I connected with Larry Imber in the early days of videotape, and our friendship continued with the Old Corral website where he provided wonderful writeups on Charles Starrett and Nat Levine as well as the snapshots and memories below. Larry worked for Columbia Pictures during the days of Charles Starrett and the Durango Kid, and has been a fan of the B western for years. We thank him for sharing these photos and memories. Sad to report that Larry passed away on September 19, 2002.
In the last 25 years or so, I have been a regular visitor to the Los Angeles area. Being a western nut, I hoped to find some hidden treasures, though most of my heroes were gone. But fortunately there were still some left, and as long as my memory holds up, I will try to share my experiences with you.
One day, I decided to stop at the Vasquez Rocks, a landmark of many western films. Living close by was Montie Montana. I caught him shaving, but he came out, warm and friendly. I asked him about his early days in Hollywood, and though he had the only surviving print of CIRCLE OF DEATH, which he eventually loaned out, and it has been circulated among collectors. He admitted that he was no actor, and never attempted to star in a western again, and most producers seemed to agree with his decision. Oliver Drake had worked for Willis Kent, the producer, and said he could not find a director. So the job fell to J. Frank Glendon, a charactor actor. That was a big mistake, as he could not help Montie. With the right people, he might have had a fair career. Others as bad as he made it. But his career as a performer lasted till he passed away.
Edith Maynard, wife of Kermit, was a wardrobe mistress at Universal. She was living in the same house that she and Kermit bought when they came to Hollywood. She had one picture of Kermit in civilian attire. When I asked if there were more, She said no, but wait till you see Dell Jones home. She told me that Ken had told his brother to come out to California. There was lots of work. They packed up and left Indiana with high hopes. When they arrived, Ken was on location, and no one knew when he was due back. They rented a furnished room, and Kermit got a job selling sporting goods in a department store. He spoke to Ken's agent about finding work. He was offered a chance to do some silent westerns as Tex Maynard, as their names were similar. That didn't last long. He did some stunt work, and spent nights at Fat Jones' stable improving his riding, and that showed in his later films. Eventually he caught the eye of Maurice Conn who was planning a series of mountie films under his Ambassador Pictures. He had a few good years, but then Conn closed down and he returned to stunt and extra work. Ken did little to help him, and they were not close for many years. Later he tried to help him stop drinking to no avail. He became head of the extras guild, and usually answered the phone, taking whatever parts suited him. He was a bit player for many years, but it paid the bills. He had a son who never saw him as a star. I sent them many of his films, and Edith was very grateful, as the son finally saw his father in a different light. When he died, Ken cried, saying he should have been long gone because of his drinking, instead of Kermit.
Dell Jones' home was a shrine to Buck, with pictures everywhere. I brought her some rare silents, and she loved them. She lead a quiet life and was badly shaken when her daughter died. I will never forget the little house, with all the pictures on the walls, and I often sent her some to add to her collection. A very sweet lady, who missed Buck terribly.
Theo Wynne (Wally West) was a stunt man and double for Tim McCoy in his early years in Hollywood. He also doubled Autry and others. I asked him about DESERT MESA, and he said he heard they had burned it, and that made him happy. I saw it as a youngster, remember little of it, but would sure like to find a copy. Like so many Denver Dixon 'epics', they all disappeared, probably for the best. Theo had worked as a stunt man into his late 70's. He had developed a muscle disease, which he eventually succumbed to. His wife appreciated my visit, and he was astonished that I knew so much about him and his career. I called a few months later and his daughter answered the phone to say he died a few days earlier, and she and her mother were cleaning.
When I met Jimmy Wakely at his home in Sylmar, California, he was setting up a recording studio to make records with Eddie Dean and others. His daughter stills offers them today. Jimmy had suffered from asthma for years, but still continued to smoke. He had been working in small clubs throughout the northwest in the 80's. He travelled with his daughter and a few sidemen, was well received as many people remembered him from his hit records, rather than his film career. He sold his albums where he appeared. His career had stalled for sometime. The asthma made it difficult for him to sing, but he felt he could overcome it and do well again. He spoke well of Gene Autry, who had always helped, and Oliver Drake, who had directed him in many of his westens. He was not in good health and looked it. His wife enjoyed the visit and I told her I hoped he would feel better. She made it clear that there was little chance.
Bob Livingston lived in Tarzana, California with his son Addison. He was a very bitter old man suffering from arthritis, which he blamed on Ray Corrigan, and a so so career which he blamed on Herbert Yates and so on. I felt fortunate that Addison was home because Livingston would never answer the door. Addison was happy to have visitors to take the pressure off him. It was not a memorable visit, as Bob had a real chip on his shoulders and would unload on anyone who would listen. He would't discuss his westerns but preferred to talk about his many girl friends, and liked the films he made for Sam Sherman. Addison thanked me for coming and apologized for his father's behavior.
I enjoyed visiting with Sunset Carson. He was a very sweet person who admitted that he was responsible for screwing up his career. Between jobs as a greeter in a western town in the south, and travelling with an act, being a hit in Japan, he had a good late years career. His TV series on PBS showing old westerns was a hit. He always had plans to make new films, but there were no backers. He called me from Reno , where a lawyer, who was a fan, got him a nice settlement on a lawsuit, but he passed away before he could enjoy it.