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Nat Levine

Full name:
Nathan Levine

Born:
July 26, 1900
New York City

Died:
August 6, 1989
Woodland Hills, California (Motion Picture Home)

Nat Levine - circa 1937


Mascot Pictures

Born: 1927

Died: 1935



(From Old Corral image collection)



(From Old Corral image collection)


(From Old Corral image collection)
Nat Levine was born in New York City. Recent findings indicate that his first name was Nathan, not Nathaniel.

Levine never finished high school. Instead, he got a job at the Loew's theater chain, and ultimately, became the personal secretary to bossman Marcus Loew. Some other film related jobs followed, and Nat wound up in Hollywood in the early 1920s. Around 1926, he and several investors got involved in the production of a cliffhanger which was peddled to Universal and became THE SILENT FLYER (Universal, 1926). Around 1927, Levine founded Mascot Pictures and began churning out silent chapterplays such as THE GOLDEN STALLION (Mascot, 1927), ISLE OF SUNKEN GOLD (Mascot, 1927), and HEROES OF THE WILD (Mascot, 1927).

KING OF THE KONGO (Mascot, 1929) was a 'part-talkie' and PHANTOM OF THE WEST (Mascot, 1930), which starred Tom Tyler, was Levine's first all-talkie. During the first half of the 1930s, a variety of serials, along with a few features, came out under the Mascot logo.

Levine didn't hesitate to use newcomers such as John Wayne and George Brent in starring roles. Veteran Harry Carey did several for Levine. Western themed chapterplays starred established screen heroes such as Tom Tyler, Ken Maynard, Tom Mix, and Johnny Mack Brown as well as fading range riders like Bob Custer. Even Bob Steele worked for Mascot, but he wore an aviation uniform rather than his normal cowboy hat and boots in THE MYSTERY SQUADRON (Mascot, 1933). A few 'non-Hollywood types' were also given lead roles such as football great Red Grange and circus wizard Clyde Beatty ... as well as a singin' cowboy named Gene Autry. Levine also utilized animal stars such as Rin Tin Tin, Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rex, the black stallion billed as the 'King of the Wild Horses'. And a youngster named Frankie Darro did leads and supporting roles in several of the Mascot chapterplays.

Levine was not afraid to take a chance on new faces and offbeat ideas. Probably the best example is giving the lead to Gene Autry - and mixing science fiction elements into a western plot - in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) ... and also using lots of Autry tunes as filler. You have to remember that this occurred in early 1935, several years before the singing cowboy became dominant.

Hoping to expand production and profits, Levine acquired the Mack Sennett production lot and facilities. He had become acquainted with Herbert Yates since much/all of Mascot's film developing was done at Yates' Consolidated Film Laboratories.

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) had been a success, and for his next serial release, Levine enticed a silent screen legend back to the screen. The man was Tom Mix.

Levine made an offer that Mix couldn't refuse - $40,000 ($10,000/week) for a total of four weeks work on a new chapterplay titled THE MIRACLE RIDER. The deal was beneficial to both parties. Tom, who was now about 55 years old, needed the money because of financial losses in the stock market and Depression as well as divorces, lawsuits, back taxes and financing his new Tom Mix Circus and Wild West Show. And since the story was to be told in fifteen chapters played in fifteen consecutive Saturday matinees, it would provide a tie in and advertisement for his circus. Levine gambled that the marquee value of the Tom Mix name would allow him to peddle the serial at a higher price tag and to more theaters. To increase saleability, the Mascot boss/owner decided that episode 1, "The Vanishing Indian", would be on five reels and about 43 minutes in length and the complete serial would span fifteen chapters (and would be Levine's only 15 chapter serial).

The total running time of THE MIRACLE RIDER was about 306 minutes, making it the lengthiest of the sound serials (DICK TRACY was Republic's longest, clocking in at a tad under 290 minutes). The story combined the old west and new west, meaning dusty trails and horses along with paved roads, cars and trucks. Science fiction elements were included (shades of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE) such as the 'firebird' rocket, that goofy 'TV screen' with the scrolling messages, and a super explosive called X-94 which was only found on the Indian Reservation that was being safeguarded by Mix (as Ranger Tom Morgan).

Several production units worked simultaneously (but that was pretty standard practice). While Mix was doing scenes with baddies Charles 'Ming' Middleton, Jason Robards, Sr., and Bob Kortman, a second unit was filming fights and riding scenes using stuntman Cliff Lyons as Mix's double. Directing was Armand Schaefer with B. Reeves "Breezy" Eason in charge of the second unit and caring for most of the exterior shooting.

Levine's gamble paid off and THE MIRACLE RIDER became his most successful cliffhanger. His cost was about $80,000.00 (half of which was Mix's $40,000.00 salary), and that was about double the price tag of a typical Mascot chapterplay. Some 12,000 movie houses booked THE MIRACLE RIDER and the rental fee was $85.00 ($15.00 for the lengthier chapter 1, and $5.00 for each of the remaining fourteen episodes). The end result - Levine wound up grossing about a million dollars.

After THE MIRACLE RIDER, Levine and Mascot would create two more serials, THE ADVENTURES OF REX AND RINTY (1935) followed by THE FIGHTING MARINES (1935). In 1935, Mascot disappeared in the formation of Republic Pictures, which merged Mascot, Consolidated Film Laboratories, Monogram Pictures, and a few other pieces into a new production company. In addition to Levine and Mascot, others that came along in the deal were Gene Autry and John Wayne as well as producer Paul Malvern, who had been responsible for Wayne's 'Lone Star' oaters which were released through Monogram. The Mack Sennett lot which Levine had acquired became Republic's studio and home base. THE FIGHTING MARINES chapterplay wound up being released through Republic's exchanges in late 1935.

During the first year or so of Republic's existence, Levine was in charge of their B western and serial output, and his name was prominently displayed on the opening credits and poster artwork. The breakup came in early 1937, and Levine was bought out by Yates (some reports indicate that Levine got a million dollar buyout). In August, 1937, Nat was on MGM's payroll as a producer but his time there was brief. And then he was basically finished in the film production business. Nat was a big fan of horse racing - and betting on the ponies - and he went through all of his money.

Some are critical of Levine's overall contributions to the B film, and in particular to the serial. I agree that Levine's chapterplays are not the finely honed, production line quality of 1940s Republic. Some believe that "if a serial ain't Republic, it ain't worth much!" I have to disagree. In retrospect, Levine's achievements were significant, and I would suggest the following for your consideration:

I met Nat Levine in 1978 during some off-time when I was in California attending a business conference. We spent about a half hour together - and stupid me spent the entire time asking about Tom Mix and Ken Maynard. I never thought to delve into the more important questions ... like how he churned out serials for a profit ... or about the formation of Republic.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Nat Levine: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0505921/

Jon Tuska's book on the history of Mascot Pictures is titled The Vanishing Legion: A history of Mascot Pictures 1927 - 1935, and there's a bunch of info on Nat Levine, Ken Maynard, Tom Mix, and more. A softcover version is available for about $35.00 from McFarland publishers. A good read and well worth the $$$. The following link will take you to the McFarland search page. When you get there, enter Tuska as the last name of the author: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/advanced-search/

The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), the Social Security Death Index, and the California Death Records database have information on Nat Levine:





(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card for Chapter 1 of THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (Mascot, 1932), the first of three serials that John Wayne did for Nat Levine at Mascot.



(From Old Corral image collection)

THE LAW OF THE WILD (Mascot, 1934), 12 chapters, was directed by Armand Schaefer and B. Reeves "Breezy" Eason.

Bob Custer (1897 or 98 - 1974) was a cowboy hero in silents, but he never made it big in talkies. His real name was Raymond Anthony Glenn and he could not adapt to the dialog required in talkies - to be blunt, he was terrible delivering any lines. The dozen or so sound westerns he made were for the lower echelon production outfits, and around 1937, Custer left the business. At Nat Levine's Mascot cliffhanger factory, Rex (the black hoss) and Rin-Tin-Tin Jr. (the dog) got top billing, probably because they had more drawing power than Custer.

In the above green duotone lobby card, Custer is persuading Edmund Cobb, and in the bottom lobby card, he's landing a right to Dick Cramer's jaw.


(From Old Corral image collection)


Inside THE PHANTOM EMPIRE pressbook was the ad on the right heralding the return of Tom Mix to the screen in a Mascot serial.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)



(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Left is the cover of the pressbook for RADIO RANCH, one of two feature versions of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) serial which were released around 1940. "Nat Levine Presents" is on the top left. MEN WITH STEEL FACES was the other condensation (which Levine wasn't involved with). The probability is that Levine was hoping to pick up some $$$ with the release of this feature version due to the popularity of Autry.



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