(Image courtesy of the Wakely Family via Jason Mayer)
Above are Linda and her Dad. Jimmy and Inez Wakely had four children: son Johnny and daughters Deanna, Carol and Linda.
|Special thanks to Linda Wakely for help in preparing this updated and expanded profile on her Father which went online December 4, 2007. Sad to report that Linda passed away on April 15, 2008.|
Part of my childhood memories from the late 1940s and early 1950s is fondly recalling the Jimmy Wakely westerns that I watched on the big screen during those Saturday afternoon visits to a local theater in Georgia.
James Clarence "Jimmy" Wakeley was born in Mineola (Howard County) Arkansas on February 16, 1914 but was raised in Oklahoma during the Depression and Dust Bowl era. His parents were native Arkansans. Major Anderson Wakeley was born March 15, 1886 in Blackwood (Howard County) Arkansas and passed away April 8, 1976 in Purcell, Oklahoma. Caroline (or Carolin) "Cali" Wakeley (nee Burgess) was born October 25, 1888 in Arkansas and passed away June 26, 1974 in Purcell, Oklahoma. The family was in Arkansas at the time of the 1910 census and in 1914 when Jimmy was born, but were residing in Oklahoma when the 1920 census was taken.
Linda notes that her Dad was named James Clarence Wakeley at birth. As a teenager, he changed the James to Jimmy and dropped the second "e" in Wakely (thus Wakeley became Wakely).
Jimmy tied the knot with Dora Inez Miser on Friday the 13th, December 13, 1935, and their marriage lasted nearly fifty years, until Jimmy's passing in 1982. Linda mentioned that her family always considered Friday the 13th as a lucky day. Jimmy and Inez had four children: daughters Deanna, Carol, Linda and son Johnny. Johnny Wakely passed away on December 22, 2001. Linda passed away on April 15, 2008. Carol Wakely Carawan passed on July 30, 2010 at her home in North Carolina. Wakely grandson Jason Mayer advised that his mother Deanna Mae passed away on October 10, 2011.
Wakely had become fascinated with music and did some early radio performances at station KTOK in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Circa 1937, he developed an act called "the Bell Boys" which was named after their Bell Clothing sponsor. The group performed locally, made a few recordings, and did frequent radio broadcasts over Oklahoma City's WKY. Members of the Bell Boys and later Wakely groups included Johnny Bond, Dick Reinhart, Scotty Harrell and Jack Cheney.
Western movie star Gene Autry was touring and had stops in Oklahoma. Wakely connected with the Republic Pictures singing cowboy and got an invite to California. The story gets a bit hazy at this point. Gene may have volunteered to help the boys get some film work, including an introduction to Republic's casting organization. The more likely scenario is that Gene felt the group might be a good addition to his new MELODY RANCH radio show which debuted on CBS in late December, 1939.
The boys did journey to Hollywood, but Autry was on tour again. In the interim, they were able to find work, including their first movie appearance in the Roy Rogers' SAGA OF DEATH VALLEY (Republic, 1939). Soon after, Jimmy, Johnny Bond, Dick Reinhart, and their families relocated to sunny California. And in mid 1940, the Wakely Trio joined Autry's MELODY RANCH. Jimmy stayed a couple of years, but left because of movie commitments as well as a recording contract with Decca Records that ran from circa 1941-1942 through 1947. Johnny Bond stayed with MELODY RANCH for most of its run (the show left the air in 1956).
In the 1940s, Wakely groups provided songs and musical support in many B-western series. They appeared in one or more films of: the Range Busters at Monogram; with Don "Red" Barry at Republic; with Johnny Mack Brown and Tex Ritter at Universal; at Columbia Pictures with Charles Starrett; and in the Hopalong Cassidy series from Paramount. One thing that surprised me was that the trio made only one Autry film, HEART OF THE RIO GRANDE, which was released by Republic in early 1942. The group used several name variations including "Jimmy Wakely and his Rough Riders", the "Jimmy Wakely Trio", and "Jimmy Wakely and his Saddle Pals". Jimmy also appeared in some non-westerns including the chaotic I'M FROM ARKANSAS (PRC, 1944), which is a showcase for a bunch of country and hillbilly performers that bring their comedy, tunes and yodelin' to Pitchfork, Arkansas.
Wakely had a few moderate hits at Decca, though none achieved number one status on the country or pop music charts. In 1943, he recorded the World War II patriotic "There's a Star-Spangled Banner Flying Somewhere" which was written and recorded by Elton Britt. The following year, he did "I'm Sending You Red Roses".
Republic Pictures was the premier film production company making low budget westerns, and in the 1940s, their cinema range riders included Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Wild Bill Elliott, Allan Lane, Monte Hale, and Sunset Carson.
During that same period, Monogram Pictures churned out B westerns starring Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, and others. They also had the Charlie Chan, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and the Bowery Boys series among their offerings. In 1944, Wakely inked a contract as Monogram's new singing range rider and he starred in twenty eight films which were released from 1944 to 1949. Jimmy's sidekicks were former Tim Holt assistant Lee "Lasses" White in the first twelve, followed by sixteen with Dub "Cannonball" Taylor, the bumbling helper to Bill Elliott, Russ Hayden and Charles Starrett at Columbia. The initial films were really a trio series, with Wakely and "Lasses" White teamed with Dennis Moore (as "Denny") in the first two followed by John James (as "Dusty") in three.
Prolific director, screen writer, song writer, et al Oliver Drake directed thirteen and Lambert Hillyer was in charge of seven. Directing the remaining eight were Ford Beebe (with 2), Derwin Abrahams (with 2) and one each for Tommy Carr, Howard Bretherton, Wallace Fox and Christy Cabanne.
Jimmy's western movie hero career spanned five years. His debut film was SONG OF THE RANGE (released December, 1944) and his finale was LAWLESS CODE (released December, 1949).
The Wakely Monograms were reasonably well done, but not on par with the production quality or energy level of Autry's Republic and later Columbia films as well as Roy Rogers' series at Republic. Jimmy had a smooth singing voice and could deliver lyrics with an authentic western style and flavor. But he was small in stature and his screen persona was rather laid back and low key.
Wakely has to be one of the most overlooked and under appreciated western heroes/singing cowboys. That's a shame, as about a third of his films are solid, respectable, enjoyable. Some contain a bunch of songs while others have less tunes and more action. Above average films include: SONG OF THE RANGE (Monogram, 1944), SADDLE SERENADE (Monogram, 1945), LONESOME TRAIL (Monogram, 1945), OUTLAW BRAND (Monogram, 1948), OKLAHOMA BLUES (Monogram, 1948), ROARING WESTWARD (Monogram, 1949), GUN LAW JUSTICE (Monogram, 1949), ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE (Monogram, 1949), and BRAND OF FEAR (Monogram, 1949). IN OKLAHOMA BLUES (Monogram, 1948), Jimmy portrayed a singing outlaw nicknamed "the Melody Kid".
Many tend to recommend SONG OF THE SIERRAS (Monogram, 1946) as Jimmy's best. I prefer his first, SONG OF THE RANGE (Monogram, 1944). I did a quick check of Boyd Magers' Best (And Worst) Of The West reviews, and he has about a dozen Wakelys listed with three or four stars. Boyd's Four Star Wakely was BRAND OF FEAR (Monogram, 1949). His reviews also note that both Ray Whitley and Oliver Drake spent time as Jimmy's managers.
Jimmy Wakely was among the last of Hollywood's singing cowboys, and he galloped across the dusty back lot trails during the twilight of the B-western movie. By the late 1940s, these one-hour cowboy adventures were fading away as post World War II film production costs had soared, the taste of the theater audience was changing, and television was arriving on the scene.
Significant changes began to occur after about a dozen films. Lee "Lasses" White was gone and his replacement was Dub "Cannonball" Taylor. Linda mentioned that "Uncle Lasses" was a family friend and a sweet man, but suffered from diabetes. He passed away in 1949.
Scott R. "Scotty" Dunlap was Monogram's Vice President in Charge of Production, reporting directly to President W. Ray Johnston. Various producers/production units worked for Dunlap. Monogram/Dunlap decided to interject more action, production budgets were tightened, Jimmy's range uniform became a workmanlike shirt and blue jeans ... and musical content was de-emphasized (cut back). Oliver "Ollie" Drake, who had produced and directed nine of Jimmy's first ten films, was replaced - and the subsequent production set-ups went through a variety of directors. (A later webpage includes a Wakely Monogram filmography along with a listing of the producers and directors.) Scuttlebutt was that Dunlap opted to place more emphasis on the Johnny Mack Brown series. And Linda mentioned that Dunlap wasn't a fan of singing cowboy movies.
Jimmy was very displeased with all this shuffling and churning - and especially, the reduction in his music/singing. He also felt that Dub Taylor was a bit too slapstick. Wakely made the decision to concentrate on the more important and lucrative records and personal appearances, and the breakup with Monogram came in 1949 when he obtained a release from his contract. That strategy proved correct, as Jimmy's peak years as a recording artist were from 1948 to 1951.
The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice, two Hollywood trade publications, conducted various popularity polls including one on cowboy movie heroes. In most cases, the winners were what you would expect: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tim Holt, Charles "Durango Kid" Starrett, William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd, etc. Wakely never achieved a top ten ranking in those polls (although Monogram's other western film star, Johnny Mack Brown, was often among the poll winners). An interesting tidbit - Wakely made more starring westerns than the likes of Bob Allen, Dick Foran, Bob Baker, Jack Randall, Eddie Dean, Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson, Monte Hale, Rex Allen and Sunset Carson.
As with many western film heroes of the period, Wakely had his own comic book series. DC Comics (National Periodical Publications) began their Jimmy Wakely comics in late 1949, billing him (in capital letters) as "HOLLYWOOD'S SENSATIONAL COWBOY STAR!". The last was issue eighteen dated July-August, 1952.
(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)
Above from L-to-R are Johnny Bond, Scotty Harrell and Jimmy Wakely. This is probably from one of the Johnny Mack Brown and Tex Ritter oaters which featured the 'Jimmy Wakely Trio'.
(From Old Corral collection)
|1942 - the Jimmy Wakely Trio with Tex Ritter, Johnny Mack Brown and Fuzzy Knight.|
(From Old Corral collection)
1948 - in Wakely's SILVER TRAILS, Monogram introduced Whip Wilson to the screen. That's Dub 'Cannonball' Taylor in the bottom left photo.
|Left is Scott R. Dunlap (1892 - 1970) ... friend and business manager of Buck Jones ... injured in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire which killed Jones ... primarily remembered for his work at Monogram in westerns such as the Rough Riders.|
Dunlap's official title was Vice President in Charge of Production, and he reported to Monogram boss and president W. Ray Johnston.
The Jones and Dunlap connection began in the 1920s, when Dunlap directed eleven of Buck's silent oaters at Fox.