A Southerner’s Movie Guide, Part VII

9. Confederate Hollywood 

From the beginnings to rather recent times portrayals of Confederates have been a mainstay of American cinema.  After all, the Confederacy is a rather large and interesting slice of American history.  Given the virulent malice today against everything Confederate, it might surprise many folks to see that during Hollywood’s Golden Age an astounding number of major stars of American cinema have had no objection to portraying Confederates, usually as sympathetic characters.  Many of such films showed Confederate flags in favourable contexts and sometimes in glorification.  What has changed in recent times is that there have been evil Confederates appearing more often on the screen and the once popular theme of good Southerners oppressed by Reconstruction has disappeared.

The list below presents Northern and foreign actors who have played more or less attractive Confederates.  The list does not include 1) those who portrayed very villainous Confederates;  2) those who were Southern-born or have Southern background; and 3) portrayals of Southerners not in the Confederate period:

Nick Adams: The Rebel

Tod Andrews: The Gray Ghost

Armand Assante: The Hunley

Christopher Atkins: Guns of Honor

Richard Basehart:  The Andersonville Trial

Anne Baxter: Three Violent People

Louise Beavers: Belle Starr

Noah Beery: The Last Outpost

Tom Berenger: Gettysburg

Ward Bond: Gone with the Wind

Marlon Brando: Appaloosa

Walter Brennan inimitably played Confederates and other Southerners in many films although he was born in Boston. Brennan was for decades the strongest conservative in leftist Hollywood.

Lloyd Bridges: The Blue and the Gray

Pierce Brosnan: The Son

Bruce Cabot: The Best of the Badmen, The Undefeated

David Keith and Robert Carradine: The Long Riders

Jim Caviezel: Ride with the Devil

Montgomery Clift: Red River

James Coburn: Major Dundee

Gary Cooper: Dallas, Vera Cruz, Operator 13

Robert Cummings: So Red the Rose

James Dale: Echoes of War

Jane Darwell: Gone with the Wind

Olivia de Haviland: Gone with the Wind

Colleen Dewhurst: The Blue and the Gray

Angie Dickinson: Gray Ghost       

Brian Donlevy: The Woman They Almost Lynched

Michael Douglas: The Ghost and the Darkness

Clint Eastwood: The Outlaw Josey Wales, Ambush at  Cimarron Pass

Hope Emerson: The Guns of Fort Petticoat

Errol Flynn: The Santa Fe Trail, Rocky Mountain

Henry Fonda: Jesse James, The Return of Frank James

Glenn Ford: Texas

John Ford: The Birth of a Nation

John Forsythe: Escape from Fort Bravo

William Forsythe: Echoes of  War

Clark Gable: Gone with the Wind

Kathryn Grant: The Guns of Fort Petticoat

Peter Graves: The Raid

George Hamilton: The Long Ride Home

Richard Harris: Major Dundee

Gabby Hayes: Arizona Kid, Southward Ho!

Van Heflin: The Raid

Charlton Heston: Three Violent People, Arrowhead

William Holden: Texas

Leslie Howard: Gone with the Wind

Rock Hudson: The Undefeated, The Lawless Breed

Alex Hyde-White: Ironclads

Jason Isaacs: Field of Lost Shoes

Jewel: Ride with the Devil

Van Johnson: Siege at Red River

Richard Jordan: Gettysburg

Stacy and James Keach: The Long Riders

Buster Keaton: The General

Arthur Kennedy: Red Mountain

Alan Ladd: Red Mountain, Proud Rebel

Stephen Lang: Gods and Generals

Vivien Leigh: Gone with the Wind

John Lund: Five Guns West

George Macready: The Rebel

Hattie McDaniel: Gone with the Wind

Tobey Maguire: Ride with the Devil

Victor Mature: Escort West

Doug McClure: Shenandoah

Dylan McDermott: Texas Rangers

Joel McRea: Border River, The Outriders

Ray Milland: Copper Canyon

Thomas Mitchell: Gone with the Wind

Chris Mitchum: Rio Lobo

Elizabeth Montgomery: Belle Starr

Jeanette Nolan: The Guns of Fort  Petticoat

Maureen O’Hara: Deadly Companions, Rio Grande

Dennis O’Keefe: The Eagle and the Hawk

Eleanor Parker: Escape from Fort Bravo

Barbara Payton: Drums in the Deep South

Gregory Peck: The Yearling

Tyrone Power: Jesse James

Jurgen Prochnow: Guns of Honor

Ronald Reagan: The Last Outpost  (Cavalry Command)

Pamela Reed: The Long Riders

Christopher Reeve: The Bostonians

Jonathan Rhys-Myers: Ride with the Devil

Jorge Rivero (Mexican star): Rio Lobo

Cliff Robertson: The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

Roy Rogers: The Arizona Kid, Southward Ho!

Kurt Russell: Mosby’s Marauders

Tom Selleck: Last Stand at Saber River 

Martin Sheen: Gettysburg, Guns of Honor

Madolyn Smith: The Rose and the Jackal

Robert Stack: Great Day in the Morning

James Stewart: Shenandoah

Meryl Streep: Secret Service (her opening monologue is in front of a large Confederate flag)

Margaret Sullavan: So Red the Rose

Donald Sutherland: The Hunley

Shirley Temple: The Littlest  Rebel

Gene Tierney: Belle  Starr

Lawrence Tierney: The Best of the Badmen

Constance Towers: The Horse Soldiers

Claire Trevor: Texas

Tom Tyler: The Best of the Badmen

Skeet Ulrich: Ride with the Devil

Jan-Michael Vincent: The Undefeated

John Wayne: The Searchers, True Grit, and doubtless others.

Richard Widmark: Alvarez Kelly

Jeffrey Wright: Ride with the Devil

Robin Wright: The Conspirator

Here are some Southern-born or Southern background actors who have also played Confederates: Claude Akins, Gene Autry, Glenn Campbell, John Carradine, Patricia Clarkson, Joseph Cotten, James Craig, Robert Duvall, Frankie Faison, Miriam Hopkins, Jeffrey Hunter, Ben Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Anson Mount, Audie Murphy, John Payne, Dennis and Randy Quaid, Tex Ritter, Will Rogers, Randolph Scott, Randy Travis.

In the Enola Gay President Truman, considering whether to drop the atomic bomb, is seated in front of an array of flags, one of which is Confederate, or possibly a Mississippi or Georgia flag. Robert Redford plays an actor wearing a Confederate uniform in (X) Inside Daisy Clover. In **The Ghost and the Darkness Michael Douglas is a famed lion hunter, an American who is described as having come to Africa because his people lost a war. In (T)Warm Springs Franklin D. Roosevelt is inspired by the example of Confederate general Francis Nicholls, who lost an arm and a leg in the War but went on to become Governor of Louisiana. In (T)Texas (1941) William Holden calls a carpetbagger “a dirty Yankee.” In the postwar setting of (T)The Missouri Traveler (1958) Lee Marvin survives unscathed a lavish presentation of the Southern flag and anthem.

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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