Back to prior page


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.



(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Bob Kortman

Full name:
Robert Fred Kortman

1887 - 1967



Above - Bob Kortman as "Magua" in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932).

I was born in 1943, and my Saturday theater days occurred during the fade of the B western and serial. On the big screen, I saw Monograms with Jimmy Wakely and Whip Wiison, some Rocky Lanes, Autry's series for Columbia Pictures, and later cliffhangers from Republic and Columbia. Never saw any of the Mascot chapterplays until they were shown on early TV. When THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932) played on that newfangled television, I was impressed with the guy portraying "Magua", war chief of the Hurons. There was his scowl ... and growl ... all enhanced by a rough, well-lined face and shaved head. A memorable bit of screen villainy and a fond memory from my youth.

Many years later, I discovered "Magua" was Bob Kortman, who was in his mid forties when MOHICANS was lensed.

Trade biographies have him born in Philadelphia and serving six years or so in the Cavalry. Not so on Philadelphia. He was born December 24, 1887 in New York, possibly New York City. He passed away March 13, 1967 from lung cancer at a Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, California. And that confirms his status as a veteran.

Kortman's movie work began around 1914 and early films included nearly a dozen westerns starring William S. Hart. However, it was in talkies that he found his niche as a baddie, often portraying Indians, Mexicans and other nationalities. In non-westerns, Kortman played convicts, crooks, etc.

The 1930s were his best years. Frequently employed by Mascot Pictures owner/producer Nat Levine, Kortman did ten cliffhangers at Mascot's serial factory. He was among Levine's "stable of dependables" which included Yakima Canutt, Frankie Darro, Al Bridge, Jack Rockwell, 'Slim' Whitaker, Edmund Cobb, a few others.

In westerns, he was most often a henchman/gang member, and occasionally the second-in-command or helper to the chief baddie/brains heavy. In the 1930s - early 1940s, he can be spotted in westerns and some serials with Johnny Mack Brown, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, William Boyd, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Rex Bell, Dick Foran, others.

At Republic Pictures, he did a few with John Wayne, the Three Mesquiteers, Bob Livingston's solo oater series, many with Don Barry, one with Roy Rogers ... and none with Gene Autry.

In the mid 1940s, Kortman was about sixty years old and had lost much of his menace due to advancing age. During that period, he shows up in Tim Holt's RKO series; at Columbia Pictures in a couple of the Russell Hayden adventures and about a half dozen Charles Starretts; he even got a few paydays from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) in a Buster Crabbe / Billy Carson oater and a quartet of the Texas Rangers trio adventures.

In addition to MOHICANS, my favorite Kortman portrayals are:

Les Adams has Bob identified in about 185 sound films - of that number, 123 are westerns and 29 are serials. He also did credited and uncredited roles in other film genres for most of the major and minor film companies and production outfits - for example, he was in several 1930s Laurel and Hardy comedies.

His screen career spanned nearly forty years, from about 1914 through the early 1950s.

He married Nellie Mignonette Varain in 1915, but that pairing was short-lived. His second marriage was circa 1924 to Gonda Durand, a onetime member of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties. Bob and Gonda were together through her passing in 1960.

Suffering from lung cancer, Bob Kortman died on March 13, 1967 at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Long Beach, California.

He did military duty but have not confirmed his branch of service or years. Trade biographies note that Kortman spent six years in the Cavalry prior to his Hollywood days. Yet when he registered for the World War I draft in 1917, he reported no prior military experience. In the 1930 census, Kortman is a World War I veteran. WW1 appears to be correct as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has him in no films in 1918. Kortman passed away in 1967 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, California, and that confirms his status as a veteran.

Links
  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
     Bob Kortman: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0466773/
     Gonda L. Durand (Kortman) (1896?-1960): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0243788

Daniel Neyer's "The Files of Jerry Blake" serial website has more on Kortman doing serials: http://filesofjerryblake.com/serial-henchmen/bob-kortman/

The Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Digital Collections has several photos of Kortman:
Kortman, hero Bob Curwood, and others in THE RANGE WOLF (Universal, 1929): http://digitalcollections.oscars.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15759coll17/id/361/rec/2
Kortman (as a Native American), Gladys McConnell and others in THE DEVIL HORSE (Hal Roach/Pathe, 1926): http://digitalcollections.oscars.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15759coll17/id/330/rec/1

The Harvey County Historical Museum, Newton, Kansas has several arcade cards of Gonda Durand during her time as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty: http://hchm.org/tag/gonda-durand/


On the trail of Bob Kortman.
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and the death certificate provide more about Bob Kortman:

  • November 9, 1915 Venice, Los Angeles County, California marriage license of 27 year old Robert Fred Kortman (born New York; occupation "Actor") to 18 year old Nellie Mignonette Varain (born California). Both reside in Venice, California, and this is the first marriage for both. Kortman's parents were Hary C. or G. Kortman (born Germany) and Lena M. Thiel (born Germany). Nellie's parents were Charles W. Varain and Mary L. Brown: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22553-17098-57?cc=1804002
  • World War I draft registration dated June 5, 1917 - 29 year old Robert F. Kortman was born December 24, 1887 in New York City, New York. He and his wife live at 2112 Berkeley Avenue, Los Angeles; he has no prior military service; and his occupation/employer is "Moving Picture Actor, Keystone Film Co., Los Angeles": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-26182-5798-71?cc=1968530
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - did not find a 1920 census for Bob Kortman but there is a record for 21 year old Nellie M. Cortman [sic]. She is living with her re-married mother in an apartment at 12 South Euclid Avenue, Pasadena Township, Los Angeles County. She is a widow (should be divorced); no occupation; and Nellie is listed as the daughter of Mary L. and John R. Lane: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH78-GFP
  • Family trees on Ancestry.com indicate that Kortman's second marriage was circa 1924 to Gonda Durand, a onetime member of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties. He and Gonda were together through her death in 1960.
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 42 year old Robert F. Kortman (born New York) and his 27 year old wife Gonda L. (born Kentucky) are one of many families renting at an apartment building at 1717 North Normandie, Hollywood. His occupation is "Actor - Motion Pictures", and he responds "Yes" and "World War I" to the are you a veteran question; and he lists himself and parents as born in New York. No occupation shown for wife Gonda L.: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJ1-ZNR
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - Family Search has mistakenly listed Kortman living alone at the Paramount Hotel in Los Angeles. However, wife Gonda is on the census takers worksheet: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9CX-GDT
    1940 census takers worksheet - 52 year old Robert Kortman (born New York); occupation "Actor - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 2? weeks and earned $2100.00. His wife is listed as Lillian Gonda (born Kentucky) without the Kortman last name. They are among many lodgers at the Paramount Hotel, 5311 Melrose, Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-27797-3297-50?cc=2000219
  • 1942 World War II draft registration for Robert Fred Kortman, born December 24, 1887 in New York, New York. He is still living at the Paramount Hotel, 5311 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles and lists himself as unemployed. His contact is actor Glen Cavender in Los Angeles (not wife Gonda): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-16414-33071-62?cc=1861144
  • Ancestry.com had many California voter registrations and city directories with Bob (some include wife Gonda):
    1916 Venice, Los Angeles County voter registration: Kortman, Robert F, actr, Haley Hotel, 50 Zephyr av
    1922 Los Angeles County voter registration:
         Kortman, Robert F, actor, 4023 Glassell av
         Durand, Miss Gonda, mn pctrs, 4023 Glassell av
    1937 Los Angeles City Directory: Kortman Robt F (Gonda) actor h 1717 N Nmdio (abbreviation for 1717 North Normandie, Hollywood address in the 1930 census)
    1948 Los Angeles County voter registration:
         Kortman, Mrs. Gonda, 5311 Melrose Av
         Kortman, Robert F, 5311 Melrose Av
    1952 San Bernardino County voter registration:
         Kortman, Mrs. Gonda L, Blue Jay Canyon rd, Box 296, Blue Jay
         Kortman, Robert F, Blue Jay Canyon rd, Box 296, Blue Jay
    1956 San Bernardino County voter registration:
         Kortman, Mrs. Gonda L, Box 296, Blue Jay
         Kortman, Robert F, Box 296, Blue Jay
  • California Death Index has a record for Kortman's wife, Gonda L. Kortman - she was born July 29, 1900 and passed away August 16, 1960 in the San Bernardino, California area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPWR-R6P
  • Death certificate: 79 year old Robert F. Kortman was born December 24, 1887 in New York; parents were Henry Kortman and Lina Thiel (unknown birthplace for both). He was widowed; a World War I veteran; occupation was "Actor - Paramount Studios - Moving Pictures"; and his home was on Lear Road, 29 Palms, San Bernardino County, California. Hospitalized for about 2 1/2 months at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Long Beach, California, Kortman passed away on March 13, 1967 and cause of death was bronchogenic carcinoma (lung cancer). Death certificate informant was the VA Hospital. Weifels and Sons Mortuary was the funeral director and cremation at Montecito Memorial Park.
  • California Death Index and Social Security Death Index (SSDI) have records on Robert F. Kortman, born 12/24/1887 in New York, mother's maiden name of Thiel, and he passed away on 3/13/1967:
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V9TG-2WY
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGRP-1LX

Bob Kortman's early years remain a mystery.

The first trace of Bob Kortman is his 1915 marriage license to Nellie Mignonette Varain, and his parents are Hary C. or G. Kortman (born Germany) and Lena M. Thiel (born Germany). However, in the 1930 census, he lists himself and parents as born in New York. On the death certificate, parents are Henry Kortman and Lina Thiel with an unknown birthplace for both.

I haven't found Bob or his parents in the 1900, 1910 or 1920 census or other records (under name variations including Kortman, Kortmann, Kordman, Kourtman, Cortman, Thiel, Theil, Lena, Lina, etc.).

I did check military records on the Fold3 website ... and nothing found on Bob Kortman (other than his World War I draft registration).

There are a few Family Trees on Ancestry.com. But none have early details on Bob or his parents.

Why the difficulty in finding Kortman records prior to 1915? Methinks that the Kortman name is an "Americanized" version of a German surname that is yet to be discovered.




(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Bob Kortman in Indian guise and carrying a tomahawk in the role of 'Magua', the scowling, vicious Indian war chief in the cliffhanger THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932). Kortman was in his mid-forties when he did this early sound serial. Star Harry Carey is wearing the coonskin cap and buckskins. On the far left with the 'X straps' is Hobart Bosworth (as The Sagamore / Chingachgook), and on the far right is Walter McGrail (as 'Dulac'). Other players are unidentified.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right on horseback are Artie Ortego, unidentified player, Bob Kortman and Nick Thompson.  Tom Mix and leading lady/heroine Joan Gale are standing. Kortman has the role of 'Longboat'. Lobby card from the serial THE MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935), Tom Mix's screen hurrah.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Buck Jones sneaking up on, from L-to-R, Ward Bond and Bob Kortman in a lobby card from THE CRIMSON TRAIL (Universal, 1935).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right Dick Botiller's back and hat, unidentified player, Harry Carey, Francis/Frank Walker, Chuck Morrison and Bob Kortman in a scene from Carey's WILD MUSTANG (Ajax, 1935).



(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above from L-to-R are William Gould, Wally Wales/Hal Taliaferro (back to camera), Bob Kortman (on horse), Hoot Gibson (on Jack Perrin's white horse "Starlight"), George Hayes, and Lafe McKee in a still from Hoot's SWIFTY (Diversion, 1935).



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Bob Kortman on the stage wheel converses with Douglas Cosgrove, and a young John Wayne has the drop on both in WINDS OF THE WASTELAND (Republic, 1936).



(Courtesy of Randy Laing)

Above - Johnny Mack Brown and Kortman are hanging by their fingernails in this scene from the 13 chapter cliffhanger, WILD WEST DAYS (Universal, 1937). In this serial, Kortman was on the right side of the law, portraying 'Trigger' Benton, one of Johnny Mack Brown's helpers.



(From Old Corral image collection)

The above lobby card is from the 1959 re-release of the chapterplay, ZORRO RIDES AGAIN (Republic, 1937). Star John Carroll is on the far left in his Zorro outfit. That's Bob Kortman (green shirt) and Jack Ingram (red shirt), both of whom are gang members employed by Dick Alexander and Noah Beery Sr.



(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Hopalong Cassidy has the drop on three nasties. From left to right are John Merton, Roy Barcroft, Bob Kortman and William Boyd in a still from RENEGADE TRAIL (Harry Sherman Prod/Paramount, 1939).



(Courtesy of Pat LaRosa)

Above from left to right are George Chesebro, Chick Hannan/Hannon, Charles Starrett and a very old looking Bob Kortman in a lobby card from GUNNING FOR VENGEANCE (Columbia, 1946), one of the Starrett/Durango Kid series. Kortman had an uncredited role as henchman "Curly".


Back to prior page