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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.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - Charles Starrett and Hank Bell.
Hank Bell

Full name:
Henry Branch Bell

Nickname:
"Handlebar"

1892 - 1950


People may not know Hank Bell's name, but they certainly recognize his face and trademarked moustache.

Bell was in silents and sound westerns and his film career spanned from about 1920 through the early 1950s (several films in which he appeared were released after his death). He was one of a dozen or so performers that frequently handled the reins of a stagecoach. In addition to driving, Bell often portrayed a stage guard, lawman, prospector, bartender ... and occasionally, he even did sidekick duties. Les Adams has Hank in 325+ sound films and that number includes 295 westerns and 17 serials. Many of his film appearances were uncredited.

He had one of his bigger roles in the Bob Steele LAW OF THE WEST (SonoArt-World Wide, 1932). In that, Bell is the lawman father of Steele who, as a young child, gets stolen and raised by nasty Ed Brady.

While he did mostly westerns, Bell occasionally showed up as a face in the crowd in A grade films. Examples: he's one of the farmers looking for help from Gary Cooper in MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Columbia, 1936); and he's one of the locals at the dance in THE EGG AND I (Universal-International, 1947) which starred Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert.

Bell is prominently mentioned in Diana Serra Cary's book The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1975). Diana is "Baby Peggy" Montgomery and she starred in over a hundred comedy shorts in the 1920s. Her father was B-western performer and stuntman Jack Montgomery. On page 36, she writes about a meetup circa 1920 in Los Angeles between Montgomery and Hank Bell, two real cowboys who were short on cash and looking for work. And Montgomery refers to his longtime friend as "Handlebar" Hank Bell:

"The two friends stepped into a nearby cafe to continue their reunion over coffee, but instead of good news it seemed both had only hard luck to share. Hank Bell was a seasoned cowhand, about thirty-five at that time, who hailed from a tank town near Waco, Texas. He was tall, rawboned, with startling bright blue eyes and a high-bridged nose. His russet hair was set off by a huge handlebar mustache that drooped well below his chin. The mustache not only softened the hard line of his long, lantern jaw, but it had given him his nickname."

There's more on pages 38-44 which I'll summarize: Montgomery and Bell connect with old pals 'Slim' Whitaker, Bill Gillis, Shorty Miller and Ed Hendershot, and all wind up at the Waterhole bar in Hollywood. The boys tell Hank and Jack about how they found steady employment as "riding extras in pictures". A day or so later, Whitaker took the pair out to Mixville or another Edendale movie company in Los Angeles and they were hired as riders for $5.00 a day ... and the studio provides a box lunch.

A newspaper article mentions that Bell collapsed and died from a heart attack on February 4, 1950 while at a cafe on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. His death certificate indicates that he passed away at a local hospital.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Hank Bell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0068235/

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has info on Bell who is interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=81749075

Information on Hank Bell was found at the Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), newspaper reports, the California Death Records database and from Bell's death certificate:




(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a crop from a lobby card from OUTLAWED (FBO, 1929), and from left to right are Tom Mix, Al Ferguson and a clean shaven Hank Bell. This was one of the five silents that Mix did for Film Booking Office (FBO) in the late 1920s.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Bob Custer is on the right and a youngish Hank Bell is on the left in this lobby card from THE LAST ROUNDUP (Syndicate, 1929). The galoot in the prone position may be Cliff Lyons.



(From Old Corral image collection)

In BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932), Tom Keene was battling rustlers and was assisted by three helpers. The quartet of heroes are, from left to right, Ernie Adams, Julian Rivero, Tom Keene, and Hank Bell.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are John Elliott, Bill Cody and Hank Bell looking over Iron Eyes Cody. In the right background are Sheila Mannors and Andy Shuford. From Cody's TEXAS PIONEERS (Monogram, 1932).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

In the above still and crop/blowups, Ken Maynard is prone among an entire regiment of henchies in THE FIDDLIN' BUCKAROO (Universal, 1933). From L-to-R are Slim Whitaker, Bud McClure, Frank Ellis (face in shadows), Roy Bucko, Hank Bell (with Maynard's pearl handled six-shooter in his belt), Jack Kirk (face in shadows), unidentified player (tall hat), Fred Kohler and Buck Bucko.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - moustached Hank Bell has the drop on Reb Russell and trusty steed Rebel in BORDER VENGEANCE (Willis Kent, 1935).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Fred Kohler, Sr. versus Buck Jones in BORDER BRIGANDS (Universal, 1935). Hank Bell, with his usual handlebar moustache, is in the middle watchin' the action.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Julian Rivero is the Spanish-garbed gent on the far left. William Desmond and Earl Dwire are in the darkened doorway. Blackie Whiteford is restraining Tyler, and burly Dick Alexander has the butt of his six-shooter aimed at Tom's head. The heroine is Jean Carmen, who would later change her screen name to Julia Thayer and become the rider of the titled horse in Republic's cliffhanger, THE PAINTED STALLION (Republic, 1937). Prone on the step is Hank Bell, minus his usual moustache. From Tyler's BORN TO BATTLE (Reliable, 1935).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are John Merton, Hank Bell, Harley/Harlene Wood (Jill Martin) and Kermit Maynard in a crop from a lobby card from Kermit's VALLEY OF TERROR (Ambassador/Conn, 1937).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Hank Bell, Charles Starrett, Kenneth MacDonald, Iris Meredith and Ed Cobb in SPOILERS OF THE RANGE (Columbia, 1939). This was another lawman role for Bell.



(Image courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Hank Bell, Pierre Watkin, George 'Gabby' Hayes and William 'Billy' Benedict in a scene from the Roy Rogers oater JESSE JAMES AT BAY (Republic, 1941).



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