(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Charles 'Charlie' King
Full name (from World War I military records and
World War I and World War II draft registrations):
Charles La Fayette King Jr.
1895 - 1957
If there was one actor who epitomized the bad guy of the B western, it was Charlie King. He was born Charles La Fayette King Jr. on February 21, 1895 in Whitesboro, Grayson County, Texas to Charles Lafayette King and Elizabeth Evelyn (Evie) Miller. Charlie's father was a doctor.
Scuttlebutt is that Charlie's earliest movie job MAY have been in D. W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915). When he registered for the World War I draft in 1917, King was employed as an actor by the Universal Film Co., Universal City, California. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy in August, 1918 and was discharged in early 1919.
In the mid to late 1920s, he starred in a batch of "Century Comedy" shorts produced by the Stern Brothers and released by Universal.
Above - 1926 tradepaper ad for the Stern Brothers' "The Excuse Makers" two-reel comedies starring Charlie King.
Below - King and Charles Dorety in the 1927 - 1928 Stern Brothers' "Mike and Ike" comedy shorts. Charlie played 'Mike'.
Another familiar face working for Stern Brothers and Universal was Syd Sailor and he starred in dozens of two-reel "Let George Do It" and "Newlyweds and Their Baby" comedy shorts.
When sound arrived, he came into his own as a western and serial villain, free lancing at Universal, Columbia, Monogram and Republic as well as lower budget stuff churned out by Tiffany, Colony, KBS WorldWide, PRC, more. You can also spot him doing character and bit parts in B melodramas, crime flicks, Three Stooges shorts, etc., and portraying a gang member, thug, driver ... or whatever role he could find.
Les Adams has King identified in about 350 sound era films, and of that number, 264 are westerns and 38 are serials. This includes about 45 westerns and chapterplays for Republic Pictures during the years 1935 - 1949.
I've always separated King's B western career into three rather arbitrary periods:
My fondest remembrances of Charlie are those great fights - where he would pummel - and be pummeled - by the likes of Bob Steele, Buster Crabbe and Tex Ritter. Easy to recall Charlie's long, straight hair flopping in his face during those wonderful fistic encounters. He's often tagged as a B western "punching bag". But Charlie was agile, cat-like, and a great screen brawler.
There were a few occasions when he wasn't doing villainy. Examples:
There's a chart below with statistics on his work with various B western heroes and series. Topping the "Charlie appeared most often with list" are Steele, Crabbe, Ritter, followed by Johnny Mack Brown, Ken Maynard, Tim McCoy, Buck Jones, Tom Tyler, and the Texas Rangers. As to directors that King worked for - the clear winner is prolific Sam Newfield (Neufeld). Charlie appeared in over sixty Newfield films, beginning with silent Stern Brothers comedies and continuing in the sound era with Crabbe, Steele, the Lone Rider series (George Houston and Bob Livingston), the Frontier Marshal trio, others. What's more interesting is the grocery list of people with whom he didn't work - ol' Charlie didn't do any Hopalong Cassidys or oaters with Reb Russell, Dick Foran, Allan Lane, several others.
Long, long time ago, I did an multi-issue article on Kermit Maynard for Norm Keitzer's Favorite Westerns (and Serial World) magazine. I spent a great deal of time visiting and chatting with Kerm's wife Edith Maynard who often accompanied her husband on location when he was starring in the mountie and western flicks in the 1930s for Maurice Conn's Ambassador Pictures. Edith recalled Charlie King as a nice, quiet, soft spoken fellah ... but one who would often join in a poker game while on location.
There were three marriages. He tied the knot with Pauline Dorothy Nelson on December 14, 1919 in Los Angeles and they had two sons, Charles King III (1910 - 1990) and William Nelson King (1923 - 2005). Both wound up in Hollywood with Charles III (Chuck) working as a sound technician and William was a cameraman. The marriage to Pauline ended circa 1923 and tradepapers reported that Charlie was often behind on his alimony payments. At the time of the 1930 census, the two sons were living apart. William was with with Pauline's mother in Long Beach, California while Charlie and Charles III were in Los Angeles. There was a 1927 marriage to Dorothy G. Klauber who acted on the stage under the name "Dorothy Murray". And sometime in the late 1920s - early 1930s, he married Ellen Etoile Dier and they had a son, Robert Lafayette King (1928 - 1999). They were still married in 1953 when Ellen visited her Canadian home and family. However, when Charlie passed away in 1957, he was divorced.
Various sources mention that King's wife was very assertive and would often accompany him when he picked up his paycheck ... which she immediately confiscated to ensure there were groceries in the house. If that story is true, she would be spouse #3, Ellen Etoile Dier.
Unhappy with life or lack of work, Charlie tried suicide ... but failed. Newspapers carried reports:
"HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 16 (1951) Cowboy actor Charles L. King, 56, was hospitalized today with a painful bullet wound suffered in an apparent attempt at suicide. King's family said he strode into the front room while they were watching television and announced 'I love you all, goodbye.' They heard a gunshot and found King wounded."
Years of alcohol abuse caught up with him and 62 year old Charlie King passed away on May 7, 1957 at the John Wesley County Hospital, Los Angeles. He - and his physician father - are interred at Oak Wood Cemetery, Whitesboro, Grayson County, Texas.
Looking back at all the cowboy movie villains that flashed across the silver screen, Charlie King ranks among the most memorable.
Tragedy struck the King family on June 29, 1990 when first son Charles III was shot and killed by an intruder in his Hollywood apartment. More on his death on a later webpage.
From Bobby J. Copeland:
Everyone knew Charlie was an alcoholic, but it was said it never affected his work. Although he worked in pictures for many years, he was often in need of money and 'hit on' his friends for loans that they knew would never be repaid. Movie badman Terry Frost told me "Charlie was a great guy, but he was an alcoholic. He tried to kill himself twice. One time he shot himself with a .22, and another time he climbed a tree and tried to hang himself. Either the limb or the rope broke and Charlie ended up with a broken leg".
Some claimed he died of a heart attack immediately after playing a corpse on the GUNSMOKE TV show. I think the reason this story got started was because there was a technician on the program named Charles King. Many feel that he was the one who played the corpse and when it was reported, people assumed it was Charlie King the actor. King worked in films under the name of Charles King and Charles King, Jr. Because he sometimes used the Jr., some historians have said that King's son worked in pictures. However, that is not the case as King and King, Jr. were one in the same. Circa 1990, King's son, Charles Lafayette King, III was murdered (shot in the chest). Some think that King, III, and Charles S. King (the informant on Charlie King's death certificate) were the same person.
From Minard Coons:
Minard chatted with Bob Steele at one of the 1970s film / nostalgia conventions, and Steele commented that "they would always do his fight scenes with Charlie King at the end of the filming. He and Charlie would go out and drink a little lunch then come back, do the scenes, and totally tear the place apart".
From Jim Martin:
Got an e-mail from Arizonian Jim Martin in July, 2001. Jim wrote: "About 1955 or 56 I went out to the San Fernando Valley to Menasco Steel Company and had to check in at the security guard's office in the rear before I could get in. The security guard was Charlie King. He was working there to supplement his retirement after leaving the movie business and continued working there till he died. We had quite a long conversation before I had to finish my business and talked a few more times after that when ever I got back there."
Charlie King's movie stats. A very busy guy.
Charlie's movie work from 1918 - 1953 in westerns, serials, shorts, other films. Does not include TV shows. I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database so the results may be a little skewed. Total films in this chart = 407.
|King did westerns with these heroes and series:|
|Bob Steele (30 films - includes the Trail Blazers and Three Mesquiteers series)|
|Tex Ritter (22 films - includes the Texas Rangers series)|
|Buster Crabbe (22 films in Crabbe's Billy the Kid / Billy Carson series at PRC)|
|Johnny Mack Brown (19 films at Supreme, Universal, Monogram)|
|Ken Maynard (18 films - includes the Trail Blazers series)|
|PRC's Texas Rangers series (17 films)|
|Buck Jones (16 films - includes the Rough Riders series)|
|Tim McCoy (14 films - includes the Rough Riders series)|
|Tom Tyler (12 films - includes the Three Mesquiteers series)|
|Hoot Gibson (12 films - includes the Trail Blazers series)|
|Wild Bill Elliott (10 films at Columbia and Republic)|
|Gene Autry at Republic (7 films)|
|PRC's Lone Rider series with George Houston (6 films) and Bob Livingston (2 films)|
|Jack Randall at Monogram (7 films)|
|Don Barry (6 films at Republic and Lippert)|
|Range Busters at Monogram (5 films)|
|Tom Keene (5 films at RKO, Crescent, Monogram)|
|John Wayne (4 films - includes 2 Republic solo oaters; one Three Mesquiteers; and a Mascot serial)|
|PRC's Frontier Marshal series (4 films)|
|Rex Bell (4 films)|
|Kermit Maynard (4 films)|
|Charles Starrett (3 films)|
|Jimmy Wakely (3 films)|
|At PRC with Eddie Dean (3 films) and Lash LaRue (1 film)|
|Fred Scott (2 films)|
|Whom didn't Charlie menace?|
|He didn't appear in any of the Hopalong Cassidy series. And none with Allan Lane, Monte Hale, Rex Allen, Whip Wilson, Dick Foran or Reb Russell. He did one with Bill Cody; one with Roy Rogers; one with Tom Mix (MIRACLE RIDER serial), one Sunset Carson; one Tim Holt; one with Kirby Grant at Universal; one with Rod Cameron at Allied Artists; and one George O'Brien.|
|Charlie's three wives and three sons:|
|Pauline Dorothy Nelson||Married December 14, 1919 and she and Charlie were together in the 1920 census. Divorced circa 1923.||Son Charles La Fayette King III (1920 - 1990) was born December 30, 1920 in Los Angeles and was a movie sound technician.
Son William Nelson King (1923 - 2005) was born June 12, 1923 in Los Angeles. He became William Nelson Clark and was a movie camera operator.
|Dorothy G. Klauber||Married April 5, 1927. Was an actress and her stage name was "Dorothy Murray" (she used her mother's maiden name of Murray). No information found on when she and Charlie divorced.|
|Ellen Etoile Dier||Charlie and Etoile were together in the 1930 and 1940 census, and they were still married in 1953 when she took a trip to Canada. No records found on their marriage and divorce.||Son Robert Lafayette King (1928 - 1999) was born February 9, 1928 in Los Angeles.|
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
B western baddie Charlie King: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0454559/
Sound technician Charles 'Chuck' King (1920 - 1990) (caution on this as the IMDb credits for him go beyond his death date): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0454383
Camera operator William Nelson King who became William Nelson Clark (1923 - 2005): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0164618
As mentioned, Charlie did over sixty films with director Sam Newfield (Neufeld): http://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0454559,nm0627864
Daniel Neyer's "The Files of Jerry Blake" website has lots of details on Charlie King in serials: https://filesofjerryblake.com/serial-henchmen/charles-king/
Charlie appeared in a few shorts with the Three Stooges: http://www.threestooges.net/cast/actor/33
The Internet Archive has many westerns featuring ol' Charlie: https://archive.org/details/moviesandfilms?&and=%22charles%20king%22#collection-date-archived