(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
|George Houston, with twin sixguns and one of those western shirts with a storm flap which I call "shirt with many buttons".|
Ultimately, PRC and Houston got together. PRC decided to get into singing cowboy films and Houston was selected for the role of Tom Cameron, the 'Lone Rider'. This selection may have occurred because director Sam Newfield was at PRC and remembered George from their earlier Hickok film collaboration. October, 1940 issues of Film Daily and Motion Picture Daily had blurbs on Houston signing with Producers Releasing Corporation as the star of six Lone Rider musical westerns to be produced by Sigmund Neufeld.
In early 1941, the inital entry, THE LONE RIDER RIDES ON (PRC, 1941), hit the screen. About two years later, the last Houston/Lone Rider epic, OUTLAWS OF BOULDER PASS (PRC, 1942), was released. Houston starred in eleven films, all of which featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as his sidekick. About midway through the series, Dennis Moore was brought in as a helper, probably to add some action content and improve the saleability of the films to the distributors, and ultimately to the movie theaters.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is the title lobby card from THE LONE RIDER AMBUSHED (PRC, 1941). In this yarn, Houston has a dual role - as Tom Cameron (The Lone Rider) and the outlaw Keno Harris. From L-to-R are George Chesebro, Jack Ingram, Frank Hagney (kneeling) and an unidentified performer. In the inset on the lower left, Houston is about to launch a right hand at an unidentified player, while Jack Ingram and barkeep Ralph Peters look on. Notice anything unusual about the large image of Houston on the right? Take a look at his six-shooter. Appears this image of George has been reversed. Not the first error in a lobby card or poster - click HERE for a Tom Keene Monogram lobby card and take a look at which side the holsters are slung.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is the title lobby card to BORDER ROUNDUP (PRC, 1942). On the left is Houston with the drop on I. Stanford Jolley. On the right is heroine Patricia Knox assisting injured John Elliott. Notice the billing for Dennis Moore as "Smoky Moore".
George Houston's time as a Hollywood cowboy was over with OUTLAWS OF BOULDER PASS (PRC, 1942). A month or two later, PRC released another Lone Rider adventure, OVERLAND STAGECOACH (1942). 'Fuzzy' St. John and Dennis Moore were still there, but former Republic leading man Bob Livingston was the new Lone Rider.
Supposedly Houston was not happy laboring for the small wages at PRC, and his real love was the stage, light opera, et al. Did Houston quit ... or did PRC opt not to renew his contract? No rock solid answers here - my guess is that when Bob Livingston became available, Houston was expendable. Livingston had more fan appeal and better credentials, having been the Lone Ranger and a Three Mesquiteer ... and he was looking for work after being released by Republic Pictures. Another guess is that Houston's melodic pipes and singing were just too formal (opera sounding) for the kiddies attending the Saturday matinees.
I've always divided the cowboy songsters into two groupings. There were several that had a country/western/downhome singin' approach, and Autry, Ritter, Rogers, Eddie Dean and Jimmy Wakely are among that bunch. The other group had styles and voices which just didn't seem to fit the sagebrush hero mold, and among these movie cowboys are Dick Foran, Fred Scott, Jack Randall ... and George Houston. (A variety of authors relate that some of these cowboy crooners had the "Nelson Eddy style" --- a powerful, booming voice which was fine for MGM musicals and the stage, but inappropriate for the lowly western programmer.)
And yes --- there was a Lone Rider theme song which Houston belted out over the opening credits, and the opening titles credit Johnny Lange and Lew Porter for the music and lyrics in the films. The Lone Rider theme went like this:
Bob Livingston's time as PRC's Lone Rider would also be brief, as Republic would coax him back into service to take over the failing 'John Paul Revere' series which had starred Eddie Dew. After Livingston exited, PRC dropped the Lone Rider, and concentrated on other series westerns (such as the Billy the Kid/Billy Carson westerns with Buster Crabbe and Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as well as the Texas Rangers trio group which featured Dave O'Brien, Jim Newill and Guy Wilkerson). PRC would continue to experiment with singing cowboys --- they would hire Tex Ritter to bolster the Texas Rangers, and Eddie Dean would begin a new group of melodic cowboy flicks in 1945.
On November 12, 1944, roughly two years after the release of his last Lone Rider film, George Houston collapsed and passed away from a heart attack. Bill Sasser was able to supply an obituary on Houston, and that confirms the November 12, 1944 death date. At the time of his passing, Houston was married to light opera singer Virginia Card.
Over seventy years have passed since Houston rode the dusty trails as PRC's Lone Rider. Houston, and his sagebrush efforts, have generally been forgotten except to the more serious or curious fan of the B western. Al 'Fuzzy' St. John is remembered as one of the best of the cowboy sidekicks, and his Lone Rider work, with both Houston and Livingston, provides further screen time to develop and showcase his comedy talents.
The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual poll results would list the "Top Ten" (or "Top Five") cowboy film stars. In most cases, the winners were what you would expect --- Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc. George Houston never achieved a ranking in those polls. Only a few of PRC's western heroes ever attained a ranking in those polls --- Tex Ritter made the list in 1944 and '45 while in the Texas Ranger series and Eddie Dean did it in 1946 and '47. Lash LaRue was never among the top ranked cowboy stars.
The Screenland Plus TV-Land magazine from March, 1956 has a two-page article on actor, singer, and MGM musical star Howard Keel who praises George Houston and the early help he (and others) received from George. Following is an excerpt from the beginning of the article:
"George helped so many young singers when they needed help most - early in their careers. I was lucky enough to be one of them and I can never adequately express my gratitude to him ... He was never a professional teacher. He never charged or accepted fees. But he taught us so much."
Lots of accolades for Houston in this writeup ... and a nice legacy. Keel also notes that John Raitt was another who was helped by Houston. If anyone would like a copy of the article, shoot an e-mail to the Old Corral webmeister.
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), tradepaper and newspaper articles, the death certificate, and the California Death Index provide more on George Fleming Houston:
The Los Angeles Times newspaper has a January, 2001 obituary for Leone Sousa, model and Ziegfeld Follies girl. The obituary mentions her opera work and George Houston being "the first of her three husbands": http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jan/19/local/me-14271
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website notes that Houston is interred at Evergreen Cemetery, Hillside, Union County, New Jersey: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=13939858