The Law of Contact

Kermit and Kenneth Maynard

by Frank M. Roberts

Sombreros, songs, saddles, saloons, singin' cowboys = Saturday matinee fun in the good, ole days beyond recall. I'll tell you what, buckaroo -- if all of the above brings back memories of whooping it up with the movie cowboys, hang in there. Every now and then I'll take a look at the moom pitcha silver screen cowboys. These will mainly be of interest to those of us who are 65 and above. I'm waay over 65. So, saddle up, and let's ride into the sunset together. No galloping -- I'm too old.

We'll take a look at the hombres who worked mostly for Republic Pictures. But, a good hunk of them went after the bad guys while working for lesser studios, making pictures that took a day or two to make. Fists were flying (that doesn't sound quite right), the saloon furniture (fortunately breakable) became weapons. It was good vs. bad. We're lookin' at both, pardner, beginning with the double 'K' Maynard brothers - Kermit and Kenneth.

Both were born in the one horse - excuse me - one hoss town of Vevay, Indiana. Kermit was born in 1897, Kenneth in 1895.

1 - Kermit (sounds like a Muppet) shot 'em up for Ambassador. The budgets were wee - still - the scripts were decent. That studio was one of several in an area called Poverty Row. The time - the mid '30s. Those smaller studios were grinding out movies with a running time of about an hour and, they were making beaucoup serials - and I don't mean Kellogg.

There warn't much talkin', and definitely no kissin' in those flicks (except for kissin' the horse). Kermit offered lots of fisticuffs, but not too much conversation in his flicks. Action, comedy, and a few plot twists were the order of the day with Kermit the cowboy. i(no frog jokes - that would be too obvious).

In his first eight movies, he was a mountan man. When he started, in '27, he received a whopping $250. And that was for six movies. Add to that, he had to supply his own wardrobe and, his own equine. The Maynard-trained horse, Rocky, did 62 separate tricks. Wow - good horsie. Maynard did his own tricks (stunts). In '31 and '32 horse and man won world championships for trick riding and for roping.

Later, he joined the crew at a quite small company called Ambassador. Those films were well received and kept the kids indoors on many a lovely Saturday afternoon. And, guess what. As his career wound down he played villains - or - using cowboy slang - the bad guy.

Many of his movies were based on James Oliver Curwood stories. Movies included "Timber War," "Trails of the Wild," and, after being signed for six flicks by a company called Rayart, who shortened his name to - what else? - Tex, he starred in "Whistling Bullets," "Wildcat Trooper." "Valley Of Terror."

Brother, Ken, had his time in the sun or, since these are westerns - in the sunset. One of his films is particularly interesting. "In Old Santa Fe," featured two lower echelon actors - Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette. (I had the pleasure of spending the day with ole Smiley. At the time, he was doing "Petticoat Junction" with Rufe Davis, one of the original Three Mesquiteers, who was also at that gathering). Another supporting actor who was in, "In Old Santa Fe" used his real name - George Hayes. Yep - Gabby.

'Twas way back in 1924 when brother, Kenneth, galloped onto the screen, starting as a hero doing bit parts and stunt work. Not long after that he became 'the' star in the 'B' westerns. His ability as a horseman impressed those who needed to be impressed, and the year Kenneth - now Ken, started making movies was the year he starred in a series.

One of his initial flicks also had an interesting cast. He shared top billing with my fave cowboy, Hoot Gibson. The duo was billed as "The Trail Blazers." So-o-o, the movie was called, "Blazing Guns." In '29 and '30 Ken Maynard went to work for Universal Studios. From '26 to '29 the silent screen hero made 18 movies - taking one afternoon off for a quickie vacation.

In '29 and '30 the studio kept their money-making star working-working. In that time he made eight - not movies, but eight serials. He then went to work for Tiffany Pictures who had him whistling while he worked in "Whistlin' Dan." From '30 to '32 he made - zowie - 10 movies. One nasty critic noted that "most of his early sound films were average at best."

Ken also starred in, "Heir To Trouble." His two best films were made when he was with Columbia in '35 and '36. They had an 'A' picture look. They were, "Cattle Thief" and the above-mentioned. He had his troubles - for real and his career went kaput after he completed, The Trailblazer" series.

As you darn well know, podner, Jimbo J. Jimbo has a lot of old cowboy flicks, and some good, ole country music. Hope you liked all this old cowboy movie stuff. If'n you do, keep a-readin'. In my next cowboy column I'll check on Tom Tyler, who often played a bad guy and, a good guy singin' cowpoke, Jimmy Wakely.

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Cowboy humor (so called). An old cowpoke and his lazy son were sitting in front of a warm fire, drinking some home brew, and stretching their legs every hour or so. The cowpoke heard something on the roof of the shack, and said, "Son will you take a gander outside and see if it's raining?" The younger, and lazier man, said, "Pa, why don't we just call in the dog and see if its pelt is wet?"

Next week, something of particular interest to fans of western swing - an inside look at Bob Wills from a mutual friend and confidant. To my knowledge much of this has never before been seen.

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