The Trail Blazers
8 Films
1943 - 1944



(From Old Corral image collection)

From L-to-R are Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard in a lobby card from DEATH VALLEY RANGERS (Monogram, 1943), Steele's first Trail Blazers' film and he is billed third.


(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is the title lobby card from SONORA STAGECOACH (Monogram, 1944), the eighth and last of the Monogram Trail Blazers series. On the left is Betty Miles riding her horse Sonny. On the right are Chief Thunder Cloud, Hoot Gibson and Bob Steele (helping Bud Osborne off the stage).



The members of the Trail Blazers:

Edmund Richard 'Hoot' Gibson (1892 - 1962)
portrayed "Hoot Gibson"

Kenneth Olin 'Ken' Maynard (1895 - 1973)
portrayed "Ken Maynard"

Bob Steele (1907 - 1988)
(real name: Robert Adrian Bradbury)
portrayed "Bob Steele"

Chief Thunder Cloud (1899 - 1955)
(real name: Victor Daniels)
portrayed "Chief Thunder Cloud"


With the demise of the Range Busters after the 1942-43 release schedule, Monogram was in dire need of another multi-hero offering ... something that was quick and cheap and could still bring in the Saturday matinee fans.

They coaxed two oldtimers back onto the screen - Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson had been among the major cowboy heroes in silent and 1930s sound westerns, but neither had a starring series for several years.  Both were well past the youthful image which was typical of sagebrush heroes. Maynard was nearing fifty years of age and Gibson has already passed the half century mark. Monogram was hopeful the pair would trigger some nostalgia in the minds of the movie-goers. The plot line for the Trail Blazers was simple - Ken and Hoot would portray veteran (older) undercover lawmen out to clean up the west.  Ken's original palomino Tarzan had gone to 'hoss heaven', and he was now riding a white steed named Tarzan II.  He also had added some significant poundage around his waistline.

The first entry, WILD HORSE STAMPEDE (1943), had Ken and Hoot being assisted by one-time Universal singing cowboy star Bob Baker (real name: Leland T. Weed).  Maynard had a reputation for being cantankerous and ornery, and Hollywood legend is that Ken didn't care for Baker. Whatever the reason, Baker didn't return to the series.

Most, if not all, of the Trail Blazers were shot at Corriganville (Semi Valley, California) which was a movie location ranch owned by Ray 'Crash' Corrigan of Three Mesquiteers and Range Busters fame.

Robert Emmett Tansey was the jack-of-all-trades at Monogram and he was in charge of most of the films.  He had been involved in low-budget oaters for years, doing chores like script writing, film editing, directing and producing, and working 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 Monogram.  Tansey would leave Monogram in the mid 1940s 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.

The initial three Trail Blazer films were OK, as Hoot and Ken were personal friends and worked well together.  With film number four, DEATH VALLEY RANGERS (1943), Monogram added veteran Bob Steele, who still looked young and could handle the fisticuffs, action sequences, and romantic entanglements.  Steele was available as he had been cut loose from Republic Studios when they closed down the Three Mesquiteers adventures.

WESTWARD BOUND (1944) is fun to watch, but there is a noticeable lapse. In the rootin' tootin' finale, Hoot throws dynamite sticks at the fleeing baddies. The dynamite lands in the street but the set explosions go off about five feet away. As the dust and smoke from the blast dissipates, you can spot the fake dynamite sticks still laying on the ground.

Supposedly, Maynard wanted Steele off the series.  Instead, Ken was gone after film number six, ARIZONA WHIRLWIND (1944). Maynard had one more starring role but not for Monogram - the film was HARMONY TRAIL (Meridan/Western Attractions, 1944; AKA WHITE STALLION) for low-budget producer Walt Mattox. Bob Tansey directed.

Joining Hoot and Bob for the final two yarns in the series was Victor Daniels, who called himself Chief Thunder Cloud, and had portrayed Tonto in Republic's two Lone Ranger serials.  Tansey was familiar with Daniels and had used him in a minor supporting role as an Indian in the second Trail Blazers feature, THE LAW RIDES AGAIN (1943).

After eight films, the Trail Blazers rode off into B western history.

One tidbit: this was one of the few western series in which the real names of our heroes were also their screen names - i.e., Ken, Hoot and Bob portrayed "Ken Maynard", "Hoot Gibson" and "Bob Steele".

Gibson and Steele remained at Monogram for three more oaters, none of which were produced or billed as 'Trail Blazers' - the three films are MARKED TRAILS (Monogram, 1944), TRIGGER LAW (Monogram, 1944) and THE UTAH KID (Monogram, 1944), and all were produced by Lindsley Parsons. Afterwards, Gibson retired and Steele went looking for a new job.

Battlin' Bob Steele found lots of work for the next twenty-five years or so - he starred in a few more B-westerns in the mid 1940s. And he became a supporting actor and appeared in many A-features such as HANG 'EM HIGH (1967) with Clint Eastwood, and RIO LOBO (1970) with John Wayne.  One of my favorite Steele supporting roles is his portrayal of "Canino", a nasty killer who gets gunned down by Humphrey Bogart at the end of THE BIG SLEEP (1946).  Steele had good luck 'stepping out' of B-western hero roles, and one of his best parts is that of the 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.  Steele even wound up on TV as "Trooper Duffy" on the F Troop series of the mid-1960s.  Of all the Hollywood cowboys, multi-talented Bob Steele had the longest active film career (equating to fifty plus years from the early 1920s through the mid 1970s).

The ending of Ken Maynard is a sad one.  Although he earned much money over the years, he died a pauper, sick with a variety of ailments including alcohol abuse, and living out his last years in a trailer.  Maynard's legacy are scores of films, many of which are among the finest of the B-western genre.  I prefer remembering the Ken Maynard of the early 1930s, atop the original palomino Tarzan, and riding across the silver screen at breakneck speed.

Monogram's production shortcuts are evident in all of the Trail Blazers movies, and the best of the bunch is probably DEATH VALLEY RANGERS (1943), which was Steele's first appearance as a member of the team.  There's lots of better westerns, but I still like the Trail Blazers ... because its the last fling for Maynard and Gibson.  And while Steele looks and acts like his old self, the end of his starring career is fast approaching.

As to Monogram, Johnny Mack Brown did his first of many westerns for that company in 1943. And singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely began his Monogram series in late 1944.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)
On the left is a pressbook ad from the first Trail Blazers film, WILD HORSE STAMPEDE (Monogram, 1943), and the ad proclaims "Two of the greatest cowboy heroes of all time join forces ...."

Notice that Ken Maynard is given the larger photo while Hoot Gibson is pictured in the smaller round photo inset on the right.

That's onetime Universal cowboy hero Bob Baker in the center, rearing on his trusty hoss, but not being billed.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Ken Maynard (left) was still carrying a pair of sixguns, former Universal cowboy hero Bob Baker is in the middle, and Hoot Gibson is on the right in the first Trail Blazers' film, WILD HORSE STAMPEDE (1943).  Old Hooter is wearin' a gunbelt in this film but often tucked the six-gun in the waist of his pants or in his boot.



(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above from L-to-R are Hoot Gibson on Rusty, Betty Miles atop her steed Sonny and Ken Maynard on Tarzan II in one of the early entries in Monogram's Trail Blazers series (prior to Bob Steele joining the group).



(From Old Corral image collection)

Cornering Bob Steele are veteran baddies Al Ferguson (left) and George Chesebro (right) in a lobby card from DEATH VALLEY RANGERS (Monogram, 1943). This was the fourth Trail Blazers film ... and the first with Bob Steele (which made the team a trio versus the earlier Maynard and Gibson duo).



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