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An Interview With…
        - Marie Harmon
        - Helen Talbot
        - Peggy Stewart
        - Caren Marsh
        - Eleanor Stewart
        - Audrey Totter
        - Marion Shilling
        - Lois Hall
        - Beth Marion
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        - Nell O'Day
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        - Edith Fellows
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        - Beverly Garland
        - Maureen O'Hara
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        - Noel Neill
        - Jane Greer
        - Lisa Gaye
        - Virginia Carroll
        - Frances Dee
        - Margaret O'Brien
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Helen Talbot.HELEN TALBOT

Although redheaded beauty Helen Talbot only co-starred in six B-westerns and two serials, and had minor supporting roles in four Roy Rogers/Dale Evans titles, it seems like far more because of the lasting impression she left on Saturday matinee moviegoers from 1943-1946.

“I was born in Concordia, KS (1924), and moved to Westwood, CA, after my mother died when I was 13 or 14. Believe it or not, my real name is Helen Darling! I was a movie buff as a child. I remember serials like ‘Rin Tin Tin’—‘Flash Gordon’ was my favorite. I loved Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and things like that. I admired actresses. I used to play dress-up, so I thought it would be a wonderful thing to do.”

Around 1938, Helen began modeling. “I used to model for Don Loper. He called me his baby model. I saw this one slender girl who had Kleenex she was stuffing in her (bra) and she offered me some. I said no. She said, ‘Don’t you use it?’ And I said, ‘If I have a cold or something.’ (Laughs)” While modeling Helen remembers, “I was called to the attention of an agent who took me out to Republic to make a test. At the same time I had a call at Samuel Goldwyn Studios and was hired as a Goldwyn Girl. So I was at Samuel Goldwyn first. I’d been signed there to a contract for ‘Up in Arms’ with Danny Kaye. I was one of 30 Goldwyn Girls. Then I got a wire that Mr. Yates wanted to sign me for Westerns and serials at Republic. But I already had the contract for the picture at Goldwyn, so it got kinda confusing there for a while. The chance to do Westerns and serials sounded much more exciting than just being background for Danny Kaye. So I went to the dance director and told him my plight. ‘I’d love to do this with you—I’ve always wanted to dance in a movie, but they want to sign me to a long term contract at Republic.’ He could sense my enthusiasm and said, ‘We’ll work something out.’ As I remember, he got (a note) from a doctor claiming (Laughs) appendicitis or something. I was so shocked he did that. He said, ‘Well, you want out of this don’t you? You can’t dance with a bad appendix.’ And I’m so glad I worked at Republic—it was a great experience.”

Signing in 1943 with Republic, Helen met president Herbert J. Yates, “I was in his office when he asked my name and I said ‘Helen Darling’. He said, ‘What’s your real name?’ And I said, ‘That’s it. It’s Helen Darling.’ But he didn’t seem to believe me. I wish I’d stuck by my guns and used that, because it was my real name. On the lot, I was friends with Linda Stirling and Pat Starling. So they kind of called us ‘Stirling, Starling and Darling’.”

Helen’s first Western was opposite Don Barry, “Canyon City”, shot on location at Iverson’s movie ranch. “The first Western I was ever on, the first day of shooting…we’re out on location and they brought me a horse called Tucson. They said we think you probably better get on and kinda get used to him because we’ll be shooting soon. Meantime, the company went off  at a distance to shoot a chase scene. I got on Tucson, at a trot, then a gallop. I loved his gallop, it was really smooth. Now, it was a cool morning, there was a breeze, I had on gloves and on the saddlehorn they had a lariat rope. We were going along faster and faster and I thought, ‘Gee, what a nice smooth gallop. This is gonna be a good horse to ride.’ We were going around a big rock. On the front of this rock was a small tree or bush. The wind caught the bush as I started to go around this rock, and Tucson shied. He just stopped. I felt myself going forward and I reached for the horn on the saddle but the lariat was in the way and I went down and off. I could see the horse’s’ hoof coming down at me, so I rolled. His hoof just missed me, but I had on a divided skirt and he cut the back of my skirt, just ripped the whole back end of it out. My hair had these large rolls in front with bobby pins in them. Well, I hit the ground so hard, the rolls were bouncing up and down. I had dust in my makeup, tears in my eyes, my mascara was running—and no breath. My breath was all gone. All of a sudden the whole company was around me. I don’t know how they got there so fast. They were saying things like, ‘Were you hurt? Would you like a cup of coffee? Get that horse back here, she’s gotta get right back on it.’ (Laughs) I’m trying to grab the back end of my skirt, which was all torn out, and somebody said, ‘Oh my God, look at that face. She’s covered with dust…her mascara…she has to have a new wardrobe…’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh dear, my first Western. I haven’t even been in one shot and I’m a mess. My first and I ruined it. Oh me—they’ll send me home.’ But they decided to put me in the double’s outfit, get the makeup person over and the hairdresser and fix me up and get that horse back here. Bill Yriogoyen, a darling stuntman, said, ‘Honey, you just gotta get right back on that horse. If you don’t, you’re gonna be frightened. You gotta let that horse know you’re not afraid of him.’ That taught me a lesson, just take command. I finally got back on and Tucson and I became buddies after that.”

Roy Barcroft (behind Helen), Don Barry and a group of townspeople in "Canyon City" ('43 Republic).

“Tucson did trick me one more time. I learned you should never relax on a horse. The action was on the main Western street. I was back on a side street with some cowboys and one was telling a joke. The director said they’d silently wave us to come on. I was supposed to come in riding Tucson with a couple of cowboys. I was laughing at this joke and watching for the man to wave me on. They said, ‘Camera, Action!’ Well, Tucson was a Western horse and when he heard ‘Action,’ he was off! I didn’t fall that time, thank goodness, I would really have been embarrassed. After that, I realized when anyone said, ‘Action,’ I really had to hold Tucson back, because those horses are ahead of you. He was a wonderful horse and I always rode him after that.”

Wally Vernon, Biran O'Hara and Don Barry "unearth" Helen Talbot in  "California Joe" ('43 Republic).

Not only did Helen become Don Barry’s three time leading lady on screen, they were romantically linked off screen as well, although never married as has been erroneously reported. “Don was like a little peacock, but he worked with gusto and enthusiasm. He had a reputation of having a fiery temper, and yes, he did have that. It took a little to provoke it. Don wasn’t as tall as some of the other cowboys. Some people thought he had a bit of a complex about that. He also had a very nice side, a childlike side. He loved to have a good time, he loved to have people around him and he loved to play poker. We used to play penny ante poker. It grew and grew so we finally had to have several tables. Robert Young used to come over and play with us…Shelley Winters joined us. Shelley was not a card player but she liked to be part of the gang. She always lost but was a good sport about it. (Laughs) Don loved to have people come up to his apartment, play poker and share spaghetti and salad and have a good time. I saw him happiest when he had friends of long standing around him that he liked to sit around and talk with about things that happened in films. He had some friends called the Straub Twins from vaudeville. My goodness, they’d tell stories and I’d have to leave the room to keep from laughing. That was a side not everybody saw when he was working. He was not a drinker. We traveled a lot together during the war for the Hollywood Victory Committee, putting on shows and selling war bonds. We went to Texas for publicity for some films we did…New Orleans, Las Vegas for a big war bond show there which was covered by LIFE magazine. I was made the honorary sheriff of Las Vegas and rode with Leo Carrillo in the parade. But at the last minute they decided not to print it. They thought it was in bad taste to show us at the Bond show having such a good time in Vegas while our servicemen were at war. And I guess they had a point. Don was fun to travel with. He was very popular in Texas ‘cause that’s where he was from. Don loved music. Once, we were in a cantina in Laredo, singing and clapping. When we got up to leave, the musicians followed us right out the door. All down the block was this trail of guitar players escorting us down the street.”

Nolan Leary (third from left), Bob Kortman, Kenne Duncan, Helen Talbot, Wally Vernon and Don Barry in "Outlaws of Santa Fe" ('44 Republic).

Not letting her stand idly by, when not co-starring with Barry, Republic utilized Helen in supporting roles in four Roy Rogers/Dale Evans musical westerns. Helen remembers, “The most fun making those were the rides back from locations in the studio limo—the jokes and singing with Roy and Dale and the Pioneers.”

Helen reminded us, “Each of the gentlemen I worked with had their own personalities and characteristics but they were all good people.” Especially Bill Elliott. “I liked Bill. He was smart about his money. And he had a great gentleness about him. He was very serious about his craft. He fashioned himself after William S. Hart. He idolized him.”

(L-R) Jack McClendon, Bill Elliott as Red Ryder, Helen Talbot, Bobby Blake as Little Beaver and Roy Barcroft in Republic's "Lone Texas Ranger" ('45).

“When I left Republic I married a Navy pilot. He decided, for him to get his education, he needed to go to South Bend, IN, and go to Notre Dame. He’d been there one semester and did well. Then he came home to California, went to UCLA and joined a fraternity and almost flunked out. So he said, ‘If I’m going to get my college education it has to be at Notre Dame.’ We were in love, wanted to get married and were trying to decide whether to wait til he got through college, but we decided no, let’s get married and go together. That’s what we did.”

“Many years later, when I was back (in California) and had a daughter about 6-7 years old, we were shopping just before Christmas. I hadn’t seen Bill Elliott for years! My daughter and I, in a giggly mood, were trying on hats in the hat department of a store. And who should walk up but Bill Elliott. Just as if I’d seen him Friday and this was Monday, he said, ‘Hi Helen.’ And I introduced him to my daughter. He didn’t say how are you, what have you been doing—he said very seriously, typical of Bill, ‘I’d like to ask you a favor. I’m shopping for my wife and you look like you’re just the same size she is. Could you help me out?’ I said, ‘I’d be happy to.’ He said, ‘C’mon over here I’ve looked at several outfits and I can’t make up my mind.’ I said, ‘Listen, if we’re the same size, I’ll try them on for you. I’ll model and maybe you can tell better what you like.’ He ended up buying three outfits. The saleslady loved me. (Laughs) And that was it, he said, ‘Merry Christmas’ and off he went.”

Allan Lane, as usual with most of his co-workers, restores less pleasant memories. “I worked with him and seemed to get along OK, probably ‘cause I didn’t nickname him (Referring to her friend Peggy Stewart’s ‘Bubblebutt’ appellation for Lane.). I think he was a very proud person, very serious, very exacting, very conscientious about everything, but I can’t find fault in that because he was the star of the picture. He wanted it right and he wanted to be good in it. Barbra Streisand’s one of those people. (Chuckles) Lots of people are perfectionists. Someone told me later he was upstaging me a lot. (Laughs) How was I to know—young and naive. I was too busy trying to hit my marks and remember my lines to notice it. I think Allan must have had a bigger budget on his films, because I noticed I had maybe four or five different changes of costume and as many changes of hairdos, which is pretty wonderful when you’re a female lead in a B-Western. It’s usually the guy, the horse, the sidekick and you’re next! (Laughs)”

"Corpus Christi Bandits" title card.

Twinkle Watts.In the mid ‘40s, Republic was promoting precocious young ice skating star Twinkle Watts. (Republic president Herbert J. Yates, obviously envisioning his own low budget Shirley Temple, unwisely placed the child in ten of the Barry and Lane Westerns.). “I thought Twinkle was a very sweet little girl but I was astounded by the name. It still bothered me they wouldn’t let me use my real name, Darling, and I thought, ‘Twinkle Watts—what kind of name is that?’ I found out Watts was the family name but how could they name her Twinkle—when she grows up is she gonna like that? I was absolutely floored to find out her older sister’s name was Kilo…Watts. (Laughs)”

Roy Barcroft was Republic’s resident badman and Helen remembers him as “a fine actor. He did everything with such gusto, especially playing a heavy, which he could really put his teeth into. As with so many of the gentlemen I worked with at Republic, they were good to us. I was treated like their sister or the girl next door. When I first started I was very naive and not very experienced, they were very kind, considerate and helpful, especially Roy.”

Helen laughingly reminisced about one incident where she inadvertently brought shooting to a halt. “I had a barroom scene. I think it was my ‘father’ who was shot. I was standing over this person who had been shot and the director yelled, ‘Cut!’ The director called his assistant aside, the assistant said something to somebody else and everybody’s looking at me. I said my line right—what did I do? Then the wardrobe lady came to me and sheepishly asked, ‘Helen, are you wearing falsies?’ And I replied, “Good Heavens, No!’ I think I had a modest amount of cleavage. So they went back and told the director, ‘She’s not wearing falsies.’ This went on, they stopped production for a good half an hour. Finally, they said, ‘Okay’ and they went on and shot it. Here today, they do just the opposite! We were very modest in those days—or at least—Republic was.”

Keeping Helen busy, Republic wisely placed her (and her usual stunt double, Nellie Walker) in two of its best mid ‘40s cliffhangers, “Federal Operator 99” and “King of the Forest Rangers”. “I was impressed with “Federal Operator 99” because that was my first serial. I hopefully learned a lot from that. Adrian (Booth) was on it, and George (J. Lewis) was such a gentleman, so nice. The fellas that played the heavies were sweethearts. We had the Lydecker brothers doing the special effects. They were so good to us. If a gunshot was supposed to be a ricochet or something… so you wouldn’t be frightened to death, they would tell you it was going to happen. I had to fall into a supposed gas chamber one time. You actually do drop below camera level, so they put a mattress below. I was told if you threw yourself in the air during the fall, you pull your head this way (indicating forward) so you don’t hit the back of your head; you might knock yourself out or at the least have a terrible headache. The effects boys were so dear…you felt like a child, they took such good care of you. The stuntmen were helpful too, telling you tricks or something to do or not to do. It was a learning process and I appreciate their help.”

Adrian Booth and Helen in "Federal Operator 99" ('45 Republic serial).“I really liked Adrian. She was fun and knew what she was doing. I felt kinda like a novice. I think I really learned a lot from her. She’s an excellent actress. The first day of shooting she said come on back to the dressing room. Well, we weren’t big stars, so we had very plain little dressing rooms assigned to each of us. We were in there and she took off her hairpiece, and her eyelashes and removed a little cap on her teeth which she wore, and some padding in her bra—and looked at herself (in the mirror) and laughed—‘The rest is me!’ (Laughs) I swear, I loved her right then. A fun girl!”

A wardrobe lady once informed Helen that the crew wouldn’t play pranks on you if they didn’t like you. Bearing that in mind, Helen must have been well respected. “We were at Big Bear shooting ‘King of the Forest Rangers’. A bunch of us went out to dinner and had a nice time. I had to go to bed at a respectable hour because you get up so early. They assigned us small cabins. I went into my cabin; thought I’d just jump in the shower real fast, get into something warm and get into bed. So I went right in, took my shower and came out to get into bed and here’s what looked like a big body in my bed! I thought, Oh my heavens! I said, ‘Ahem—‘scuse me. I think you’re in the wrong cabin.’ I really thought someone was in the bed; ‘course as it turned out, they had put a dummy in there. (Laughs) When I went to breakfast the next morning, I walked in and kinda looked around—people were kinda snickering. (Laughs) They played tricks all the time. It was fun though.”

Republic serial "King of the Forest Rangers" ('46) with heavy Anthony Warde holding Helen in his grip.“At Republic they worked as a unit. They made so many Westerns and serials…the people were so good at what they did and they did it with loving care…they really cared about what they did. The stuntmen in the fight scenes choreographed it like a dance. They’d go through it in slow motion…this one hits, and I hit you, and you knock me back here, and I fall over the table…you see them doing it in slow motion, then when the camera goes and they start, it’s bing-bing-bing-bing bang! Crash! One take! They were that good.”

Helen left Republic to marry her ex-Navy pilot and accompany him to Indiana to attend Notre Dame. “Then I came back to California. I became pregnant and had a wonderful daughter and I just never got back into the business.” In three short years, the redheaded darling conquered every possible peril in Westerns and serials. “It was fun to go to work every morning, everyone was so wonderful to you. I liked the Westerns. Children that watched Republic Westerns had someone to look up to. The good would always come out over the evil, and I think that’s nice.”

 

Helen’s Western Filmography


Movies: Canyon City (‘43 Republic)—Don Barry; California Joe (‘43 Republic)—Don Barry; Pistol Packin’ Mama (‘43 Republic)—Ruth Terry; Outlaws of Santa Fe (‘44 Republic)—Don Barry; San Fernando Valley (‘44 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Song of Nevada (‘44 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Bells of Rosarita (‘45 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Corpus Christi Bandits (‘45 Republic)—Allan Lane; Don’t Fence Me In (‘45 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Lone Texas Ranger (‘45 Republic)—Bill Elliott; Trail of Kit Carson (‘45 Republic)—Allan Lane. Serials: Federal Operator 99 (‘45 Republic)—Marten Lamont; King of the Forest Rangers (‘46 Republic)—Larry Thompson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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