George Francis Beldam
1903 - 1962
George Francis Beldam was born October 16, 1903 in the Windy City of Chicago, and the family migrated west, purportedly living for a time in Iowa before settling in scenic California.
There is a bit of confusion on his birth year with some biographies referencing 1903, 1904 or 1905. The census as well as his grave marker confirms 1903. Yet Beldam was a 1923 graduate of Hollywood High School, which would indicate he was about 19 1/2 years of age at graduation ... if he was born in 1903. Perhaps he lost a year or so of schooling due to the family move to California ... or perhaps that 1923 Hollywood High graduation year is in error.
Some biographies also note that Beldam was a star football player at Iowa or Iowa State. About thirty years ago, I did a Bell article for Norm Keitzer's Favorite Westerns magazine. In preparing that story, I sent letters to the Athletic/Sports Departments at the University of Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa) and Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa) asking about Rex Bell, George Beldam, and name variations such as Beldon, Beldan, etc. Received "didn't play football for us" replies from both universities. The real answer was revealed by Bell In the 1940 census - he completed four years of high school. If someone has details on Rex Bell college information, please shoot the Old Corral webmaster an e-mail.
There are also a variety of stories about how Beldam became associated with Tinseltown and the movie business. Supposedly he was good with horses, and hired on with the William Fox studios and worked on either/both of the production units associated with Fox's Tom Mix and Buck Jones westerns. Another mentions that he got spotted while building sets and/or delivering construction material at the Fox studios with his dad's construction company. Whatever the case, he must have impressed someone at Fox for he was put under contract. And it was at this time that he adopted the name of Rex Bell, a moniker that is fondly remembered by horse opera fans.
As mentioned above, Fox had a couple of western film 'big guns' in the silent era - Buck Jones and Tom Mix. Jones had left in 1928 and Mix would be cut loose (and head over to FBO for a handful). During these final days of silent films, Bell became a member (albeit brief) of Fox's stable of cowboy heroes - he starred in WILD WEST ROMANCE, THE COWBOY KID, THE GIRL-SHY COWBOY and TAKING A CHANCE, all released in 1928.
Despite a lack of formal training in the art of visual dramatics, Rex's warm personality, good looks, and wavy hair caused female hearts to flutter and landed him in 'glamour boy' and romantic supporting and bit parts in films like SALUTE (Fox, 1929), the George O'Brien football yarn which also included screen newcomers Marion Morrison (John Wayne) and Ward Bond. For the next year or two, Bell made enough to survive, but Depression times were tough. Fox used him in other films, and even loaned him out to Warners and Paramount. Bell was doing TRUE TO THE NAVY (Paramount, 1930), when he met the"It" Girl, Clara Bow.
(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)
Above are Rex and an unidentified player in a lobby card from the silent THE GIRL-SHY COWBOY (Fox, 1928).
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - Clara Bow, Paramount's "It" Girl.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above - Rex and the flaming haired Clara Bow in a crop from a lobby card from TRUE TO THE NAVY (Paramount, 1930). The leads were Clara and Frederic March.
Bow and Bell became an "item". The pair eloped, tieing the knot on December 3, 1931 in Las Vegas, and settled down on a large ranch in Searchlight, Nevada. Over the next couple years, Clara starred in a few talkies but by the mid 1930s, she opted to retire from the screen leaving hubby Rex to travel between the California studios and their Nevada home. They sold the ranch around 1944 when Rex got more involved in business and Nevada politics.
Their Walking Box ranch was up for sale circa 1999 and the asking price was around $3 million dollars. It was sold in late 2000, but the final price was about $1 million. The spread includes a Spanish style two-story main house with over 5000 square feet of space and a three room guest house of about 1200 square feet. During the 1930s, there was a constant flow of Hollywood friends that visited including Rex's pal Clark Gable as well as Carole Lombard, Errol Flynn, Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, others.
The arrival of talking pictures caused an upheaval as major studios and independents were forced to employ cumbersome sound recording gear. And many technicians and producers were pessimistic about the future of the lowly western programmer which required location filming. After some early trials and tribulations, outdoor adventures - including the B western - survived and thrived in the sound era. During this year or two period when talkies arrived, the career of Rex Bell was in slow motion.
He was featured in BATTLING WITH BUFFALO BILL (Universal, 1931), a twelve-chapter cliffhanger starring former FBO silent range rider Tom Tyler. And Bell found roles in some non-westerns which were released through little Monogram Pictures. He did FORGOTTEN WOMEN (1931) with Marion Shilling and LAW OF THE SEA (1932) which starred William Farnum and Sally Blane. He also starred as a suit-wearing reporter on the trail of the killer of a nightclub singer in ARM OF THE LAW (1932).
(Courtesy of Richard Harrison)
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from left to right are William Desmond, Lucile Browne, Rex Bell and Yakima Canutt in a scene from the serial, BATTLING WITH BUFFALO BILL (Universal, 1931), which starred Tom Tyler.
Monogram had Tom Tyler and Bill Cody as the stars of their 1931-1932 westerns. Tyler and Cody were let go, and Monogram executive and producer Trem Carr signed Bell and Bob Steele for season 1932-1933.
Bell's eight westerns for Monogram were:
Harry Fraser was the director on five, J. P. McCarthy did a pair, and Armand Schaefer did one. The worst of the bunch is CRASHIN' BROADWAY (1933) which was helmed by McCarthy. There's very little action interspersed with lots of awful vaudeville performances, over acting, etc. And George Hayes, several years before he became "Gabby", has a dual role, one of which is a ham actor wearing an awful page boy wig.
These Bell flicks are often recalled because they involved modern settings, gangsters, fast movin' roadsters, and Rex traveling from east to west to resolve the story. However, these plots weren't unique to Rex's Monograms. Several of the Bob Steele adventures also utilized offbeat, non-traditional stories --- Bob was a boxer in THE FIGHTING CHAMP (Monogram, 1932); there was a dirigible in HIDDEN VALLEY (Monogram, 1932); Steele was a circus performer (wearing tights) in THE GALLANT FOOL (Monogram, 1933); and Steele even handled a sword and racing car in BREED OF THE BORDER (Monogram, 1933).