|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 has also provided pictures and memories.|
Fred Leedom Scott was born in Fresno, California in 1902, 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 and night clubs.
Around 1925 or 1926, Scott 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, Scott found himself looking for work outside of film ... and he found same with the San Francisco Light Opera Company and other local theater groups and operas. He was able to occasionally get a film role --- if you look close, he had a small bit part 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 was occurring which would significantly impact the genre --- the "singing cowboy" was arriving on the silver screen. Nat Levine's Mascot cliffhanger factory had produced a song-laden serial named THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) starring former WLS Barn Dance radio performer Gene Autry. Autry and Levine had become part of the newly formed Republic Pictures in 1935 when it was assembled via a merger of Mascot, Monogram, Consolidated Film Laboratories, et al.
Levine and Republic decided to try Autry in some feature westerns, and his first starring oater, 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 soonafter, just about every studio and production outfit would be churning out "singing westerns". Over the next few years, there would be lots of Autry imitators, some successful and some not. The "cowboy crooners" during the mid to late 1930s included:
The mid 1930s was a period when independent western production outfits were still able to function and earn profits on their low budget cowboy films. And there were several Poverty Row outfits churning out sagebrush adventures --- some examples are Tom Tyler, Jack Perrin and Bob Custer at Reliable Pictures; and Tyler and Tim McCoy at Sam Katzman's Victory Films. One of these Poverty Row outfits was Spectrum Pictures. Spectrum's western releases of the mid 1930s starred Bill Cody and his paint hoss 'Chico' in a series created by producer Ray Kirkwood. They needed someone with a bigger name or capable of a bigger audience draw --- Fred Scott became Spectrum's new and melodius sagebrush hero.
Scott's first starring effort, ROMANCE OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936) arrived in theaters in late 1936, roughly a year after Autry's initial Republic oater. Initially, the producer of the Scott series was Jed Buell, but later, C. C. Burr took over the reins. Spectrum was the releasing company, and not directly involved in the productions. Buell seemed to be one who would take chances to make a buck --- he did THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN (1938), the western with an all midget cast, as well as HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1937) which featured big band singer Herb Jeffries.
There would be a total of 13 Fred Scott westerns from 1936-1939, all released under the Spectrum banner. But Spectrum was in financial difficulty and would disappear before cutting loose Scott's RIDIN' THE TRAIL (1939). That film would ultimately be released by independent distributor Arthur Ziehm in the early 1940s.
Fred Scott retired from the screen after starring in RODEO RHYTHM (PRC, 1942). He worked for a time as the singer and manager of the Florentine Gardens Review and later, in MGM's sound department. He became a successful (and well known) Los Angeles area realtor, and in later years, Fred and his wife Mary retired to Palm Springs, where he remained very busy. Fred was a board member of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Fred and Mary had two daughters. Among Fred's closest friends were Gene Autry, William "Hoppy" Boyd, and Walter Pidgeon.
Fred's favorite leading lady was Lois January, who was the heroine in two of his films, THE ROAMING COWBOY (1937) and MOONLIGHT ON THE RANGE (1937). MOONLIGHT had Scott playing dual roles as a good guy and his outlaw half-brother named 'Killer Dane'.
The Scotts had a beautiful, tastefully decorated condo, with a wonderful swimming pool, 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 residence with them. They were living on Camino Parocella in Palm Springs.
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 Kops 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 5 years with 'Doc' Tommy Scott's Wild West Show, and he 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.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above are Fred Scott and his saddle pal Al St. John in a still from THE RANGER'S ROUNDUP (Spectrum, 1938).
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 with a Poverty Row production company. While Scott had a marvelous voice, it was probably too formal for a cowboy hero (whereas Autry, Ritter and Rogers had a more "down home" western flavor in their warblings). However, 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.
Another tidbit which may be myth or truth: scuttlebutt was that Fuzzy Knight was to be 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 sidekick work.
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 ranking in those polls.
(Courtesy of Donn and Nancy Moyer)
Fred Scott and his hoss, White King. There are some references and other material that identify the name of Scott's horse as White Dust. However, the publicity material (such as the posters from his Spectrum films) clearly show the animal's name as White King. Perhaps the real name of the hoss was White Dust, but they opted to use White King as the name in Scott's films.
In the early Scott flicks, he was billed as the "Silvery Voiced Baritone" (above). Later, this was changed to the "Silvery-Voiced Buckaroo" (below).
Note the credits at the bottom which list this Scott film as a "Stan Laurel Production" ... that was the Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame.
Note the reference to Scott's horse as White King, not White Dust.
(Courtesy of Andy Southard)
Fred Scott, circa 1942, and the note on the photo reads:
Dear Andy -
This is the last still I ever made in westerns.