To Henchie Homepage


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.


The Sowards Brothers from Missouri - George and Len / Lem Sowards



1945
George Sowards
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:

  • 1900 census: 36 year old Isaac V. Sowards (born Missouri), 34 year old wife Sarah J. (born Missouri), 26 year old brother Joseph Sowards (born Missouri), and a boarder are living in Dewey County, Oklahoma Territory. There are four children, all born in Missouri: 14 year old daughter Bessie E., 11 year old son George A., 7 year old son Leonard J., and 5 year old son Jessie M.: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMG6-7GD
    1900 census takers worksheet: father Isaac's occupation is a "sawyer" (lumber cutter/sawmill job): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11088-22180-62?cc=1325221&wc=MMPN-58G:n1303771654
  • World War I draft registration dated June, 1917: George Albert Sowards was born November 27, 1888 in Denver, Missouri. He is living in Pioche, Nevada; is married; and occupation is "Section hand Railroad": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-26275-13901-29?cc=1968530
  • 1920 census: 31 year old George Sowards, his 27 year old wife Edna E. (born Nebraska), 20 year old sister-in-law Ruth Cielke (born Nebraska), and 5 11/12 year old niece-in-law Irma L. Champion (born California) reside in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MHQN-9FX
    Ancestry had the census takers worksheet: they are renting at 5750 Waring Ave, Los Angeles. George lists his occupation as "Actor - Motion Pictures". The occupation of the three women is "Actress - Motion Pictures".
  • 1930 census: 41 year old George Soward [sic] (no S at the end of his last name; born Missouri), 37 year old wife Edna (born Nebraska), 4 year old daughter Millicent (born California), and George's 36 year old brother Leonard Soward (born Missouri) are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XCV9-XNW
    Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet and their last name is spelled Soward without an S at the end. George and family are renting at 6115 Waring Avenue, Los Angeles. The occupations for George and Leonard are "Caretaker - Movie Horses". In answer to the "are you a veteran question", George said "No" and Leonard said "Yes" (meaning WW1 military service).
  • 1940 census: 51 year old George A. Sowards (born Missouri), 36 year old wife Irene E. (born Minnesota), George's 47 year old brother James L. Sowards (born Missouri) and 23 year old nephew George M. Sowards (born Oklahoma) are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9CX-NMN
    1940 census takers worksheet: George and Irene Sowards own their home at 6115 Waring, Los Angeles, and they lived there in 1935. George's occupation is "Extra - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 26 weeks and earned $2200.00. His brother James is also an "Extra - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 10 weeks and earned $400.00. Occupation of nephew George M. is "Light Truck Driver": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-27797-3559-47?cc=2000219&wc=M9Q8-YV6:n1016137700
  • 1942 World War II draft registration: George Albert Sowards is living at 6115 Waring, Los Angeles. His birth date and location are November 27, 1888 in Denver, Missouri, and his employer/occupation is "Central Casting Corporation - Motion Picture Extra". His contact is wife Irene Colleen Sowards at 6115 Waring, Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-16414-38049-84?cc=1861144&wc=MMRW-1RB:n128971228
  • The December 22, 1975 edition of the Los Angeles Times newspaper carried a (very brief) funeral notice:
         SOWARDS, George Albert
         Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills
  • You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the California Death Records database and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). There you will find records for George A. Sowards, born November 27, 1888 in Missouri, and passed away on December 20, 1975 in the Los Angeles area.

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)
1959
Len Sowards

sometimes spelled Soward
sometimes referred to as "Lem"

Full name: James Leonard Sowards

1892-1962

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:

  • 1900 census: 36 year old Isaac V. Sowards (born Missouri), 34 year old wife Sarah J. (born Missouri), 26 year old brother Joseph Sowards (born Missouri), and a boarder are living in Dewey County, Oklahoma Territory. There are four children, all born in Missouri: 14 year old daughter Bessie E., 11 year old son George A., 7 year old son Leonard J., and 5 year old son Jessie M.: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMG6-7GD
    1900 census takers worksheet: father Isaac's occupation is a "sawyer" (lumber cutter/sawmill type job): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11088-22180-62?cc=1325221&wc=MMPN-58G:n1303771654
  • World War I draft registration dated June, 1917: 24 year old James Leonard Sowards was born October 17, 1892 in Gentry County, Missouri. He is not married; and he is a farmer living in Cashion, Oklahoma: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-25084-2253-20?cc=1968530
  • 1920 census: 56 year old I. V. Sawards [sic] (born Missouri), his 54 year old wife Jennie (born Missouri), and 27 year old son J. L. Sawards (born Missouri) reside in Logan, Kingfisher, Oklahoma: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MJMQ-PTH
    Ancestry had the census takers worksheet for the Sawards [sic] family in Oklahoma (also listed under the incorrect spelling of Sawards). The occupation of father Isaac is "farming".
  • 1930 census: 41 year old George Soward [sic] (no S at the end of his last name; born Missouri), 37 year old wife Edna (born Nebraska), 4 year old daughter Millicent (born California), and George's 36 year old brother Leonard Soward (born Missouri) are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XCV9-XNW
    Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet and their last name is spelled Soward without an S at the end. George and family are renting at 6115 Waring Avenue, Los Angeles. The occupations for George and Leonard are "Caretaker - Movie Horses". In answer to the "are you a veteran question", George said "No" and Leonard said "Yes" (meaning WW1 military service).
  • 1940 census: 51 year old George A. Sowards (born Missouri), 36 year old wife Irene E. (born Minnesota), George's 47 year old brother James L. Sowards (born Missouri) and 23 year old nephew George M. Sowards (born Oklahoma) are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9CX-NMN
    1940 census takers worksheet: George and Irene Sowards own their home at 6115 Waring, Los Angeles, and they lived there in 1935. George's occupation is "Extra - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 26 weeks and earned $2200.00. His brother James is also an "Extra - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 10 weeks and earned $400.00. Occupation of nephew George M. is "Light Truck Driver": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-27797-3559-47?cc=2000219&wc=M9Q8-YV6:n1016137700
  • You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the California Death Records database and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). There you will find records for James L. Sowards, born 10/17/1892 in Missouri, mother's maiden name of Jones, and he passed away on 8/20/1962 in the Los Angeles area.
  • Ancestry has the grave marker/headstone application for U.S. Navy veteran James Leonard Sowards, born October 17, 1892, and died August 20, 1962. He was a U. S. Navy Seaman second class and served from December 6, 1917 to December 26, 1918.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a gravesite locator at: http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/
    There, you will find a record for:
    SOWARDS, JAMES LEONARD
    S 2/C US NAVY
    WORLD WAR I
    DATE OF BIRTH: 10/17/1892
    DATE OF DEATH: 08/20/1962
    BURIED AT: SECTION 151 ROW Y SITE 19
    LOS ANGELES NATIONAL CEMETERY
    950 SOUTH SEPULVEDA BOULEVARD, LOS ANGELES, CA 90049

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).



To Henchie Homepage