Thursday, October 10, 2013


This is the largest (over 20,000 items on display); it is
dedicated to the singing cowboys and all other
b-westerns from William S. Hart to Rex Allen.
In 1938, Gene Autry
purchased 1,200
acres of land at the
railroad stop of
Berwyn, OK. He
built a large stone
structure for his
stock and apartment
for his men. It was
called The Flying A
Rodeo Ranch. Mr. Autry had a landing strip for his
personal airplane. He flew back and forth to his home
in Studio City, CA. The first Champion was purchased
and boarded here. The first pistol bits for Champion
were made in Ardmore, OK, a few miles away.
The Flying a Rodeo Show would board trains in
Berwyn and go east. Gene Autry’s first Madison Square
Garden rodeo livestock were from this ranch. Mr.
Autry owned and managed all the rodeo stock and
hired his cowboys to work the show. Of course the
music was provided by Mr. Autry.
The name of the town changed. The people of
Berwyn, Oklahoma (population 800) asked their
famous rancher if they could use his name for their
town. Mr. Autry agreed. He knew the town was never
going to be a big city, but the honor of being on a
USA map was quite an honor. On Sunday, November
16, 1941 a flatbed trailer set up with radio remote
broadcasting ability for Gene to perform his Melody
Ranch Show arrived at the railroad station in Berwyn,
Oklahoma. It was advertised he would be here. Tour
trains from several cities and states brought people to
watch Gene Autry get on his famous horse Champion
to rope the only sign and pull it down at the train
depot. They nailed up the new sign with the name of
the town of Gene Autry. This was filmed by Republic
Studios. Over 30,000 people came to see the most
famous singing cowboy to ever hit Hollywood. He was
the top money making star of B-Westerns. He passed
out sticks of Wrigley gum, his radio and television
sponsor for nineteen years. In recent days I have
personally interviewed people who were there as
children and they proudly
displayed (in a plastic
bag) the gum he gave
them those many years
December 7, 1941; this
date changed America
forever. Republic Studios,
Hollywood, California
told their star making the
most money that they would get him, Gene Autry, an
exemption from serving in the military. Let someone
else bleed. That is not what Gene did though. He went
on his coast to coast radio show and had a Major
swear him in as Private Gene Autry. Like a lot of
Hollywood movie stars he would not take a rank. He
did ask for two favors for his fame. He promised his
fans they would not see him without cowboy boots, so
the Army had the good sense to grant this favor as
long as Gene paid for them. He was a licensed pilot so
he wanted to fly. The Army allowed that this was no
problem. He got his wings to fly at the Love Field
Airbase. He was transferred to India to fly supplies
over the Himalaya Mountains to China Theater of war.
He was discharged in 1946,
Gene completed three films for Republic Studios
honoring his contract. Then he moved to Columbia
Studios. All of this took place in 1946.
The making of a ghost town: Gene Autry sold the
Flying A Rodeo Ranch at the end of the war. He had a
new rodeo partner in Texas. His name was not on it.
The school in Gene Autry never had more than 115
students in all twelve grades. The only sport the school
played was basketball. One year a student wrote to Mr.
Autry and explained to him the bad shape of their
uniforms. Yes, you are right; Mr. Autry bought the
team uniforms. He kept in contact over the years. By
the late 1960s the school, which was built in 1938, had
its last graduation from high school. Consolidation
closed it by the 1980s. The
town was “long gone” – post
office moved into the school
building. The rest of the
interior of the school was
gutted and the windows
boarded up.
Two people came to the
rescue. Two school teachers:
he was a women basketball
coach and she was a math
teacher, had a
dream. Elvin
Sweeten and his
wife Flo took a long
term lease on the
leaking old rock and
plaster school
building. The
ceilings were
dropped, the stucco walls were covered with wood,
heating and air conditioning added, and a sound
system was added in the old gymnasium. Flo was
raised in this town. The ranch where she grew up is a
few miles away. Yes, Flo played half-court basketball
while in school. She wanted the entire museum to be a
movie memorabilia tribute to Gene Autry; of course
she got it done. Flo and Elvin Sweeten traveled coast
to coast, border to border, buying up whole
collections. Something happened though; they had
Gene items, but to achieve this they literally had all the
other B-Western heroes’ memorabilia items also. Some
you may never have heard of. Toys, big books, fat
books, comics, tricycles, pistols and holsters like you
have never seen in one place. There are over 20,000
items on display and over 100,000 ft. of glass. Every
singing cowboy has his own individual display area.
Elvin is still adding items. We have the only full display
of all four Red Ryder movie stars. It goes on and on.
The museum is owned and operated by Elvin and Flo
Sweeten. They want to share their love of a bygone
age with those of us who still remember it. Admission
is by donation. The museum is open February 1, 2012
to November 30, 2012, Monday through Saturday,
10AM to 4PM. The museum will open for special
We decided to celebrate Roy Rogers100th birthday on
his birthday, November 5th. We had seven radio
stations that started in September advertising the
birthday party. Children from the local Methodist
church youth group printed “Happy Birthday, Roy
Rogers” on several hundred popcorn bags. KCCU
Radio station furnished free sarsaparilla and popcorn.
During the showing of the movie Yellow Rose of Texas
child actor, Don K. Reynolds, who was in three Roy
Rogers movies told of making the movie. Don, “Little
Brown Jug”, also had a studio date with Cheryl Rogers.
She mentions it in her book, Cowboy Princess and also
has a picture of the two of them. Two birthday cakes,
each with Roy and Trigger in color on them, were
served to over 300 people. At 4 PM we sang “Happy
Trails,” and shed a tear and told our hero goodbye.
We have a large Roy Rogers collection of memorabilia.
Elvin is continually adding to the collection.
My wife, Elizabeth and I visited the Roy Rogers
Museum several times while it was located in Branson,
MO. We even attended a New Year’s Party there. There
was never a full house for Dusty’s show or the
museum itself. In fact, we were told there were days
when nobody visited the Museum. We were sad to
hear that it had to close. We know people in our age
group are dying fast; those that remember Roy Rogers
and Gene Autry. We are the last of the B-Western
Museums. We will not be open much longer, so come
on while you can. We offer handicap accessible access.
Come share your dreams.
One of my many surprises in working as greeter at the
museum is the number of people who want to tell
their memories and have a photo taken in front of the
large oil painting of Gene and Champion. Several times
people (mostly women) will cry telling their love of
Gene or other stars all because of seeing them
displayed at the museum. We have had people visit
from Europe; one was from Transylvania. The visitors
take lots of pictures and mail post cards home with the
Gene Autry Oklahoma postmark on it.
Those of us who remember those days when we
believed that good would prevail are dying off fast –
those times of good guys always win will never be
Gene Autry OK Museum
42 Prairie St., Gene Autry,OK 73436

Shortly after the release of the July/August 2013 issue
of Smoke Signals, we received a call from an art
dealer in New York wanting to correct our reporting
in the lead story regarding the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York. In the story, it stated, “For the
first time since their doors opened in 1870, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be
featuring an exhibit of Western bronzes. Scheduled to
open December 18, 2013 and titled The American
West in Bronze, 1850-1925. This exhibit will feature
the works of Remington, Russell, Fraser and Manship
to name a few, and their artistic representations of the
Native American Indian, cowboys, cavalry and
He wanted to correct our reporting as the “MET” had
hosted an important Remington exhibit in 1989.
In fact, we are both correct. There was a Remington
exhibit in 1989, however, this new exhibit opening in
December 2013, will be the first time the MET has
hosted an exhibit of the works of several Western
American sculptors and artists, one of which is
Frederic Remington. This is not a Remington-specific
exhibit, but an exhibit of The American West in
Bronze and will be the first time a number of these
sculptors and artists will be featured at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
On behalf of everyone at High Noon and Smoke
Signals, we thank you for your input and careful eye on
our reporting!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Upcoming Events

NOW thru January 4, 2014  Basketry Treasured  Tucson, AZ 
June 21-23, 2013  Brian Lebel's Denver Old West Show & Auction  Denver, CO 
June 27 - July 7, 2013  Greeley Stampede  Greeley, CO
July 1-7, 2013  World's Oldest Rodeo (126 years)  Prescott, AZ 
July 5-14, 2013  Calgary Stampede  Calgary Alberta, CANADA
July 6-14, 2013  Cattlemen's Days (113 years)  Gunnison, CO
July 6-14, 2013  Rodeo Week  Sheridan, WY
July 12-14, 2013  3rd Annual Will James Roundup  Hardin, MT   
July 12-14, 2013  Midnight Sun Intertribal Powwow  Fairbanks, AK
July 17-21, 2013  Reining by the Bay  Woodside, CA
July 23-27, 2013  Chief Joseph Days Rodeo  Joseph, OR
July 26-28, 2013  Julyamsh Pow Wow  Post Falls, ID
July 26 - August 4, 2013  Dodge City Days  Dodge City, KS
August 2-4, 2013  The Great Southwestern Antique Show  Albuquerque, NM
August 8-10, 2013  30th Annual Antique Ethnographic Art Show  Santa Fe, NM
August 9-13, 2013  26th Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering  Prescott, AZ
August 11, 2013  
Central Coast Chili Festival  Arroyo Grande, CA
August 11-13, 2013  
35th Annual Invitational Antique Indian Art Show  Santa Fe, NM
August 15-18, 2013  
28th Annual Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering  Lewis, MT 
August 20, 2013  Cowboy Cantina  Oklahoma City, OK 
September 18-21, 2013  Rendevous Royal  Cody, WY
September 21, 2013  Patron's Ball  Cody, WY
September 21, 2013  8th Annual Fall Gathering   Prescott, AZ
October 18 - January 4, 2014  2013 Western Trapping on The Llano  Llano, TX
October 24, 2013  38th Annual Cowgirl Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon  Fort Worth, TX
December 13-15, 2013  Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival  Monterey, CA  

Send event submissions to 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course…

Roy Rogers had “Trigger”, the Lone Ranger had “Silver”, and Gene Autry had “Champion.”  But what about the greatest celluloid cowboy of them all, John Wayne?  Even Jeopardy! contestants would have a hard time naming horses ridden by the Duke in his movies.  There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, Wayne usually played a different character in each of his approximately two hundred films.  Notable exceptions are the serial westerns he did early in his career, particularly his eight movie stint in the “Three Mesquiteers” series in 1938 and 1939.  Prior to signing on as a Mesquiteer, Wayne had been cast in a series of six westerns produced by Warner Brothers in 1932 and 1933 in which he always played a character with the first name of “John” and rode a white horse named “Duke.”  These were the so-called B-Westerns which were usually filmed within a week.  The quick production time obviously contributed to a lack of originality in character and horse names.
In contrast, Roy Rogers acquired Trigger in 1938 and rode the horse in every one of his subsequent movies and television shows.  Clayton Moore, the best known Lone Ranger, personally chose a twelve year old Morab Tennessee Walking Horse cross stallion to be “Silver” in 1949, just prior to beginning his television series.  In 1952, a Morab Saddlebred cross replaced the original “Silver” but few fans noticed the switch.  Gene Autry actually had three horses that portrayed “Champion” in his films and on his television show at different times from 1935 until the 1950’s.  All three were sorrel colored with white “blazes” down their faces.
Other reasons for Duke Wayne not to be identified with a particular horse were the roles the animals played in his westerns and his personal view of horses.  Instead of being costars, horses in John Wayne westerns are primarily seen as convenient modes of transportation or as spring boards for stuntmen.  Rarely, if ever, were they given a name in the films.  Also, Duke reportedly did not enjoy horseback riding as he grew older and viewed horses merely as a tool of his trade. His former secretary, Pat Stacy, wrote in her memoir in 1983, that after years in the saddle onscreen, Wayne didn’t consider horseback riding a “recreational activity.”
However, there is always an exception to the rule and one horse stands out as being Duke’s onscreen equine partner, even if for only one film.  In 1969, Wayne received an Academy Award for his portrayal of the irrepressible Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.  In the movie, we are introduced to Roosters’ big American stud, “Beau.”  Throughout the movie,”Beau” carries the overweight marshal across plains and up mountainous terrain and even performs well while enduring the humiliation of his drunken master falling out of the saddle and blaming him for a “misstep.”
Duke and “Beau” become forever linked in the climax of the film when Rooster faces the “Lucky” Ned Pepper gang in the meadow scene.  After Rooster gives Ned the options of dying on the meadow or returning to Fort Smith to be hanged at Judge Parker’s convenience, Ned chooses the former rather than the latter.   Rooster and “Beau” charge the outlaws with guns blazing and “Beau’s” reins clenched tightly in Rooster’s teeth.  Rooster and “Beau” survive the charge, wounding Ned and killing his gang.  Ned takes a final shot to kill Rooster but ends up fatally wounding “Beau.”  Pinned under his dying steed, Rooster gives perhaps his highest tribute to “Beau” when he says, “Damn you, Beau-first time you ever give me reason to cuss you.”  In the end, Rooster recognizes that “Beau” also had true grit.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Upcoming Events
NOW Thru February 17, 2013  Family Traditions: The Art of John, Terri Kelly & Bill Moyers  Cartersville, GA
NOW Thru February 17, 2013  Through Navajo Eyes  Prescott, AZ 
February 7-14, 2013  San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo  San Antonio, TX 
February 14-17, 2013  Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering  Ellensburg, WA 
February 21-24, 2013  13th Annual Saddle Up  Pigeon Forge, TN
February 22, 2013  Buffalo Bill's Birthday Celebration  Cody, WY
February 23, 2013  Hopi Farming in Harmony  Los Angeles, CA 
February 23-24, 2013  29th Annual Marin Show  San Rafael, CA
February 24 - April 11, 2013  An Enduring Legacy - Photos of the Otoe-Missouria People  Oklahoma City, OK
February 25 - March 17, 2013  Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo  Houston, AZ 
February 25 - August 25, 2013  Dreams & Visions: The American West and the Legacy of Imagination  Tulsa, OK
March 1-3, 2013  3rd Annual Cache Valley Cowboy Rendezvous  Hyrum, UT
March 1 - June 2, 2013  2nd Annual Cowgirls with a Camera Exhibit  Wickenburg, AZ 
March 8-9, 2013  50th Annual Fort Worth Show of Antiques  Fort Worth, TX
March 9, 2013  Guitars! Roundups to Rockers  Indianapolis, IN
March 9-10, 2013  Antiques, Objects & Art L.A.  Glendale, CA
March 20, 2013  Old Bags Luncheon  Fort Worth, TX  
April 18-21, 2013  Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival  Santa Clarita, CA
May 3-5, 2013  Genoa Cowboy Festival  Genoa, NV
June 21-23, 2013  Brian Lebel's Denver Old West Show & Auction  Denver, CO 
July 12-14, 2013  3rd Annual Will James Roundup  Hardin, MT 

Send event submissions to 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Century of Silver Screen Heroes on Horseback

By Gary Eugene Brown

When the theater lights dimmed and the picture show began, the boys and girls were thrilled when he came riding across the screen, hell bent for leather, on his famous steed. According to the late, western film historian Buck Rainey, he "was one of the greatest movie cowboys to ever set a saddle."  The featured star was an All American hero, easy going, "aw shucks" bashful type around women, was most respectful of the opposite sex, always willing to risk his life to help those in need, avoided anything stronger than sarsaparilla, never uttered a swear word and was a most agreeable sort of guy. However, that was his on screen persona. Sadly, in the opinion of those who worked with him on location, when the director yelled "cut", he was just the opposite....a one eyed Jack. He was the one and only

Photo of Ken MaynardKEN MAYNARD

Vevey, Indiana was the birthplace of Kenneth Olin Maynard, not Mission Texas, as studio publicists claimed. Born on July 21, 1895, he had three younger sisters and a kid brother Kermit. Ken's father owned a small construction company. Not a lot of information is known about his youth, however it is reported Ken was somewhat incorrigible, demonstrated by his running off at age 12 to join the circus. His father caught up with him and brought him back in tow with a firm grip on his ear. The wanderlust however was not dampened, so at age 16, Ken, this time with his parents' permission, joined a traveling carnival. Early studio publicity releases noted that he joined the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1911, which is highly suspect as the great showman's farewell tour began in 1910. Supposedly, Ken also was with the Ringling Brothers Circus for a season. Also, he was reported to have won the title of World's All Around Cowboy at the Pendleton Round Up in 1920. However, according to Boyd Magers of Western Clippings, there are no records of him having done so; evidently another publicist's pipe dream or something perhaps that Ken perpetuated on his own.  However, one thing for sure, Ken was a great trick rider who learned his craft well in one of the smaller Wild West shows of the day (1913 - 1922). 
In WW I, Ken joined the US Army with a desire to serve in combat, however he was given the duty of a Civil Engineer and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was there that he collected wife one with more to follow. Ken supposedly returned to the Ringling Brothers Circus where he was their featured cowboy trick rider and roper.  By 1922, he had a following which included Tom Mix. Tom encouraged Ken to try the movies due to his exceptional riding skills. Ken who enjoyed the limelight of the circus arena was of the opinion he could do as well as Mix, Buck Jones or Hoot Gibson, so he came to Hollywood in 1923.
Ken obtained small film parts at Fox Studios as well as stunt work, however his breakout role was as Paul Revere in Janice Meredith (1925), starring Marion Davies for William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Studios. This lead to a contract with the Davis Corporation to make a series of five western films beginning with Fighting Courage (1925). Two of the series, $50,000 Reward and The Grey Vulture, have been available in VHS in the past. These cowboy action films were well received and as such, Ken signed with First National, beginning in 1926, where he would be the leading man in eighteen western films. The well-produced series, beginning with SenĂ³r Daredevil and ending with The Royal Rider (1929), elevated Ken Maynard to the same super star status as Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson and Fred Thomson. He had finally arrived at the top of the mountain. A studio press book sent to theaters showing Gun Gospel (1927), as printed in the Palm Beach Post, read as: "one of the fastest, most dramatic and powerful western pictures to be shown in many a day - that is Gun Gospel; starring that most magnetic and popular of all western stars - Ken Maynard." 

Ken Maynard with his horse TarzanAs an aside, for the Davis films, Ken Maynard found a palomino horse for $600, a hefty price in that day. Ken told folks that his friend Edgar Rice Burroughs suggested he name his new horse "Tarzan" after his jungle hero. As an aside, there was eventually a lawsuit later filed by the estate of the famous author over the use of the name Tarzan, however it was resolved in court. It was the best investment that Ken ever made, bar none! Often there is a debate as to whose horse was the best trained of them all; however you might win if you said "Tarzan the Wonder Horse". Buck Rainey in his book Saddle Aces of the Cinema states: "He (Tarzan) was a consummate actor and took direction well." "He was the Rin-Tin-Tin of the equestrian world, with his own fan club and several doubles." Ken, later in the role of producer, would write scenes to show off the skills of Tarzan, such as: untie knots, play dead, laugh, jump, dance, perform amazing rescues, vault walls, jump canyons, buck or rear on command and play cupid by nudging Ken and the pretty starlet into an embrace. Rainey's personal favorite duo was Buck Jones and Silver, however he opined that "Tarzan was probably the smartest horse in the movies and certainly performed more tricks than any of the others." We'll leave that up for you to decide, as you may have preferred Tony, Champion, Trigger or Silver. However, if it were me, I wouldn't bet against Tarzan.
Due to his immense popularity as result of the First National westerns, Ken signed with Universal (1929) with the first picture being The Wagon Master, directed by the legendary Harry Joe Brown. Also, it was noteworthy being the first "singing cowboy movie". It was filmed both as a silent movie and as a partial "talking" picture show. After eight films for Universal, Carl Laemmle released Ken Maynard, even though he was arguably the number one cowboy star at that particular time. The powerful studio CEO was still unsure as to the future of western films in the emerging sound era.

Ken Maynard with horse TarzanKen was immediately picked up by Tiffany Pictures, who were not overly concerned about making "all talking" cowboy action movies. He made eleven pictures for the fledgling studio which included fast paced oaters such as The Two Gun Man (1931) and Hell Fire Austin (1932).  Then KBS/World Wide pictures selected Ken to make seven cowboy films which were well received. They included the popular Come On, Tarzan (1932) Drum Taps (1933) and The Phantom Thurderbolt (1933). Carl Laemmle recognized the error he had made by letting Ken go and that there truly was a future in western sound films. As such, he signed Ken to a new contract (1933) with a budget of $100,000 per film. Ken also was able to form his own production company with complete artistic control in the dual role of actor and producer. The Fiddlin' Buckaroo (1933) and The Strawberry Roan (1933) were well done productions for Universal, which featured Ken singing old cowboy tunes. His voice was not as honed or smooth as Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, who were soon to follow; however, he sounded more like an authentic, old time cow puncher. Ken would accompany himself with a fiddle, banjo or guitar.
Also, an interesting note, during this period, Ken wore basically the same cowboy attire, right down to the large, white Stetson with the "reach and grab" crease, shirts with arrow pockets and jodhpurs with a piping trim and silver buckles made famous by the legendary Tom Mix. After all, if it worked for the number one box office star only a few years earlier, why not keep a good thing going.
While Ken was gaining in popularity among the adoring public, his reputation among studio executives, film crews and costars was in steady decline. Actress Cecilia Parker, who would go on to gain popularity in the Andy Hardy series playing Mickey Rooney's sister in the late 30s, costarred in a few of Maynard's Universal westerns. Bobby Copeland, biographer for several B Cowboy stars, in his book Trail Talk, noted that Ms. Parker once had to have a heart to heart talk with her leading man and producer. "I made four pictures with Ken Maynard and I finally laid it out in front of him. I said 'You pay my salary but if you can't behave yourself and curb your language, you'll have to get another actress.' He shaped up after that - at least I never had any more trouble with him." Carl Laemmle also found Ken often disagreeable and the two had a dispute over the actor's behavior.  Ken reacted by walking away from Universal in a huff, not a wise move on his part, as he would never again have the same financial resources nor the artistic freedom he had been given at Universal.

Lawless Riders PosterHowever, Ken once again seemed to do alright for himself, as Nat Levine of Mascot Pictures signed Ken to a two picture deal at a salary of $10,000 per week. The first - In Old Santa Fe (1934) was important in that it also featured a popular radio cowboy crooner by the name of Gene Autry in his first motion picture, along with his pal Smiley Burnette. Ken then followed with a 12 chapter serial Mystery Mountain which was immensely popular. Joining Ken, were the who's who of western character actors: Edmund Cobb, Syd Saylor, Lafe McKee, Bob Kortman, Wally Wales, Tom London, George Chesebro, Art Mix and an encore by Gene and Smiley. Whatever happened to those two guys?
Ken Maynard continued to bounce back and land contracts with major studios as he soon signed with Columbia for eight films, beginning with Western Frontier (1936) and concluding with The Fugitive Sheriff (1936). Overall, the Columbia westerns were well done, however the budget per picture was $70,000 compared to the $100,000 with Universal and he no longer served as a Producer
After the Columbia series, Ken's personal life was unraveling. His wife of ten years, Mary Leeper Maynard divorced him in 1939 due to his ongoing problem with alcohol and his wandering eye. Ken was also tired of making cowboy films and having to kowtow to studio executives and their green eye shade, snooping accountants. As such, he began to form an old fashion wild west show called Ken Maynard Diamond K Ranch and Wild West Circus and Indian Congress. He invested all his available capital ($100,000 +) in the show; however it folded within two weeks. The major setback didn't dampen his desire to return in the circus life and so he signed with the Cole Brothers Circus and they billed him as: "KEN MAYNARD - The Screen's Greatest Western Star and Congress of Rough Riders." Ken was with the circus through the 1937 to 1940 seasons. When he was not out on the sawdust trail, Ken made four films for Grand National including Boot of Destiny (1937) and four for Colony commencing with Flaming Lead (1939). However, Ken could no longer compete with the younger leading men like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter, as to his chagrin; he was getting long in the tooth.
In 1943, Ken returned to the cinema in a series of oaters featuring a trio of seasoned buckaroos. Monogram Studios were following the successful model established by The Three Mesquitters with Bob Livingston, Crash Corrigan and Max "Alibi" Terhune; and the Rough Riders with the late Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton. Ken was teamed up with his old pal Hoot Gibson and Bob Steele in the Trail Blazers series.  However, it was evident that Ken and Hoot were both showing a paunch. Also, the original Tarzan The Wonder Horse had died in 1940. Ken bailed out after the sixth film due to his being upset over the salary he was given. He came back one more time to star in a low budget film - Harmony Trail, for a fly by night, poverty row studio - Mattox Productions. He and his third wife Bertha, a former circus aerialist, were married in 1940. Overall, it was a pretty good marriage; however they were just getting by in later years. They lived in a small mobile home in the Shady Tree Trailer Park in San Fernando Valley.

Code of the Scarlet PosterKen would do an occasional public appearance and even performed a vaudeville act. The Desert News (1944) ran an ad announcing the great cowboy movie star Ken Maynard would be performing at  a local theater in a "novel act of comedy singing and music" and would also feature his famous horse Tarzan (the second Tarzan). Ken also performed a trick shooting act at the Corriganville Movie Ranch for $50 a day. However, one day he came driving down the main street of the cowboy town at Corriganville swerving back and forth in his station wagon. He wiped out a porch post and came to a roaring stop. He got out, quite disheveled, staggered and asked "Where's that old fart Corrigan?" Needless to say, he never worked another day at the movie ranch that belonged to Ray "Crash" Corrigan.
In 1951, Ken was featured in a syndicated, national 15 minute radio show Tales from the Diamond K. He also had a propensity for getting arrested on occasion, mostly for minor, alcohol related incidents: DUI, Hit and Run and Simple Assault. The lowest part in Ken Maynard's life was when he was fired on the spot from a traveling carnival at the Chicago State Fair on August 10, 1952. Ken had been hitting the bottle pretty heavy and then went out on stage and commenced to swear like a drunken sailor in front of several admiring boys and girls who had watched his old movies on TV. He had stooped pretty low at this point in his life. Ironically, earlier in his career, he had once commented in a newspaper interview: "Because so many children have an avid interest in 'westerns' I try to set an example" " never smoking or drinking or shooting anyone (dead) in his films." "He feels he's been repaid in letters and endorsement from women's clubs." Demon Rum is a liar and a cheat. We all, but for the grace of God, are potential victims, even though we think we can't be tempted. Ken had an incurable disease known to bring down many a man and woman.
Bertha died in 1968 and Ken remained alone in their small trailer. A so-called girlfriend, agent, part time film stand in and lounge singer by the name of Marilyn Marlowe, obtained all his memorabilia and sold it off. When the supply ran out, she is alleged to have started selling any old cowboy gear she could find, listing it as having once belonged to the great Ken Maynard, a major cowboy film star of yesteryear. His brother Kermit, who became a cowboy film star and in fact, may have been a better horseman than his older brother, and his wife would check in on Ken on occasion and try to sober him up and get him to eat something healthy. Also, a silent benefactor would continue to pay for his monthly rent as Ken was at the poverty level.
Ken entered the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills in January 1973 undernourished and related maladies associated with alcohol abuse. Ken died there on March 23, 1973 at the age of 77. Again, the unknown benefactor paid for all of his funeral expenses.
Fortunately, the mass 24/7 news media of today didn't exist back then, to saturate the public with all the sordid details of the stars in the 20s, 30s and 40s. As such, with exception of Hollywood insiders, most people, especially his young adoring fans, were spared learning of all the bad habits of their former hero Ken Maynard.  They continued to remember him kindly as being that carefree, dashing silver screen cowboy who would save the starlet's ranch from the greedy cattle baron. Ken and Tarzan were able to accomplish all of the required heroics to make things right in Happy Valley, all within a 60 minute time span. That's the way I prefer to remember Ken Maynard.

The Phamtom City PosterEPILOGUE: Regardless of his dark side, Ken Maynard was a major cowboy star of the 20s and 30s. He delighted young and old alike. My dear friend Joe Hannah, of the wonderful cowboy harmony trio - The Sons of the San Joaquin, shared a fond memory when he was a small town boy in Missouri in the mid-30s. He went to a small, traveling carnival, complete with a side show and exotic animals. However, the most memorable event was held in a small, midway tent. They were showing a Ken Maynard western. It was his first cowboy movie! It made a significant impression on Joe as it did on boys and girls around the world. A case in point, half way around the world in Cambodia, a young boy, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away recently, eventually becoming King of his country, never missed a Ken Maynard western movie: "He was my idol as a cowboy dispenser of justice. He had an incomparably beautiful white horse who was as intelligent as a man and behaved like an angel." Two boys in two completely different worlds shared the same cowboy hero!
We also owe a lot to Ken Maynard in terms of his influence on cowboy music. In addition to being the first singing cowboy on film, Ken Maynard on April 14, 1930 went to the Columbia Records Studio and recorded eight traditional cowboy songs, accompanying himself on guitar. Only one 78 record was released as result of that recording session: The Lone Star Trail, Side A and The Cowboys Lament, Side B.  In 1952, The Lone Star Trail was added to the iconic collection of an Anthology of American Folk Music. The Editor Harry Smith deemed "this passionate description of life" to be "one of the very few recordings of authentic 'cowboy' singing'." In 2009, The Bear Records of Germany released a wonderful CD of the eight original recordings by Ken Maynard with great liner notes, his filmography and terrific images. The album is entitled Ken Maynard sings The Lone Star Trail. It is available through
No doubt, Ken Maynard made a major contribution to western film. In a Los Angeles Times article (April 5, 1969) covering an interview with the aging, former cowboy star, the reporter referred to him as being a "legend", Ken Maynard in a caustic response said: "Hell, I'm no legend! I hate the word." Sorry Mr. Maynard, in spite of your self-destructive ways, you were and still are a legend!
Oh yes, the secret benefactor was a man who Ken Maynard helped get a start in motion pictures. Gene Autry was forever grateful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012