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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.

Charles French / Charles K. French

Real name: Charles Edward Krauss

1860 - 1952

(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)

Above are Buck Jones and Charles K. French in THE CRIMSON TRAIL (Universal, 1935) and a lobby card from that film is shown below. French was in his mid-seventies when he did this film.
Another of the kindly "father figures" of the sound B western was Charles K. French, and until I did this section on him, I never realized his true age. He was born before the start of the Civil War. This Ohio native began his movie work on the east coast in the early days of silent films. While he is known as Charles French / Charles K. French, his real name was Charles Edward Krauss, and he was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1860 to Christian Krauss and Elizabeth Bond.

Les Adams has him identified in about 85 SOUND films of which 47 are westerns and 8 are serials. But that is minor compared to his earlier career(s) ... he spent decades on the stage and was involved in the beginnings of the movie business and the migration of film companies from the east coast to California. A timeline and overview of French's career follows:

Circa 1880s - early 1900s, French performed in traveling repertory companies ... and was a very busy guy. He was a jack-of-all-trades - actor, comedian, banjo player, and did various behind-the-scenes work. Examples: in March, 1902, French is performing in "Under Southern Skies" in Philadelphia; in September, 1902, he's in "Huckleberry Finn" in Philadelphia; in December, 1903, he's in Boston in the musical comedy "A Girl From Dixie"; in December, 1904, French and "Dixie" are in Cincinnati, Ohio; and the "Dixie" troupe played Chicago in February, 1905. There are many mentions of French doing hundreds - perhaps thousands - of performances of the (politically incorrect) play "In Old Kentucky". From tradepapers, we know he was with the "Kentucky" tour that opened in Pittsburg in late August, 1893 and played New York in September, 1893; a year later, he did another tour that had a September, 1894 start in St. Louis. And he was acting as well as stage managing "Kentucky" in 1896. Fast forward a decade to December, 1905, and Charles is in Chicago performing in "Kentucky".

He was nearly fifty when he worked in his first movie, the lost/missing THE CORD OF LIFE, a 1909 D. W. Griffith one reeler which was lensed at Biograph's New York studio (and some portion may have been shot at Fort Lee, New Jersey). Over the next couple years, he produced nearly two hundred one and two-reelers for the Bison unit of the New York Motion Picture Company, initially on the east coast. And he moved with the company to the west coast circa late 1909 and more films were shot at the Edendale, California movie location. For about three years, he was assistant manager, producer, director ... and actor with the Western unit of Pathe (see photo below). Circa 1914, he was helming films for the Kay-Bee Company. He was friendly and/or had a close business releationship with Thomas Ince as Ince was involved in dozens of those early films. A few had French in the lead while others starred notables such as Charles Ray and William S. Hart. Nearing the end of the decade, Charles was a director and general manager of the newly formed Navajo Film Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles, one of several production outfits releasing through Kriterion/Mica Film Company. And Summer, 1919, he signed on with the American Film Company (nicknamed the "Flying A") which was headquartered in Santa Barbara, California.

In the 1920s, he concentrated on acting. He was now sixty+ years old and advertised himself under "Characters" and "Heavies" in the casting directories (some images below). He did a lot of westerns during this period - examples: there were nine Hoot Gibsons at Universal, about a dozen Tom Mix adventures for Fox, a handful of Fox oaters with Buck Jones, and a few Buddy Roosevelt and Wally Wales starrers for Action Pictures/Pathe.

From the 1930s through his last movie work in 1945, French free lanced at major and minor production companies, picking up acting jobs in A grade productions, serials ... but mostly in B westerns. He was the heroine's father, lawman, judge, politician, doctor, etc. on multiple occasions with Tyler, Steele, Ritter, Keene, Jones, Perrin and Big Boy Williams. And there were solo appearances in sagebrushers with Johnny Mack Brown, Tom Mix, Reb Russell, Jack Hoxie, Bob Allen, Ken Maynard, Gene Autry, and Charles Starrett. In addition to Autry's THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935), French was at Universal in two serials with Buck Jones and one with Johnny Mack Brown. A few years later, he was back with Jones in the chapterplay WHITE EAGLE (Columbia, 1941). Picking up paydays anywhere and everywhere, French shows up in a Laurel and Hardy comedy as well as Andy Clyde shorts for Educational Pictures. His A grade appearances were mostly unbilled walk-ons or "face in the crowd" roles. Examples: look closely and you may spot him in MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Frank Capra/Columbia, 1936) and MEET JOHN DOE (Frank Capra/Warners, 1941). OVERLAND BOUND (Rayart, 1929) starred Leo Maloney and Jack Perrin and is among the earliest B western talkies. Alas - it's also among the lost/missing. Too bad as Charles K. is the brains heavy.

His 80th birthday was celebrated on the Universal lot. From the February 17, 1940 Showmen's Trade Review magazine:

"Charles French, the man who directed and played the lead in 'Davy Crockett' in 1909, is working as an extra at Universal in the Deanna Durbin picture, 'It's a Date.' French, who celebrated his 80th birthday on the set, is believed to be the first film director to come to Hollywood."
(Footnote: French was the star of DAVY CROCKETT-IN HEARTS UNITED, a 1909 Bison one reeler.)

Some biographies have Charles K. related to actors Ted French and Victor French. Not so - especially since his real name was Krauss. While researching for their Best Of The Badmen book, authors Boyd Magers, Bob Nareau and Bobby Copeland re-confimed that he was not the father of Ted French (1903-1978), who worked in about twenty oaters during the 1940s. And he was not the grandfather of Victor French (1934-1989), the burly and bearded helper to Michael Landon on TV's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN.

92 year old Charles Edward Krauss, stage name of Charles K. French, passed away from a heart attack on August 2, 1952 at his home at 2217 Ewing Street, Los Angeles.

Above is Charles K. French, the star of some silent Pathe westerns circa 1911. He was about 51 years of age.

By the 1920s, Charles was now in his sixties and concentrated on acting jobs. Below are ads from 1920 and 1927 casting directories and booking guides with French advertising himself for character and heavy roles.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Gene Autry was up against this dastardly trio in the serial, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935). Left to right in this lobby card are Wheeler Oakman (as "Argo", the Muranian High Priest), Dorothy Christy (as "Queen Tika") and Charles K. French (as "Mal").

The Family Search website (free), (subscription), tradepapers/magazines, newspapers, ProQuest obituaries, the California Death Index and the death certificate provide more on Charles K. French and family.

There are three - possibly four - wives listed in the information below:

Nellie (born February, 1865 in Ohio according to the 1900 census; is Nellie really Helen ... or a mistake by the census taker).
Actress Helen K. French (born February 13, 1863 in Ohio; died March 12, 1917) (real name may be: Emma Helen Lowe).
Isabelle K. French (Isabella/Isabelle Gunton) (born October 14, 1873 in Michigan; died February 11, 1933).
Doris Herbert French (born July 22, 1875 in Tennessee; died September 19, 1945 at the Motion Picture Home and Hospital).

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on:

     Charles K. French:
     Ted French:
     Victor French:

The Internet Broadway Database has French in three plays during the years 1899-1905:

There's a couple American Film Company titles from 1919 for Charles K. French at the American Film Company (nicknamed the "Flying A") website which is maintained by the University of California at Santa Barbara. When you get to this webpage, click on the letter F, and scroll down the listing for French:

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a record for Charles K. French who is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. Note that the name on the grave marker shows Charles E. Krauss French:

(Image courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Lafe McKee, George Chesebro, Jack Perrin, Slim Whitaker, Benny Corbett (on Whitaker's back), and in the background at the desk is Charles K. French (as a judge). Scene from RIDIN' GENTS (Reliable, 1934), one of the Bud 'n' Ben shorts starring Perrin and Corbett.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Charles Brinley, Buck Jones, Charles K. French and Paul Fix in a re-release lobby card from THE CRIMSON TRAIL (Universal, 1935). This film had a cattle rustlin' theme and French was Buck's uncle.

(Courtesy of Wes Baker)

Above is a far shot and a crop/closeup of a still from the Tom Keene starrer WHERE TRAILS DIVIDE (Monogram, 1937). Driving the stage is Silver Tip Baker. On the ground from L-to-R are Eleanor Stewart, Tom Keene, Lorraine Randall, Charles K. French, and stage guard Victor Adamson/Denver Dixon. French played a preacher in this one.

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