His tremendous popularity as a singer of western ballads and folk songs opened the door for him to star in several movies and TV shows.
By Johnny Western, written April 1962
In 1956 Johnny Cash joined the cast of the famed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and became one of its best-paid and biggest stars in just a few weeks. His new records sold millions of copies and it wasn’t long until Hollywood started calling him to come out for pictures and screen tests.
This is when I met Johnny, in 1958, when he moved his family out to the west coast. He now had three little girls, some dogs, a monkey, and a new home in the San Fernando Valley.
Johnny’s first role was on the top rated Wagon Train TV series with the late Ward Bond and Bob Horton. He did so well, that he was tested for the title role in a new TV series, but the series was dropped by the studio. So he went on to several other TV shows, including Shotgun Slade in which he played the sheriff of Dodge City. Frank Gruber, who was the producer of Slade, told me that he thought Johnny Cash had the makings of a western-type Marlon Brando, which from old pro Gruber is mighty high praise.
Johnny had always loved the west and western pictures and recorded a ballad which was to become a smash hit called Don’t Take Your Guns to Town. This song, written by Johnny, has also become one of the biggest sellers in the western field–one of the all-time hits.
His interest in the west includes guns, books on western lore, songs, clothes, and especially horses. Johnny had learned to ride the mules back on the farm, as saddle horses were a rich man’s pleasure back there, so he ended up buying a Thoroughbred race horse which he named Walk The Line. He’s had the horse in training, but since suffering a leg injury it hasn’t done too well so far. But if the typical Cash success story holds up, the horse will be winning at the track next season.
Johnny broke away from western pictures long enough to play a choice role as a pyscho-killer in his first starring picture, Five Minutes to Live. But he bounced back into his favorite western clothes again when he made a pilot in color for a TV series called The Night Rider, in which Johnny portrays the famed gunman John Wesley Hardin. Also co-starred in the film are singers Eddie Dean, Merle Travis, Gordon Terry, and myself. It’s just the beginning of a long career as a filmland horseman for Johnny Cash.
Johnny also gained millions of fans as the singing star of the Rebel TV series which starred Nick Adams. His popular Columbia Record of Johnny Yuma was a big hit for two years.
Johnny’s plans for the future include more films, more Columbia Records under his new contract, and personal appearances all over the world. He also has a small ranch with a new home in Ventura County and will soon have ponies and horses for his little girls, which now number four with the latest addition to the family. Johnny wants to spend a lot of time riding and hunting and fishing on his off hours and, with his new ranch, he’ll be able to do just that.
It is little wonder, in view of his popularity in such widely diversified fields of music and film making, that he is today known as the fabulous Johnny Cash. His is the typical success story of the rags to riches variety, but, more than that, Johnny Cash rode to the top on his own merits.