Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Disney's Hollywood: Gower Gulch and the Drugstore Cowboy

It's always fun to find trace evidence of bygone popular culture lingering in the background of a classic Disney cartoon.  Such evidence is on display in the 1943 Goofy short Victory Vehicles, and it serves to remind us of a long-faded but still quite memorable Hollywood archetype: the drugstore cowboy.

In Victory Vehicles, Goofy briefly played the part of a drugstore cowboy, aptly demonstrating lasso-powered mobility as a form of alternate transportation.  The narrator even refers to him as a "Hollywood drugstore cowboy."  So, just what exactly is a "drugstore cowboy," at least in context to the Hollywood of Walt Disney's time?  The answer can be found in that very same scene, if one looks beyond the mugging Goofy to the background behind him.  The Gower Gulch Pharmacy is the clue that unravels the story of this particular piece of silver screen folklore.

Gower Gulch is the nickname for a very specific piece of Hollywood geography: the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.  This was a location central to a number of well known movie studios, including Columbia, RKO, Paramount and Republic Pictures.  Located at the southeast corner of Gower and Sunset was the Columbia Drug Co., famous for both its soda fountain and newsstand.  Both Columbia and Republic specialized in westerns during this time period, and aspiring actors, many of whom were actual working cowboys, would congregate in and around the drugstore, hoping to be selected by the studio casting agents who would frequent the area.  Many of these hopefuls would come to Gower Gulch fully outfitted in their cowboy clothing and gear, and thus the moniker "drugstore cowboy" was born.

For more information about Gower Gulch, check out today's post on our companion site Boom-Pop!--The History and Mythology of Gower Gulch.


Anonymous said...

Does this also tie Mr. Gower the druggist in "It's a wonderful life" to the same area?

Mike Newton said...

Thanks so much for posting a picture of the Columbia Drugstore at Gower Gulch. I have read stories about it from veteran Western "badmen" who used to hang out there. The term "drugstore cowboy" came from there to mean a young wannabe whippersnapper who wanted to get into westerns but didn't know how to ride. There was a bench outside the drugstore where the cowboys would sit, whittling, spinning yarns and waiting for a job. They would occasionally use the drugstone telephone to call Central Casting to see if there were any jobs that day. The Red Line Streetcar ran right by there so you can imagine the kids delight at seeing real cowboys get on the bus. Thanks again for the great photo.