(From Old Corral image collection)
|Bob Steele would continue as a rangeland hero for a few more years, and his next job was at Monogram Pictures to add some life to the Ken Maynard/Hoot Gibson Trail Blazers oaters. Tom Tyler, Steele's partner at Republic, was nearing the end of his starring career. He would make THE PHANTOM (Columbia, 1944) cliffhanger, and then drift into supporting roles and bit parts, often portraying a baddie. By the mid 1940s, severe arthritis would afflict him, age him, and be an underlying cause of his early death in 1954 from a heart attack.|
Robert Emmett Tansey was the jack-of-all-trades at Monogram who was in charge of the Trail Blazers. He had been working in low-budget oaters for years, doing chores like script writing, film editing, directing and producing, and he worked under a variety of names including Robert Emmett, Bob Tansey and Robert Emmett Tansey. His greatest talent was that he could function within meager budgets, a requirement at little Monogram.
Tansey would leave Monogram a year or so later for anemic Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). There, he would experiment with a two-strip color process called CineColor and use it in a few color westerns starring songster Eddie Dean and the black-garbed Al 'Lash' LaRue. Prior to that, he and Steele would do a color film together for Action Pictures/Robert L. Lippert.
The initial three Trail Blazer films (sans Steele) were OK, as Hoot and Ken worked well together. Steele joined the group in number four, DEATH VALLEY RANGERS (Monogram, 1943) and was billed third. He still looked young and could easily handle the fisticuffs, action sequences, and romantic entanglements.
Supposedly, the cantankerous Maynard wanted Bob off the series. Instead, Ken was gone after film number six, and that basically ended his western film career. Joining Hoot and Bob for the next two yarns was Victor Daniels, who called himself Chief Thunder Cloud, and had portrayed Tonto in Republic's two Lone Ranger serials.
Then Thunder Cloud was gone, Tansey was gone, and so were the Trail Blazers. That left Hoot and Bob to star in three more non-Trail Blazers: MARKED TRAILS (Monogram, 1944), TRIGGER LAW (Monogram, 1944) and THE UTAH KID (Monogram, 1944). Afterwards, Gibson retired and Steele began looking for a new job.
Though he wasn't the first, Steele was one of the few B grade cowboys to do 'color' films. The first was WILDFIRE (Action Pictures/Lippert, 1945), which used a wild hoss as the base for the story, and singin' cowboy Eddie Dean was the second lead. Robert Emmett Tansey was the director. The other color epic was NORTHWEST TRAIL (Action Pictures/Lippert, 1945), with Steele wearing the red coat of a Canadian mounted policeman.
(From Old Corral image collection)
|Left are Steele and John Litel in NORTHWEST TRAIL, one of Bob's two Cinecolor films in 1945 for Action Pictures.|
John Beach Litel (1892 or 1894 - 1972) was one of the most recognized supporting players in films and early TV. He played Carson Drew, the father of Nancy Drew (played by Bonita Granville) and was also the screen father of Jimmy Lydon in the Henry Aldrich comedy flicks. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he appeared in scores of TVers, including an ongoing role on Bob Cummings' first series, MY HERO, which co-starred Julie Bishop (Jacqueline Wells).
Steele returned to anemic PRC for his final starring roles. And in THUNDER TOWN (PRC, 1946) and AMBUSH TRAIL (PRC, 1946), he sported a moustache. Veteran Harry Fraser directed all four. And an older, heavier Charlie King was in three.
As best I can recall, some writers have suggested that the moustache was needed for the role of 'Canino', the sadistic gunman in THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Bros., 1946), who is gunned down by Humphrey Bogart in the finale. Not sure if the moustache was part of the original 'Canino' character, but Steele did not wear it in the finished film (see photo left). I'm also confused because the filmsite.org webpage on THE BIG SLEEP (link is in the Steele Weblinks section) notes that the film was released in 1946, but filmed in 1944. Perhaps someone can help resolve this moustache question.
In that same 1970 interview with Les Adams, Steele said he had grown the moustache for a uncompleted role in a Warners film, and he was danged (his word) if he was going to shave off a Warner's moustache for a PRC western.
After the starring work ended, 'Battlin' Bob' did lots of bit and supporting parts for the next twenty-five years. Around 1950, he toured with the Clyde Beatty Circus, and he may have done other circus work. A graying and older looking Steele was 'Dancer', the gunman facing Bill Elliott in THE SAVAGE HORDE (Republic, 1950). And he also popped up in many A grade features such as his role as the sympathetic prisoner 'Jenkins' in the Clint Eastwood HANG 'EM HIGH (1968). In the mid 1960s, Steele was in a couple of nostalgia westerns produced by Alex Gordon which featured many of the old cowboy heroes like Rod Cameron, Tim McCoy, Johnny Mack Brown and others --- these were REQUIEM FOR A GUNFIGHTER (Embassy, 1965) and THE BOUNTY KILLER (Embassy, 1965).
Steele also did TV and one of his more poignant roles was in an episode of FAMILY AFFAIR which starred Brian Keith. Am unsure of the date of the original episode, but Keith's TV children are fascinated with Steele's films which are being shown on the boob tube. Naturally, when they meet him, he is much older ... and not the energetic, young man that is ridin' and fightin' on the little screen. Steele also appeared in several episodes of the Hugh O'Brian TV show, THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP. Probably Steele's most remembered TV role was as 'Trooper Duffy' on the comedy F-TROOP which starred Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch.
'Battlin' Bob' had good luck 'stepping out' of his traditional hero role, and one of the best examples is that of mean spirited Curley in OF MICE AND MEN (1939), which starred Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr. I can still remember the scene of Chaney, Jr. (as Lennie) crushing Steele's hand during their fight scene. Another early badguy role was as Lee Jessup/Morgan Reynolds in the Roy Rogers' THE CARSON CITY KID (Republic, 1940). His last film appearances were in bit parts during the 1970s: SOMETHING BIG (Cinema Center, 1971) with Dean Martin and NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON (MGM, 1973) ... and if you watch closely, Steele is a bank guard in the Walter Matthau CHARLEY VARRICK (Universal, 1973).
Of all the Hollywood cowboys, multi-talented Bob Steele had the longest active film career (equating to fifty plus years, from about 1921 through 1973). And the quantity of his starring work, which amounts to 120+ films from 1927-1946, is among the highest of the B western heroes. Bob Steele was one of the first recipients of a Golden Boot award, and he received that recognition during the 1983 ceremonies. If you want more info, go to the Golden Boot Awards page on the Old Corral.
In looking over the Steele filmography, there may have also been a friendship to John Wayne. Steele did bits and minor supporting roles in several of the Wayne movies of the 1950s and later. Included are ISLAND IN THE SKY (Warner Bros., 1951), RIO BRAVO (Warner Bros., 1959), THE COMANCHEROS (20th Century Fox, 1961), McLINTOCK! (United Artists, 1963), and RIO LOBO (National General, 1970).
In ill health during the last dozen or so years of his life, Steele passed away at the St. John Medical Center, Burbank, California on December 21, 1988 from a combination of pneumonia and emphezema. He is interred at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills (Los Angeles) with twin brother Bill (1907-1971). Strangely, the grave marker shows Steele's name as 'Robert N. Bradbury' (not Robert Adrian Bradbury) and his year of death as 1989 (should be 1988).
The Family Search website (free) and Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Records database and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) have information on Bob Steele and the Bradbury family:
In the early days of TV, many of the Bob Steele westerns were shown. And a new and young audience, who had never seen him on the big screen, became fans. Here was a man of smallish stature with penetrating eyes --- my guess on Steele's height is no more than 5 foot, 5 inches, probably less. Yet he stood in a boxing stance and pounded the daylights out of anyone on the wrong side of the law ... and we applauded because he made it look believable. He could ride with the best of 'em ... he did 'other roles' to keep bread on the table ... his screen career lasted longer than any of the other cowboy heroes ... and most fans of the ol' B western fondly remember Battlin' Bob Steele as one of the best. A pretty good legacy for a durn good Hollywood cowboy.
Above and below, a gray haired Bob
Steele at one of the 1970s film conventions.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Steele's actual height? Minard is 6 feet tall, and is shown with Steele on the left and pretty heroine Peggy Stewart on the right.
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. The Three Mesquiteers often appeared in the rankings, and Steele was part of that team from late 1940 through the end of the series in 1943. Steele, as a solo hero, was ranked in three other years.
|Popularity Rankings of Bob Steele and the Three Mesquiteers
(during the years when Steele was a member)
Herald Poll Ranking
|1940||Mesquiteers ranked 8th||.|
|1941||Mesquiteers ranked 8th||.|
|1942||Mesquiteers ranked 10th||.|
|1943||Mesquiteers ranked 7th||.|
(From Old Corral image collection)
|Steele's range costume changed over time.|
In the early films, he wore various shirts and hats of different colors and styles. By the time of his work with A. W. Hackel and Supreme, he seemed to settle in with light colored headgear and either dark or light colored shirts with 'arrow pockets'. He'd continue that pattern, except for an occasional shirt change to one with drawstrings instead of buttons.
He also wore blue jeans in the early films, but seemed to favor more stylish and colorful britches during most of his starring work. Yet, he returned to blue jeans for his last half dozen or so films at Monogram and PRC.
I do recall a few times that Steele wore twin sixguns in his very early starring westerns. But his normal armament was a single holster and six-shooter, worn on the right side.
Steele often wore colorful and highly decorated cowboy boots and an example is shown below - Steele and Charlie King in a still from MESQUITE BUCKAROO (Metropolitan, 1939).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Twenty or so years ago, I did a Trail Blazers article for Norman Keitzer's Favorite Westerns magazine. One of the readers sent a follow-up letter talking about Rex Rossi, a great stuntman who was Steele's double for many years.
(Courtesy of Bob Nareau)
Above left is Bob Steele expert Bob Nareau with stuntman Rex Rossi on the right.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Bob Steele Comics
Thx to Lansing Sexton for the following info on the comic book series of Bob Steele:
In the 'Ramblings & Writing' section on the Old Corral, Les Adams authored an interesting piece on badguy Charlie 'Blackie' King. There's info on King's fisticuffs with Steele and following is an excerpt from Les' article:
"... another childhood belief was that Tex Ritter beat up Charles King every thirty minutes and only stopped long enough to allow Buster Crabbe a shot or two. Neither threw more punches at the performer-formerly-known-as-Blackie than Battlin' Bob Steele who contested him on 29 occasions. The latter also holds the record for kicking King over the longest period of years, 16 beginning in 1930 through 1946. Buster took him on 24 times and Tex is third at 23. The purists among us might discount some of the Steele and Ritter work as the numbers include their Trail Blazer and Texas Rangers trio entries where they clearly had him outnumbered."
Texan Doug Bruton saw Max Terhune, Bob Steele and Black Jack O'Shea together in a performance at a local theater. Doug recalls:
"Bob Steele, Max Terhune and Jack O'Shea came to the Star Theater in Denison, Texas in 1949 or 50. They appeared on stage between the features and put on a little stage show. Bob came out and talked about his career and while he was out on stage, a voice from off-stage called out ... 'where is this Steele?' ... 'this town is not big enough for both of us'. Then Black Jack O'Shea came out and he and Bob drew on each other. Needless to say, Bob shot the gun out of his hand and then they had a dialog. Don't remember all of it, but Bob asked Jack 'How many pictures have you been in?'. Jack answered '140 Bob'. Bob said 'How many have you been killed in?'. Jack answered '140 Bob!' Then Max did his act with Elmer and was very funny. After the show I ran around to the stagedoor and talked with them for several minutes and as any 12 or 13 year old might do, I asked a thousand questions and they were very patient and friendly."
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Bob Steele: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0824496/
The filmsite.org website has Info on Bogart, Bacall and Bob Steele in THE BIG SLEEP: http://www.filmsite.org/bigs.html
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has information and a photo of the grave marker of Bob Steele, his brother Bill, and Bill's wife Evelyn at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California. When you view the marker for the three Bradburys, note that there are two errors for Bob Steele: he is listed as Robert N. (not Robert Adrian) and his 1989 year of death should be 1988. Go to: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5440
Find A Grave has information and a photo of the grave markers for Steele's parents, prolific director Robert North Bradbury and Nieta Catherine Bradbury, both of whom are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California:
Robert North Bradbury (1886-1949): http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55039256
Nieta Catherine Bradbury (1886-1978): http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55039714
The New York Times newspaper has the December, 1988 obituary on Bob Steele (which refers to him as Robert North Bradbury, Jr.): http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/23/obituaries/bob-steele-82-actor-in-f-troop-and-films.html
As you proceed further into the Hollywood career of Bob Steele, I would like to thank Les Adams for running his trusty database, and providing a list of Steele films, as well as a listing of the film credits of Steele's father, Robert North Bradbury, Sr. Les also can remember faces and names, and was able to easily identify several players that I couldn't tag with a name in some of the forthcoming photos and lobby cards.