Roy Barcroft’s Serial Memories
Roy Barcroft logged a total of 15 Republic serials as a featured lead heavy—everything from modern day pirates (“Haunted Harbor”, “Manhunt of Mystery Island”) and outer space invaders (“Purple Monster Strikes”, “Radar Men From the Moon”) to typical Western badguys and gangsters. 31 serials in all counting his earlier work at Universal and Columbia; 20 serials alone at Republic. Barcroft possessed all the praiseworthy characteristics of a top ranked serial heavy—gutsy bold swagger bravado to his hulking fame, an intimidating, commanding voice that threatened brutal violence if his orders were not carried out and a look that menaced even the toughest of serial heroes. Hs Captain Mephisto and Purple Monster characterizations rank with the greatest all-time serial villains.
In May ‘68, the late Jim Shoenberger visited with Barcroft in his Tarzana, CA, home and spoke with Roy about various serial related topics. Kay Aldridge—“I worked with Kay only once, and that was in ‘Haunted Harbor’. She had been a big hit in her first serial, ‘Perils of Nyoka’. A great sense of humor, never took life seriously! She wasn’t in pictures too long. One day she up and married a rich millionaire! Kay was a tall girl; I remember the studio having trouble finding leading men to match her height.”
Allan Lane—“One person whom I found hard to understand. We got along fine away from the studio, but once he stepped in front of the cameras, he became a different person. He was the star of his own serials and Westerns and they used to grind out a package of eight shows per year. I was the ‘heavy’ in most all of them and Allan used to get carried away in some of our fight scenes by getting pretty rough. I remember getting even with him on the set one day during one of our battles. In the scene, he hit me and I fell to the barroom floor. Then he stooped over me and was supposed to pull me up to my feet to force me to ‘confess,’ or something to that effect. I deliberately went limp and closed my eyes. While the cameras were still turning, I could hear him grunting and heaving as he tried to get me to my feet. I remained a dead weight and kept slipping out of his grasp back onto the floor in spite of all of his efforts. I could hear the director yelling ‘Cut! Cut!’ then the whole crew blew up laughing. That is, everyone except Allan, of course. He behaved a lot better after that incident.”
Linda Stirling—“This was just about the sweetest, bravest girl in the world. She was a highly paid fashion model when the movie scouts spotted this beautiful redhead. Yes, her hair was a lovely auburn color. It’s a shame Republic never used her in any of the TruColor films. Linda was not athletically inclined when she came to make her first movie. So what did they do? They put her right in the middle of a rough and tumble serial called ‘The Tiger Woman.’ She spent the following weeks wrestling men, diving off cliffs, trees, and many other unladylike activities. They had her galloping around a rough terrain, and she never had been on a horse. She had nerve, that girl! She was a stuntman’s particular pet, but her courage cost her injury more than once. I was working on the set a couple of times when something went wrong and Linda was placed in a precarious position. One time she fell
Kenne Duncan—“He’s my pal. Friends on and off the set for more years than I can remember. We two used to gang up on the hero in serials like ‘Haunted Harbor’ and ‘Mystery Island’. Kenne is a hardened bachelor. Doesn’t change much. To give you an idea of this, he’s lived at the same address for over 30 years. Kenne still comes over to my house for a drink and a bit of conversation.”
The Captain Mephisto portrait—“Shortly before the filming began on the set of ‘Manhunt of Mystery Island’, I was sent to the studio photo gallery. I was already in costume for the serial so they posed me according to their standards and took a full length photograph which they blew up to life size. Then they introduced me to a nice old gentleman about 70 years old. He painted a portrait from the photo. I had the portrait in my home for many years. Then one day, a friend came to my house, looked at the picture, and said to me…‘You are a nice modest guy, aren’t you Roy?’ I think I blushed like a schoolboy. A short time after that I disposed of the portrait!”
The last episodes continue! Today, after all my Hollywood movie roles at Columbia, including “Superman” as a teenager; “Mysterious Island” as a juvenile adventurer; “Sea Hound”, a sailing shipmate meeting island action with Buster Crabbe; “Bruce Gentry”, a flying rancher at home on horseback or in the sky with Tom Neal; these and other feature films earned me the acclaim of “one take” Hodges, a tribute based on knowing my lines. The producer was Sam Katzman, who also once held a $10 million contract with Elvis. I wasn’t able to demand that kind of salary, but became known, for better or worse, as the Katzman Kid, opening the door to many exciting events on and off camera.
It was a magic time for a young kid. On film, it began on the farm as a young Clark Kent who leaps fences in a single bound and holding my movie father trapped in his car from being blown over by a tornado. I tossed high voltage power lines away with ease that sparked like lightning in my hand on the screen; the real challenge was fighting all this in high winds generated by trailered WWII aircraft engines blowing dirt and dust for better effect, enhanced by our special effects man throwing shovels of dirt into propeller blades. Tough on the eyes and very gritty in the mouth. Only the beginning of even more exciting, unscripted adventures never seen by matinee movie fans.
On my days off when making “Sea Hound”, I rigged a rowboat with a makeshift square sail and cruised off the shore of Catalina Island’s Isthmus. I’d sail downwind taking the farthest route to get the longest ride way off the island into the open seas toward the very distant California mainland. When I was a mile or more into the sea, I’d drop the sail, take out the oars hidden foredeck and row back to the island…until the last time that I was ever to try this. I opened the cabinet to retrieve the oars…next came shock! The oars were gone! I guess someone had taken them over the holiday weekend. The farther you are from the shore, the wind and waves get stronger and rougher. My only thing to do was quickly set sail and try to return to the island, now further and several miles away to a point somewhere along Catalina’s coast. I luckily touched land at a point extending seaward. It was my last chance; next stop was Mexico. There were big waves crashing on big rocks, the boat was soon destroyed. The small cove was battered by wind and weather into a 50-foot chalk-crumbling cliff. I made the climb okay, but was barefooted and had to walk through Prickly Pear cactus beds several miles back to Isthmus Harbor. Unknown to me, someone from our movie cast saw my predicament from land. He notified the office who called Mr. Katzman who was concerned about my fate, but also about the financial consequences of a missing juvenile lead actor. Katzman called a private seaplane company who initiated a search for the lost kid, now with a new moniker, “The Shipwreck Kid”. The major bad result was getting a doctor to the island location to remove the numerous cactus spines imbedded in my feet. Instead of ending my boating dreams, “Sea Hound” left indelible youthful dreams of having my own sailboat. Which I did when I retired in my boat “One Desire.”
It’s been one memorable experience and adventure after another! For example, the fall into an eight foot deep tiger trap with tall spears and bloody wounds, or a near ground loop with a wing damaged in a tethered takeoff airborne amid the giant rocks at the popular Western film location in Lone Pine, CA. Later, a tragedy befalls our director, Sig Neufeld, prompting a once-in-a-lifetime desperate rush to the hospital in a converted Navy PT boat, still with the original three super-powerful engines making a record speed run to Avalon, Catalina.
Earlier, at age 9, Ralph was one of the Little Rascals in the classic Hal Roach comedies. He was also in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Holiday Inn” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Later in life, he was a noted television writer, director and producer with 30 years at KFMB-TV, besides work at other stations in Las Vegas, St. Louis and L.A. Ralph created and directed the network series “Animal World”, produced and directed “Zoorama” for nine seasons, the CBS series that was syndicated worldwide. He produced and/or directed important documentaries in 14 countries including Viet Nam and Afghanistan. His “Operation Thanks” was recognized with two national Emmy awards. He’s also done much work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (past president), Preservation of Animals and Wildlife Society (founding president); Women’s Bank of San Diego (founding board member); and service on the boards of community organizations ranging from the USO to The San Diego Youth Symphony. But he is most proud of One Desire, the name of his 34 foot Westsail 42 that he and his wife Pamela once berthed at San Diego. They took a 2½ year cruise from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta and points south, then a memorable stay in Hawaii, then north and east to Canada’s Vancouver Island, then picturesque Victoria before settling in Coronado.
Virginia Lindley, co-star of Republic’s “Black Widow” (‘47), once studied for a career as a violin virtuoso. She gave her first concert at Redondo Beach, CA, in 1940. When the USO camp shows began with the outbreak of WWII, Virginia toured the Army camps giving concerts. Upon her return, she enrolled at Pasadena Playhouse and studied acting for two years. Modeling by day, she acted in the evening at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre, then made her screen debut in “Dragonwyck” (‘46) at Fox. Next came her role as intrepid girl reporter Joyce (no last name) alongside criminologist Bruce Edwards in Republic’s 13 Ch. “The Black Widow”.
At this point she changed her name to Virginia Lee and continued to work in films such as “Parole Inc.” (‘49), “The Robe” (‘53) and others. She also was billed on TV as Virginia Ann Lee in “Annie Oakley: Annie and the Texas Sandman”, “Gunsmoke”, “City Detective”, “My Three Sons”, several “Death Valley Days”, “Get Smart”, “M*A*S*H*” and in films “In Like Flint” (‘67), “Hawaiians” (‘70) and “Lost Horizon” (‘73). Later in life Virginia was a teacher for approximately 15 years in a private Christian school.
Born Flora Virginia Roberts July 23, 1924, in Roseville, MI, she died at 84 November 22, 2008, in Douglas County, OR.