Back to prior page            Go to next page




(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is the title lobby card from WILD WEST DAYS (Universal, 1937), 13 chapters, directed by Ford Beebe and Cliff Smith. This was Brown's second serial for Universal. Take a look at the spelling of his name - this was when he was John Mack Brown, not Johnny.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Eleanor Hansen, Tom Steele, Brown, Ed Cassidy, William Royle, Charlie Stevens and James Blaine in a scene from the cliffhanger FLAMING FRONTIERS (Universal, 1938).


The Hackel westerns and Universal serials had one major impact --- Johnny Mack Brown was on the screen a lot!  And that translated into fan acceptance and popularity.  As a result, he was given an opportunity to star in a new series at Universal.

The priority and value of B westerns at Universal had ebbed and flowed with their financial success or problems during the 1930s.  Early in that decade, the studio was home to some high quality sagebrush yarns with Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and Buck Jones. Around 1937, Universal decided to begin a singing cowboy series, and Bob Baker became their new range star.  But there were problems, and Brown was brought in to shore up the series.  Baker was demoted to second-lead and Fuzzy Knight became the comedic member of the new trio.  After a half dozen films, Baker wound up looking for work elsewhere, and Brown was promoted to Universal's new solo hero.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)
During the period 1939-1943, JMB starred in 28 western features for Universal --- six with Bob Baker, fifteen as the lone hero, and a final seven with Tex Ritter as the co-star.  Nell O'Day, Jennifer Holt and Fuzzy Knight were among the most frequent cast members.

Ritter had come aboard after completing a series at Columbia with Bill Elliott. Johnny Mack's first starring western at Universal was DESPERATE TRAILS (Universal, 1939) and his last was RAIDERS OF SAN JOAQUIN (Universal, 1943). He also appeared in the Abbott & Costello comedy RIDE 'EM COWBOY (Universal, 1942).



This was Brown's first series western at Universal.  Note the spelling of his first name as John, not Johnny.
 

Brown, now billed as Johnny, gets help from Tex Ritter and the Jimmy Wakely Trio (Wakely, Johnny Bond and Scotty Harrell).


During the World War II years, Universal was going through another shift in priorities and their horror production unit was given new life.  Little Monogram Pictures had brought out the Rough Riders series in 1941-1942, which starred old timers Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton.  But Jones had been killed in the November, 1942 Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, and Colonel Tim McCoy was called back to Army duty for WW2.  Scott R. Dunlap, Monogram's production boss, needed a quick replacement for the Rough Riders ... someone who was already a recognized star and had a box office following.

And so, Johnny Mack Brown signed with Monogram Pictures and he would remain on their payroll for about ten years.  In 1943, the last of Brown's Universal films were in theaters.  At the same time, his initial Monogram entries were being released.





(From Old Corral image collection)


The decision to hire Brown turned out to be correct and timely, as the veteran cowboy star would become even more important to Monogram.  Their other trio series, the Range Busters, concluded filming in late 1942, with the last film in the series hitting the silver screen in early 1943.  Monogram really needed Johnny Mack.

The initial batch of stories and scripts were leftovers from the defunct Rough Riders series.  And Ray Hatton became Brown's sidekick 'Sandy Hopkins', the same role he had in the Rough Riders.

As mentioned, Brown's most notable sidekick was Raymond Hatton, a screen veteran and onetime member of Republic's Three Mesquiteers.  Former Three Mesquiteer and Range Busters star Max Terhune replaced Hatton in some of the later films.  And Jimmy Ellison, the one-time saddle pal to William 'Hopalong Cassidy' Boyd, turned up as Brown's assistant toward the end of the series.

The color photo on the left is JMB from his Monogram days, and note that the shirt, hat and necktie are the same as in the JMB/Hatton horseback photo shown below.

Brown's first for Monogram was THE GHOST RIDER (Monogram, 1943), and his character in the early entries was named 'Nevada Jack McKenzie'.  His last at Monogram, and finale as a screen hero, was CANYON AMBUSH (Monogram, 1952).  In between, there were 60+ westerns.

Bob Tomko is a tried and true Johnny Mack Brown fan, and points out that Monogram tried JMB in two singin' oaters released in 1946, UNDER ARIZONA SKIES and DRIFTING ALONG.  Both also included one-time cowboy hero and former big band singer/leader Smith Ballew in the cast.  Apparently the fan reaction was lukewarm, and Monogram dropped further plans to add musical numbers to the JMB westerns (leaving that job to their real singin' cowboy, Jimmy Wakely).  In UNDER ARIZONA SKIES, Ballew does several tunes. But in DRIFTING ALONG, an uncomfortable JMB does some singing ... but the voice isn't his. The person doing the singing was probably Curt Barrett, the leader of the Trailsmen singin' group (the Trailsmen appeared in that film).



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, Johnny Mack Brown is atop Reno/Rebel and saddle pal Raymond Hatton is riding Lucky/Tex during their series at Monogram Pictures.  Jimmy Wakely and Jack Randall also rode Lucky in some of their Monogram westerns, and John 'Dusty' King rode the same horse during his time as a member of Monogram's Range Busters.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is the title lobby card to THE LOST TRAIL (Monogram, 1945), one of the Monograms in which Brown portrayed Marshal 'Nevada' Jack McKenzie.



Back to prior page            Go to next page