(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
"The Lonely Cowboy"
Geremino 'Jerry' Bisceglia
1910 - 1987
|Special thanks to George Fletcher, Tex's son, for help in preparation of this webpage. You'll find info about George at his website: http://www.georgefletcher.com/. George's website on his father has loads of family photos and info: http://www.texfletcher.com/|
Thanks also to Les Adams for his writeup and timeline on the trials and tribulations of Grand National Pictures.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Geremino 'Jerry' Bisceglia was born January 17, 1910 in Harrison, New York. Scuttlebutt is that the young Jerry worked at a local theater where he became a fan of silent westerns and the Hollywood cowboy hero. And as a youngster, he lived in South Dakota and picked up some real cowboy skills including riding a horse. He also learned to sing and play a pretty good guitar, and by the 1930s, he was working in radio where he became known as "the Lonely Cowboy". He wound up at New York's WOR radio, part of the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Let's take a minute to refresh ourselves with some background on the low-budget B western in the mid to late 1930s. Republic Pictures had been formed in 1935 with the merger of Monogram Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Consolidated Film Laboratories, et al, and serial producer and Mascot owner Nat Levine become part of the firm. Levine brought with him a singin' cowboy named Gene Autry who had starred in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) cliffhanger, and the rest is Hollywood history. Republic's new Autry musical oaters became popular and were financially successful. And very quickly, other studios and production units hopped on the singin' cowboy bandwagon. Examples: Spectrum's "Silvery-Voiced Buckaroo" Fred Scott, Bob Baker at Universal and Monogram's Jack Randall.
This was also a time of churn and upheaval for many of the Poverty Row production companies. Outfits like Reliable Pictures (Tom Tyler westerns), Sam Katzman's Victory Pictures (Tyler and McCoy), Maurice Conn's Ambassador Pictures (Kermit Maynard mountie films and westerns), and others would disappear during this period just prior to World War II.
Grand National Pictures, Inc. had a brief lifespan. They were incorporated in early 1936 with Edward L. Alperson as president, and their primary task was distributing product from others. Early on, they took over the First Division exchanges (the distribution arm of Pathe).
Their westerns and outdoorsy releases included four starring Ken Maynard, three Dorothy Page "Singing Cowgirl" films, two with James Newill as the melodious "Renfrew of the Mounted", and the Wild Bill Hickok FRONTIER SCOUT (Fine Arts/GN, 1938) with George Houston. To most B-western fans, Tex Ritter is fondly remembered as Grand National's dominant cowboy. Ritter's twelve at Grand National were done by Edward Finney's Boots and Saddles production company.
Among their non-westerns were a couple based on the Shadow radio program, THE SHADOW STRIKES (Colony/GN, 1937) and the sequel INTERNATIONAL CRIME (Max & Art Alexander/GN, 1938). George Houston did CAPTAIN CALAMITY (George A. Hirliman/GN, 1936) and WALLABY JIM OF THE ISLANDS (George A. Hirliman/GN, 1937). The company even had James Cagney for a short time during his break from Warner Bros. Cagney did a pair for Grand National, GREAT GUY (1936) and SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT (1937) before returning to Warners with an enhanced contract and salary.
In late 1938, Tex Fletcher connected with the newly formed Arcadia Pictures Corporation and a deal was struck for a half-dozen sagebrush musicals with distribution by Grand National. The initial entry, SIX-GUN RHYTHM (Arcadia/GN, 1939), was lensed and released in early 1939, and Tex portrays a college and pro football star who goes west to discover the killer of his father. As the opening titles roll, Tex is riding his trusty palomino and warbling his signature composition "I'm A Lonesome Cowboy". Pretty Joan Barclay is the heroine and Ralph Peters does one of his occasional sidekick roles as Tex's helper. Tunes came from Johnny Lange and Lew Porter who worked together on dozens of westerns beginning in the mid 1930s. Reed Howes is the main heavy with support from crooked lawman Ted Adams. In the saloon brawl at the end, you'll see Dave Sharpe doubling Fletcher. Carl Mathews is a gang member, and he may also have stunted for Tex. Producing and directing chores were handled by Sam Newfield (real name: Samuel Neufeld), one of the most prolific creators of the B grade film, and among his many credits are the George Houston/Bob Livingston Lone Rider and Buster Crabbe Billy the Kid/Billy Carson oaters at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). In later life, Newfield did early TV programs such as CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION with Buster Crabbe and HAWKEYE (LAST OF THE MOHICANS) with John "Lone Ranger" Hart and Lon Chaney Jr.
When I view SIX-GUN RHYTHM, I always do a double-take since Fletcher carries his six-shooter on the left side and strums the guitar from that side also. (There were a few other southpaw western film performers - one was villain John 'Bob' Cason and another was former President Ronald Reagan.)
SIX-GUN RHYTHM isn't a great western, but it's not super bad either. While the "hero heads west to avenge the death of his dad" plotline was well used in many westerns, the wrapup has some uniqueness and creativity - the chase and shootout between Tex and Reed Howes takes place in a raging sandstorm/dust storm. You can plainly see Tex galloping on his hoss, so he must have been a fairly good rider. And he doesn't have a fictional name - he portrays himself/Tex Fletcher. It's a shame that he didn't get the opportunity to do more.
Fletcher was trying to do a series in the midst of significant turmoil at Grand National. Their corporate, financial and legal woes began in late 1937 - early 1938, and over the subsequent twelve months or so, there was a merger/consolidation with Educational Pictures, a bankruptcy filing, and never-ending reorganization plans, staff cuts, movie/distribution deals, loan requests, etc. Educational Pictures president Earle W. Hammons replaced Edward L. Alperson as company head. And Nat Levine's name even popped up as he expressed interest in acquiring the firm, but that never came to fruition. The end came in January, 1940 when the court and bankruptcy referee ordered the company to liquidate ... and over the next several months, all of their assets were auctioned or sold off.
After only one starring role, Tex Fletcher's career as a silver screen cowboy was over. But his wasn't the only series that bit the dust because of Grand National's problems. A trio was in the works featuring big band singer/band leader Art Jarrett, Lee 'Lone Ranger' Powell and Al St. John. But only TRIGGER PALS (Phil Krasne/GN, 1939) was filmed. The Monte Rawlins' ADVENTURES OF THE MASKED PHANTOM (Equity, 1939) may have been originally slated for Grand National release, but it wound up as a solo effort. Dorothy Page's time as a singing cowgirl ended after three films. The Tex Ritter and the James Newill/Renfrew series continued, but they had moved over to Monogram Pictures in late 1938. Ken Maynard did four 1937-1938 releases for Grand National, but his next four came out under Colony Pictures (owned by brothers Max and Arthur Alexander).
A bit of speculation on Tex Fletcher and his series --- director Sam Newfield was a busy, busy guy working anywhere and everywhere. He helmed TRIGGER PALS and Tex's SIX-GUN RHYTHM which were released in January and February, 1939, respectively. Then Newfield was with Sam Katzman's Victory Pictures doing Tim McCoy films (the McCoy CODE OF THE CACTUS was released in February, 1939). Did Sam read the "writing on the wall" about Grand National's future and exit stage left? Or perhaps he got a better offer with Katzman and Victory ... and abandoned ol' Tex and his series?
The story goes that Tex took SIX-GUN RHYTHM out to the theatres in the Northeast, sold it himself, and made personal appearances wherever it was shown. We've been unable to find any trade paper blurbs or theater ads to confirm that. If anyone has any info on Tex doing theater appearances or a promotional tour with that film, please shoot the Old Corral webmaster an e-mail.
Fletcher returned to New York and his radio show. But World War II intervened, and he served in the Army.
After his military discharge, he continued performing on radio as well as early television. In 1945, he tied the knot with Ada Mae Henkel and they had five offspring: Robert, Jayne, Kathy, Michael, and musician George. Some references note that Tex was in the Songs of the B-Bar-B radio program which ran on Mutual from about 1952-1954, and his role was that of Tex Mason, the singing foreman. There was also an early TV variation on the Bobby Benson B-Bar-B theme which was done at New York's WOR in the mid 1950s. Fletcher was a member of that program, and some references mention that he portrayed Tex Mason.
Fletcher's career as an entertainer and on records spanned from the 1930s through the 1960s, and he recorded for Decca/Montgomery Ward, Flint, MGM, Waldorf Music Hall, and many other labels. He was also a prolific composer/song writer. In 2003, Tex was posthumously inducted into the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame.
George Fletcher adds: " ... Davy Sharp stunted in several scenes for dad in SIX GUN RHYTHM. Not many, as Tex was a good horseman, but a few and enough so that dad always mentioned him fondly for his skills and apparently easy-going personality."
Jim Vecchio e-mailed with a family tidbit: "I was reading in your Tex Fletcher section that he was from Harrison, New York. For a while, my mother's family also lived there, and her brother, my Uncle Tony Sforza, used to caddy for Tex Fletcher. Unfortunately, Uncle Tony is gone now. His children have grown old (as I) and there are not many more memories left of that time."
You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). There you will find a record for: Tex Fletcher, born in New York on January 22, 1910 and passed away March, 1987 in New York State.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
|On the left is a Hollywood trade paper article from Monday, January 9, 1939 confirming that Tex was to star in a six film series for Arcadia with Grand National handling the releases. The working title of RHYTHM RIDES THE RANGE was changed to SIX-GUN RHYTHM.|
Les Adams adds that the shooting began Tuesday, January 10, 1939 and the first and only film in the projected series was released on February 17, 1939.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from left to right are Joan Barclay, Tex Fletcher and Reed Howes in a SIX-GUN RHYTHM lobby card. Note that Howes' six-shooter is butt forward. He wore it this way in other films.
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Photos above and below of Fletcher serenading pretty Joan Barclay, his leading lady in SIX-GUN RHYTHM. Barclay (1914-2002) had the heroine in a couple dozen B films in the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, including westerns with with Bob Steele, Tim McCoy, Tom Tyler, Bob Baker, and others, mysteries such as the Falcon and Charlie Chan series, and a couple of serials, SHADOW OF CHINATOWN (Victory, 1937) and BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD (Victory, 1937).
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the title lobby card for TRIGGER PALS (Phil Krasne/GN, 1939). Released in January, 1939, this was the initial entry in a new trio western group, but the series was not continued because of Grand National's financial difficulties. Note Lee Powell's billing as LEE (Lone Ranger) POWELL. Sam Newfield helmed TRIGGER PALS as well as Tex Fletcher's SIX-GUN RHYTHM.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Tex Fletcher: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0282129/
And the Internet Movie Database also has a list of the 100+ films turned out by Grand National: http://us.imdb.com/company/co0035646/
The Internet Broadway Database has one listing for Fletcher - he worked in the 1937 play "Howdy Stranger" at the Longacre Theater, 48th Street, New York City: http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=12186
Here's a few links of interest at the Tex Fletcher website:
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website notes that Tex Fletcher is interred at the Saint Charles Cemetery, Gardiner (Ulster County), New York: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10037407
If you have a high speed cable or DSL connection, you can download or stream the public domain SIX-GUN RHYTHM from the Internet Archive website: http://www.archive.org/details/six-gun_rhythm
And more about Fletcher's left-handed D-42 Martin Dreadnought guitar at the Museum of Musical Instruments website: http://www.themomi.org/museum/articles/Dreadnoughts/Frets_Mart_Dread_Story.html
Jerry Haendiges' OTR (Old Time Radio) site has an article authored by Jack French on the several radio and TV variations of the 'Bobby Benson' series (also called the H-Bar-O Rangers and B-Bar-B), and Fletcher was in the cast of the second TV series which was done at WOR-TV Channel 9 in the 1950s: http://www.otrsite.com/articles/artjf002.html
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website has a listing of a radio shows with Fletcher:
The Classic TV Themes website is a great reference source on the music used on old TV shows. Fletcher, along with Richard S. Kuhn and Leonard Whitcup, wrote the closing theme music to the Guy Madison/Andy Devine WILD BILL HICKOK TVer: http://www.classicthemes.com/50sTVThemes/themePages/wildBillHickock.html
ASCAP's ACE song database allows for queries. Enter 'Tex Fletcher' in the search box, click on 'Writers', and then run the search. You should find over 300 song titles credited to Tex: https://www.ascap.com/ace-title-search/index.aspx