Manuel King was the child star in Republic’s first serial, “Darkest Africa”, in 1936. He died at 92 April 4, 2016, in Houston, TX.
Manuel’s father, William Abraham Lieberman, was a Brownsville, TX, importer of exotic animals for the zoo and circus trades. So successful was Lieberman that he was renowned as the “Snake King of Brownsville”. He legally changed his surname to King to reflect the honor. One of six children, Manuel’s earliest playmates were the denizens of his father’s menagerie, lion and bear cubs. His father marked his son’s 10th birthday with a gift of 10 lion cubs—and lessons from veteran one-armed lion trainer John “Chubby” Guilfoyle.
Guilfoyle, who reportedly lost his arm in a lion mishap, instilled upon young Manuel the potential danger of his feline friends. Not quite four feet tall, Manuel learned quickly and advanced from semi-professional shows to a full-time circus job. He always referred to himself as a “lion trainer”—not a “lion tamer,” “You can never tame wild animals,” he would say.
At 12 King joined lion-trainer/film star Clyde Beatty and actress Elaine Shepard for “Darkest Africa” which was primarily filmed on the King family’s Rio Grande Valley property near Brownsville, TX.
It was Manuel’s only film. He went on to manage talent, broker animals, work as a ringmaster and even ran a carnival sideshow touting ordinary nutrias (semiaquatic rodents) as exotic “giant Russian rats.” He also appeared as a guest at an early ‘70s Houston film/comic fair.
At 92, King was retired from show business but still working with animals at his Alpha K-9 Pet Services in north Houston, when he suffered a fall while recovering from heart surgery.
John Wayne and “The Three Musketeers”
by Boyd Magers
During the ‘20s the serial was king. Nearly every studio, large or small, was churning them out. Unfortunately, chapterplays were in decline by 1933 when John Wayne came looking for work. Only Universal and Mascot were still involved in the genre and Wayne wound up at the lesser of the pair. He made three serials in all—“Hurricane Express”, “Shadow of the Eagle” and “The Three Musketeers”.
Piloting an old bi-plane, as an American aviator for the American Embassy in Paris, Wayne and co-pilot Noah Beery Jr. spot trouble below as they fly over the African desert. Three Foreign Legionnaires (Jack Mulhall, Raymond Hatton, Francis X. Bushman Jr.) are being attacked by Arab bandits. The machine gun on Wayne’s plane makes short work of the attacking horde.
The rescued Legionnaires introduce themselves as ‘The Three Musketeers’ and jokingly welcome their rescuer as D’Artagnan. The trio explains the attackers were followers of The Devil’s Circle, a fanatic insurrectionist gunrunning cult led by the mysterious El Shaitan.
Wayne is encouraged to help ferret out El Shaitan by the Musketeers and Wayne’s old friend Creighton Chaney (aka Lon Chaney Jr.) who has been duped into helping El Shaitan.
When Chaney tries to break away from the cult leader he is murdered and Wayne is framed for his friend’s death.
The Musketeers help Wayne escape, but in the melee Noah Beery Jr. is killed, making Wayne even more determined to expose and defeat El Shaitan.
Aided by Chaney’s sister, Ruth Hall, and the Musketeers, Wayne defeats various plots by the cult while a variety of characters over the ensuing chapters are checked out in hopes of revealing the true identity of El Shaitan. Is it independent Arab Chieftan El Kadar (Hooper Atchley)? Could it be Colonel Duval of the Legion (Gordon De Main)? Or Major Booth who has been conducting his own investigation under suspicious circumstances (Robert Frazer). Perhaps even town merchant Ratkin (Edward Peil) or Ruth Hall’s untrustworthy housekeeper Ali (Al Ferguson).
Eventually, by bravely entering a secret meeting of the Devil’s Circle, Wayne unmasks El Shaitan, wins the love of Ruth, and the respect of the French Foreign Legion.
To disguise his voice throughout the 12 chapter serial, when masked, El Shaitan is played by Wilfred Lucas.
For realism Mascot prexy Nat Levine elected to film “The Three Musketeers” on location in the Mojave Desert outside of Yuma, AZ. Ruth Hall recalled, “We were there when President Roosevelt closed the banks, however the show went on. I didn’t have a double. I was exposed to so much sun that I developed blisters which became badly swollen, so much so that many of my later scenes had to be shot from my back.”
John Wayne told biographer Maurice Zolotow, “We shot (that serial) with the temperature hitting 120 degrees during the day. Now when you shoot in the desert you usually film early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the sun isn’t too murderous. Levine would get goin’ at sunup and we didn’t knock it off until it was dark. We were about ready to drop dead from exhaustion. The studio wouldn’t spend money to bring a good horse from Hollywood, so Yakima Canutt was stuck with a two and a half dollar horse that had never seen lighting reflectors before. Yak was doubling me in a scene where he had to gallop through the crowd, grab a rope, and haul himself up to the balcony of a jail. This horse was so scared of the bedsheets and the reflectors that it would hardly move. Yak had to whip the tar out of that horse to make it go. I hollered at him, ‘That ain’t John Wayne beating that horse!’ Yak bellowed back, ‘Yeah, and this ain’t John Wayne doin’ this stunt either!’”