Samuel Buren Ely
1919 - 2009
|Special thanks to guest commentator Paul Dellinger for authoring the following narrative and background info on Monte Hale|
It's not every cowboy hero who can say, after the demise of the B-westerns, that he went on to appear in movies with such actors as Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Monte Hale, the last survivor of the screen's singing cowboys, could say that. He even taught James Dean the little rope trick with which Dean played around in a pivotal scene in GIANT.
But Hale would probably not say that. He does not even own up to having been a singing cowboy, and it is true that the songs diminished almost to the vanishing point as his 19 starring movies rolled on at Republic Pictures between 1946 and 1950. Still, it was his guitar-picking and singing that started him on the road to stardom, and gave him the distinction of being Republic's first B-western star to appear in color pictures, a year before even Roy Rogers began showing up in Trucolor productions. In fact, the first color appearance of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans came when they were guest stars in Monte's third movie. Eddie Dean had been there first (little PRC started him in the first of five Cinecolor productions in 1945 before relegating him to the more traditional black and white, compared with seven for Monte between 1946 and 1948).
Studio publicity noted that Hale was born on June 8, 1921, in San Angelo, Texas. In reality, he was born in Ada, Oklahoma and his birth year is probably 1919. Regardless, his accent was certainly right for westerns. But Hale had no idea of becoming a star, and has confessed to feeling awkward in front of a camera. Adrian Booth, the lovely leading lady in his first seven pictures, has said it was during personal appearances when Monte could meet people face to face that his real winning personality would emerge.
Hale's pictures also benefitted greatly with the addition of character actor Paul Hurst as his sidekick in picture number six, UNDER COLORADO SKIES, and in all the rest except one. Unlike Eddy Waller, who always played 'Nugget Clark' in the Allan 'Rocky' Lane pictures, or Andy Devine who was always 'Cookie Bullfincher' in the Roy Rogers flicks, or Slim Pickens who was Slim Pickens in most of Rex Allen's outings, Hurst played a different character each time and some of the names (like 'Waldorf Worthington', a character who liked nothing better than food) were hilarious. Hurst had a career dating back to silent pictures, including appearances in blockbusters such as GONE WITH THE WIND. Tragically, he committed suicide in 1953.
Monte took his first unknowing steps toward stardom during World War II as a star-struck youngster himself, seeking autographs from Chill Wills and more than two dozen other actors who were making a tour to sell war bonds. They recruited Monte to accompany Lee 'Lasses' White, comic sidekick in Monogram's early Jimmy Wakely films, on the guitar for a couple weeks. That led to a letter of recommendation from the group to Republic President Herbert Yates, who offered a screen test. Thanks to a $500 gift from a Houston entrepreneur who knew Monte, he was able to fund the trip from Texas to Los Angeles. And he landed a seven-year contract at Republic.
His first appearance came in THE BIG BONANZA (1944), starring Richard Arlen, as (appropriately) a guitar-player. Other bit parts in 1945 included THE TOPEKA TERROR (with Allan Lane), OREGON TRAIL (Sunset Carson), STEPPIN' IN SOCIETY, and COLORADO PIONEERS (a Bill Elliott/Red Ryder movie), and a serial, THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES, in which he plays a lab technician who has his first encounter with Roy Barcroft (as the Martian monster in this early sci-fi chapter-play) and henchman Bud Geary, throwing a beaker at one of them to knock his gun away and give hero Dennis Moore a chance to fight them. Quickly knocked out before the ending in which the unconscious Moore is about to be boiled by a chemical drop, he comes around in the next chapter in time to pick up the dropped pistol and drive off the villains in time to save the hero. He appeared in another serial (THE PHANTOM RIDER) and two more Elliott/Ryders (CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH and SUN VALLEY CYCLONE) in 1946 before his own career took off.
But it was two more Sunset Carson pictures in 1945 in which he had more memorable roles. In BANDITS OF THE BADLANDS, he is Sunset's younger brother, Dr. Steve Carson, fresh out of medical school and heading west to join his Ranger brother. The coach is stopped by a pair of bandits, one of whose brother has stopped a Ranger bullet. The young doctor is killed (off-screen) when he fails to save the wounded outlaw, which furnishes Sunset's motivation to pretend to join the outlaws and track down his brother's murderer. An even more prominent role came in ROUGH RIDERS OF CHEYENNE, where Hale is the foreman of a ranch belonging to Sunset's father (a pre-Nugget Eddy Waller), and insists on joining Sunset in helping to find his father's killer (when Sunset says he wants no help, Monte asks if Sunset thinks he can run him out of the fight, punctuating the question by striking a match on the side of his face! Sunset agrees that doing so would be a man-size job). He strums and sings "The Old Chisholm Trail" around a campfire for Sunset and the other ranch hands, because "that was your Dad's favorite, Sunset". By the end of the picture, he has jumped in front of Sunset to take a fatal bullet meant for the picture's hero.
Hale's first picture, in Magnacolor (which would become Trucolor a few pictures later), was HOME ON THE RANGE. Besides Adrian Booth, it featured Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, a young Bobby Blake getting a break from his 'Little Beaver' roles in the Elliott and Lane 'Red Ryder' series, and Le Roy Mason, Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan to supply the villainy --- in this case, proving young Blake's pet bear innocent of cattle killings which are being done by a killer bear controlled by the baddies. The relationship between Monte and Adrian Booth's character, like many of the Roy and Dale pictures, has them initially as antagonists who eventually mellow out. In this picture and the next eight, Monte Hale would play himself. Then he would play some historical characters (Bat Masterson, Bill Cody and Pat Garrett) and finally various different roles, changing his name each time along with Paul Hurst.
MAN FROM RAINBOW VALLEY saw Hale as the artist of a comic strip featuring an actual wild horse, named Outlaw. Set in the contemporary west, it involved the theft and recovery of the stallion by Monte. OUT CALIFORNIA WAY is also set in contemporary times (in movie capital Los Angeles rather than the wild west) and also involves a horse, this one a chestnut stallion named Partner who belongs to young Bobby Blake. The boy and his sister (Adrian Booth) want to get the trick horse into movies at 'Globe Studios,' where Monte is also seeking a tryout. Monte makes such a hit with his riding, and singing with Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage (joining him here and in his next three pictures) that the studio's western star (played by John Dehner) and his stunt-double/sidekick (Fred Graham) get jealous. That part of the plot harks back to some of Republic's early Gene Autry movies, in which Gene's natural charm wins over a Hollywood studio. The rest involves Monte's effort to get Partner into pictures, despite Graham's character trying to sabotage it. In a sequence where Monte shows Adrian Booth's character around the studio, they chat with Don Barry, watch the filming of a scene with Allan Lane playing 'Red Ryder' (the only time the Ryder character would appear in color until Eagle-Lion brought out its quartet of Ryder movies with Jim Bannon), and hear Roy and Dale warble a tune.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is the title lobby card from the Trucolor UNDER COLORADO SKIES (Republic, 1947) showing Adrian Booth (Lorna Gray) and Monte Hale.
(From Old Corral image collection)
As the B western era faded, Monte Hale rode the trails in a series at Republic Pictures, and the name of his trusty steed was "Pardner" or "Partner". This horse shown above is easy to identify because of the unique face blaze, and also appears in many of the photo covers from Monte's Fawcett comic book series. In actuality, Monte never owned his own horse during his stay at Republic. He rode several steeds that Republic (probably) rented from a local stable.
The Grand Comics Database has covers showing Monte with a variety of horses. There are several covers showing the above horse - pay close attention as some are correct (see issues #60, 69, 70 and 74). But Fawcett erred on other covers when they reversed the photo (see issues #57 and 63). Go to: http://www.comics.org/series/14336/covers/
Where did the Partner/Pardner name originate? Monte's third starring oater was the Trucolor OUT CALIFORNIA WAY (Republic, 1946) and was another film about "shootin' a western movie within a western movie". There's a subplot with Robert "Bobby" Blake trying to get his trusty hoss "Pardner" into films.
The tradition from here on is that Monte Hale's movie horse is named Partner, although the horse is never named in any of the scripts. However, a comic book featuring Monte by Fawcett Publications (the home of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher) did name his horse Partner. Fawcett, which also published comics featuring 'Rocky' Lane and 'Lash' LaRue, among others, also adapted some of their movies into comic-book format, such as Monte's PIONEER MARSHAL and THE VANISHING WESTERNER.
From this point on, all of the Monte Hale movies would be set in the late 1800s west rather than contemporary times. The first outing of 1947 was LAST FRONTIER UPRISING, which takes place before Texas joins the United States and involves competition on securing horses to sell to the government. ALONG THE OREGON TRAIL featured a pre-Lone Ranger Clayton Moore as a friend of Monte's who has gone bad, planning to establish his own empire in the west. He is also engaged to Adrian Booth's character, so we know he'll have to go eventually. The script has Monte interacting with actual historic figures including Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and John Fremont.
UNDER COLORADO SKIES introduced Paul Hurst as 'Lucky John Hawkins', a saloon owner and businessman who befriends Monte and the Riders of the Purple Sage. Monte, as in the earlier Sunset Carson movie, is studying to be a doctor while working as a bank teller. This time, he is engaged to Adrian Booth. When the notorious Marlowe gang robs the bank, Monte keeps quiet about their identities because one of them is Booth's wayward brother. His silence gets him charged with involvement in the robbery, forcing him to infiltrate the gang after its leader (played by William Haade) stops a bullet. Monte is more successful this time, saving the outlaw (and also taking a bullet out of his fiancee, wounded in yet another robbery). He even gets Haade to sing along with him in a chorus of "The Old Chisholm Trail".
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - lobby card showing Adrian Booth (Lorna Gray) and Monte Hale in UNDER COLORADO SKIES (Republic, 1947).