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Dick Foran

Full name:
John Nicholas Foran

Sometimes referred to as:
"Nick" Foran

1910 - 1979

(From Old Corral collection)

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - pressbook ad announcing the Foran series in 1935. Note the star in the center proclaiming "FIRST of the NEW WARNER WESTERNS".

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - a pressbook ad for Foran's first serial, WINNERS OF THE WEST (Universal, 1940).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Born in Flemington, New Jersey on June 18, 1910, red-headed John Nicholas Foran was the son of Arthur F. Foran (1882-1961), a political figure from the Garden State who served in the New Jersey Senate (not the U. S. Senate), was Mayor of Flemington, New Jersey, was a New Jersey Highway Commissioner, and an official with Customs at the Port of New York. Arthur married Elizabeth Fisher circa 1909 and the marriage produced five sons: John Nicholas (Dick Foran), Arthur F. Foran, Jr. (1911-1967), James F. Foran (1915-1998), Walter E. Foran (1919-1986), and William F. Foran (1927-1984).

Dick Foran possessed a fine singing voice. After graduating from Princeton in 1934, he set out in pursuit of a musical career and wound up in Hollywood working in films such as the Shirley Temple starrer STAND UP AND CHEER (Fox, 1934). In those early roles, he was often billed as "Nick Foran".

Foran inked a contract with Warner Bros., and he would be there for about three years doing bits, support, and starring roles in various movies such as Bogart's THE PETRIFIED FOREST (Warners, 1936) and THE BLACK LEGION (Warners, 1936). He was one of the suitors in FOUR DAUGHTERS (Warners, 1938) and the sequels, FOUR WIVES (Warners, 1939) and FOUR MOTHERS (Warners, 1941).

Ken Maynard had been First National's leading range rider during 1920s silents. And Warners had used ample stock footage from that series when they brought John Wayne to the screen in a series of six that were released in 1932-1933. The studio decided to try again with B westerns, and Foran was selected as their new "singing cowboy".

There were a dozen Foran oaters, six for the 1935-36 season and another half-dozen releases for 1936-37. The first, MOONLIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE (Warners, 1935), arrived in theaters in November, 1935. In CALIFORNIA MAIL (Warners, 1936) and SONG OF THE SADDLE (Warners, 1936), you'll even glimpse Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. And Gordon Elliott, prior to achieving stardom as "Wild Bill" at Columbia, can also be spotted in several. Foran rode a palomino named "Smoke" (Smoky) so that the earlier Maynard stock footage could be utilized again. The series finale was PRAIRIE THUNDER (Warners, 1937), released in September, 1937.

I remain confused on Warner's decision to go with a singing cowboy hero as Gene Autry had just started at the new Republic Pictures, and his box office success had not yet occurred. Autry's first starrer, TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS (Republic, 1935), was released in September, 1935, a month or so prior to the first Foran oater. Perhaps Warner's rationale for the new westerns was as simple as Foran was under contract ... he could ride a horse and looked good in a cowboy hat and boots ... and he could sing.

Hans Wollstein suggests that during this period Warners may have been influenced by what was occurring at other studios, such as operettas like David Belasco's Girl of the Golden West and Rudolf Friml's Rose Marie. Both of these Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy prairie songfests were in various stages of pre-production at MGM when Warners inaugurated the Foran musical westerns.

Foran would remain at Warners for another eighteen months or so. The studio gave him an occasional lead such as a mounted policeman in the Technicolor HEART OF THE NORTH (Warners, 1938). But mostly, his name appeared further down in the cast listing in films such as the James Cagney World War I military adventure, THE FIGHTING 69th (Warners, 1940).

Warners made a business decision to exit B westerns even though the series made money and Foran was ranked rather highly in the Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls (poll results are below). However, the studio did not completely abandon the sagebrush yarn as their future production included western shorts and many A (or B+) grade cowboy features.

In the updated version of Don Miller's Hollywood Corral by Packy Smith and Ed Hulse (Riverwood Press, 1993), they list negative cost as well as profits for each of the Foran oaters. In summary, the negative costs ranged from $56,000 - $99,000 per film, with profits running between $33,000 - $83,000. Each film brought in $100,000+ in domestic rentals, and the foreign/overseas rentals added more to Warners bottom line. Overall, not shabby numbers for a B western series.

Circa late 1939 or early 1940, Foran jumped to Universal, where he worked in serials, horror films, musicals, and Abbott and Costello comedies. There, he starred in two cliffhangers, WINNERS OF THE WEST (Universal, 1940; 13 chapters) and RIDERS OF DEATH VALLEY (Universal, 1941; 15 chapters), both of which were directed by veterans Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor.

PRIVATE BUCKAROO (Universal, 1942) had Foran with the Andrews Sisters and the Harry James Orchestra. He's with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in KEEP 'EM FLYING (Universal, 1941) and IN THE NAVY (Universal, 1941). As "Bronco Bob Mitchell", he parodied a Hollywood western hero who was afraid of horses in Abbott and Costello's RIDE 'EM COWBOY (Universal, 1942), which also featured Johnny Mack Brown and a small role as a bus driver for onetime Universal cowboy star Bob Baker. Foran also did several "outdoorsy" epics featuring Leo Carrillo and Andy Devine and one of those, ROAD AGENT (Universal, 1941), was a western. And of course, Foran did several Universal horror films: HORROR ISLAND (Universal, 1941), THE MUMMY'S HAND (Universal, 1940), and the followup, THE MUMMY'S TOMB (Universal, 1942). Hans Wollstein adds that Foran's last Universal film under contract was HE'S MY GUY, produced in late 1942.

During that early 1940s period, Foran starred in the syndicated 10-2-4 RANCH radio show, which was sponsored by Dr. Pepper and featured the Sons of the Pioneers singing group. Am unsure how long he was associated with the program, but several dozen full or partial broadcasts are available from 1943-44-45. Foran's replacement on the 10-2-4 RANCH program was Dave O'Brien of PRC's Texas Rangers trio oaters.

By the mid 1940s, Dick Foran's leading man days were over --- he had grown older and roles were less frequent. An example from this period is his portrayal of "Sergeant Quincannon" in John Ford's FORT APACHE (RKO, 1948).

A good Foran performance is in producer Alex Gordon's ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1960), with a cast of Arthur Franz, Tom Conway, Bob Steele, Brett Halsey and Joi Lansing doing battle with an alien cyclops. One of his last film roles was with his longtime friend John Wayne in John Ford's DONOVAN'S REEF (1963) (and he briefly plays the piano and sings "Waltzing Matilda" just prior to the saloon battle between Wayne and Lee Marvin). Les Adams' database has Foran in 102 films --- that number includes 26 westerns and 2 serials.

Got an e-mail from Brian Smith who adds: "TAGGART (1965) starred Tony Young and Dan Duryea and featured Dick Foran (billed third) as the father of the heroine. He was quite good in it and reminded me of just how good he really was. For Dick Foran fans, I think this picture would be a worthy epitaph to his lengthy career."

Foran also was a frequent performer on the small screen during the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in scores of TVers such as SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, PERRY MASON, GUNSMOKE, WILD BILL HICKOK, RAWHIDE, FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE, more. He also had a semi-regular role on LASSIE, playing the part of volunteer fire department chief Ed Washburne. And Foran was also featured as "Slim" in the short lived ABC TV situation comedy series O.K. CRACKERBY (which starred Burl Ives).

It appears that Foran also did some Broadway stage work --- he's among the cast of the 1943 revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee.

Newspapers reported that Foran had been hospitalized for about two weeks with a blood disorder, and passed away August 10, 1979 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital, Panorama City, California. Survivors included his wife Susanne and four sons.

You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and check the California Death Index and Social Security Death Index (SSDI). You should find a record for John Nicholas Foran, born in New Jersey on 6/18/1910, and he passed away on 8/10/1979.

I've said it before, and it applies here also. There were sagebrush troubadours like Autry, Rogers, Wakely, Ritter, Dean and Rex Allen who had an easy going, downhome, western flavor to their crooning. Many of the others - including Dick Foran - seemed to be from the Nelson Eddy school with voices that were too booming, too operatic, and too formal for the low budget cowboy film. Other than that, Foran's dozen at Warners is solid and respectable. He could certainly handle the requisite action and deliver the dialog. While his rendition of "My Little Buckaroo" is fondly recalled by many, my favorite Foran tune is "Give Me My Saddle" from RIDE 'EM COWBOY (Universal, 1942).

On The Air, The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford Press, 1998) lists "Dick Foran, The Singing Cowboy" as the vocalist on the George Burns and Gracie Allen radio program from April-June, 1937. (If an Old Corral visitor has some Burns & Allen shows from this period, please verify this information and e-mail me.)

The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual results would list the Top Ten (or Top Five) cowboy film stars. In most cases, the winners were what you would expect - Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc. Dick Foran was ranked during his dozen westerns for Warners.

Popularity Rankings of Dick Foran
Year Motion Picture Herald
Poll Ranking
Poll Ranking
1936 6th .
1937 4th 6th
1938 10th .

Bob Ladd and I communicated during the first half of 2001 regarding Dick Foran's brother Walter.  Bob notes: Walter E. "Moose" Foran was a New Jersey legislator (Republican, Hunterdon County) from 1969 to his death in office in 1986 and was an early promoter of biotechnology. He was considered an "old school" statesman, was an imposing figure, and had a congenial and persuasive manner and a quick mind. Foran was instrumental in situating the AgBiotech Center at NJAES and was considered a founding father of the vision that the Center represents. NJAES is the New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station which is part of Rutgers University. Foran was a champion of Cook College and the NJAES and spearheaded construction of the Agricultural Museum. Walter E. Foran Hall was dedicated on October 30, 1995 and is a 150,400 square foot complex.

(Courtesy of Tom Bupp)

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left - the sleeping Tommy Bupp with Dick Foran in CHEROKEE STRIP (Warners, 1937). In the film, Foran crooned a tune called "My Little Buckaroo" to Bupp, and the song became a hit.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above - a vending/exhibit card of Foran during his Warners western series.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - an older Dick Foran circa 1950s.

Dick Foran's dozen starring westerns for Warners:
Title and release year Director Leading Lady
MOONLIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE (1935) D. Ross Lederman Sheila Bromley
TREACHERY RIDES THE RANGE (1936) Frank McDonald Paula Stone
TRAILIN' WEST (1936) Noel Mason Smith Paula Stone
CALIFORNIA MAIL (1936) Noel Mason Smith Linda Perry
SONG OF THE SADDLE (1936) Louis King Alma Lloyd
GUNS OF THE PECOS (1937) Noel Mason Smith Anne Nagel
CHEROKEE STRIP (1937) Noel Mason Smith Jane Bryan
BLAZING SIXES (1937) Noel Mason Smith Joan Valerie (as Helen Valkis)
EMPTY HOLSTERS (1937) B. Reeves Eason Patricia Walthall
THE DEVIL'S SADDLE LEGION (1937) Bobby Connolly Anne Nagel
LAND BEYOND THE LAW (1937) B. Reeves Eason Linda Perry
PRAIRIE THUNDER (1937) B. Reeves Eason Janet Shaw

Foran's serials, shorts, other films with a western theme:
THE SUNDAY ROUND-UP (Warners, 1936) western short (Technicolor)
HEART OF THE NORTH (Warners, 1938) Mountie film (Technicolor)
WINNERS OF THE WEST (Universal, 1940) Serial
RIDERS OF DEATH VALLEY (Universal, 1941) Serial
ROAD AGENT (Universal, 1941)
RIDE 'EM COWBOY (Universal, 1942) (guest star/cameo in Abbott & Costello comedy)

Courtesy of Boyd Magers)

Above from left to right are George Chesebro, Emmett Vogan, Anderson Lawler, Dick Foran, Tom Brower and Patricia Walthall in a scene from Foran's EMPTY HOLSTERS (Warners, 1937). This is a standout role for Vogan as "Ace Cain". Both he and Foran have romantic feelings for Pat Walthall, and to eliminate his competition, Vogan gets Foran sent to prison on a trumped up charge.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

PRAIRIE THUNDER (Warners, 1937) was the finale in the Dick Foran singing cowboy oaters and also marked the end of Warners' involvement in producing a B western series.

(Courtesy of Dave Smith)

Above from left to right are Dick Foran, Universal producer Henry MacRae (1876-1944), Buck Jones and Monte Blue in a happy moment during the premier of the serial RIDERS OF DEATH VALLEY (Universal, 1941). MacRae was a prolific producer at Universal during the 1930s - early 1940s where he was in charge of many cliffhangers such as FLASH GORDON, RED BARRY, TIM TYLER'S LUCK ... as well as their western themed chapterplays starring Tim McCoy, Tom Tyler, Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown.

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