|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.|
Left is Curley Baldwin and, on the right is Jack King, in a screen capture from Rex Bell's IDAHO KID (Colony, 1936).
Curly / Curley Baldwin
Jesse Arthur Baldwin
Jesse Arthur Swearingen
1882 or 1884 - 1945
A while back, I got an e-mail asking if I had info on a "Curley Baldwin" who appeared in several of Bill Cody's mid 1930s oaters.
Curley's real name was Jesse Arthur Swearingen ... not Jesse Arthur Baldwin. His World War II draft registration has a notation which confirms his surname: "Registrant advises Swearingen is legal name, Baldwin is name used in show business and the one he goes by at this time."
He was another of the wild west show performers who came to Hollywood during the silent era. Trade publications and newspapers had some blurbs:
- August 29, 1908 Billboard had reports from the Pawnee Bill Wild West show that "J. A. 'Curley' Baldwin ... is the victim of a very badly sprained foot - the result of a fall in the arena."
- January 10, 1914 Billboard: "Curley Baldwin, last season Two Bills cowboy, is temporarily in Pawnee Bill's home town with Tom Mix and his troupe of actors, making some Selig cowboy pictures." ("Two Bills" is the combined Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill Wild West show.)
- August 14, 1915 Billboard: "Milt Brown, Fred Burns, Ves Pegg, Pat Christman, Tom Mix, Joe Rickson, Bud Osborne, Art Acord, Bob Anderson and Curley Baldwin are cowboys who now follow the moving picture trail to success."
- May 12, 1917 issue of Motography had an article on Mary Pickford's birthday party for hubby Doublas Fairbanks and that "music was supplied by the Douglas Fairbanks Cowboy band which included Ed Burns, Tom Wilson, Monte Blue, Curly Baldwin, 'Red' Stevens and 'Panhandle' Williams."
- There were many 1917 - 1919 newspaper and trade publication mentions of Curley Baldwin at the Triangle film company doing movies with William Desmond, Jack Richardson, Roy Stewart, Texas Guinan, others.
- January, 1919 issue of Photoplay magazine had a multi-page article from director Cliff Smith titled "My Gang" - was all about the riders and stunt performers that Smith used in films. Members of Smith's "gang" included Pete Morrison, Bill Patton, and Curly Baldwin.
The 1920s are a blank. Then Curley shows up in mostly uncredited roles in about a dozen 1930s B westerns with Tim McCoy, Bob Steele, Rex Bell, Bill Cody, and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams. However, those few acting jobs didn't generate much income - in order to put groceries on the table, he had to have some other employment.
Author and researcher George A. Katchmer was also seeking biographical info on Curley in his book A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses (McFarland, 2002).
Curley was a member of the Riding Actors Association of Hollywood, a union type organization formed in 1933 with goals of better pay and safer working conditions. And he was also a member of the "Chuck Wagon Trailers", a group of western film old-timers, heroes, character, and bit players who socialized a few times a year at a BBQ and to remember the ol' days.
He passed away on July 8, 1945 from a heart attack at the home of a Miss Ramona Henderson, Altadena, California. His residence in those later years was the Rancho Los Amigos medical care / rehab facility near Hondo and Downey, California.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Curley Baldwin: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0049879/
Family Search and Ancestry.com had a few tidbits, including his real name of Jesse Arthur Swearingen and a 1918 marriage in Los Angeles to Lois Miller.
- January 17, 1918 Los Angeles marriage license of 35 year old Jesse A. Swearingen (single; born Illinois; occupation "Cattleman") and 27 year old Lois Miller (single; born Missouri). His parents were John Swearingen and N. A. Phinney: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8ZG-RQZ
- World War I draft registration dated September 12, 1918 - 34 year old Jesse Arthur Baldwin was born May 16, 1884, but no birth location is listed. He lives at 1330 South Olive Street, Los Angeles, California. Occupation and employer is "Motion Picture Actor" for "Triangle Film Company, Culver City, Los Angeles County, California". Contact is actor Duke R. Lee who is identified as "friend": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-91SP-GZL?i=429&cc=1968530
- Ancestry.com had the 1916 Los Angeles City Directory - Curley Baldwin, photo player, lives at 322 South Flower, Los Angeles.
- Ancestry.com had the 1920 Los Angeles City Directory - Jesse Baldwin, photoplayer, lives at 800 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.
- Ancestry.com had the 1936 Los Angeles Voter Registration - Jesse A. Baldwin, actor, lives at 6056 Carlton Way, Los Angeles.
- World War II draft registration dated April 25, 1942 - 59 year old Jesse Arthur Swearingen / Jesse Arthur Baldwin was born in Bloomington, Illinois on May 16, 1882. He lives at 692 North Los Robles, Pasadena, California and contact is Miss Ramona Henderson, Altadena, California. He's retired; 5 feet, 7 inches tall, and weighs 160 pounds; and he signs the registration as "Jesse Arthur Swearingen". On the back of the registration, there is this notation: "Registrant advises Swearingen is legal name, Baldwin is name used in show business and the one he goes by at this time.": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V48B-DSZ
- Death certificate for 83 year old Jesse Arthur Baldwin (also known as Jess Swearingen) - he died from "Coronary Heart Disease SUDDEN DEATH" on July 8, 1945 at the home of Miss Ramona Henderson, 1378 La Solana Drive, Los Angeles County, (Altadena) Pasadena Rural. Ramona Henderson was the death certificate informant. He was born May 16, 1862 in Bloomington, Illinois to unknown father and mother was Adelia Phinney (born New York). He was divorced and wife's name was unknown. Occupation was "Trickrider - Wild west show". His residence was Rancho Los Amigos, Hondo, California. Burial at Mountain View Cemetery. That 1862 birth year appears to be a typo error:
- California Death Index mirrors the death certificate including that 1862 birth year error - there are dual records for Jesse Arthur Baldwin and Jess Swearingen - he was born May 16, 1862 in Illinois, mother's maiden name was Phinney, and he passed away in the Los Angeles area on July 8, 1945:
- Rancho Los Amigos is a medical care / rehab facility near Hondo and Downey, California. B western players Lew Meehan and Steve Clemente passed away there. Info on Rancho Los Amigos at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancho_los_amigos
Fred Burns on the left and Curley Baldwin on the right in a screen capture from Bob Steele's SUNRISE TRAIL (Tiffany, 1931).
Dick Strong on the left and Curley Baldwin on the right in a screen capture from Bill Cody's OUTLAWS OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936).
Above are Curley Baldwin and Marion Shilling in a screen capture from Rex Bell's IDAHO KID (Colony, 1936).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are Curley Baldwin, Wally West, Bill Cody, Dick Strong, and Gordon Griffith in a still from Bill Cody's OUTLAWS OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936). This was Cody's last starring role.