|Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.|
sometimes spelled Soward
Full name: George Albert Sowards
1888 - 1975
In the sound era, he appeared in at least 68 westerns and 5 serials, and his career ran from the 1920s through some movie and various TV roles in the mid 1960s.
George Sowards hailed from Missouri. He was another of the B western background performers who essayed roles as a henchman, barfly, cowhand, townsman, etc. One of his specialties was driving stagecoaches and wagons. George was married, living in Nevada, and a railroad section hand when he registered for the World War I draft in 1917. At the time of the 1920 census, he and wife Edna were in Hollywood, and George was beginning his movie career.
George - and his younger brother James Leonard Sowards - were officers in the Riding Actors Association of Hollywood, a union type organization formed in 1933 with goals of better pay, safer working conditions, and having some direct involvement/oversight with the production folks that were planning and filming dangerous and complex scenes and stunts. In the 1952 Hollywood Reporter Production Encyclopedia, George is listed as a director of the Screen Extras Guild.
Les Adams has George identified in about 75 sound films - that number includes 68 westerns and 5 cliffhangers. Most of his movie roles were uncredited. Since he could handle a wagon or stage, there's probably a bunch of films in which he appeared, but he's not recognized. As the B western faded away in the late 1940s-early 1950s, George migrated to television, playing townsman, barfly, etc. in various programs.
Phil Arnold is in contact with Jimmie Booth, a 1950s-1970s cowboy actor who came in at the very end of B-Westerns and even did the final few Gene Autry films. Mr. Booth was friends with George and mentioned this a little bit back:
"George was one of Jimmie Booth's friends, although George was at least a couple of generations older. They became acquainted through their mutual work at Paramount studios driving teams of horses in movies and TV series. Jimmie said George was one of the most respected teamsters of his era, the 1930's and 1940's, driving hitches of four, six or eight horses. He told Jimmie he learned his trade in the mid-west driving freight wagons and hauling logs with teams of horses in the 1920's and 1930's."
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on George Sowards: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0816347/
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), ProQuest obituaries, California Death Records database, and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) have info on George Sowards:
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a picture of the grave marker for George Albert Sowards who is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=85943072
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - George Sowards is handling the reins of the stage in this still from an unidentified early 1950s western.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - James Ellison in his buckskins has the drop on Russell Hayden, and on the far left is Raymond Hatton (wearing blue suit) and I. Stanford Jolley (in bar apron). Background performers include George Sowards (red shirt) and Carl Mathews (white hat behind Ellison).
COLORADO RANGER (Lippert, 1950) was one of the six quickies that former Hopalong Cassidy saddle pals Russell Hayden and James Ellison made for producer Ron Ormond and director Thomas Carr.
Blowup/crop of George Sowards shown on the left.
(Courtesy of May Bopp, Bob Burns' daughter)
Above are the Riding Actors Association officers for 1937 and both Sowards brothers were officers in the organization.
Top row left to right are: George Sowards, Buck Bucko, Tommy Coats, Bud Rae, Henry Morris, Joe Balch and Bob Burns.
Bottom row left to right are: Len / Lem Sowards (Treasurer), Cliff Smith (President), Ed Clay (Vice President) and John Judd (Secretary).
George and Len / Lem Sowards were brothers. Below is a crop/blowup with a closer view of the faces.
Though identified as Lem Sowards in the handwritten names on this photo, the official Riding Actors Association letterhead had his name spelled as Len Sowards.
Top left is George Sowards.
Bottom left is Len / Lem Sowards.
(Courtesy of Phil Arnold)
sometimes spelled Soward
sometimes referred to as "Lem"
Full name: James Leonard Sowards
|James Leonard Sowards remains a mystery face in westerns, and we're still trying to identify his appearances in films and TV. He has lots more movie and television to add to his meager listing on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).|
While brother George was in Hollywood circa 1920, Len was living with his parents in Oklahoma, and probably helping on their farm. He moved to California in the mid 1920s, perhaps due to a suggestion from his brother. Len was single and in the census for 1930 and 1940, he was living with George and family. He must have found some respect as he was an officer of the Riding Actors Association of Hollywood (photo above).
There is a bit of confusion with his nickname - was it Lem or Len? Most probably, it was Len (with an N, short for Leonard). Phil Arnold mentioned that "his credited part in the Al Hoxie RED BLOOD (Rayart, 1926) list him as Len Sowards so I suspect it's Len".
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has (very limited) information on James Leonard Sowards (1892-1962): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0816349/
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Records database, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have info on James Leonard Sowards:
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website notes that World War I Navy veteran James Leonard Sowards is interred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, 950 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=80891691
(Courtesy of Phil Arnold)
Above left is Lem / Len Sowards in an uncredited role (with an unidentified mustache guy) in the Lash LaRue KING OF THE BULLWHIP (Western Adventure, 1950).