By Thomas Gladysz
San Francisco Silent Film Examiner
During the silent and early sound era, Westerns were hugely popular. They got their start – more or less – when Gilbert M. Anderson starred as Broncho Billy for the Essanay Studios. The legendary star appeared in nearly 150 one and two reel Western films – including some shot in nearby Niles.
Throughout the 1930’s, Western films packed cinemas in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and even Berkeley. They also drew crowds of kids to Saturday afternoon matinees in places like Santa Rosa and San Mateo (see slideshow).
A new book, Western Film Series of the Sound Era by Michael R. Pitts, has just been released by McFarland & Company. This 474 page, illustrated hardcover book is an impressive reference work. It also brings us back to a time when . . . .
Western Film Series of the Sound Era covers 30 series produced from the mid 1930s through the early 1950s. Included are such long-running series as Hopalong Cassidy and The Durango Kid, as well as those that had moderate or brief runs like The Singing Cowgirl and The Texas Rangers. Also included are chapters on popular and still remembered fare like The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, and even Zorro.
Western Film Series of the Sound Era also contains a plot synopsis and analysis of each series, its place in cinema history, photographs, illustrations, a bibliography and a detailed filmography.
Many of the series covered in Pitt’s book featured one-time major silent film stars along with up-and-coming actors just beginning to make their mark. Buck Jones, William Boyd, Ken Maynard and Johnny Mack Brown all headlined along with Tim McCoy, Buster Crabbe, and later Clayton Moore. The series were also filled with memorable character actors like Smiley Burnette and Hoot Gibson.
John Wayne, certainly one of the most popular film stars of all time, started out in B-Westerns – and his long running series, The Three Mesquiteers, is included in this new book. The tall, handsome Wayne headlined the series, while the supporting “Three Mesquiteers” were made up of a group of former silent film stars and character actors like Raymond Hatton, Max Terhune, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan.
Like other series, Pitt’s book contains a substantial chapter on the many films made under The Three Mesquiteers banner. One of them, Overland Stage Raiders (1938), starred a youthful Wayne on the verge of stardom. He would soon find film immortality as the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s classic Western feature, Stage Coach (1939). Overland Stage Raiders is also notable as the last film in which the one-time silent movie star Louise Brooks had a role.
If you like the Western genre, Pitts’ book is essential reading. It is thoroughly researched, and full of the kind of detail that brings these fine old films back to life.
Pitts is the author of 30 earlier books, including Western Movies: A TV and Video Guide to 4200 Genre Films (McFarland), Poverty Row Studios, 1929-1940: An Illustrated History of 55 Independent Film Companies (McFarland), and the two volume Famous Movie Detectives (Scarecrow Press).
For more info: Visit the publisher’s page on the book. Western Film Series of the Sound Era is available on-line and at better bookstores.