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(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above are 'window cards' from a couple of the Ken Curtis/Hoosier Hot Shots musicals, COWBOY BLUES (Columbia, 1946) and OVER THE SANTA FE TRAIL (Columbia, 1947).  The bottom card includes a tie-in to the very popular National Barn Dance (radio show).  These 'window cards' measure about 11 inches x 4 inches and were displayed in the window of the ticket booth to advertise coming attractions.

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above - Ken Curtis attends to Gene Roth (Gene Stutenroth) while Roy Barcroft looks on. There are several unidentified players in the background - in the center, with checkerboard shirt and hands hanging at his side is an older Chick Hannan. From the chapterplay, DON DAREDEVIL RIDES AGAIN (Republic, 1951).

Curtis ... and Tommy Dorsey ... and Shep
Fields... and the Sons of the Pioneers

One of the common stories reported in Curtis biographies is that he was the "replacement" for Frank Sinatra in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  Airchecks/transcriptions of Sinatra's final performance with Dorsey have been available for years --- the date was September 3, 1942 in New York, and Frank's last vocal with the band was a tune called "The Song Is You".  The broadcast also includes Sinatra and Dorsey introducing Frank's replacement, Dick Haymes.  Curtis did a couple recordings with the Dorsey Band in late 1941. One was "Love Sends A Little Gift Of Roses", recorded 9/26/41, and was sung with the Pied Pipers vocal group (which then included Jo Stafford). That recording is available on the CD Whatcha Know Joe by The Pied Pipers.

Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra was a powerhouse and money maker in the early 1940s, with a bunch of talented sidemen, and vocals from Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Connie Haines, and the Pied Pipers.  The band was originally handled by M.C.A., but around 1941, Dorsey broke away and formed Tommy Dorsey, Inc. which allowed him to do his own bookings and such.

The relationship of Dorsey and Ken Curtis is not clear, but following are several bits of conjecture:

Ken Griffis' reference book on the Sons of the Pioneers, Hear My Song: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers, mentions: that Dorsey was the one who suggested the name change from Curtis Wain (not Wayne) Gates to Ken Curtis; and he joined the Sons of the Pioneers singing group in 1949 and was with them through 1953 (and he continued to record with the SOP through 1957).

As mentioned, Curtis became the boy singer with the Shep Fields orchestra and recorded several tunes, including the patriotic "This Is Worth Fighting For".  A few 'soundies' are available on videotape of Curtis and the Fields band, circa 1942.  Sometime in mid 1942, Curtis left to serve a hitch in the U. S. Army infantry.


  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Ken Curtis:

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website notes that Curtis was cremated:

Adrian DeBee's Hoosier HotShots website has a photo of the HotShots with Curtis and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams:

You also may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral.  Then go to the Social Security Death Index or California Death Records database, and see if you can find a record for Ken Curtis/Curtis Gates.

Calin Coburn (Bob Nolan's grandson) and Elizabeth Drake McDonald have created a fantastic website on Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, etc. There's a section on Ken Curtis with many large images:

Teresa Murray has a Ken Curtis Appreciation website with a bio and photos. And there's photos and info on the memorial statue of Ken/Festus in Clovis, California which was crafted by local artist Sam Hutchings:

There's an article about Curtis' attendance at the Snake River Idaho 'Stampede':

The BMI Music site has a listing of some of the BMI licensed songs composed by Curtis. Go the BMI homepage at: In the upper right corner, select Songwriter/Composer and in the box below, enter Curtis Ken.

The Official website for James Arness of movie and GUNSMOKE fame is at:

R. J. 'Bob' Marks II has a nice site on TV's GUNSMOKE:

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