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Saddle Pals & Sidekicks


There were various players who wound up doing duty as a more serious helper to the hero. Occasionally, they would get into some comedic difficulties, but their primary role was not as a comic or buffoon. Several could be considered as 'second leads', and a few could even sing.  Others often portrayed the heroine's brother or the son of the ranch owner ... and seemed to be in constant trouble.




Most of us remember James Ellison and Russell Hayden as the main helpers to William Boyd in his Hopalong Cassidy adventures. After the departures of Ellison and Hayden, various actors were utilized as replacements - they were Rand Brooks, Brad King, George 'Superman' Reeves, Jimmy Rogers ... and Jay Kirby (1920 - 1964).

Jay Kirby was born William Bennett George on January 21, 1920 to Harry Virgil George and Eunice Bennett, and the family was living in Denver, Colorado at the time of the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census. Kirby's birth location could be Denver or Kansas City, Missouri, and there's information below on that confusion.

He attended Denver's South High School, was on their track and football teams, and graduated in 1938.

When he registered for the draft in July, 1941, 21 year old William Bennett George was a student at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He briefly served in the Army Air Corp and his draft registration has a notation that he was given a medical discharge on February 12, 1943.

Using a screen name of 'Jay Kirby', he began his film career portraying trail pal 'Johnny Travers' in six Hoppy films released in 1942 - 1943.

After those half dozen Hoppys, Kirby starred in SUNDOWN RIDERS with Russell Wade and Andy Clyde. RIDERS was an independent cheapie filmed in 16mm and color in 1944 for the non-theatrical market (meaning road shows, clubs, schools, and church audiences). Astor wound up releasing it to theaters in 1948. Kirby and his father H. V. George - along with Russell Wade and others - were behind the plans and financing for SUNDOWN and they formed a company named "Major 16mm Productions, Inc.". More about that below.

In the post WW2 years, Kirby can be spotted in a dozen or so westerns with Jimmy Wakely at Monogram, Tim Holt at RKO, and at Republic Pictures with Bill Elliott, Monte Hale, others. Reverting to his real name of 'Bill George', he appears in a few 1950s cowboy TV shows including CISCO KID and ROY ROGERS.

His first two marriages ended in divorce, and both wives were Hollywood starlets with a few film roles:

  • July 1, 1942 issue of Variety had a marriage announcement: "Donivee Lee to Jay Kirby, in Yuma, Arizona, June 26 (1942). Both are screen players."
  • In the mid 1940s, he married ice skater, actress and model Carmelle Bergstrom Jordan in Reno, Nevada. It was the second marriage for both - Carmelle's first husband was Jim Jordan, Jr., the son of Jim and Marian Jordan, radio's Fibber McGee and Molly.
    The George family had problems and in late 1948, there was a much publicized divorce - Carmelle reported that her hubby was now doing landscaping work ... but would spend all his time at a piano composing poor quality music instead of looking for a job ... and he wasn't bringing in any money to support the family. She was granted a divorce and custody of their young son Jeffrey. (If anyone wants copies of newspaper articles on their messy divorce, e-mail ye Old Corral webmeister.)

On August 15, 1963, William Bennett George suffered severe injuries when his car overturned in Norwalk, California. He never fully recovered and was a patient at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles. He passed away there on July 30, 1964 and is interred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery (AKA Sawtelle Veterans Cemetery). The death certificate also notes another marriage - his wife was Chanson George and they lived in Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County, California.

Did not find an obituary or funeral notice on him at Newspapers.com, the Newspaper archive, or trade publications at the Internet Archive.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Jay Kirby and wives:
     Jay Kirby: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0313358/
     Donivee Lee (real name: Donivee Purkey): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0497175/
     Carmelle Bergstrom: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0075063/

Family Search (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), and the death certificate provide more on William Bennett George / Jay Kirby. Note that the family resided in Denver, Colorado when the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census were taken. But Kirby's military records indicate he was born in Kansas City, Missouri. The confusion continues - in the 1920 census, he's born in Colorado, but in the 1930 census, his birth location is Missouri.

  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home in Denver, Colorado are 31 year old Harry V. George (born Kansas; occupation "Grain Dealer - own shop") and his 30 year old wife Eunice B. George. The census taker visited in early January, 1920, a few weeks prior to the birth of Jay Kirby on January 28, 1920: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MX2D-BRM
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet has Kirby born in Colorado - owning their home in Denver, Colorado are 41 year old Harry V. George (born Kansas; occupation "Pharmacist - Drug Store" ), his 40 year old wife Eunice B. (born Kansas), 10 year old son Billy B. (born Colorado), 8 year old daughter Myra B. (born Colorado), and a servant: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X7WT-PZF
  • He graduated from South High School, Denver, Colorado. Ancestry.com has the 1938 South High Yearbook - and under the name Bill George - there's a senior photo and track team photo of him.
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet has Kirby born in Missouri - owning their home in Denver, Colorado are 51 year old Harry George (born Kansas; occupation "Broker - cereals"), his 51 year old wife Emmie (born Kansas), 18 year old daughter Myrabelle (born Missouri), and 20 year old son William (born Missouri): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VRDK-GYG
  • Ancestry.com had his draft registration dated July 1, 1941 in Los Angeles. 21 year old William Bennett George was born January 20, 1920 in Kansas City, Missouri. His occupation is "student" at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His home address is Denver, Colorado, but his mailing address is Los Angeles. He's 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. His registration includes a handwritten notation:
    "2-12-43 - Medical Discharge".
  • World War II Army enlistment record - William B. George enlisted May 13, 1942 as a Private in the Air Corps. He was born 1920 in Missouri; has one year of college; he is single with no dependents; and civilian occupation was "Actors and actresses": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KMFM-8WM
  • California Birth Index for Jeffrey George, born April 16, 1947 in Los Angeles, and mother's maiden name was Bergstrom: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V2W6-MYN
  • California Death Index for William B. George. He was born January 28, 1920 in Missouri, mother's maiden name was Bennett, and he passed away July 30, 1964 in the Los Angeles area: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPK2-Y2M
  • Death certificate: 44 year old William Bennett George was born January 28, 1920 in Missouri to Harry V. George and Eunice Bennett. He was a World War II veteran; current occupation was "Writer" and employer was North American Aviation; wife was Chanson George and they lived in Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County, California. On August 15, 1963, he suffered severe injuries in an accident when his car overturned in Norwalk, Los Angeles County, California. He passed away July 30, 1964 at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital, Los Angeles, and had been a patient there for 8 1/2 months. An autopsy was performed and cause of death was bronchopneumonia, comatose state from cerebral contusions, and acute pyelonephritis. Cremation at the Veterans Administration Crematory.
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a photo of the marker for William B. George (1920 - 1964) who is interred at Los Angeles National Cemetery (AKA Sawtelle Veterans Cemetery). Inscription on the marker reads: "Missouri" and "Aviation Cadet Army Air Forces World War II": https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3710669/william-bennett-george



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are William Boyd, Herbert Rawlinson, Jay Kirby and Hugh Prosser (with the badge) in a scene cropped from a 14x36 insert card from the Hopalong Cassidy LOST CANYON (Harry Sherman Prod/UA, 1942).



Above is the pressbook cover for SUNDOWN RIDERS. Filmed in 1944 in color and 16mm for the non-theatrical market, this ultra low budget oater wound up being released to theaters in 1948 by Astor. Jay Kirby and Andy Clyde are pictured at the top. And great rider Evelyn Finley and Russell Wade are shown at the bottom.

The "Major 16mm Productions, Inc." company was formed by Kirby and others to produce and finance SUNDOWN. Kirby was one of the stars. And under his real name of William George, he did the music score. A few excerpts from the October 14, 1944 Motion Picture Herald at the Internet Archive:

"... with Russell Wade, Jay Kirby and Andy Clyde in the principal roles, directed by Lambert Hillyer from a script by himself, and photographed by Alan Stensvold, William George furnishing the music score." (William George being Kirby. In their 1948 divorce, wife Carmelle Bergstrom complained about Kirby spending all his time writing music.)

"Producers of the picture, who identify themselves ... as 'all gamblers', are the Messrs. Wade, Kirby, Svensvold, George and the latter's father, H. V. George of Denver, who is given producer credit on the screen."

More on Kirby, SUNDOWN RIDERS, "Major 16mm Productions, Inc." company, et al is available at the Internet Archive:

Home Movie magazine from 1944 with photos and article about the film. Click HERE for the article and a separate window / tab will open.

October 14, 1944 Motion Picture Herald has an article on Kirby, Major 16mm Productions company, and SUNDOWN RIDERS. Click HERE for the article and another window / tab will open.




(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is John James (1913 - 1960) with George 'Gabby' Hayes and Wild Bill Elliott in MAN FROM THUNDER RIVER (Republic, 1943). He appeared in about 80 films from 1939 through the early 1950s. These included about twenty Republic westerns and serials released during 1941 - 1947. From the mid 1940s through the early 1950s, James did oaters with Jimmy Wakely, Bill Elliott, Lash LaRue, a few others. He also shows up in some A grade movies including THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (MGM, 1944). In DEVIL BAT'S DAUGHTER (PRC, 1946), James and Rosemary La Planche, Miss America of 1941, had the lead roles.

In 1947, he married Jacqueline Hammette. As Jacqueline James, she became a star of 1950s - 1960s musicals and stage plays. And John became her mentor and manager.

There's expanded coverage on John James in the Villains & Supporting Players section on the Old Corral.




(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above is Bob Nolan (1908-1980).  Nolan, Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye) and Tim Spencer formed a trio in the early 1930s, and the group matured and expanded into the Sons of the Pioneers, the most influential of the B western singin' groups.  The Canadian born Nolan, whose real name was Robert Nobles, was also a proficient and prolific songwriter, and among his creations are Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds.  Nolan and the SOP did tunes and helper duty with Charles Starrett at Columbia.  But he and they are probably best remembered for all their appearances in Roy Rogers films.  The eternal question about Nolan and his career: how come he was never offered a solo shot as a movie cowboy hero/lead?

There's a section on the Old Corral devoted to Bob Nolan (and the Sons of the Pioneers).




(From Old Corral collection)

Above is Russell 'Russ' 'Lucky' Hayden (1911-1981). He was a member of Paramount's production crew prior to co-starring in the Hopalong Cassidy films of the late 1930s. Hayden then went on to co-star with Charles Starrett at Columbia ... moved to his own starring series at Columbia ... and then some other western and serial filmwork as the B film era faded. In the 1950s, he and former child star, Jackie Coogan, starred in the COWBOY G-MEN TV series, and Hayden wound up producing cowboy TVers such as 26 MEN and JUDGE ROY BEAN.

You'll find expanded coverage on Hayden in the 'Heroes' section on the Old Corral homepage. There you will find that his birth / surname was Lucid. But there are many variations of his first and middle names.




(From Old Corral collection)

Above is James 'Jimmy' 'Shamrock' Ellison (real name: James Ellison Smith) (1910-1993). He was the original trail partner to William Boyd in the early Hopalong Cassidy films, and was replaced in that series by Russell Hayden.  Ellison was groomed to become a bigger name by Paramount, 20th Century Fox and RKO, but he was unable to fully make the transition to a star of A grade features. In the early 1950s, he was the second lead to Johnny Mack Brown at Monogram. He then retired and became a successful California contractor and home builder.

You'll find expanded coverage on Ellison in the 'Heroes' section on the Old Corral homepage.




(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above is Dennis 'Denny' 'Smoky' Moore (1908-1964), real name: Dennis Meadows.  Moore couldn't land a job as a solo hero in a cowboy series.  He did a brief stint as one of the three heroes at the tail end of the Monogram Range Busters series. Later at Monogram, he was the saddle pal to Jimmy Wakely. When Johnny Mack Brown left Universal, Moore came in to give Tex Ritter a hand in a film or two. And PRC used Moore several times as the helper to both George Houston and Bob Livingston in the Lone Rider series.  Moore had better luck in cliffhangers, and was the hero in several, including RAIDERS OF GHOST CITY (Universal, 1944) and THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES (Republic, 1945).  A decade later, Moore was the star/co-star in the last two serials that were filmed, BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL (Columbia, 1956) and PERILS OF THE WILDERNESS (Columbia, 1956).

Moore also had a lot of screen time as a villain, and you'll find "more on Moore" in the Villains & Supporting Players section on the Old Corral.




(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above from L-to-R are Jim Bannon, Whip Wilson and Phyllis Coates.  Bannon (1911-1986) was the hero of the serial DANGERS OF THE CANADIAN MOUNTED (Republic, 1948) and was the trail pard to Whip Wilson in his later Monogram films.  He also portrayed Red Ryder in a brief series around 1950 for Eagle-Lion films, and played 'Uncle Sandy North' in the short-lived ADVENTURES OF CHAMPION TV show for Gene Autry's Flying A production company in the 1950s.  In the 1950s, Bannon was the lead in a proposed Red Ryder TV show and a pilot episode was filmed.  But the series never made it onto the little screen.

You'll find expanded coverage on Bannon in the 'Heroes' section on the Old Corral homepage.




(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Georgia born Raymond Otis 'Ray' Whitley (1901-1979) was a great western singer and songwriter ... he was in films with George O'Brien, Tim Holt, Jimmy Wakely, Rod Cameron, more, where he was the hero's helper or just around to add western tunes.  Among Whitley's songwriting credits is Gene Autry's theme song, I'm Back In The Saddle Again.  Whitley did star in some western musical shorts in the mid 1940s.  But the same question arises (as with Bob Nolan): how come Whitley didn't get a shot at being a full-fledged screen hero?

You'll find expanded coverage on Whitley in the 'Heroes' section on the Old Corral homepage.

Whitley is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  When you get to the site, click on 'Hall of Fame': http://www.nashvillesongwritersfoundation.com/Site/inductees



Tex Harding
(From Old Corral collection)

Above is Tex Harding (1918-1981) (real name: John Karl Thye). He was the "singing sidekick" to Charles Starrett in about a half dozen Durango Kid escapades in the mid 1940s, and Harding also did a Durango in the late 1940s.

Harding's singing was probably dubbed and the real voice doing Tex's songs belonged to James T. 'Bud' Nelson (born January 28, 1914, Brooklyn, New York; passed away March 13, 1994, Las Vegas, Nevada). Nelson did appear onscreen in bit and background roles in several of the Durango Kid films.

Several folks have asked about the paint hoss ridden by Harding in those Durango Kids - it was horse trainer Ralph McCutcheon's Diablo, which in later years, became the primary mount used by Duncan Renaldo in his Cisco Kid films at United Artists as well as the Cisco Kid TV program. Gene Autry also used Diablo in THE STRAWBERRY ROAN (Columbia, 1948) and it was ridden by George J. Lewis in Autry's THE BIG SOMBRERO (Columbia, 1949). There's more on Diablo in the Trusty Steeds/Movie Horses section on the Old Corral.

Les Adams adds some trivia about Harding's sister, actress Dorothy Dix. She was the leading lady to Ken Maynard in WHEELS OF DESTINY and DRUM TAPS, Gene Autry in GUNS AND GUITARS, Bob Steele in NEVADA BUCKAROO, and Buck Jones in SUNSET OF POWER. Must have been quite a gap in their ages as she made her last film in 1936 and his first was 1945.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Tex Harding: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0362406/

The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and the death certificate provide more on Dorothy Thye (Dorothy Dix) and John Thye (Tex Harding):

  • 1920 census: living in Peoria, Illinois are 42 year old Carl M. Thye (born Denmark), his 39 year old wife Matilda J. (born Denmark), 11 year old daughter Marie L. (born Illinois), 9 year old daughter Dorothy M. (born Illinois), 1 year old son John K. (born Illinois), and a servant: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJCQ-84W
  • 1930 census: living in Los Angeles, California are 50 year old Carl J. M. Thye (born Denmark), his 47 year old wife Mathelde (born Denmark), 21 year old daughter Marie (born Illinois), 19 year old daughter Dorothy (born Illinois), and 12 year old son John (born Illinois): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCVM-9N2
    Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet: they own their home at 1545 Laurel Avenue, Los Angeles. Father Carl's occupation is "Proprietor - Meat Market".
  • 1940 census: 22 year old John Thye (born Illinois), his 28 year old sister Dorothy (born Illinois), 30 year old divorced sister Marie Lane and her 10 year old daughter Beverly are renting at 7922 Norton, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, California. John Thye is single; has two years of college; his occupation is "Butcher - Retail meat market", and in 1939, he worked 52 weeks and earned $1560.00. Dorothy is single; completed four years of high school; her occupation is "Designer - Millinery" and she reported no earnings in 1939: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K97Z-KXP
    1940 census takers worksheet: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27791-13842-11?cc=2000219&wc=M9Q8-T8S:2062427235
  • January 13, 1951 Los Angeles County, California marriage license of 33 year old John Karl Thye (born Illinois) to 29 year old Margo Lea Grutsch (born Missouri). Thye lives in West Los Angeles; is single; parents were Carl J. M. Thye and Matilda Jensen (both born Denmark). Margo's maiden name was Brehm; she is divorced and this is her second marriage: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-29894-2321-15?cc=1804002
  • Social Security Death Index (SSDI) - John Thye was born January 4, 1918, passed away April, 1981, and his last residence was in Spangle, Washington.
  • Death certificate: 63 year old John K. Thye passed away on April 28, 1981 at St. Luke's Memorial Hospital, Spokane, Washington. His residence was Spangle, Washington; he was married and wife was LaVon Lancaster; he was born January 4, 1918 in Illinois; parents were Carl J. M. Thye and Mathilda Sorensen; he was not a veteran; his occupation was "Meat Cutter - Supermarket". He passed away from respiratory arrest, cerebral metastasis, and also suffered from prostate cancer. Death certificate informant was LaVon Thye, Spangle, Washington. Thornhill and Langbahn Funeral Home (in Spokane) was in charge and cremation at Ball and Dodd Crematory.



Rand Brooks (1918-2003) portrayed 'Lucky Jenkins' to William Boyd in the last dozen Hopalong Cassidy oaters which were released by United Artists in the mid to late 1940s. Brooks, whose full name was Arlington Rand Brooks, Jr., was also 'Corporal Randy Boone' in THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN TV show. In the late 1930s, he was at MGM doing teen roles in the Andy Hardy films and more. His most remembered role is probably as 'Charles Hamilton', the ill-fated first husband of Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, 1939).

Brooks' first marriage was to Stan Laurel's daughter Lois. After he left Hollywood, Brooks formed Professional Ambulance Service which grew into the largest private ambulance provider in Los Angeles County. He sold the company in the mid 1990s and he and his second wife Hermaine retired to the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, California. Brooks passed away on September 1, 2003.

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website includes information on Brooks' interment at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7832354

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Rand Brooks: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0112203/



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

L-to-R are Andy Clyde, William Boyd, Rand Brooks and William Bailey (AKA William Norton Bailey) in the Hopalong Cassidy adventure FALSE PARADISE (United Artist, 1948).


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