(Courtesy of the Newill Family)
|After the demise of the Renfrew series, Newill continued to do a variety of work on stage and radio as well as a few small movie roles.|
The Ford Summer Hour radio program featured light opera and classics and was a Summer replacement on CBS for the Ford Sunday Evening Hour during 1939 - 1941.
The stars for the 1940 Summer Hour were Jessica Dragonette and Newill, both of whom are shown on the right side of this photo.
|Circa 1941 - 1942, Newill recorded eight psalms and sacred songs for Decca with the Victor Young Orchestra. Originally released on four 78 rpm records, these were re-issued in the early 1950s on a 33 1/3 LP titled "The Lord Is My Shepherd" (Decca DL 5144). The cover of that LP is shown on the right.|
Does the name Victor Young strike a bell? He wrote a bunch of songs including "Sweet Sue" and "Stella By Starlight", but is best remembered for creating dozens of movie scores to films like WELLS FARGO, RIO GRANDE, SHANE, THE FLYING TIGERS, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, THE QUIET MAN, lots more. He was nominated for an Oscar many times, and won (posthumously) for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.
(Courtesy of the Newill Family)
In addition to the Ford Summer Hour and Decca recordings mentioned above, Newill's work schedule during this period continued to be hectic and diverse. Examples:
Approximately 2 1/2 years after his last Renfrew, Newill was hired as one of the leads in a new western trio series being developed by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). The other two members were screen veteran Dave 'Tex' O'Brien and stringbean comedian Guy Wilkerson. It was probably easy for the former Renfrew film veterans Newill and Dave O'Brien to reunite. The series was the Texas Rangers, and Newill appeared in fourteen before being replaced by Tex Ritter who headlined the final eight. O'Brien and Wilkerson were around for the entire 22 film run.
As background, Republic Pictures had introduced the Three Mesquiteers in 1936 and the series proved to be popular and financially successful. Monogram brought out the Range Busters in 1940, and the Rough Riders premiered in 1941. PRC had failed in their first attempt at a series with three heroes - their 'Frontier Marshals' starred Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd, Art Davis and Lee 'Lone Ranger' Powell, and 6 mediocre sagebrushers were released in 1942 and the series was dropped. Their second trio effort, the Texas Rangers, lasted a lot longer, but still suffered from PRC's slapdash production values and miniscule budgets.
Why was Newill chosen for the series? No rock solid answers on this, other than PRC wanted someone who could sing. Dave O'Brien may have suggested Newill for the role. Or a recommendation could have come from PRC directors Al Herman, Elmer Clifton or Sam Newfield, all of whom had helmed one or more of the Renfrews. Initially, Alfred Stern and Arthur Alexander co-produced the Rangers, but by the seventh title, they were alternating as producer. You'll read a bit more about Arthur Alexander (and his brother Max) in a later webpage on Newill's Renfrew TV series.
Of Newill's 14 oaters, there are several pleasant surprises. THE RANGERS TAKE OVER (PRC, 1942) is the series intro with "Jim Steele" (Newill) helping out new lawman "Tex Wyatt" (Dave O'Brien). It's also worthwhile because the leading lady is lovely Iris Meredith, a frequent heroine in Columbia oaters and serials. Sadly, this was one of her last movies. PINTO BANDIT (PRC, 1944) has the trio involved in a mail contract as well as trying to corral the titled outlaw. TRAIL OF TERROR (PRC, 1943) has O'Brien playing dual roles as his ranger self and his evil twin. And SPOOK TOWN (PRC, 1944) featured a ghost town setting and a storyline about water and building a dam.
Newill did take a break from his PRC duties - he was a military officer in the Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott World War II film BOMBARDIER (RKO, 1943). And he was one of many donating their time on the November 25, 1943 CBS broadcast of the Elgin Company's Second Annual Tribute to the Armed Forces. Movie star Robert Young hosted and Newell opened the program with a medley of service songs.
Newill's last Texas Rangers film - and last movie role - was the routine BRAND OF THE DEVIL (PRC, 1944) which was released in the Summer of 1944.
The reason for Newill exiting PRC and the Texas Rangers was simple. He had a better offer and headed to New York to do a stage play ... and there he'd meet his future wife.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is the title lobby card for the first Texas Rangers film, THE RANGERS TAKE OVER, which was released in December, 1942. Note the cleft on Newill's chin as well as the name change - he was billed 'James' in the Renfrew flicks but he's now 'Jim'. Dave O'Brien gets first billing, a reversal of their Renfrew days when O'Brien was Newill's helper and well down in the cast listing. In the center image, prolific baddie Charlie King is mixing it up with Dave O'Brien.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from left to right are Dave 'Tex' O'Brien (on King), Jim Newill (on Alamo) and Guy Wilkerson, the original members of the Texas Rangers.
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. James Newill never achieved a top ten ranking in these polls. No surprise as only a couple of PRC's western stars ever attained a ranking in those polls - Tex Ritter made the list in 1944 and '45 while in the Texas Rangers and Eddie Dean did it in 1946 and '47.
Newill's Hollywood career lasted less than 10 years, and he starred in 22 B grade films - 8 Renfrews and 14 Texas Rangers which were released during the years 1937 - 1944. He had a good singing voice which fit somewhere between the booming opera style of Dick Foran, George Houston and Fred Scott and the more comfortable western crooning of Rogers, Autry, Ritter, Wakely, Rex Allen and Eddie Dean.
Fans of the B-western fondly recall the Renfrew of the Royal Mounted films, the PRC Texas Rangers trio series ... and singin' cowboy James Newill.
James Newill passed away from lung cancer on July 31, 1975. About two years prior to his death, he suffered a major stroke. He is interred at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake, California.
You'll find a complete Newill filmography below which includes his starring films as well as bit/supporting roles. For those looking for a quick listing of Newill's best cinema adventures, I would suggest the following titles:
MURDER ON THE YUKON (Renfrew; Monogram, 1940)
THE RANGERS TAKE OVER (Texas Rangers; PRC, 1942)
TRAIL OF TERROR (Texas Rangers; PRC, 1943)
PINTO BANDIT (Texas Rangers; PRC, 1944)
|James Newill Filmography|
Special thanks to Les Adams for providing this filmography
Bit/support roles shown in GREEN
|Title||Company||Director||Star||Leading Lady||Newill Role|
|3/6/37||READY, WILLING AND ABLE||Warners||Ray Enright||Ruby Keeler||N/A||Ross Alexander singing voice|
|3/10/37||SING WHILE YOU'RE ABLE||Conn Prod.||Marshall Neilan||Pinky Tomlin||N/A||Himself|
|8/31/37||SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT||Grand National||Victor Schertzinger||James Cagney||N/A||Himself, Orchestra Singer|
|9/29/37||RENFREW OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED||Grand National||Al Herman||James Newill||Carol Hughes||Sgt. Renfrew|
|7/22/38||ON THE GREAT WHITE TRAIL||Grand National||Al Herman||James Newill||Terry Walker||Sgt. Renfrew|
|1/16/39||CRASHING THRU||Monogram||Elmer Clifton||James Newill||Jean Carmen||Sgt. Renfrew|
|12/1/39||YUKON FLIGHT||Monogram||Ralph Staub||James Newill||Louise Stanley||Sgt. Renfrew|
|12/13/39||FIGHTING MAD||Monogram||Sam Newfield||James Newill||Sally Blaine||Sgt. Renfrew|
|1/10/40||DANGER AHEAD||Monogram||Ralph Staub||James Newill||Dorothea Kent||Sgt. Renfrew|
|2/25/40||MURDER ON THE YUKON||Monogram||Louis Gasnier||James Newill||Polly Ann Young||Sgt. Renfrew|
|7/3/40||SKY BANDITS||Monogram||Ralph Staub||James Newill||Louise Stanley||Sgt. Renfrew|
|5/9/41||GREAT AMERICAN BROADCAST, THE||20th-Fox||Archie Mayo||Alice Faye||N/A||Jimmy|
|11/6/42||FALCON'S BROTHER, THE||RKO||Stanley Logan||Tom Conway||N/A||Paul|
|12/25/42||RANGERS TAKE OVER, THE||P.R.C.||Al Herman||Texas Rangers||Iris Meredith||Jim Steele|
|3/5/43||BAD MEN OF THUNDER GAP||P.R.C.||Al Herman||Texas Rangers||Janet Shaw (Ellen Clancy)||Jim Steele|
|3/31/43||GUNS OF THE LAW||P.R.C.||Elmer Clifton||Texas Rangers||Jennifer Holt||Jim Steele|
|5/10/43||WEST OF TEXAS||P.R.C.||Oliver Drake||Texas Rangers||Frances Gladwin||Jim Steele|
|5/13/43||BOMBARDIER||RKO||Richard Wallace||Pat O'Brien||N/A||Captain Rand|
|6/15/43||BORDER BUCKAROOS||P.R.C.||Oliver Drake||Texas Rangers||Christine McIntyre||Jim Steele|
|8/8/43||FIGHTING VALLEY||P.R.C.||Oliver Drake||Texas Rangers||Patti McCarty||Jim Steele|
|9/7/43||TRAIL OF TERROR||P.R.C.||Oliver Drake||Texas Rangers||Patricia Knox||Jim Steele|
|10/26/43||RETURN OF THE RANGERS, THE||P.R.C.||Elmer Clifton||Texas Rangers||Nell O'Day||Jim Steele|
|11/20/43||BOSS OF RAWHIDE||P.R.C.||Elmer Clifton||Texas Rangers||Nell O'Day||Jim Steele|
|1/3/44||GUNSMOKE MESA||P.R.C.||Harry Fraser||Texas Rangers||Patti McCarty||Jim Steele|
|2/10/44||OUTLAW ROUNDUP||P.R.C.||Harry Fraser||Texas Rangers||Helen Chapman||Jim Steele|
|4/27/44||PINTO BANDIT, THE||P.R.C.||Elmer Clifton||Texas Rangers||Mady Lawrence||Jim Steele|
|6/3/44||SPOOK TOWN||P.R.C.||Elmer Clifton||Texas Rangers||Mady Lawrence||Jim Steele|
|7/30/44||BRAND OF THE DEVIL||P.R.C.||Harry Fraser||Texas Rangers||Ellen Hall||Jim Steele|