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(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are bartender Ethan Laidlaw, Starrett, Forbes Murray, Edward LeSaint, Edmund Cobb and Edward Peil in SPOILERS OF THE RANGE (Columbia, 1939).

No singer himself, his westerns nevertheless reflected the public's new interest in singing cowboys since the successful advent of Gene Autry in 1935. A definite plus factor to the early Starrett's was the inclusion of the popular new group, the Sons of the Pioneers (Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Hugh and Karl Farr and Len Slye --- soon to become Roy Rogers.). Charlie explained, "Columbia had built up quite a musical department because Grace Moore (the popular Metropolitan Opera star) was under contract. (Studio head) Harry Cohn wanted only the best for her. Altho she made only a few pictures, the music department was headed by Morris Stoloff, a very fine musical director --- and he stayed on. He took the Pioneers when they first came and coached them and it paid off".

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above, the Sons of the Pioneers at Columbia with Charles Starrett --- from L-to-R are: Karl Farr, Tim Spencer, Lloyd Perryman, Starrett, Bob Nolan, Pat Brady, and Hugh Farr.  Their association with Columbia began around 1935 and continued until the early 1940s, when they moved to Republic to help Roy Rogers.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

In the front row are Sons of the Pioneers member Bob Nolan (on the paint hoss), Iris Meredith and Charles Starrett in a lobby card from BLAZING SIX SHOOTERS (Columbia, 1940). In the back row are several other members of the Sons of the Pioneers - Lloyd Perryman (far left), Tim Spencer is behind Nolan, two unidentifieds are behind Iris and Starrett, and Hugh Farr is on the far right.

At one of the several western film festivals Starrett attended in the '80s, Charles groaned, "It was tough making westerns. I got up at 5 o'clock to be on location about 6:30 so we could start shooting at 7 to get all the sunlight possible. We even worked Saturdays and usually put in 70-80 hours a week --- but I thoroughly enjoyed making them. My first western cost about $150,000 and took about three weeks to complete, which was pretty good compared to some of the others being shot in 5-6 days. As the years went by production costs rose and the studio trimmed the shooting schedule. We took 18 days --- then 16 and less. The scripts became tight and sometimes, in the later Durango Kids, we used scenes filmed for other pictures to compensate for lost time --- or to save money. When I left in 1952 the budgets were quite high and we were shooting a picture in 7-10 days."

Before settling on the Durango Kid character in 1945, Columbia experimented with several ideas for Starrett's westerns. In some he was a Mountie, in a few Charlie was a wandering cowboy doctor. THE MEDICO OF PAINTED SPRINGS ('41) and THUNDER OVER THE PRAIRIE ('41) were two of these ill received entries. Figuring two stars are better than one, Columbia mogul Harry Cohn gave Starrett a two fisted partner in Russell Hayden, fresh from the Hopalong Cassidy series at Paramount. The duo made eight brawlin', rip snortin', frenzy paced, action sagas that made up for the slower paced Medico series. On the strength of these, Columbia gave Hayden his own series in 1942.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Starrett and Russell Hayden in OVERLAND TO DEADWOOD (Columbia, 1942). After eight as the second lead with Starrett, Hayden got his own starring series at Columbia.

When Starrett portrayed the black clad and masked Durango Kid, he rode a white steed named Raider.

(From Old Corral image collection)

(From Old Corral image collection)
When Charles Starrett was without the Durango Kid mask, he rode a hoss named Bullet.

Tex Harding
(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is Starrett's singin' sidekick Tex Harding (real name: John Thye). Recent information (late 2003) indicates that Harding's singing voice may have been dubbed and the real voice doing Tex's songs belonged to James T. 'Bud' Nelson (born January 28, 1914, Brooklyn, New York, passed away March 13, 1994, Las Vegas, Nevada). Nelson did appear onscreen in bit and background roles in several of the Durango Kid films. If more info on Tex Harding's "singing" becomes available, we'll add it.

Les Adams adds some trivia about Harding: "Dorothy Dix, the leading lady to Ken Maynard in WHEELS OF DESTINY and DRUM TAPS, Gene Autry in GUNS AND GUITARS, Bob Steele in NEVADA BUCKAROO, and Buck Jones in SUNSET OF POWER was Tex Harding's sister. Must have been quite a gap in their ages as she made her last film in 1936 and his first was 1945."
Starrett had gone through a succession of sidekicks since 1935 (Bob Nolan, Donald Grayson, Hank Bell and Cliff 'Ukulele Ike' Edwards (famous later as the Disney PINOCCHIO voice of Jiminy Cricket) and was now paired with a young Arthur Hunnicutt, later to be nominated in 1952 for best supporting actor in Kirk Douglas' THE BIG SKY.

A succession of musical personalities were featured in these films including Jimmy Wakely, Ernest Tubb, Jimmie Davis (later Governor of Louisiana), Texas Jim Lewis and Foy Willing (later the nucleus of the Riders of the Purple Sage).

In 1945, Mascot serial graduate Colbert Clark joined Columbia as new producer of the Starrett westerns. Comedy sidekick Dub Taylor had joined the roster when Hunnicutt left to pursue bigger films and now Clark added singer Tex Harding to the mix to supplement the customary musical groups - Spade Cooley, Bob Wills and Merle Travis.

Clark reactivated a crusading character Starrett had played in a single earlier 1940 film, THE DURANGO KID. Scripter J. Benton Cheney fleshed out the idea of a masked, clad in black, mysterious Zorroish avenger for THE RETURN OF THE DURANGO KID. The character was an immediate hit with Saturday afternoon youngsters and a decision was made to continue the character, which Columbia did for an unprecedented 64 series westerns over the next seven years. Charlie once laughed, "We just stumbled on the idea. It caught on with the boys and girls and the exhibitors kept asking for more of the same."

After Tex Harding completed eight, the cowboy crooner vanished never to be heard from again. According to some co-workers, his ego got in the way. Dub Taylor also left the series in 1946 to join Jimmy Wakely at Monogram. "I hated to see Dub go - he was a good musician as well as a good actor. I begged studio bosses to keep him but they said, 'They're a dime a dozen.' Dub went on to do some excellent character roles."

Ex Gene Autry/Sunset Carson Republic Pictures sidekick, Smiley Burnette, was brought over to Columbia by the smell of more money to replace Taylor. The winning formula of fast action, western music and lowbrow comedy was now in place and altho Starrett and Burnette weren't exactly the best of friends off screen, they had a mutual respect for what each brought to the highly successful Durango Kid series.

Starrett once admitted, "Smiley and I got off on the wrong foot with each other. About the second picture, Smiley came over to me while I was sitting in the shade on location and sat down beside me. I could tell something was on his mind. He said, 'I understand your pictures aren't doing too well and I'm here as a shot in the arm.' Well, that didn't sit very well with me after ten years at the studio, and they had just exercised their option. Things were a little cool after that but it didn't prevent us from working together. I grew to take Smiley in stride and I guess he did the same. As time went on we found it mutually beneficial to work together and I found I could kid with him. If he'd fluff a line, I'd say, 'Smiley, come on, you're supposed to be a shot in the arm. Get going!' We were both trying to make a good picture. He was probably his own worst enemy. He was on the defensive a lot of times with people. Smiley worked too hard for Smiley. He could be a 'take charge' person."

Invariably cast as Steve (Larkin, Warren, Clayton, Ramsey, whatever --- the last name varied), Starrett assumed a dual personality as the black masked Durango Kid, the mere mention of whose name struck terror into the hearts of regular heavies like Bob Wilke, Forrest Taylor, Jack Ingram, George Chesebro, Zon Murray and John Cason. The plots were interchangeable, with the scripts (often by prolific Barry Shipman) placing the emphasis on action instead of logic.

(From Old Corral image collection)

RUSTLERS OF THE BADLANDS (Columbia, 1945) was one of the earlier Durango Kid escapades and featured Tex Harding as Charles Starrett's saddle pal.

(Pressbook ad courtesy of Les Adams)
(From Old Corral image collection)

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