The Law of Contact

Roy Barcroft

by Frank M. Roberts


For the most part, these columns are devoted to such familiar western movie names as Gene, Roy, The Lone - our silver screen heroes. Every now and then I veer and, today, is veer-day as I take a look at one of the most familiar faces of the genre, a man who was usually crabby and, why not? Roy Barcroft was born in Crab Orchard, Neb. Yep, the crab from Crab Orchard -- meaner, 'tis said, than a whip snake.

Often referred to as, "The King Of the Villains," he made a helluva impact on the 'B' westerns, especially those made at Republic who signed him to an exclusive contract back in 1943. Noted film critic, Leonard Maltin, tagged him as, "Republic Pictures number one guy."

His most important movie was "Night Train To Memphis," in which he portrayed, as one writer put it, "the dirtiest, meanest, individual on film." (Apologies to Vincent Price). The same gent went overboard noting, "his many serial roles were capped by his performance in, "Manhunt From Mystery Island." Boy, there's one to look for.

Yeah, he was a mean s.o.b. - mean to man and to the fairer sex. Such west gals as Linda Stirling and Peggy Stewart, two chicks oft seen in the 'B' west flicks were, as they used to say, "forever in his clutches."

Barcroft also enjoyed terrorizing 'Little' and 'Red' - i.e. Little Beaver (not 'the Beav) and Red Ryder (not a Commie cowboy). And check it out - he was especially nasty in "Sun Valley Cyclone," a 1946 release.

The actor, who was born Sept. 7 in 1902, was a staple in the Rocky Lane series. The above mentioned writer said that the three "were naturals." Their knock-down, drag-out fight scenes were, and are, classics even today - well planned, well-fought fights - a lot of realistic 'pow-bam-sock.'

Check it out: In 1947s, "Springtime In the Sierras," Barcroft had not one, not two, but three of his most famous fights. His opponent? A fella named Rogers - Roy Rogers, that is.

After leaving Republic he became, honest to Abe, a 'good guy' in television and films. As they say in France -'quell transition.' One way or the other, the memory of his work will be cherished as long as the 'B' western is remembered. An interesting double feature would be a flick with mean Mr. B. and the niiice Mr. B.

Roy Barcroft will be well remembered for his on-screen achievements. Off-screen, he was a genuine hero, a World War 1 veteran. He joined the Army when he was 15-years-old and fought in France. Also, off-screen, he had the reputation of being a real nice guy. Oh, he was twice married, and fathered three children.

He died of liver cancer Nov. 18, 1969. His body was donated for medical research.

Another one of his best-known films was, "Hidden Gold," based on a story by western writer, Clarence E. Mulford. Number of screen appearances? One for every day of the year (well, except for Leap Year).

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As usual, I wind up these columns with a look at some of the genres second bananas, usually fall guys designed to keep the hero, and the audience, amused. This go' round - one of the best, most beloved -- Guinn (Big Boy) Williams, famous for being dull-witted. (Must be a relation).

And, honestly, he was a real-life cowboy and, he attended North Texas State College. No dummy, this dummy. Before going to Hollywood to work in silent films, he was a rodeo rider. In Hollywood, he met Will Rogers who tagged him with the 'Big Boy' moniker. The big guy played heavies and other character parts, many of which were non-western roles.

His last pic was "Comanchero" in 1961. Other screen credits include, "The Desperadoes," "Badmen Of Tombstone," "Stations West," "Massacre At Moccasin Pass," "My Man," "Swamp Water," and "Private Worlds."

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