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(Image courtesy of Bill McCann)


Dave Smith resides in Indianapolis and has done extensive research on 'Hoosiers' (folks from Indiana), and specifically on Hoosiers in the film industry. Dave has a website (you'll find a link at the end of this Jones article) and has authored an extensive book on Indiana natives doing cinema titled Hoosiers in Hollywood.  The following on Buck Jones' early days is from Dave, and I thank him for providing this info:

Charles Frederick Gebhart, who later was known as Charles 'Buck' Jones and finally Buck Jones, was born December 12, 1891 in Vincennes, Indiana. He was the son of Charles and Evelyn Showers Gebhart. Shortly after his birth, his parents were divorced. His mother remarried. Buck was never happy with his mother's second marriage, so much so that he went to live with a couple in Vincennes who had a little General store.

Buck came to love these people as he worked in the store, took care of the horse and delivered groceries.

His stepfather was in the hardware business and when he had the opportunity to move to Indianapolis, he took it. Buck and his sister Ada moved to Indianapolis as well. Buck grew up in the area of North and Alabama streets in Indianapolis, attending school there until he was 12. His education would never go beyond the eighth grade. The Indianapolis News, in a regularly scheduled sketch called 'Hoosiers in Movieland' featured a brief biography of Buck on March 29, 1932. It stated at that time that Buck's sister Ada, who was then Mrs. Walter Mendell, still lived in Indianapolis at 127 E. St. Joseph Street. Some accounts state that the family moved to Oklahoma when Buck was about 12 years old. There is no evidence to support this.

The family apparently stayed in Indianapolis because his army records show he enlisted on January 5, 1907 in Indianapolis. He listed his occupation at that time as 'tin worker'. His height was 5' 7". He gave as his residence, 25 W. Walnut Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. He listed his mother as the person to be notified in case of an emergency. He gave her name as, Mrs. Eva McCammon. She signed a consent form certifying he was 18 years old. He was only 16. He was assigned to Troop G, 6th Regiment, United States Cavalry. He arrived in the Phillipine Islands October 9, 1907 and came back to the United States on December 14, 1909. He was honorably discharged as a private December 20, 1909 at Fort McDowell, California.

Again, Buck came back to Indianapolis. He had developed an affection for motor cars. He would be a car-tinkerer the rest of his life and even made two movies in which he portrayed a race driver. Due to his love of cars, he became acquainted with race driver Harry Stillman. According to Indianapolis Speedway historian Donald Davidson, Stillman never drove in the famous 500 mile race but did drive in other races held at the track in 1909 and 1910. Like many race drivers, Stillman tested cars on the track at a time when cars were going faster than the roads would allow. Davidson said, "Automobile manufacturers would send their cars to Indianapolis and let the test drivers 'stand on it' until the car blew up. Then they would try to find out why it blew up."

Through his friendship with Stillman, Buck was given a job with the Marmon Motor Company in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909. Various races were held there from the beginning, but the famous 500 mile race did not start until 1911. Buck test-drove Marmon cars around the Indianapolis oval before the 500 mile race was conceived and became an international event.

After a short stay in Indianapolis, he got restless again and re-joined the army. Again his military records state that he joined October 14, 1910 in Indianapolis and served as a Sergeant in the 6th Cavalry at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. His height was listed as 5' 9 3/4". This time he listed his next of kin as his sister, Ada Mendell and gave her address as 13 Kentucky Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana. He gave his age as 21 and listed his occupation as 'musician'. Under distinquishing marks, his application states there was a 3 inch scar on his lower right leg. This could have been from a wound he received while fighting in the Moro Insurrection on the Philippines. His wife stated that he was wounded. However his army records do not mention this.

On March 19, 1913, he requested a transfer to the Signal Corps Aviation Squad. He was transferred but as a Private and ordered to be assigned duty with the First Aero Squadron, Signal Corps. His reason for the transfer was that he wanted to learn to fly but unfortunately he found that only officers could become pilots. He was discharged from his last hitch in the armed forces in October, 1913 in Texas City, Texas. His rank at discharge was a Private and his character was listed as 'very good'. His service was listed as, 'honest, faithful, retained'.

After his discharge, Buck discovered that the 101 Wild West Show was appearing in Galveston. He got in touch with Joe Miller and joined the famous Miller Brothers 101 Ranch which was headquartered near Bliss, Oklahoma. He didn't know much about being a cowboy but he knew horses and he could ride well, thanks to his two hitches in the Cavalry. A history of the 101 Ranch by Collins and England states: "Charles 'Buck' Jones was another film luminary whose career began on the 101 Ranch. A backward country boy, just discharged from the army, approached Colonel Joe Miller and asked for a job. He was given the only opening ... the task of currying horses for the cowboys. Soon an opening occurred in the cowboy 'string' and Jones was given an outfit and a horse. He made a splendid arena performer."

While appearing in New York, a beautiful equestrienne named Odille Osborne, affectionately known as 'Dell', joined the show. In 1915 Dell left the 101 show to go with The Julia Allen Wild West Show. Buck followed her and got a job with the same show. Several months later they decided to get married. There was one problem. They had no money for a wedding. The owners of the show told them they would foot the bill if they would get married during an actual performance. Buck and Dell agreed. The wedding march was played by the show band. The bride and groom and minister were all on horseback. It was a spectacular wedding. Buck later said, "It took, and that's the main thing." (Note: the first name of Buck's wife 'Dell' is Odille with an i, not Odelle with an e.)

Eventually Buck and Dell formed their own family riding expedition circus and toured many towns in the west. For a short period, they joined the Ringling Brothers Circus. When the circus played Los Angeles, Dell was pregnant. Shortly before their first and only child (Maxine) was born, Buck decided to quit Ringling and try to find a job with the studios. Universal hired him as a $5.00 a day bit player and stunt man. After a short stay at Universal, Buck moved to Canyon Pictures to support western star Franklyn Farnum. The films he made there were all shorts (two-reelers) but Buck was working steadily. When his Canyon contract expired, he found work at Fox as a $40.00 a week stuntman. In this capacity he appeared in several Tom Mix and William Farnum films.

He finally was able to get his salary up to $150.00 a week. It was at this time that studio head William Fox decided he needed a back-up in case he lost Tom Mix. Mix was causing trouble at Fox with his increasing salary demands. William Fox took notice of Buck. Buck was personable, good looking, had acting experience and seemed to do it well. Fox made Buck a star. At this time he was listed in the credits as Charles 'Buck' Jones. Buck's first starring film, THE LAST STRAW, was released in 1920. Audiences responded favorably and William Fox was elated.

As Buck's pictures for Fox continued to be well received, his salary soared to $3500.00 a week. Despite the fact they were now competitors, Buck and Tom Mix remained best friends. Each respected the other's talents. Buck made at least sixty silent films for Fox. He worked with many directors including fellow Hoosier Lambert Hillyer. Hillyer directed as well as wrote western screenplays. Buck could ride and fight with the best and seldom used a double. Because he had developed into such a good actor, he was given the opportunity to appear in several non-westerns. Film historian William K. Everson says of Buck's acting ability "... he was a serious actor, one of the best among Western stars". He also had a flair for comedy and preferred to do the comic relief himself instead of having a side-kick like so many other western stars. His was a folksy humor, unstressed and similar to that of Will Rogers.

In 1925 Buck made three films with 17 year-old Carol Lombard (at that time she had not added the 'e' to Carol). Lombard, the former Jane Peters from Fort Wayne, had a bit part in GOLD AND THE GIRL and DURAND OF THE BADLANDS but was given a feature role in HEARTS AND SPURS. In this film, Buck plays an honest cowboy who saves Lombard's life and then falls in love with her. 1925 was a busy year for Lombard. She also appeared that year in DICK TURPIN with Buck's competitor Tom Mix.

Buck and Carole Lombard were part of an 'Indiana Colony' in Hollywood in the twenties and thirties. The list included John Bowers, Howard Hawks, Monte Blue, 'Skeets' Gallagher, Charles Butterworth, Raymond Walburn, Ken and Kermit Maynard and Carmelita Geraghty. They frequently helped each other move ahead in the competitive world that was Hollywood. Jones not only gave Lombard a chance to appear in three of his films, he put Carmelita Geraghty (of Rushville, Indiana) in two of his films. Carmelita also appeared with Ken Maynard in FIGHTIN' THRU in 1930.

By 1928 things were going so well, Buck decided to leave Fox and form his own production company. His first film was THE BIG HOP. In it he played a cowboy who was also an airplane pilot. It was released as a silent film but sound was catching on so fast, Buck had to hurriedly add sound to it although it had no spoken dialogue. The film was not received well. On top of that, the great depression hit and Buck lost a lot of money in the crash of the stock market. His venture into independent film making was a disaster.

Following the failure of his first independent film, Buck decided to try to form his own wild west show. It was a huge show, transported by a fifteen car train. Buck performed on 'Silver'. Dell performed on her horse 'Bumper', and even 11 year old Maxine rode her pony in the show. For a variety of reasons, including financial mismanagement by the man Buck hired to run the show, the tour lasted only two months. Buck would never again form his own road show. He knew he had to go back to the studios.

Dave Smith
May, 2000



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