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The Billy the Kid Series from
Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)
6 films released from 1940 - 1941 starring Bob Steele as "Billy the Kid"
13 films released from 1941 - 1943 starring Buster Crabbe as "Billy the Kid"
23 more films released 1943 - 1946 starring Buster Crabbe as "Billy Carson"




(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card to the Bob Steele starrer, BILLY THE KID'S FIGHTING PALS (PRC, 1941). In the inset at the bottom left, you can spot Fuzzy St. John, Curley Dresden (checkerboard shirt, hands in the air), Sherry Tansey and Wally West (behind Bob Steele), and moustached Carleton Young on the right with the six-shooter.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card from THE RENEGADE (PRC, 1943) and shows Buster Crabbe on the right sneaking up on Jimmy Aubrey (blue shirt) and screen veteran Jack Montgomery.



There have been many films based on the real-life outlaw William Bonney, alias Billy the Kid. Johnny Mack Brown and Robert Taylor essayed that role in the 1930 and 1941 versions of BILLY THE KID for MGM, and Jack Buetel portrayed the Kid in the Howard Hughes production of THE OUTLAW (1943). More recent films based on the Bonney character include Emilio Estevez in YOUNG GUNS (1988) and YOUNG GUNS II (1990) and Kris Kristofferson in PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973).

In this section of the Old Corral, we'll chronicle the SERIES of Billy the Kid B westerns that were churned out by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) in the 1940s.


 
(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC) was an early name for the company that became PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). The above logo and the announcement that George Houston would star as Billy the Kid were cropped from a 1939-40 PDC exhibitor announcement. Houston didn't become Billy the Kid, nor did PDC/PRC do that series in 1939-1940. George Houston did work for PRC ... as their first "Lone Rider".


PRC's first "Billy the Kid" was Bob Steele (1907-1988). Prior to that, Steele had a lengthy association with producer A. W. Hackel which resulted in 32 westerns released during 1934-1938. The first sixteen were issued by Hackel's Supreme Pictures company. Hackel signed a deal with the newly formed Republic Pictures and the final sixteen Steele oaters were released under the Republic Pictures name. Steele then did a batch of eight mediocre oaters for Harry S. Webb's Metropolitan company.

He hired on with PRC as Billy the Kid and did a half dozen, all of which featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John. Carleton Young was the third sidekick in five of the adventures, and Rex Lease was a helper in one. Steele exited the series when he received an offer from Republic Pictures to join the Three Mesquiteers (where he portrayed 'Tucson Smith').

PRC went shoppin' for a replacement and signed Buster Crabbe (1908-1983), a name and face that was very familiar to Saturday Matinee audiences due to his extensive serial work at Universal in RED BARRY, BUCK ROGERS and three FLASH GORDONS.

Buster portrayed Billy the Kid thirteen times. DEVIL RIDERS (PRC, 1943) was released in late 1943, and beginning with that film, Crabbe became "Billy Carson". Why the name change - the story goes that some distributors or theater owners or ticket buyers were disgruntled about the negatives associated with the Billy the Kid character. Al St. John was Buster's sidekick in all thirty six adventures. The early films utilized a third helper played by Carleton Young or Bud McTaggart or Dave O'Brien. The trio approach was discontinued and the remaining entries had Crabbe and Fuzzy.

Sigmund Neufeld was a PRC executive and producer. His brother was director Sam Newfield (real name: Sam Neufeld), and he used his own name as well as several aliases (Sherman Scott and Peter Stewart). Sig and Sam were in charge of all of these Steele and Crabbe westerns.

I've included the Crabbe/Billy Carson films below since many folks are confused about which were Billy the Kid or Billy Carson entries.


6 Films with Bob Steele as "Billy the Kid"
All directed by Sam Newfield and featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as Crabbe's sidekick

BILLY THE KID OUTLAWED (PRC, 1940)
BILLY THE KID IN TEXAS (PRC, 1940)
BILLY THE KID'S GUN JUSTICE (PRC, 1940)
BILLY THE KID'S RANGE WAR (PRC, 1941)
BILLY THE KID'S FIGHTING PALS (PRC, 1941)
BILLY THE KID IN SANTA FE (PRC, 1941)


13 Films with Buster Crabbe as "Billy the Kid"
All directed by Sam Newfield and featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as Crabbe's sidekick

BILLY THE KID WANTED (PRC, 1941)
BILLY THE KID'S ROUND-UP (PRC, 1941)
BILLY THE KID TRAPPED (PRC, 1942)
BILLY THE KID'S SMOKING GUNS (PRC, 1942)
LAW AND ORDER (PRC, 1942) (Dual role for Crabbe as Billy the Kid and Lt. Ted Morrison)
SHERIFF OF SAGE VALLEY (PRC, 1942) (Dual role for Crabbe as Billy the Kid and Kansas Ed Bonney)
THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER (PRC, 1942)
THE KID RIDES AGAIN (PRC, 1943)
FUGITIVE OF THE PLAINS (PRC, 1943)
WESTERN CYCLONE (PRC, 1943)
CATTLE STAMPEDE (PRC, 1943)
THE RENEGADE (PRC, 1943)
BLAZING FRONTIER (PRC, 1943)


23 Films with Buster Crabbe as "Billy Carson"
All directed by Sam Newfield and featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as Crabbe's sidekick

DEVIL RIDERS (PRC, 1943)
FRONTIER OUTLAWS (PRC, 1944)
VALLEY OF VENGEANCE (PRC, 1944)
THE DRIFTER (PRC, 1944) (Dual role for Crabbe as Billy Carson and Drifter Davis)
RUSTLER'S HIDEOUT (PRC, 1944)
WILD HORSE PHANTOM (PRC, 1944)
OATH OF VENGEANCE (PRC, 1944)
HIS BROTHER'S GHOST (PRC, 1945) (Dual role for St. John as Fuzzy Jones and Andy Jones)
THUNDERING GUNSLINGERS (PRC, 1945)
SHADOWS OF DEATH (PRC, 1945)
GANGSTER'S DEN (PRC, 1945)
FUZZY SETTLES DOWN (PRC, 1945)
STAGECOACH OUTLAWS (PRC, 1945)
BORDER BADMEN (PRC, 1945)
FIGHTING BILL CARSON (PRC, 1945)
PRAIRIE RUSTLERS (PRC, 1945) (Dual role for Crabbe as Billy Carson and Jim Slade)
LIGHTNING RAIDERS (PRC, 1945)
TERRORS ON HORSEBACK (PRC, 1946)
GENTLEMEN WITH GUNS (PRC, 1946)
GHOST OF HIDDEN VALLEY (PRC, 1946)
PRAIRIE BADMEN (PRC, 1946)
OVERLAND RIDERS (PRC, 1946)
OUTLAWS OF THE PLAINS (PRC, 1946)




(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is a duotone title lobby card for the re-release of BILLY THE KID'S FIGHTING PALS (PRC, 1941). Bob Steele has an armlock around Dave O'Brien, while veteran Rex Lease (in white shirt) is shown in the inset on the top left and bottom right.

The interesting thing with this duotone lobby card is that the cast shown in the photo insets doesn't match the FIGHTING PALS movie and cast. The scenes and cast are from BILLY THE KID IN SANTA FE (PRC, 1941) - in that film, Rex Lease played Steele's helper Jeff (instead of Carleton Young) and Dave O'Brien was a baddie. Below is the original release title lobby card to BILLY THE KID IN SANTA FE (PRC, 1941).

When the ever thrifty PRC re-released SANTA FE and needed lobby cards, they found whatever they had on file ... and used that ... and simply changed the film title. Who would notice?




(Courtesy of Les Adams)




(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are John Merton, Dave 'Tex' O'Brien, Crabbe (seated), Lynton Brent and Curley Dresden in a lobby card from SHERIFF OF SAGE VALLEY (PRC, 1942).  Crabbe had a dual role in this oater, and "the other Crabbe" is facing him on the far left.  Dave O'Brien was the star of the CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT serial, was a member of PRC's Texas Rangers trio series westerns, was at MGM for the Pete Smith comedy shorts, and wound up as a writer on the Red Skelton TV show.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Buster Crabbe has the drop on the masked Maxine Leslie, the leader of the outlaw band, in this lobby card from FUGITIVE OF THE PLAINS (PRC, 1943).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

The above crop is from a lobby card from BILLY THE KID TRAPPED (PRC, 1942), and shows from left to right, Bud McTaggart, Al St. John and Buster Crabbe.

In the initial PRC Billy the Kid flicks, hero Bob Steele was assisted by a pair of saddle pals, Al St. John and Carleton Young as 'Jeff' (with Rex Lease subbing for Young in one film). When Crabbe took over the role, PRC continued the trio approach in six films before Buster and Fuzzy were on their own as a duo. In those initial half-dozen, the third member was most often Dave O'Brien (in four films), but Carleton Young and Bud McTaggart assisted in one each.

Malcolm 'Bud' McTaggart (1910-1949) was married and divorced from western and serial heroine Pamela Blake/Adele Pearce. In the late 1940s, he did a name change to 'James Taggart' and in 1949, he died in a swimming pool accident.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a moustached Carleton Young assisting Bob Steele in BILLY THE KID IN TEXAS (PRC, 1940).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Spelling errors were not uncommon, and the above pressbook ad for BILLY THE KID OUTLAWED (PRC, 1940) contains two: Carlton Young should be Carleton (with an e), and heroine Louise Curry should be Currie.



(From Old Corral image collection)
Alfred 'Fuzzy' St. John (1892 or 1893 - 1963) was a very busy guy in the 1940s at PRC.

While he was working with Steele and Crabbe in these films, he also was sidekicking in the seventeen PRC Lone Rider westerns which were released 1941-1943 and starred George Houston followed by Bob Livingston. And in the early 1940s, St. John was also in some Republic westerns with Don Barry. After the Crabbe series ended in 1946, St. John went to work with PRC's new hero, Al 'Lash' LaRue.



Want more info on Bob Steele and Buster Crabbe? There's biographies on both in the Heroes section on the Old Corral. And there's a profile on Al St. John in the Saddle Pals and Sidekicks section.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Bob Steele, Buster Crabbe, Al St. John, as well as "Sig and Sam", PRC's producer and director brothers.  Click below:

Bob Steele: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0824496/
Buster Crabbe: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0185568/
Al St. John: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0820607/
Producer Sigmund Neufeld: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0626892/
Director Sam Newfield (Sam Neufeld): http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0627864/







The B film production company that ultimately became PRC began life in 1938 when Ben Judell (1891 - 1974) formed Progressive Pictures Corporation. Over the next couple of years, the enterprise went through some financial turmoil as well as a management shakeup, including the exit of Judell and the arrival of producer Sigmund Neufeld. There were several name changes also - there was Producers Pictures ... then Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC) ... followed by Sigmund Neufeld Productions ... and lastly, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) which became a subsidiary of Pathe Industries, Inc.

Sigmund Neufeld (1896-1979) wound up as the PRC production boss overseeing most everything including their cowboy films. And quite often, those were directed by his brother, Sam Newfield (1899 - 1964) (real name: Samuel Neufeld). Newfield had been involved in films and directing since the silent days, and he had a reputation for doing quickies, cheapies, really low-budget flicks.

In the mid 1930s, Sam began specializing in B-westerns, and his directorial work included oaters starring Bob Steele, Johnny Mack Brown, Fred Scott, Kermit Maynard, Rex Bell, Ken Maynard, Tim McCoy, James Newill, Tex Fletcher, Lee Powell, Herb Jeffries, and others. Brother Sigmund was involved in the production on some of these. And yes! Newfield did direct the Jed Buell Midgets in the 1938 THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN.

It appears that the brothers had a close relationship and enjoyed working together. In 1940, Sigmund and Sam were on PRC's payroll. And Sam quickly became one of the more important and prolific of PRC's "house directors".

Over an approximate seven year period - from 1940 through late 1946 - the brothers were responsible for a Tim McCoy series, the half dozen Frontier Marshals trio westerns (with Bill 'Cowby Rambler' Boyd, Art Davis and Lee Powell), the Lone Rider adventures with George Houston and Bob Livingston, Bob Steele portraying Billy the Kid, and the long running Buster Crabbe Billy the Kid/Billy Carson westerns. There were also some non-westerns.

Want to know more on the life and career of director Sam Newfield, his producer brother Sigmund Neufeld, and Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)? Read the profile on Sam Newfield on the Old Corral.


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