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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.

Above - screen capture of Hank Bell from the Reb Russell BORDER VENGEANCE (Willis Kent, 1934).

According to his World War II draft registration, Henry Branch Bell was born in 1892 in Dunlap, California, a small unincorporated area in Fresno County. However, 1892 is suspect as his grave marker shows 1886 (and my gut feel is that 1886 is correct or closer to his real birth year).

Bell appeared in 400+ silent and sound features and serials and his Hollywood career spanned about thirty years, from about 1920 through the early 1950s (several films in which he appeared were released after his death). He frequently wore a badge and portrayed a sheriff, marshal, Texas Ranger, deputy, etc. And he was one of a dozen or so actors that could drive a stage. On a few occasions, he even did sidekick duty.

He free-lanced anywhere and everywhere, doing credited and unbilled roles at major production companies as well as Poverty Row. He appeared in about fifty films and serials at Republic Pictures during the years 1935 - 1949, and over half of those were oaters with Rogers, Autry, Sunset Carson, and Wild Bill Elliott. He was frequently employed by Columbia Pictures in cliffhangers and westerns with Elliott as well as the Charles Starrett series. There were additional Columbia paydays with Bell in about a dozen Three Stooges, El Brendel, Andy Clyde, and Charley Chase comedy shorts. And he shows up in many sagebrush adventures with Ken Maynard, Buck Jones and William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy). There's some movie stats on Bell further down this webpage.

He has a meaty role in Bob Steele's 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. He's one of Tom Keene's saddle pals in BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932) ... but is killed off early in the film. Hank has an unbilled role as henchman "Polka Dot" in the Johnny Mack Brown BILLY THE KID (MGM, 1930). And another uncredited role as the stagecoach driver in the Joe E. Brown comedy SHUT MY BIG MOUTH (Columbia, 1942).

You can also spot him as a "face in the crowd" in A grade films. Examples: he's a member of the posse / lynching party in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (20th Century Fox, 1943); Hank is one of many farmers looking for help from Gary Cooper in MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Columbia, 1936); and he's among 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 cowboys who were short on cash and looking for work. And Jack 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: Jack Montgomery and Bell connected with old pals 'Slim' Whitaker, Bill Gillis, Shorty Miller and Ed Hendershot, and all wound 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 even provides them with 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. However, his death certificate indicates that he passed away at the Hollywood Receiving Hospital in Los Angeles.

  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/



Hank Bell's movie stats. A very busy guy.

Hank Bell's work in features, serials and shorts.
I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database so the results may be a little skewed. Total film count in this chart = 410.
32
16
18
26
15
15
25
21
15
17
23
24
27
23
33
15
18
9
11
12
10
4
1
1920-1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951-1952


Hank Bell worked in 400+ silent and sound films.
Over two-thirds were B westerns and serials with these heroes.
Hero or seriesFilm
Quantity
Wild Bill Elliott (at Columbia (10) and Republic (9))19
Roy Rogers at Republic18
Charles Starrett at Columbia16
Ken Maynard15
Buck Jones14
Buster Crabbe (PRC Billy the Kid/Billy Carson series)14
William Boyd / Hopalong Cassidy13
Tim McCoy13
Johnny Mack Brown (some with Bob Baker at Universal)12
Randolph Scott11
John Wayne (beginning with Wayne's 1930s B oaters for Warners, Lone Star/Monogram, and Republic)10
Monogram's trio westerns - Range Busters (9); Trail Blazers (1)10
George O'Brien9
Bob Steele8
Hoot Gibson8
PRC trio westerns - Texas Rangers (6) and Frontier Marshal (2)8
Tom Tyler6
Gene Autry at Republic (5) and Columbia (1)6
Tom Mix6
Lots more westerns with: Bob Custer (5); Reb Russell (5); Lane Chandler (5); Sunset Carson (5); Don Barry (4); Monte Hale (4); Bill Cody (4); Jack Hoxie (4); Jack Perrin (3); Tom Keene (3); Ray Whitley musical shorts at RKO (3); Allan Lane (2); Lash LaRue (2); Tim Holt (2); Tex Ritter (2); Rex Bell (2); Buffalo Bill Jr. (Jay Wilsey) (2); Jack Randall (2); Whip Wilson (1); Kirby Grant (1); Eddie Dean (1); Dick Foran (1): Russell Hayden (1)64
Total280



On the trail of Hank Bell ... scant information on his parents and his early years.

Information on Hank Bell and family was found at the Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), newspapers, trade publications, California Death Index, death certificate, and other sources.

There are some common threads in the below information - Hank's mother was Sarah Alice Elam / Ehlam and I've highlighted her last name in this color. Hank's brothers were Fred O. Bell and Elmer Lee Bell, and I've highlighted their names in this color. Unknown if there were other siblings.

Here's Hank ... and no luck finding the 1900 or 1910 census with him and his parents.

Hank's parents, Francis M. Bell and Sarah Alice Elam. Alas - no luck finding 1880, 1900 or 1910 census info on them. The 1890 census is unavailable - it was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

Hank's brother Fred O. Bell.

Hank's brother Elmer Lee Bell.




(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 collection)

In BEYOND THE ROCKIES (RKO, 1932), Tom Keene battles rustlers and is assisted by three helpers. The quartet of heroes are, from left to right, Ernie Adams, Julian Rivero, Tom Keene, and Hank Bell (and they called themselves "the roamin' rovers"). They even serenade us with some tunes around a campfire and at the ranch.



(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 (with Maynard's pearl handled six-shooter in his belt), Hank Bell (with Maynard's other pearl handled six-shooter in his belt), Jack Kirk (face in shadows), unidentified player (tall hat), Fred Kohler, partial face of unidentified guy, and Buck Bucko.



(From Old Corral 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 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.



(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).



(From Old Corral collection)

Above are Bill Elliott, Adrian Booth, Jack Holt, Hank Bell and Andy Devine in a scene from THE LAST BANDIT (Republic, 1949). Note that both Elliott and Devine are wearing butt forward gunbelts.



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