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(From Old Corral image collection)
Tex Ritter

Real name:
Woodward Maurice Ritter

1905 - 1974



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - a typical moment in a Ritter film - Tex is about to tangle with perpetual baddie Charlie King.



(From Old Corral image collection)

HITTIN' THE TRAIL (GN, 1937) was among the initial batch of westerns for producer Ed Finney and Grand National and was directed by Robert North Bradbury, Bob Steele's father.

Back in the early 1980s, I was doing monthly articles for Classic Images and the editor at that time was a great guy named Sam Rubin.  Sam introduced me to Ed Finney (1903-1983), and we met, chatted, and mailed each other during 1980-1981 as I tried to learn more about Tex Ritter and Finney's work and relationship with Grand National and Monogram.


Seemingly always able to put together the bucks for a low budget flick, Ed Finney arranged a screen test for Tex Ritter, and signed him to a five year personal contract. It was 1936 - America was working its way out of the Great Depression, Gene Autry and the Three Mesquiteers were ridin' the silver screen for the newly formed Republic Pictures, and William Boyd was Hopalong Cassidy at Paramount.

Though his birth year is often reported as 1907, Woodward Maurice Ritter was born on January 12, 1905 in Panola County, Texas, and was one of six children.  In those early days before becoming 'Tex', his nickname was Woodard (not Woodward).

He attended the University of Texas for about five years, but never obtained his law degree.  Fascinated with music, Ritter did stage plays in New York and elsewhere including a lengthy run in Green Grow The Lilacs (which would be the basis for the later musical, Oklahoma).  There were radio shows in Texas and in New York ... Ritter was even a member of the Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders radio program.  He did records for the American Record Corporation in the early 1930s, and signed with the newly formed Decca Records in 1934.

The Finney deal with Ritter included a string of singing cowboy adventures and the initial bunch was handled by Grand National Pictures. But Grand National was headin' towards deep financial troubles and bankruptcy.  Around the Summer of 1938, Finney moved his 'Boots and Saddles' Production Company over to Monogram, where the Ritter film budgets were to be increased to around $20,000 per picture. As part of the deal, Finney became the Monogram advertising chief as well as producer and director of various films.

The collaboration of Finney and Ritter lasted the five years, and resulted in 32 B westerns which varied in quality, content and production enthusiasm.

Ritter's first, SONG OF THE GRINGO (GN, 1936), was a reasonably solid oater and featured a better-than-usual cast of Joan Woodbury, Fuzzy Knight, Monte Blue, William Desmond and Warner Richmond.  J. P. McCarthy directed.  Among these early entries was TROUBLE IN TEXAS (GN, 1937), with the female lead being handled by Rita Hayworth, then billed as Rita Cansino.

Of the dozen Grand National releases, five were directed by Robert North Bradbury, Bob Steele's father.  John (Jack) English of later Republic serial fame did one, the rather weak ARIZONA DAYS (GN, 1937); Ray Taylor was in charge of three; and Al Herman did a pair.

Probably the best are: MYSTERY OF THE HOODED HORSEMAN (GN, 1937), about a group of caped and masked raiders, with Ray Whitley and his Range Ramblers assisting Tex; ROLLIN' PLAINS (GN, 1938) with Tex and his trail pards smack dab in the middle of a range war; and RIDERS OF THE ROCKIES (GN, 1937), a tale of undercover work by the Arizona Rangers, with Ritter battling Yakima Canutt, and a rip roarin' brawl between Tex and frequent nemesis Charlie King.

Monogram had a singin' cowboy named Jack Randall, Bob Livingston's brother, but they needed someone with better credentials and more fan appeal - Tex Ritter fit the bill.  The Monogram series consisted of twenty films released during 1938 - 1941, and the dominant director was Al Herman who was at the helm for sixteen with Spencer Gordon Bennet responsible for the other four.

At the top of the list were WESTBOUND STAGE (Monogram, 1939), and TAKE ME BACK TO OKLAHOMA (Monogram, 1940). At the bottom end was Tex's finale at Monogram and last with Finney, THE PIONEERS (Monogram, 1941), supposedly chock-full of stock footage due to California rain storms spoiling the shooting schedule. However, I might suggest that the shoddiness of THE PIONEERS may also be due to typical oater financing --- i.e., Finney was given a budget to churn out a block of eight films, and the last one or two often got short-changed since the cash box was near empty.

And for those of you who might have read about some camera foulups in DOWN THE WYOMING TRAIL (Monogram, 1939), the answer is "Yup!".  Purportedly, this was one of the more expensive entries, with cast and crew on location in cold, snowy Wyoming.  But cameraman Marcel Le Picard had problems and some of the chase/riding scenes across the snow are at an annoying "fast" and "jerky" speed.  And back process screens were used in this film for shots of the elk herds. At the end, Tex is singing "There's a valley in Wyoming" to heroine Mary Brodel with the snow and critters in the background.  If you watch closely, you can see a 'blip' as the herd film ends and restarts over from scratch.  It's easy to hit the VCR rewind and play buttons to view this over and over.  But when this played on the big screen back in 1939-1940, the matinee crowds probably didn't even notice ... or care.

And another "Yup!" answer - Ritter did wear a Santa Claus outfit in DOWN THE WYOMING TRAIL.

Tex met pretty leading lady Dorothy Fay in 1938.  Her full name was Dorothy Fay Southworth (1915-2003), and is best remembered as the heroine of two serials, THE GREEN ARCHER (Columbia, 1940) and WHITE EAGLE (Columbia, 1941). Tex and Dorothy made four films together: SONG OF THE BUCKAROO (Monogram, 1938), SUNDOWN ON THE PRAIRIE (Monogram, 1939), ROLLIN' WESTWARD (Monogram, 1939) and RAINBOW OVER THE RANGE (Monogram, 1940). They tied the knot on June 14, 1941, and the union would last through Ritter's death in 1974. Soon after their marriage, Dorothy retired from the movie business.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is Tex's wife, serial and western heroine Dorothy Fay.

On the right is an ad cut from RAINBOW OVER THE RANGE (Monogram, 1940), one of four westerns that Dorothy did with Tex.
 

(From Old Corral image collection)



(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)

Above - Ritter on the New York stage in Green Grow The Lilacs during the early 1930s. From L-to-R are H. Bailey, Tex, Hank Worden, and Judd Carvel.



(Courtesy of Tom Bupp)

Above is the title lobby card from ARIZONA DAYS (GN, 1937), Tex's third starring oater for Grand National and Ed Finney. Pictured in the bottom right are heroine Eleanor Stewart, child star Tommy Bupp and Syd Saylor.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

For those into real trivia, Tex wore a Santa Claus costume in this 1939 Monogram oater. An interesting tidbit from Les Adams: Mary Brodel, the leading lady in DOWN THE WYOMING TRAIL (shown in the bottom right inset on this title lobby card) was the sister of Hollywood leading lady Joan Leslie (Joan Brodel). Mary's career consisted of about a half-dozen films.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Tex and trusty steed White Flash in a lobby card from TAKE ME BACK TO OKLAHOMA (Monogram, 1940). Includes lots of tunes by Tex as well as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. TAKE ME BACK TO OKLAHOMA is among Ritter's best.



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