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    - Chapter Ninety-Six
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    - Chapter Ninety-One
    - Chapter Ninety
    - Chapter Eighty-Nine
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    - Chapter Sixty-Nine
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    - Chapter Sixty-Five
    - Chapter Sixty-Four
    - Chapter Sixty-Three
    - Chapter Sixty-Two
    - Chapter Sixty-One
    - Chapter Sixty
    - Chapter Fifty-Nine
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Chapter Sixty-Four

Cliffhanger Commentary by Bruce Dettman

Newspaper ad for "King of the Texas Rangers".“King of the Texas Rangers”

Offhand, I don’t recall too many sports stars being exploited by Hollywood when I was a kid although a few do come to mind. Football great Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch tried his hand at acting for a short and not terribly successful period appearing in several forgettable films such as “Zero Hour” (the plot of which later inspired the hit comedy “Airplane”) while Olympic marathoner and future Congressman Bob Mathias showed up in some awful ‘60s European gladiator flicks as well as “The Troubleshooters”, a TV show about construction workers in which each week the writers had to devise some unique way Mathias could showcase his track and field skills (shot putting bricks, for instance). Even the era’s Kings of Swats, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, starred in a (thankfully) little remembered effort called “Safe at Home” playing themselves.

The real heyday of the athlete turned thespian was actually the ‘20s and ‘30s when noted sports figures such as Babe Ruth, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Herman Brix, Red Grange, John Kimbrough, Glenn Morris, Jack Dempsey, Johnny Mack Brown, Max Baer and others took time out from the field, boxing arena and locker room to appear on the screen. Most of these were one-shot deals, but in the case of Weissmuller, Crabbe, Brown and Brix (later Bruce Bennett) full time screen careers followed.

Sammy Baugh.Such, however, was not in the cards for Sammy Baugh, one of football’s all time great quarterbacks (Washington Redskins, ‘37-‘52), who in ‘41 was temporarily recruited from the gridiron to play lead character Tom King in Republic’s “King of the Texas Rangers”, one of the most entertaining, action-filled, satisfying serials ever produced. The fact Baugh had no acting skills and looked nothing like your run of the mill action star of the period might at first seem a hindrance, but this same awkwardness actually becomes a kind of odd plus and eventually works to his advantage. He’s occasionally wooden and uncomfortable looking alright, but in a strangely charming and natural way, so before long you accept it as just a legitimate part of the character, right along with his “twenty-gallon” Stetson and boots. He’s honest, tough, short on words, fast on the draw, and believable in the saddle (the Republic stuntmen, reportedly often contemptuous of certain actors’ lack of equestrian skills, were immediately impressed by the way Sam handled a horse, not surprising since Baugh grew up on a Texas ranch). The Republic writers even figured out ways to have him occasionally heave things quarterback style at several of the bad guys.

The plot of “King of the Texas Rangers” has a lot going for it too, plenty of ingredients to appeal to every taste in cliffhangers. Although set in (then) modern times, it takes place in that strange twilight world of so many westerns of the era where automobiles, radios and airplanes blend right in with a world still replete with cowboys, buckboards and blazing six shooters, a world you don’t question anymore than you do the trappings of Dorothy’s OZ, Tarzan’s Africa or Flash Gordon’s Mongo. You just go with the flow and have a good time with it. Also adding to the curious blend is a pre-World War II (or at least pre-Pearl Harbor) set of Fifth Columnists led by His Excellency (Robert O. Davis) who flies around the skies in a dirigible in league with Barton (Neil Hamilton) plotting to destroy Texas oilfields so essential to American interests. But they make the big mistake in Ch. 1 of killing off Tom’s Texas Ranger father (Monte Blue) while the younger King is back east throwing touchdown passes in college. This leads to the vengeful offspring trading in his shoulder pads for a two-gun rig and setting out to round-up the gang he ultimately realizes are saboteurs.

Aiding Baugh is Duncan Renaldo in his pre-Cisco Kid days, as Pedro, a member of the Mexican police who, without so much as a “See ya, Guys”, to his superiors hooks up with young Tom to revenge the murder of the lawman’s father. Renaldo, athletic, charming and likable, makes a colorful and entertaining partner as he almost always did when he played the sidekick in serials.

Neil Hamilton. Pauline Moore. Duncan Renaldo.

Pauline Moore provides attractive and feisty assistance and the aforementioned Hamilton, an early Hollywood leading man who would wind up on TV’s “Batman” as Commissioner Gordon, is effective as the urbane and duplicitous Barton. Filling out the 12 chapters is a large assemblage of serial regulars and familiar faces including Charles Trowbridge, Kermit Maynard, Roy Barcroft (just starting off his grand cliffhanger career), Herbert Rawlinson as well as Kenne Duncan and Jack Ingram (who seem to scream out a warning call of “Rangers!” each and every episode).

All serials, of course, deliver lots of action—or at least promise to—but some such as “King” are literally exploding with the stuff. Directed by William Witney and John English, the Rogers and Hammerstein of cliffhangers, this is surely one of them. In Chapter 7, for instance, aside from a few seconds worth of narrative dialog, there’s not a moment devoid of shooting, punching and riding. The cliffhangers are inspired and well choreographed; Cy Feur’s rousing and knee-slapping score wonderfully compliments the frenetic visuals and the Brothers Lydecker miniatures are terrific as usual (I particularly liked the collapsing tunnel in Ch. 2).

In several later interviews Sammy spoke only with good memories about his one Hollywood experience. He enjoyed the Hollywood people he met, both in front of and behind the cameras, and said he had seldom had as much fun. Likewise, Sammy.

D'Ja Know

Lester Dorr.Although character actor Lester Dorr played The Lightning behind the robes and mask in “Fighting Devil Dogs” (‘38), the voice of The Lightning was dubbed in later by Stanley Price (Ch. 1) and by Edwin Stanley (Ch. 2-12). Then when unmasked, The Lightning is revealed to be yet another actor. star dividerstar divider Dorr was possibly the most prolific primarily uncredited actor ever to work in movies, appearing in over 460 A and B films, serials and TV shows from 1930-1975. Other serial work includes “Fighting Marines” (‘35 Mascot), “Shadow of Chinatown” (‘36 Victory), “Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island” (‘36 Republic), “S.O.S. Coastguard” (‘37 Republic), “Spider’s Web” (‘38 Columbia), “Flying G-Men” (‘39 Columbia), “Mandrake, the Magician” (‘39 Columbia), “Overland With Kit Carson” (‘39 Columbia), “The Shadow” (‘40 Columbia), “Secret Code” (‘42 Columbia), “The Masked Marvel” (‘43 Republic), “Flying Disc Man From Mars” (‘50 Republic).

 

Episodes by Tom and Jim Goldrup

Don Barry

Don Barry as Red Ryder.The other day we watched “The Adventures of Red Ryder” with Don Barry as the title character. Tommy Cook was Little Beaver and Maude Pierce Allen played the Duchess. Character actors such as Noah Beery Sr., Harry Worth, Bob Kortman, Ray Teal, and Carleton Young played the villains of the serial. Hal Taliaferro, Vivian Coe and William Farnum rounded out other important roles. Bill Witney and John English directed.

Although Barry was the first choice of Herbert J. Yates to play the character of Red Ryder, Barry didn’t want to do it. In an interview with Don Barry he states, “Herb Yates, who owned Republic, was a tough little Scotsman that chewed the foulest smelling tobacco you have ever smelled in your life and one of the nicest guys to me that ever lived. He and I became very close friends.
Herbert J. Yates. We used to double date and we used to go out and carouse and have a ball. As a matter of fact, people used to think I was his illegitimate son because we were such good friends. The studio decided they were going to make a new action series of westerns and they wanted George Sherman to direct. Everything I have today I owe to George Sherman, one of the best directors in the business. He was the one that picked me up off the stool at Schwab’s Drug Store. He learned about me from the girl he was going with that I used to date who read his scripts and said Don Barry should play this part and that’s how he contacted me. They (Republic) signed me to a seven year contract with no options. So I was doing the second in my series when Al Wilson, who was the studio production manager, came down to my set one day and said, ‘Guess what the boss has done for you?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘He bought the RED RYDER comic strip and you’re going to do Red Ryder.’ I said, ‘Like hell I’m going to do Red Ryder. I ain’t going to do Red Ryder…you got to get a guy who’s nine feet tall and 10 feet wide. Get John Wayne! Get Bill Elliott! Get somebody that’s big. That’s bad casting and I ain’t gonna do it.' He said, ‘You’re going to do it.’ And I said, ‘I ain’t gonna do it,’ and I stormed off the set and walked in to Mr. Yates’ office. He was sitting with his feet up on the desk and he is completely bald—he scratched the top of his head and spat this foul smelling tobacco, which I used to call yak dung. I said, ‘What the hell is the idea of saying I’m going to do Red Ryder? I ain’t going to do it!’ He was having a meeting (with Sol Siegel, Max Schoenberg and others) and looked at me and said, ‘What the hell’s the meaning of busting into my office without being announced? I said, ‘That’s beside the point—I ain’t going to do Red Ryder!’ He spat again, scratched the top of his head, and said, ‘Well. Okay. I’m not going to pay you.’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And that’s the true story, and Peg (Stewart) can verify it. There’s stories saying this was bought with other actors in mind. No one was ever considered for this. Yates got this for me because he knew if I was going to be on screen for 12 weeks successive, that I would be a star by the end of the serial. That’s what happened. That’s the true story. There are a lot of guys that will say he had them in mind and Don did something. That’s not true because Yates told me, ‘I bought this for you and nobody else is going to do it, and you are going to thank me for it.’ And you want to know something: Today I can thank him.”

So even though Don originally did not want the role of Red Ryder, he later appreciated that he did it, and we recommend for those who have not seen this classic serial to take time to watch it. We think Don Barry was great in the part, and feel y’all will feel the same about his performance. Of all the Red Ryder pictures, even though Bill Elliott, Allan Lane and Jim Bannon did well in the part in future features, Barry is our favorite Red Ryder.

Serial Heroines by Boyd Magers

Lois Collier

Lois Collier.Beautiful, auburn-haired, petite with a dynamite figure, Lois Collier was born Madelyn Jones in Sally, SC. She came to Hollywood following a school contest in 1935 billed under her real name in several small roles. She adopted Lois Collier after playing a character with that name in a radio show.

Starting in 1941 she co-starred in seven Three Mesquiteers titles at Republic. As she told writer Michael Fitzgerald, “I enjoyed them. It was good experience…just starting out. Tom Tyler later did some ‘Boston Blackie’ (‘51-‘53) episodes with me (she was Kent Taylor’s co-star) and we’d talk about the old days. Tom was a real quiet, nice man.”

Edward Norris, her co-star in “Jungle Queen” (‘45), told Fitzgerald, “Lois Collier’s passing made me sad. I remember her as a lovely 18 year old actress (and a good one); now 50 years have gone by since we worked together. I’m convinced Hollywood overlooked her, which is par for the course. I enjoyed working with her because she was a thinking actress and with the pressure in those days to bring an impossible schedule in on time, we had no time for rehearsals. As a result, you had to be good in the first take. Needless to say, she won my admiration.”

Lois co-starred with Walter Reed in Republic’s “Flying Disc Man from Mars” (‘51). Walter told me, “She was very pleasant to work with…a lot of fun. Easy to work with ...very professional.”

Lois Collier, 80, died October 27, 1999, following a struggle with Alzheimer’s at the Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA.

D'Ja Notice

In “The Phantom Creeps”, at the end of Ch. 10, the train with Robert Kent and Dorothy Arnold is derailed as Bela Lugosi fights with the rail attendant. Although Kent and the girl reporter are miraculously unharmed in this stupendous train wreck, they seem blithely unconcerned that obviously hundreds of other passengers are dead or injured! Their only concern is the meteorite sample they’ve been after. It’s a bit galling on Universal’s part to show so little concern for these hapless victims.

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