(Courtesy of Joel Towler)
Above, Ken Maynard and Joel Towler - circa 1963
(Courtesy of Joel Towler)
Above - Maynard with the trailer park in the background.
Ken met his wife Bertha, a high-wire artist, while they were working for the Cole Bros. Circus, and they were married in 1939 or 1940. Bertha passed away in 1968. The couple lived for years in a trailer that they used for touring (located at the Shady Tree Trailer Park on Ilex Street in San Fernando). Joel Towler knew Maynard in his later years and thanks to Joel for the above photos of he and Ken at the trailer park.
Joel and ye Old Corral webmaster exchanged several e-mails, and following are some excerpts of his remembrances of Ken and Bertha:
"Ken and I were close friends the last 10 years of his life (1963-1973). I made many, many trips out to see him and Bertha in their trailer on Ilex in San Fernando. In conversation we covered the gamut from religion, history, and even unusual oddities like 2-headed snakes, etc. He kept a scrapbook of oddities. Anyway, I took my wife along to visit the Maynards one Saturday, and during the course of conversation she blurted out to him, "I never cared for cowboy movies". He chuckled and said, "That's OK darlin', I don't like them either" (to appease her). Then she went on to say, "I especially couldn't stand it when the hero would be riding along, then burst out into singing". Understand now, she had no idea that Ken was the first singing cowboy, nor do I think she ever saw one of his films. She carefully avoided westerns. In his graciousness he replied to her, "Yeah, it's kinda' silly that a tough hombre would resort to singing when he should be taking care of business". He didn't mean that, of course. He was proud of being the first. On a later visit I happened to mention that I was not fond of singing westerns either, but with me he got a little surly. He quickly got over it and we had our usual good afternoon visit. I'm proud of those days. Ken's wife, Bertha, told me over the phone one day that Ken considered me like a son, and was always glad when I came out. That was a powerful compliment about a man who was embittered by financial ruin and alcohol, and shunned the public as much as he could during the final years. I loved the guy, and sure do miss those wonderful times with him.
Bertha only occasionally mentioned his brother, Kermit, and that was in reference to Ken having a division with him, and how she wished there was peace between them --- and that was the only family reference. Bertha told me she was with the Ringling Bros. circus when she first laid eyes on Ken, as he was the special guest performer. Just a side note --- she had talents as an aerialist and she was a bareback rider as well. I also believe she was a chorus line dancer in a few films, but there isn't much history on her --- only the little she mentioned, as well as what Ken said. Bertha was such a dear, sweet lady. When I took my little daughter out with me to their place, Bertha always had ice cream, or cookies and punch, or lunch, and she would set Lori on her lap and feed her and tell her stories.
In all the years I knew Ken, he never once said anything about having children --- nor did Bertha mention it.
There really weren't many people at Ken's funeral service at Forest Lawn. I tried to get a glimpse of all I could, to see who all from the business might show up. Not many at all. In talking to Hank Worden, he told me he never knew Ken, but that he was a fan of Ken's, and wanted to show his respect. Of course, there could have been others there, of lesser than star status, but time sometimes diminishes looks. Anyway, my newspaper accounts don't reflect many, other than Iron Eyes Cody; stuntman Lucky Carson; Hank Worden; little George Havens (Tadpole's double) (George was also in the western music business, as you may know); an 81 year old gal who was a former bronc buster; and 100 year old 'Cap', who was Ken's wagon master in one of the early films. The pastor read a telegram from President Nixon, citing Ken's contribution to films and entertainment."
Sad to report that Joel Towler passed away September, 2013. He loved the old western movies.