THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Saturday, January 19, 2013


(L-R: Syd Saylor, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Robert LivingstonThis combination of Republic's Three Mesquiteers lasted only one film.  Max Terhune replaced Saylor in the second film.

The first titled trio B-Western series hit the big screen when Repubic released THE THREE MESQUITEERS in September 1936.  Technically, however, the Hopalong Cassidy series inititiated the trio format a year earlier by starring William Boyd in the lead role as Hoppy, Jimmy Ellison as his young sidekick (Johnny Nelson) and George "Gabby" Hayes as the comic sidekick (Windy Halliday).  But this was an untitled trio and is not our concern at the moment. 

Down through the years there were other untitled trios.  Beginning in 1939, Universal took three cracks at establishing the format.  The first combo teamed Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Baker, and Fuzzy Knight.  Baker was dropped after six productions.  In 1942, they signed Tex Ritter to co-star with Mack Brown and Knight.  But after seven films, Mack Brown departed riding over to Monogram where he completed his long B-Western career. An ex-Hoppy sidekick, Russell Hayden, was brought in to finish out the year with Ritter and Knight.  It was Universal's last attempt to create a successful trigger trio.

Universal wasn't Ritter's first experience, nor would it be his last, with the trio format.  Just prior to signing with Universal, he had teamed with Columbia star William "Wild Bill" Elliott in eight films, supported by Dub "Cannonball" Taylor in the first film and Frank Mitchell in the remaining seven.  At that point Elliott moved to Republic and starred in that studio's highly successful "Red Ryder" series.  And Ritter, as we have already seen, ended up Universal.

After leaving Universal, Ritter was signed by PRC (the poor man's Monogram, which was the poor man's Republic) and starred in the Texas Rangers trio with Dave "Tex" O'Brien and Guy Wilkerson.  But that's another story for another day.

In 1950, two former Hopalong Cassidy sidekicks, Jimmy Ellison and Russell Hayden, teamed with Fuzzy Knight to star in six extremely low-budget Westerns for Lippert Pictures. 

In addition, as the cowboy stars aged, younger actors were often brought in to support the star and his comedic sidekick in a series.  Dave O'Brien, Russell Hayden, Jimmy Ellison, Dennis Moore, and Jock Mahoney sometimes filled such a role in untitled trio Westerns.  Singers such as Bob Nolan, Ray Whitley, and even Bob Wills, sometimes had their roles enlarged to the degree that they were elevated to trio member status.

As I was saying, The Three Mesquiteers represented the first of the titled trio series.  There would be imitators, but only one would come close to the high standards established in Republic's innovative series -- and that would be Monogram's Rough Riders.

Here are the titled trio series, with studio and year of the first release:


After the initial film in the series, this would be the Three Mesquiteers, but not forever.  (L-R): Max Terhune as "Lullaby" Joslin; Robert Livingston as "Stony" Brooke; Ray "Crash" Corrigan as "Tucson" Smith

 THE TRIGGER PALS (Grand National, 1939)

(L-R: Art Jarrett as "Lucky"; Lee Powell as "Stormy"; and Al St. John as "Fuzzy") This was an interesting experiment by Grand National.  Jarrett was a big band leader and singer (and better in this movie than anyone had any right to expect); Powell was a serial star; and St. John was, well, he was "Fuzzy."  Only one film was produced because Grand National shortly thereafter went belly-up.

THE RANGE BUSTERS (Monogram, 1940)

The Range Busters line-up for most of the series (L-R): Max Terhune (and Elmer), Ray Corrigan and John King

THE ROUGH RIDERS (Monogram, 1941)

This is the only trio combo to come up to, and at times, surpass The Three Mesquiteers.  The series would be discontinued after only eight films due to the tragic death of Buck Jones. (L -R): Buck Jones as Buck Roberts; Tim McCoy as Tim McCall; and Raymond Hatton as Sandy Hopkins. 


(L-R): James Newill as Jim Steel; Guy Wilkerson as Panhandle Perkins; and Dave O'Brien as Tex Wyatt.  O'Brien became Dave Wyatt after Newill left the series and was replaced by a real "Tex" -- Tex Ritter.


The Frontier Marshals hold the unwanted distinction of being the weakest of the titled trio Western series.  It did depart from the norm, however, in that there were two singing cowboys and no comedic sidekick.  That's singer Bill "Cowboy Rambler" Boyd in the upper left corner; singer Art Davis in the upper right corner; and non-singer Lee Powell in the lower left corner.

THE TRAIL BLAZERS (Monogram, 1943)

This series featured three stars whose careers extended all the way back to the silent era.  They had blazed many a trail but now they were almost at the end of their respective trails.  Their series would also be the last of the titled trio series.  That's Hoot Gibson on the left holding the six-gun; Ken Maynard is 3rd from the left roughing up George Chesebro, who got roughed up a lot in Western movies; and Bob Steele giving directions to two less than authentic appearing Indians. 

The plan is to take a more detailed look at these trios in the near future.



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