(From Old Corral image collection)
Maynard's extravagances included lots of horses, lots of cars, and even personal airplanes. And just like Hoot Gibson, Maynard participated in some air races in the early 1930s (including the 1933 air race in which Hoot Gibson crashed).
(Courtesy of Jerry Cristman)
Above - Ken Maynard at his home, admiring a wall full of awards and photos. There's no date or info on the image back, but this was probably from the late 1930s.
Maynard made big money from the mid 1920s through the mid 1930s, when his star was at it's zenith. But he also had a lavish lifestyle and bought cars, planes, etc. He liked alcohol and cigars, had a quick temper, and his waistline expanded as he grew older. His screen career lasted about twenty years, 1924 to 1944, and he starred in 80+ silents and talkies. But his primary work, in both quality and quantity, occurred during his first dozen or so years on the screen.
The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual 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. Ken Maynard did achieve rankings in both polls. Note that the polls were not done during the early 1930s which were Maynard's peak years.
|Popularity Rankings of Ken Maynard|
|Year||Motion Picture Herald
There are two people that I chatted with that knew Ken quite well. Many years ago, I did the Kermit Maynard article for Favorite Westerns magazine and spent a good deal of time with Kerm's wife Edith. She didn't (or wouldn't) say much about Ken, other than she/Kerm did try to help him with his drinking problem and occasionally provided him some money (Kerm was not a drinker or smoker, and didn't approve of Ken's personal lifestyle). The other person was Nat Levine, and I spent about a half hour with him around 1978 ... and I still kick myself for not having more time and not asking him the right questions. A quick summary of Levine's reaction to Maynard was pretty negative, even though he was pleased that MYSTERY MOUNTAIN turned a good profit (second only to Levine's THE MIRACLE RIDER which starred Tom Mix).
Cecilia Parker was a frequent sagebrush heroine of the 1930s, as well as playing the sister of Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy pictures at MGM. There's a quote from Parker in Bobby J. Copeland's book, Trail Talk:
"I made four pictures with Ken Maynard and I finally laid it right out for him. I said, 'You pay my salary, but if you can't behave yourself and curb your language, you'll have to get another actress'. He shaped up after that --- at least, I never had any more trouble with him."
Ken had met his wife Bertha, a high-wire artist, while they were working for the Cole Bros. Circus, and they married in 1940. In their later years, they lived in a trailer which they had used for touring (located at the Shady Tree Trailer Park on Ilex Street in San Fernando, California). Ken had been married three times --- perhaps four or five times --- and there were no children.
The ending of Ken Maynard is a sad one. In the last few years of his life, Maynard was associated with a gal who claimed to be his wife/agent/girlfriend. They (or she) sold off much of Ken's belongings. They (she) acquired cowboy stuff at local shows and peddled it as authentic 'Ken Maynard Memorabilia'. But the scheme was discovered. Ken Maynard died a pauper at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California on March 30, 1973, sick with a variety of ailments including alcohol abuse and malnutrition. He was laid to rest at at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Cypress), Orange County, California, in a grave next to his wife Bertha who passed away in 1968. Ken's mild-mannered brother Kermit passed in 1971.
You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and search the California Death Records database. There you will find a record for: Kenneth O. Maynard, born 7/21/1895 in Indiana, and he passed away on 3/23/1973. There is a corresponding record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).
I won't get into the 'who was the first singing cowboy' argument, but Maynard was among the earliest of these crooners. However, the music and 'tunes' were more for background and never became the priority as with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. For example, in the first reel of STRAWBERRY ROAN (Universal, 1933), Maynard is re-united with some cowpuncher friends. Around the campfire, Ken grabs a fiddle and in his nasal voice, sings "Strawberry Roan" (ably assisted by Frank Yaconelli on accordion and Charlie King on guitar). The tune and some chit-chat are used as an 'intro' so that Ken can weave the tale of his run-in with the strawberry roan.
Boyd Magers also added some additional info:
"Gene Autry regularly sent Maynard a check for his living expenses. I've never determined exactly how Autry got the money to Maynard as Gene didn't want it known to Maynard or the public that he was doing this. I suspect Maynard did know it. Apparently Gene felt because he got his start in Maynard films that he "owed" or should help Ken in his down time. Some people have poo pooed this story but it's absolutely true. Gene sent Maynard money for several years. (See webmaster's footnote below.)
About two years ago I obtained quite a few 'actual' Ken Maynard artifacts. I have his 1902 school desk that his father made for him, a 6th grade report card, Colony era boots and hat, many circus route books and ledgers in which Ken kept records of how much he was paid and so forth. Also, poems and clippings saved by him, letters, his wrist watch, and several other items ... including several lobby cards that were prepared for MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW, which was his last picture but was never released. It was made in Kentucky and also featured Sunset Carson. An extremely low budget feature in which the rest of the cast were all local people. It was put together by Hal Miller and Jack Cates. Cates has since died and my understanding is his widow has the print or negative.
In his later days, Ken often appeared at Corriganville for $50 a day (I have Ken's log book to verify this.) He appeared other places for about the same amount ... shopping center openings, etc. One of his last big hurrahs was on the TODAY show which was well covered in Sam Sherman's Wildest Westerns magazine. I have the shirt and T-shirt and scarf he wore on that show."
(Webmaster's footnote regarding Autry sending money to Maynard: over the years, I have received some additional info on this. The story goes that Autry made the payments for Ken's trailer space rental to George Griggs, an older gent that ran the Shady Tree Trailer Park in San Fernando.)
It's always interesting to click through excerpts of newspaper headlines and clippings at the Google newspaper archives at: http://news.google.com/newspapers
While some of the articles are free, many go to newspaper websites where you have to pay to retrieve the full article. The following link will take you to a mix of free and pay articles on Maynard's death and obituary, as well as many other articles, some of which are not complimentary. Some had obvious spelling errors and I corrected those: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22ken%20maynard%22%20site:news.google.com/newspapers&source=newspapers
|Ken Maynard spent much of his time working under the big top and he met his last wife Bertha while both were working for the Cole Bros. Circus. Bertha, a high-wire artist, married Ken in 1940.|
Boyd Magers provides some further info: Ken had his Diamond K Wild West Show in '36 using equipment from the old Lee Brothers Circus. It operated on his ranch. He never went on tour. In '37, '38 and again in '40 he was with the Cole Brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus. He was will Biller Brothers in 1950. Some time in there he was with Arthur Brothers Circus.
(Courtesy of Fred D. Pfening, Jr.)
(Courtesy of Mark Kulka)
|On the left is a Maynard Diamond K Ranch Wild West Circus and Indian Congress poster owned by Mark Kulka.|
Mark acquired the Maynard poster at a yard sale in Los Angeles about 10 years ago and recalled that he paid about $50.00.
(Courtesy of Fred D. Pfening, Jr.)
Above, Ken Maynard and the original Tarzan with the Cole Bros Circus, circa 1937.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above, Ken Maynard on the original Tarzan with the Cole Bros. Circus in Texas, November, 1940.
(Courtesy of Michael Varone)
Above - photo autographed by Ken Maynard to Michael Varone in 1947.
KEN MAYNARD COMICS
Thanks to Lansing Sexton for the following info on the comic book series of Ken Maynard:
(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)
Above, front and back covers of Ken Maynard comic #6
(From Old Corral image collection)
|The relationship of Maynard and Tarzan continues to amaze me. The horse was half Arabian and half American Saddle horse, and Maynard bought him in the mid 1920s. View a Maynard flick of the early 1930s, and watch Ken when he 'chats' with his trusty steed. He seems to have a smile or look as if he's relating to an old and valued friend. Listen to Maynard chatting with the hoss also --- "c'mon Tarzan!" ... "c'mon Old Man!".|
Tarzan was featured in many of Ken's movies such as COME ON, TARZAN, MYSTERY MOUNTAIN and STRAWBERRY ROAN. I might suggest that Maynard had more compassion and respect for Tarzan than towards the people he worked with and for.
Yet there remains some questions about Maynard which will probably never be fully answered or understood:
• Some biographers/biographies note that Ken was hot tempered and ornery, while others claimed he was just plain mean, even threatening and dangerous.
• Stories are that Maynard was not very kind to horses, including the 'Tarzan impersonators'. Some have described his actions as brutal and abusive, except towards Tarzan.
• I never thought to ask Nat Levine if Ken was under consideration for THE PHANTOM EMPIRE serial (and/or additional features), but many writers have commented that he was to be the lead in that serial. Regardless, the headaches he gave Levine during the filming of MYSTERY MOUNTAIN killed those chances.
A bit of conjecture ... and something to ponder: think about Maynard and his relationship with Nat Levine and Mascot, and what might have occurred IF Ken had been more cooperative, less demanding, less troublesome. When he did IN OLD SANTA FE and MYSTERY MOUNTAIN for Levine, Mascot was a year or so from it's demise, as it would become part of the new Republic Pictures organization which was formed in 1935. Levine wound up at Republic, producing westerns and serials. In those early days, Republic created some of their own oaters (Three Mesquiteers and Autry), but in order to enhance their position and provide a larger quantity of releases, they bought from the outside (Johnny Mack Brown and Bob Steele adventures from A. W. Hackel's Supreme Pictures). If Maynard had endeared himself to Levine, might he have wound up doing Republic westerns? The same scenario can be applied to Ken's second stint at Universal --- might he have done another season or two at Universal if he was more cooperative, less cantankerous, and stayed within budget?
My choices for a half-dozen or so of Maynard's best films: IN OLD SANTE FE (Mascot, 1934), HELL-FIRE AUSTIN (Tiffany, 1932), COME ON, TARZAN (KBS/World Wide, 1932), THE TRAIL DRIVE (Universal, 1933), STRAWBERRY ROAN (Universal, 1933), WHEELS OF DESTINY (Universal, 1934) ... and I really enjoy the Trail Blazers (with and without Maynard).
If someone asked me to describe THE 'Hollywood B-western hero', my mind would immediately picture Ken Maynard of the early 1930s, riding across the flickering screen at breakneck speed astride Tarzan. Maynard's legacy are scores of films, many of which are among the finest of the B western genre.
Good film memories from a Hollywood cowboy whose screen image was far different from the real man.