944

In the John Wayne vehicle Tall in the Saddle, Raines portrayed a rancher who is “meaner ’n a skilletful of rattlesnakes,” as Gabby Hayes’s character puts it. A rival ranch owner, equally fetching but blond, conveniently turned out to be the hero’s cousin, so Raines got her man.

Ursula Andress

1963

With fellow European import Anita Ekberg, Andress oomphed up Four for Texas, a Frank Sinatra–Dean Martin romp. Her ventilated skirt was demure compared with edited-out nude scenes. Said Texas cinema scholar Don Graham of the film: “Avoid it at all costs.”

Jane Fonda

1965

“She has the smile of an angel/She fights like the devil” ran the theme song of Cat Ballou, which provided Fonda a star-making role as an aspiring schoolmarm turned outlaw. Her wardrobe included a slip, a nightie, and a tacky red dance-hall gown. Nonetheless, the actress was easily upstaged by Lee Marvin and his hammy horse.

Ann-Margret

1964

A cowboy-fantasy scene in the Elvis movie Viva Las Vegas! was just an excuse to outfit the redhead in a fringed midriff top and short shorts. Ann-Margret did appear in two legitimate westerns: the 1966 remake of Stagecoach and a 1973 desperado flick, The Train Robbers.

Karen Steele

1959

Women in westerns tended to be virtuous widows or voluptuous wantons. In Ride Lonesome, a low-budget but suspenseful oater, Karen Steele played one of the former. Steele never made a name for herself as an actress, unlike a bit player in the movie—Donna Reed.

Gerri Ganzer

1949

So popular was the cowgirl image that studios relied on the look for wannabees’ so-called exploitation shots. The caption on this starlet’s photo ran “The things you gotta do for a movie career! Like posing in costumes such as this, just to get your picture in the papers.”

Mamie Van Doren

1959

More bombshell than buckarette, Van Doren was a B-movie stalwart, starring in the likes of High School Confidential! (a marijuana exposé) and The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (a horror movie about killer trees). In Born Reckless, she tried to lasso a rodeo star.

Charlene Holt

1967

Posing for publicity stills for El Dorado, a limp John Wayne western, Holt strapped a gun belt over her corset—but in the actual movie, she never even touched a gun. Playing a generic whore with a heart of gold, she appeared primly dressed in her first scene, but lines such as “Can I buy you a drink?” and “Hell!” tipped off the audience.