The gorgeous wife of Danny Thomas on “Make Room for Daddy”, Marjorie Lord, was born July 26 (the year she prefers kept secret), in San Francisco, CA. “I always wanted to act, and was very well prepared when I was given a role on Broadway in ‘The Old Maid’. I went on tour with the show, thus we fibbed about my age, adding two years. This was so no teacher would be required. My mother accompanied me, and it all worked out fine.” It wasn’t long before the future TV star was signed to a contract at RKO-Radio.
Marjorie’s early marriage to actor John Archer occurred between two studio contracts. “I was doing a play. Henry Koster saw it and signed me to a contract at Universal, where he planned to star me in a big picture. I did several pictures and a serial in the short year or so I was under contract.” The serial was, of course, “Adventures of Smilin’ Jack” (‘42). “At the time, I thought Universal was mean to put me in that. You didn’t just stand around when you were under contract—they made you work for your money. (Laughs) I’d been there for some time, and never got a day off. It was not considered the greatest thing to do, being in a serial, at that time. But later it became well regarded, and when I saw it, I was amazed at how good it was, since we did it so fast. The war scenes were obviously newsreel, but they worked.”
As for directors Ray Taylor and Lewis Collins and the producer Ford Beebe, Marjorie says, “We were working so fast you just didn’t get to know them very well. Sidney Toler and Keye Luke, for instance, I would say ‘Good morning’ to, or something like that, but nothing very substantial. There simply wasn’t time.” As for Turhan Bey, “I was around him, and he had a big ego! (Laughs) He said something about John Archer, my husband at the time, so that left a bad taste in my mouth. (Laughs)” Rose Hobart was the villainess of the chapterplay. “She was a cold, strange woman—so I didn’t know her at all,” but Tom Brown “was a really nice guy. There wasn’t much time for personal contact, but I did like him a lot.”
Marjorie left Universal in ‘43. “They refused to give me the big salary increase I was due, so I went to Republic and did a second film with my husband, John Archer, ‘Shantytown’. The first one we did was ‘Sherlock Holmes in Washington’.”
Archer, under the name Ralph Bowman, had been in two serials in ‘38—“Flaming Frontiers” at Universal and “Dick Tracy Returns” at Republic. Regarding that marriage to Archer, Marjorie found him to be a “womanizer and an alcoholic” and states he didn’t support her or the children, forcing her to work to support them. “John used to use cigarette holders—someone told him it would reduce the nicotine, but he was a pretty good drunk. John had to have a drink—his second wife said he had the demon all his life. He did drink wine at the end—but he never accepted the fact he was an alcoholic, even though it almost killed him several times.”
Marjorie also proclaims, “I like the old movies. They leave you feeling good. I thought people were more real back then—we were trained to speak distinctly and not let our last words be clipped off. On the stage, you had to be able to be heard on the back row of the balcony—loud and clear. Today, everybody mumbles and clips off their words—you have trouble hearing the dialogue.”
Last week I managed for the first time to make it through an entire Sean Connery movie without once thinking of James Bond. This accomplishment was not an easy one for me and took a number of years to achieve. Of course, I have to acknowledge I couldn’t have done this without Connery’s considerable assistance. Since his Bond days he’s assembled a large and impressive body of cinematic work of nearly every kind, so, distancing myself from his super spy image was due not only to the power of time and my own energies, but to his own considerable career efforts as well.
With an actor like Clayton Moore, however, this problem of role identification is a bit thornier. While Moore did play other parts during his career, few if any were particularly noteworthy or memorable and thus his performance as TV’s Lone Ranger (as well as playing the character in two big screen versions) was not only the culminating role of his career but really the only one for which most people—save fans of B-films and cliffhangers—remember him.
For this reason, it’s never easy to watch Moore and not think of silver bullets, Tonto and The Mask even if, as in the Republic serial “G-Men Never Forget” (‘48), he’s decked out in a contemporary suit and stylish fedora (his own duds, according to his autobiography) and pilots a sleek coupe rather than a white stallion. However, from the get-go, I must confess I like Clayton Moore in just about everything he’s done, even when he played a serial villain in such efforts as “Radar Men From the Moon” and “The Crimson Ghost”. Perhaps it’s just the voice, the familiar resonance that so captivated me as an impressionable boy watching him on the small screen.
Still, my admiration for Moore aside, “G-Men…” is often tough going. For one thing, it’s got retread written all over it. There’s an incredible amount of borrowed footage (the tunnel flooding from “Daredevils of the Red Circle”, for instance), much of it not matching very well, and the plot is creakier than Raymond’s coffin on “Inner Sanctum”.
In addition, the writers, Basil Dickey, Franklin Adreon, Sol Shor and Jesse Duffy, didn’t seem to have much creative energy for this assignment. Not only is the extortion plot—a staple of B crime films—old and tired, but situations and lines are repeated from one episode to another. Even if serials were designed to be viewed over an extended period, it’s hard not to notice the extremes to which this repetition is taken here. Case in point, the heroine (police woman Frances Blake portrayed by the stunningly beautiful Ramsay Ames) and her regular just in the nick of time saving of G-Man Ted O’Hara (Moore). I think I stopped counting (and began tittering) after four times when our hero is about to be killed by bad guys and Ms. Blake drills the shooter instead. “Thanks, Sarge” or “Nice shooting, Sarge” is heard time after time as a response. Ms. Ames is also pretty hard on her nylons (not a good idea when this material was still mighty scarce in 1948) as she continually leaps out of a fast moving truck or car onto the highway without a scratch or smudge to her makeup.
While there are a lot of familiar faces in the cast, from stuntmen/actors Tom Steele (whose mustache seems to curiously disappear and re-appear) Ken Terrell and Dale Van Sickel (who is reborn at least once in the proceedings) to Edmund Cobb, Stanley Price, Jack O’Shea, John Crawford, Eddie Acuff and Drew Allen (with Dave Sharpe in an unbilled part), it is the beloved Republic bad guy Roy Barcroft who really steals the show appearing as both Police Commissioner Cameron and toothpick chewing criminal extortionist Murkland, the latter stealing the former’s identity thanks to Dr. Benson’s (Price) remarkable skill as a plastic surgeon. Barcroft could have just walked through both parts, but actually distinguishes between characters with some nice subtle shadings of difference.
Moore and Ames work well together. They are more of a physical action team than most heroes and heroines in serials. Besides being good with a rod, Ames does her best to give an account of herself during the brawls until she is usually the recipient of a knockout blow which removes her from the action. Moore also uses his noggin not just for a place to rest his hat, but to conduct a few forensic and scientific experiments designed to help solve the case, although a few of these are pretty silly. My favorite is when he wants to test the combustibility of a chemical called Pyrozene, but won’t just apply it to any old wooden surface to prove his point. Nope, he has to have a dollhouse delivered to simulate a real home.
Fred Brannon directed the dialog scenes and the legendary Yakima Canutt tackled his forté, the action stuff. The fistfights are well handled (most of the chapter endings are borrowed from earlier cliffhangers and Ch. 9 is a summation of the serial’s first eight chapters) but there’s really nothing unique or exciting here to elevate it from the hum-drum and predictable. Serials were definitely on the downward slope by ‘48 when “G-Men Never Forget” was produced, and it shows. It’s not an absolutely terrible serial and has a few things to recommend it—Moore, Ames and especially Barcroft, as an example—but on the whole it’s as flat and stale as opened beer left untouched and forgotten on the radiator.
Rotund, bull-chested, balding, dark complected, with a flair for dialects, Nestor Paiva was perfect for ethnic roles of any nationality and accent. Born June 30, 1905, in Fresno, CA, he attended St. John’s School there, the University of San Francisco and later the University of California at Berkeley where he graduated with an A.B. degree. With one of his principal activities in college being drama, he made his stage debut in the Greek Theatre in Berkeley in “Antigone”. After appearing in some 80 plays at the university, he graduated in ‘32 and performed in a series of plays in Oakland and San Francisco. In 1934, Paiva joined the L.A. company of “The Drunkard”. He continued in the play for eleven years, combining this work with film roles as of 1938, including lesser roles in two ‘38 Columbia serials, “Spider’s Web” and “Flying G-Men” and in Universal’s “Green Hornet Strikes Again” (‘40).
In Republic’s “King of the Mounties” (‘42) he played Count Baroni, the fascist representative of the Italian dictator who was supposedly his country’s top agent in America, although he was constantly being put down by Nazi Marshal Von Horst (William Vaughn) and Japanese Admiral Yamata (Abner Biberman). The Axis triumvirate of enemy agents was out to sabotage Canada’s war defenses. In Universal’s “Don Winslow of the Coast Guard” (‘43) he replaced Kurt Katch from the first serial as Winslow’s perennial adversary, The Scorpion, this time allied with the Japs in plans to attack the Pacific Coast.
Paiva’s career escalated on through the ‘60s until his death at only 61 on September 9, 1966, in Sherman Oaks, CA. Sadly, he never returned to serial heavies after these two instances. We would have relished hissing him in more chapterplays.
Joan Marsh is best known to serial buffs as United Nations agent Janet Blake in Republic’s “Secret Service in Darkest Africa” with Rod Cameron. A child actress in Mary Pickford’s silent films (billed Dorothy Rosher), she returned to the screen in the Jean Harlow mold for over 40 films from ‘30-‘44. For years she owned Paper Unlimited, a successful stationary business in L.A. Marion Shilling (“Clutching Hand”, “Red Rider”) knew Joan and told SR, “Joan was one of the 13 Wampas Baby Stars of ‘31. With her sparkling manner, her ever-ready wit, she was, without question, the most popular member of the group. Because it was so much fun to be with her, I was delighted when she called me one evening in ‘32 and invited me to go with her to an informal gathering at the beach house of Howard Hughes. As we entered the living room, Hughes was sitting in a dark corner beside a record player listening to a Tchaikovsky symphony. He didn’t get up but waved a greeting. All through the evening he sat by the record player except for one interruption when he gave a signal to Ann Dvorak, obviously his current flame, and they left the party to stroll on the beach for about an hour. When they returned he went again into his dark corner and put on another record. The rest of us—perhaps 10 or 11—chatted. To add a bit of spice to the occasion, Joan, in typical fashion and twirling a few dance steps, sang ‘Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries’. When the party eventually broke up, Roger Marchetti, Howard Hughes’ chief attorney, asked if he could take me home. His chauffeur was at the wheel and Roger and I sat in the back seat. In that back seat, during the long drive back to Hollywood, a big battle took place. I won! The next day, on the telephone, Joan and I had some grand laughs about the evening.”
Marsh died at 86 on August 10, 2000, at her home in Ojai, CA.