Most of us have wondered what role former western star Jack Randall was to play in the “Royal Mounted Rides Again” serial had he not been killed the first day of filming in a freak accident. This article helps to answer that question.
Years ago, Bill Kennedy, the star of this 1945 Universal serial, told us about Randall’s on location death. “On the first day of filming, Jack Randall was killed in a fall from a horse. We were doing the running inserts at Corrigan’s Ranch; it’s a mile run there. You have your insert camera truck with three cameras…a long shot camera, a medium and close, and you make a run on your horse. You have to ride like a son of a bitch. You can’t go ahead of the camera because then you’re out of camera range, and you can’t drop back. In other words, the camera truck
Expert stuntman Tom Steele is on record as saying, “I doubled Jack Randall (in some of his Monogram westerns). Jack is a good example of what can happen when a director tries to get someone to do what a stuntman is supposed to do. Jack was killed doing a riding scene that should have been done by an experienced stuntman.”
Recently, we met Joe Haworth, who played the role of Bunker, chief henchman to Milburn Stone in the serial. We were interviewing him for our 4th volume of our book series, FEATURE PLAYERS: STORIES BEHIND THE FACES, when his wife, Pat, asked him, “Do you remember the picture they called you in for because a fellow named Randall had died?” We asked her if Joe was working on “Royal Mounted Rides Again” the day Randall was killed? Pat replied, “No. They called him. He spent a lot of years being a utility actor at Universal. Whenever they needed somebody in a pinch they’d call Joe to come in and do a scene. Joe went out the day after Randall was killed and got on the same horse and did the same scene. He didn’t realize when he went that Randall had been killed the day before. He was in shock when he found out.”
Commenting on the incident, Joe told us, “I was on the backlot shooting another picture when somebody came up and said, ‘They want you up front. You got to get wardrobe.’ I said, ‘I got wardrobe.’ They said, no, it was for another movie. Then Joe was informed Randall had been killed. “On about the third scene Randall was in, he was told to leap on this horse and fly through the forest as fast as he could go, but a branch of a tree hit him in the head and killed him. I’m a little superstitious and said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do it.’ The next day, Gene Coffin, the wardrobe guy, told me, ‘Joe, go to wardrobe ‘cause you have to be fitted.’ I asked, ‘Whose is it?’ They said it was Addison Randall’s wardrobe. I didn’t want to do that. ‘I won’t put it on; he just got killed in it. I’m not going to put on his wardrobe and do his scene.’ I went to Coffin and asked, ‘What was Randall doing in this?’ Coffin said Jack was playing one of the leads and told me what actually happened to Randall. I said, ‘They want me to go in and do it now?’ He said, ‘Yes, but you’ll be all right.’ It was just the beginning of the picture, we had five weeks work. I didn’t want to do it, but they talked me into it. They took me to the woods and told me to ride and stay such and such a distance from the camera car that’s shooting, and every once in awhile pull up and go back a little bit. I got on the horse and the run-through car came by. The minute the horse saw that, it took off like a bullet, because he thought he was supposed to. He went right by the standby car and through all the woods. They said, ‘Joe, don’t do that again.’ ‘I can’t help it; he’s a horse and I’m just a little person.’ I told them I didn’t want to get on him again, but they said, ‘Come on now, you’ve done all the run throughs, now all we need are some close-up shots.’ ‘I still don’t want to do it.’ They urged me, ‘You’ve got to. We can’t lose two more days.’ So I got on the horse, a beautiful horse named, I think, Phantom or Phantom Valley. I did another run through and he took off like a bullet! He went fast because he was still scared, because horses don’t like to kill people. We went right through the whole scene, through the forest, and I said, ‘I don’t want to get on that horse again. It’s crazy!’ They said, ‘No, he’s not crazy, he’s just excited from having that accident. Just get on and do a take.’ So I got on and we did it. When I got out of wardrobe they said, ‘Get dressed again, you did it fine.’ ‘I didn’t do it fine. That horse was trying to run away with me, but all right, I’ll try it once more and see if I can stop him.’ I tried it again and the horse tried to run away with me right through the woods. I thought I was going to be killed! But they got the take. I said, ‘We’re not going to do anymore of that! That horse is crazy! Get another horse that looks like him.’”
“Later they said, ‘Joe, get on your horse. You’re going to be in the next shot.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to get back on that horse.’ ‘Oh come on, that horse has always been a peaceful horse.’ ‘He’s not a peaceful horse anymore. There’s something wrong with that horse.’ But, they finally talked me into it. ‘Now, we’ll do a take, just the horse and you. We’ll bring the standby car with the camera on it and take a close-up, then drift over to do a side shot, then drift over there and take a high shot.’ When I got on him, I felt him quivering beneath me and knew he was going to do it again. We started, got about 150 feet and he took off into the woods. I had his head pulled back so far, but he was running full tilt, trying to get away from me. I couldn’t make him stop…I couldn’t make him do anything! I almost pulled his head off. I pulled up on him so hard I had his head next to me on the saddle. Everybody was just quivering and thought, here goes another actor. Pretty soon, I got him straightened out, but he was still going like hell. Anyhow, we got through the woods. I got off and the horse was still quivering. He was as scared as I was. They said we’re going to do one more take. I said, ‘No, no we won’t. That horse is going to kill somebody! I’m not riding through the woods on that horse again!’ They said, ‘Come on, Joe, you can do it. You’re a good rider.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m a good rider, but he’s not a good horse!’ But they took me back to the beginning again, got me back on and away we went. They wanted to use the same horse to save footage. I said, ‘You’re going to save footage but you’re going to kill another actor.’ They found out later the horse was crazy.”
“I was on another picture and that same horse was in it. They said, ‘You’re going to ride that horse.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not!’ They got somebody else to do it and the horse ran away again. I asked them later, ‘What was the matter with that damn horse? I couldn’t stop him.’ They said, ‘Nobody could stop him. The minute he got his head he was gone. Even the wranglers couldn’t stop him.’”
“In rewatching the serial, Joe does some good riding in Ch. 2 and 11, however, our contention is, much of the filmed “wild ride” footage may have been unusable because of the horse’s craziness, or was simply later edited due to time constraints of 16 min. chapters.
Asking Joe about boss heavy, Milburn Stone, “I worked in several films with Milburn, but he wasn’t in that scene. He was one of my (off screen) buddies. Bill Kennedy was a good guy too. Milburn and another actor (Robert Armstrong) were the lead heavies in the serial, and had a lot of dialogue. They’d be in an office behind the desk. I’d come in and start a scene and they’d pick it up. They were always very good with dialogue. Milburn did his part in a couple of days.”
In our opinion, this interview answers the question many of us have wondered about…what part was Jack Randall to play in this serial. We’ve heard other actors claim they had the role Randall was performing when he was killed on that fateful day (July 16, 1945) but it seems to be Joe Haworth who rode that same horse down the same path the following day. Some think his part was divided up amongst several different actors, but why would they bring in a new actor not in the cast to play the role of Bunker if Randall’s role was to be divided up? They certainly would not have rewritten the script to create a new character for Haworth. That would not make sense. So, it appears Jack Randall was to play the part of Bunker, chief henchman under Milburn Stone’s Taggart. (Thanx to Merrill McCord and Boyd Magers for their input.)
Richard Simmons is known everywhere for his famous character portrayal of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The TV show ran from ‘55 to ‘58 and even today, 50 years later, he’s just as closely identified with the character by his fans.
The normal response as people approached him at film festivals was, “There’s Sergeant Preston!” Simmons greeted his many fans with a warm smile and answered many questions about the amous Mountie he portrayed. The western tie he wore was secured by a Canadian maple leaf clasp and he mentioned, because of Sgt. Preston, he has many friends in Canada and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Serial fans know Simmons mainly for his starring role in Republic’s 1954 “Man With The Steel Whip”. He played the part of Jerry Crandall and the masked figure, El Latigo. Although Republic used many stock shots from previous Zorro epics, Simmons enjoyed making the serial. He remembers Roy Barcroft as, “A prince of a guy who was a wonderful person and the complete opposite of the usual bad guys he portrayed on the screen.”
Although most fans normally think of Simmons in only that serial, he was in two others. In the 1940 Republic serial, “King of the Royal Mounted”, he was uncredited as Constable Carter. Dick remembers Allan Lane and enjoyed working with him in the picture.
In “King of the Texas Rangers”, Republic’s 1941 thriller, Dick was uncredited as Ranger Red Cameron. He remembered it being filmed at Republic and at Simi Valley movie ranch locations. Several mornings he rode with Sammy Baugh and others to the shooting locations and although he talked with the football star, he didn’t have the opportunity to get to know him “real well.” He remembers the stuntmen in the serial and said of Tom Steele, “What a great guy he was. He could do anything.”
Simmons also has memories of stuntman Dave Sharpe and although he doesn’t recall the exact movie, remembers a particular scene. Dick was driving a stagecoach with dummies in the back, being chased by the famous stuntman on horseback. He kept hearing Dave yelling at him, but because of the noise during the filming, couldn’t hear what he was saying. When the stuntman finally got close enough to be heard, he was telling Dick to get off the stagecoach because the fifth wheel that coupled the stagecoach with the horses had come unbolted and he was in danger. “Get off fast!” Obviously, he got off as fast as he could and was saved from a sure tragic accident by Dave Sharpe.
However, to only think of Richard Simmons as Sergeant Preston and a serial character is to miss much of his fascinating life. Just a few of his other highlights include: USAF pilot and Flight Instructor retiring as Lt. Col.; an announcer during the ‘40s at the Palladium when the famous Dorsey Orchestra with Jimmy and Tommy played there several times; movies with Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, one of the Mickey Rooney/Andy Hardy films, and one of the classic movies with James Stewart, “Rear Window”. He was very close friends with Robert Taylor and appeared in several films with him. Because of their off screen friendship, he recalled the sadness he felt when Robert Taylor passed away and the sorrow at his memorial service.
Unfortunately the amiable Simmons died January 11, 2003.
Clayton Moore’s unforgettable performance in the role of the Lone Ranger not only cemented his fame to near mythological proportions but, to Baby Boomers at least, made all other interpretations of the masked character, from Earl Graser and Brace Beemer of radio days to Lee Powell and Robert Livingston of Republic serials, of secondary importance. Moreover, as I wrote to Moore (when the execrable “Legend of the Lone Ranger” reached movie theatres some 20 years ago and a court ruling barred him from impersonating the LR in public), he had absolutely nothing to worry about. No one would remember Klinton Spilsbury (although a lot of folks would gladly forget him) and Clayton would remain the only legitimate Lone Ranger in the public’s mind. Apart form the Lone Ranger, Moore’s first role in a serial was “Perils of Nyoka”. Moore relates in his autobiography, of all his cliffhanger assignments, Nyoka was his undeniable
“Nyoka”, regarded by many serial historians as the best jungle chapter play ever made, was Republic’s second production centered around the character. The first, “Jungle Girl” (‘41), was based on a book by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, but it was Republic that came up with the Nyoka moniker.
When Republic opted to make a sequel, legal obstacles prevented basing the story on the Burroughs property, but since they’d come up with the character’s name, they were free to use it at will without fear of copyright infringement. In addition to this change, the services of the first Nyoka, beautiful Frances Gifford, were no longer available, so replacement Kay Aldridge, an ex-Powers model, was found. Aldridge was cute and robust in a more tomboyish sort of way than her sexy predecessor and had a rather odd accent for a jungle queen, but nonetheless gave a spirited, athletic performance and can often be found mixing it up with the bad guys right alongside Clayton Moore as archeologist Larry Grayson.
The plot revolves around the attempt to locate and translate the long-lost Tablets of Hippocrates, a possible source of medical secrets of benefit to mankind. An expedition is fitted to trek to the Arabian desert in search of Nyoka Gordon (last name Meredith in the first film), the only person capable of deciphering the material. Also along on the hunt is Vultura (Lorna Gray), head of a band of mercenary Arabs who knows there is also treasure to be found with the tablets. Most of the serial is concerned with Vultura’s attempts to either capture, torture or destroy the most resourceful Nyoka who, with the help of Larry, is able to escape one death defying scrape after another.
This is a wonderfully outrageous serial, entertaining on a variety of levels from start to finish. There is hardly a breath to be drawn between action moments—plenty of great slugfests choreographed and performed by Messers Steele and Sharpe—and the cliffhangers themselves are lively and, in the hands of veteran Witney, skillfully designed and robustly orchestrated.
The cast is Republic at its best. The aforementioned Aldridge is capable, a bundle of energy and properly stoic when dangling over a lava pit or being stretched on a rack. Clayton Moore appears incredibly youthful and enthusiastically heroic. Billy Benedict as Red is his usual engaging self. The villains are even more enjoyable to watch. In addition to Gray (aka Adrian Booth) as the leggy, gorilla chaperoned and gleefully sadistic Vultura (who in the last reel has a spirited wrestling match with Nyoka that I’m fairly certain grabbed the attention of a lot of young boys in the ‘40’s), we have none other than Charles Middleton as an Arab chieftain plus such familiar faces as Tris Coffin, Ken Terrell, Keene Duncan and George J. Lewis, with the always reliable Robert Strange as Nyoka’s amnesiac father.
Perhaps in their long run, Republic made better serials than “Perils of Nyoka”, but I honestly can’t recall too many that are so much fun to watch. If you want to feel like a kid again, this isn’t a bad place to start. It’s also highly satisfying to watch Clayton Moore, looking boyish and vigorous, some seven years before he would slip on the mask that would define the rest of his career and, in doing so, bring to a generation of children a world of thrills and unforgettable adventures.