Fred Scott - Spectrum's singing cowboy circa 1937.
Billed as the:
"Silvery Voiced Baritone"
"Silvery Voiced Buckaroo"
Frederick Leedom Scott
1902 - 1992
Above - Fred Scott at Pathe circa 1930.
Above - 1930 tradepaper ad for Scott at Pathe.
|Special thanks to Donn and Nancy Moyer for sharing their photos and remembrances of Fred and Mary Scott. Appreciation also to Andy Southard who was a friend to Fred and Mary Scott, and also provided pictures and memories.|
Frederick Leedom Scott was born in Fresno, California in 1902 to Chancellor Scott and Violet Patterson Scott, and as a youngster, he learned how to ride. But he soon became interested in singing, which included several years of operatic voice lessons with a teacher in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Scott became a professional singer, and had jobs in concerts, theaters, opera, radio and night clubs.
Around 1925 or 1926, he began his Hollywood career in silents, and was under contract to Pathe for several years and did some bits in Mack Sennett comedies.
With the Depression in full swing, he found himself looking for work outside of film ... and found same with the San Francisco Light Opera Company ... but mostly in Hollywood night spots. A few tradepaper mentions:
An occasional film role came his way. If you watch closely, he had a bit in the first FLASH GORDON serial and did some singing in THE LAST OUTLAW (RKO, 1936) with Harry Carey.
The popularity of the traditional B western film was waning by the mid 1930s. But a change occurred that significantly impacted the genre - the "singing cowboy" arrived. Nat Levine's Mascot cliffhanger factory had produced a song-laden serial titled THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) starring former WLS Barn Dance radio performer Gene Autry. Autry was under contract with Levine and both had become part of the newly formed Republic Pictures in 1935 when it was created via a merger of Mascot, Monogram, Consolidated Film Laboratories, more.
Levine and Republic decided to try Autry in some feature westerns, and his first starrer, TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS (Republic, 1935), hit the screens in late Summer, 1935. This was quickly followed by MELODY TRAIL (Republic, 1935) and THE SAGEBRUSH TROUBADOUR (Republic, 1935). The rest is cinema history, and soon after, major and minor B western film producers shifted their priorities to "singing westerns". There were lots of Autry imitators including Fred Scott, the "Silvery Voiced Buckaroo".
Spectrum Pictures Corporation was a film distributor and existed from about 1934 - 1940. Its lifespan was brief and output consisted of a couple dozen features, all churned out by independent production outfits. Spectrum's first range rider was Bill Cody in nine oaters produced by Ray Kirkwood. Spectrum's second - and last - sagebrush hero was Fred Scott and trade publications carried the news:
Fred's first, ROMANCE RIDES THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936), arrived in theaters in late 1936, roughly a year after Autry's initial Republic starrer. Production boss for Fred's first nine adventures was Jed Buell (1897 - 1961), former theater manager and onetime publicity boss for Mack Sennett. Sam Newfield (Samuel Neufeld) handled the directing chores on a half dozen. William Jedediah 'Jed' Buell seemed to be one who would take chances to make a buck - he's best remembered for THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN (1938) western with an all midget cast, as well as HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1937) which featured big band singer Herb Jeffries.
Stan Laurel (of Laurel & Hardy fame) had just started a new production company ... and got involved in the Scott series. Jed Buell was still producing, but somethin' didn't click ... or there was a clash ... and Buell quit or was forced out. Fred's final four were produced by C. C. Burr (1891 - 1956) and directing was Raymond K. Johnson (1902 - 1999). Trades carried news of the organization shufflin':
Another half dozen Scott Spectrum westerns were announced. But only one was completed:
RIDIN' THE TRAIL was Fred's thirteenth starring western.
Trade tidbits from 1940 - 1941 are a bit chaotic and confusing. There's indications that Spectrum worked out a deal for Monogram to distribute RIDIN' THE TRAIL (1939). Am unsure if that occurred. We do know that RIDIN' was released by independent distributor Arthur Ziehm in the early 1940s. Trades also noted that Ziehm planned to star Fred and youngster Buzzy Henry in four films circa 1940-41. That didn't happen. Instead, Buzzy (and Dave O'Brien) did a couple for Ziehm in 1940-41. There are also mentions that Monogram was considering a Scott series in 1940 to go along with their Tex Ritter adventures and new "Two Pals" westerns starring Ray Corrigan and John King ("Two Pals" became the Range Busters with the addition of Max Terhune).
There were a few more movie jobs. Spade Cooley and Fred (sporting a mustache and playing a guitar) were members of a musical group in the Tim Holt THUNDERING HOOFS (RKO, 1942). Scott retired from the screen after starring in RODEO RHYTHM (PRC, 1942) which was lensed in the Kansas City area and featured the Roy Knapp Rough Rider Kids and a tale about an orphanage. While in Kansas City for RHYTHM, Variety issues from late 1941 have Fred singing in a stage act at the Tower Theater in KC.
Circa 1941 - 1944, he was the singer, manager, and part-owner of the Florentine Gardens Review in Hollywood. Later, he worked for MGM's sound department. Fred put on a pirate costume and a 'stache and did some singing in "Treasure Chest" a 1945 soundie playable in the Mills Novelty Company Panoram machine.
There was a second marriage - in the mid 1930s, Fred tied the knot with Mary Kathryn Grable and they had two daughters - Helen May was born in 1937 and Brenda Lee in 1940.
He became a successful (and well known) Los Angeles area realtor, and in later years, Fred and Mary retired to Palm Springs, California where he remained very busy. Fred was a board member of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Among Fred's closest friends were Gene Autry, William "Hoppy" Boyd, and Walter Pidgeon. The Scotts had a beautiful, tastefully decorated condo on Camino Parocella in Palm Springs, and it was located just around the corner from the home of movie baddie Marc Lawrence. The Scotts always had a bird feeding station and enjoyed watching the birds, especially a hummingbird that seemed to have taken up residence with them.
When Fred and Mary met, she was star of the George White Scandals performing as "Marietta" (a toe dancer). He said he promptly fell for her but she was standoffish for some time. They were then both on Broadway in shows and began dating. Later, in California, they continued to date and after some time Fred drove to a lookout on Mulholland Drive where you could see Los Angeles from afar. He said "Mary, will you marry me?", and she answered in the affirmative and Fred swears he said, "Good! Otherwise I was going to drive us off the cliff". Fred and Mary both had a great sense of humor.
Fred was very close to Al St. John (who was originally one of the Keystone Cops and the nephew of comic Fatty Arbuckle). Al drank too much but always seemed to make it through his lines ... most of the time. St. John worked for about five years with 'Doc' Tommy Scott's Wild West Show, and passed away from a heart attack on January 21, 1963 while working with the show during a stop in Lyons, Georgia (not the oft reported Vidalia, Georgia). Fred thought very highly of St. John, both professionally and personally. In the silent days, Fred had been support in some of Al St. John's films, and as fate would have it, now St. John was the sidekick to Fred. Fred also liked Harry Harvey, one of his other sidekicks, and thought he was a talented actor.
Fred's favorite leading lady was Lois January, who was the heroine in two of his films, THE ROAMING COWBOY (Spectrum, 1937) and MOONLIGHT ON THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1937).
For his contributions to the western film genre, Fred Scott was awarded a Golden Boot at the 1988 Golden Boot awards ceremony. Photos from that awards program are on a later webpage.
De Luxe Pictures, Inc. was formed in mid 1936 by Jed Buell and George H. Callaghan for the Scott series for Spectrum. Buell and Callaghan produced the first nine (of thirteen) Scott oaters.
Above is the 1938 organization chart for C. C. Burr's company which produced Fred Scott's last four westerns. Raymond K. Johnson was multi-functional, serving as Vice President, production supervisor (producer), and he helmed the last four of Fred Scott's westerns.
(From Old Corral collection)
Poster for Fred's first starring western, ROMANCE RIDES THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936). Note the reference (upper right corner) to Scott as the "Silvery Voiced Baritone" and his hoss as "White King".
(From Old Corral collection)
Lobby card with Fred Scott and Marion Shilling from ROMANCE RIDES THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936).
Fred Scott passed away from a heart attack two days before his 90th birthday on February 12, 1992. He was cremated and his ashes scattered.
In retrospect, Fred Scott and his western features had little impact on the genre. He was simply another talented singer who tried to overcome shoestring budgets and production ineptitudes in Poverty Row productions. While Scott had a marvelous (booming) voice, it was too formal for a cowboy hero (whereas Autry, Ritter and Rogers had a more "down home" western flavor in their warblings). If Scott had connected with Republic, Universal, Columbia or even Monogram, his career may have been longer and his films may have been much better. As to Scott personally, he was regarded as a genuine nice guy.
A tidbit which may be myth or truth: scuttlebutt was that Fuzzy Knight was to play Scott's sidekick but was tied up with other work. When Al St. John arrived as Fred's helper, he assumed the moniker of "Fuzzy" and kept using that nickname in his later roles with Buster Crabbe, Lash LaRue, others.
The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual poll 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. Fred Scott never achieved a top ten ranking in those polls.
1937 trade ad for the first group of six westerns with Fred Scott, the "Silvery Voiced Baritone".
1938 trade ad for the second batch of six westerns with Fred Scott, now billed as the "Silvery Voiced Buckaroo" ... and with involvement from Stan Laurel's company.
1939 trade ad for Fred's third batch of six westerns for release in 1939 - 1940. Only RIDIN' THE TRAIL was completed.