The October, 1929 stock market crash, the Depression, and the arrival of talking pictures had a major impact on the movie business and performers. Al's starring days were over by the early 1930s, and he - and many others - faced tough times finding work. Paydays became infrequent and much less than his hefty 1920s earnings. His investments in the stock market and real estate had soured and he was in court many times about missed alimony and child support payments. And in the 1930 census, Al and June had moved in with Al's parents in Los Angeles. He needed income and began free lancing, picking up a few film assignments whenever and wherever he could. He even tried the legitimate theater but results were negative. A few trade and newspaper tidbits from this time period:
January 21, 1930 Van Nuys (California) News newspaper: "Mr. and Mrs. Al St. John and their son, Raymond, are spending a month in San Francisco. Mr. St. John, well known as a moving picture actor, is to play the leading male part in 'Bambi' [sic] which is opening at one of the theatres in the northern city. Mrs. St. John is better known under her stage name of June Price."
February 22, 1930 Hollywood Filmograph reported that the musical comedy 'Bambina' at the Mayan Theater in San Francisco shut down after a two week run. Comments were not kind to Al and the play. Excerpt: "Much of the comedy, by Al St. John, was plain 'hokum' and entirely out of place in such a vehicle, being more suitable for modern, cheap, vaudeville."
Associated Press syndicated story in January, 1931 newspapers reported that Al was in financial trouble again ... for "failure to pay judgement of $609 to a military academy attended by his son. The sum was for tuition and board." (That was June's son, Raymond Beach Price.)
The March 15, 1932 issue of Variety had a lengthy article on the decline of independently produced comedy shorts.
Headline: "Indie Shorts Producers and Players Pull Fadeout as Market Collapses."
Article excerpts: "Shorts are completely out as a means of earning a livelihood among independent producers. Currently there is not one series of shorts being made ... for the states righters. What single and two reelers the indie distributors are picking up are mostly travel novelties and productions made at least a year ago." ; The article mentions about twenty "Former comedy names" including Lloyd Hamilton, Ben Turpin, Sid Saylor, Snub Pollard, James Aubrey, Kit Guard, Vernon Dent ... and Al St. John. ; "They're now working in features, most of them doing bits." ; "Indie producers and distributors found that while a market still exists for independently produced features, the demand for independent short subjects had expired."
Not much movie work was available for a former silent clown. Though vaudeville was also in decline, Al got an offer he couldn't refuse. In Summer, 1932, RKO chose he and silent leading man Kenneth Harlan as pardners for an act on RKO's vaude circuit. Trades and newspapers had reports of their many tour stops from mid 1932 - early 1935 and reviews were a mix of positive and negative. Al's second wife June was also in the act.
June 21, 1932 Variety: "Hollywood, June 20 (1932). Owen Moore and Kenneth Harlan with Al St. John have been given vaude routes by RKO. Moore opens in Trenton, N. J., June 25 (1932). Harlan - St. John team starts at Yonkers (New Jersey) on the same date."
August 13, 1932 Hollywood Filmograph: "Nancy Cornelius ... is working in Kenneth Harlan and Al St. John's vaudeville act, booked ... throughout the RKO circuit." (Circa 1927, Nancy Cornelius was one of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties and there's photos of her in the biography of Jay Wilsey / Buffalo Bill Jr. To go to that webpage, click HERE and a separate tab / window will open.)
August 28, 1934 Variety in the marriages column: "Kenneth Harlan to Helen Spelner, Chicago dancer, in Binghamton, N. Y., Aug. 20 (1934). Attendants were Mr. and Mrs. Al St. John. All comprise a vaude act."
The syndicated NEW YORK INSIDE OUT column in April, 1934 newspapers summed up the situation and status on Harlan, St. John, and their vaudeville tour: "What price glory? A few years ago Kenneth Harlan and Al St. John were two of the biggest actors in the business and today they are making personal appearances in tiny uptown neighborhood houses. It must be embarassing."
November 30, 1934 Variety: "Chicago - Kenneth Harlan and Al St. John plotting a new act." (That didn't happen.)
In between the vaude play dates, Al did a few films including a couple with a young John Wayne, HIS PRIVATE SECRETARY (Showmen's Pictures, 1933) and RIDERS OF DESTINY (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933). He also did one with "Fatty' during Arbuckle's early 1930s "comeback":
November 22, 1932 Variety: "Al St. John, who years ago worked with Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, will appear in Arbuckle's second short for Warners. It started filming yesterday at the Vita Brooklyn studio. St. John recently has been playing vaude."
There was some devastating news during that early to mid 1930s period - Al lost his uncle and mentor when Arbuckle passed away from a heart attack on June 29, 1933 in New York City.
The September, 1932 Chicago theater ad above lists "Harlan & St. John" ... and headlining was Baby Rose Marie (Rose Marie Mazetta) who is best remembered as 'Sally Rogers' on the 1961 - 1966 DICK VAN DYKE television program.
(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Kenneth Harlan - circa 1940.
Al did a few early sound westerns.
"Fuzzy" hasn't arrived yet.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above left to right are a youngish Al St. John (as sidekick 'Buckshot'), Caryl Lincoln and Bob Steele in LAND OF MISSING MEN (Tiffany, 1930). Al did two other early sound westerns with Steele: THE OKLAHOMA CYCLONE (Tiffany, 1930) and RIDERS OF THE DESERT (Sono Art-World Wide, 1932).
St. John and Steele reunited at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) in the initial half-dozen of the Billy the Kid oaters which were released in 1940 - 1941.
Note the height of Steele and Al - both were about 5 feet, 5-6 inches tall.
(Image courtesy of Carol Murray and her "Jack Hendricks Photo Album")
Left to right are Jack Hendricks, Al St. John (as saddle pal 'Stub Macey') and Tom Tyler in a still from TRIGGER TOM (Reliable, 1935). Note the zipper on Tyler's form-fitting shirt. Al did another with Tyler, PINTO RUSTLERS (Reliable, 1936).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams as 'Two-Gun Smith' and Al St. John as 'Stoney Martin' in THE LAW OF 45's (Normandy/First Division, 1935). This was one of two early screen adaptations of William Colt MacDonald's 'Three Mesquiteers' novels. The other was POWDERSMOKE RANGE (RKO, 1935) which starred Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, more.
(From Old Corral collection)
Al did one with Rex Bell. Above - Bell and a clean-shaven Al St. John (as sidekick 'Walla Walla Wiggins') guard the trail in WEST OF NEVADA (Colony, 1936). Crop / blowup below of Bell and St. John.
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Above - Tex Ritter and Al St. John (as scrufty sidekick 'Duke Evans') in SING, COWBOY, SING (Grand National, 1937). Al was about forty-five years old when he did this Ritter adventure ... but he sure looks older. He's beginning to look a lot like 'Fuzzy'.