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(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Above is a very young George Houston.
George Houston

The Lone Rider at PRC

Full name:
George Fleming Houston

1896 - 1944

Special thanks to western film fan/author Bobby Copeland, Ed Skipworth of Rutgers University Archives, Leslie Kimble and Linda Cox of the Blair Academy Alumni Office and Library, and the Local History Room at the Bernardsville, New Jersey Public Library, for photos and help in verifying the early biographical info on George Houston.

With the success of singin' cowboys, most of the major and minor studios and production companies tried to bring their own version of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Tex Ritter to the silver screen.  Some names that come to mind are: Jack Randall at Monogram, Bob Baker at Universal, Fred Scott for Spectrum ... and the subject of this webpage, George Houston.

There's various stories about Houston's background, and some of this has probably been well mixed with misinformation and studio publicity.  George Fleming Houston was born in 1896 or 1898 in Hampton, New Jersey, and his parents were Reverend Thomas and Margaret (nee Fleming) Houston (some biographies list his father's first name as Charles). His father was from Scotland, blinded as a boy in an accident. He became a minister in the Presbyterian church and was known as "The Blind Evangelist". George's singing skills were developed as he sang in church, at church meetings and in public school.  From these humble beginnings, the young Houston attended Rutgers University (some say, on a scholarship), and then he continued his musical training at the Julliard School of Music.  He served in France during World War I, and after being discharged, the scuttlebutt is that he opened a school of music in New York City, but this effort failed.  He connected with the American Opera Company for a while, but was relegated to minor roles, and finally decided to try Broadway musicals.

Some investigative work was required, and following are the details:

(Courtesy of Blair Academy)

Above is Blair Academy's First Track Team in 1912, and Houston is on the far right, sitting.

(Courtesy of the Local History Room of the Bernardsville Public Library)

Above is the 1921 yearbook photo of the orchestra at Bernards High School, Bernardsville, New Jersey. Houston is on the far right carrying a violin.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

And now on with the story!

Having some success on the Broadway stage, Houston was enticed to Hollywood for some singing work in mid 1930s musicals.

After laboring in a half-dozen musical extravaganzas, Houston found himself out of work.  His next movie jobs were for little Grand National Pictures.  George starred as Wild Bill Hickok in a B western titled FRONTIER SCOUT.  He did not sing in this sagebrush yarn.  The director was Sam Newfield --- Newfield and Houston's trails would cross again.

Houston also appeared in BLOCKADE (Warners, 1938), a film about Franco and the Spanish Civil War starring Henry Fonda and Madeleine Carroll. In this, Houston used the name George Byron and was 15th-billed as the 'Troubador'.

Grand National had Tex Ritter in some westerns for producer/director Ed Finney.  And they also had the "Renfrew of the Royal Mounted" flicks starring Jim Newill as the redcoated law officer.

But Grand National was in extreme financial difficulty, and by 1940 or so, the production company had disappeared and their assets had been sold.

Houston made a few for Grand National release, including the tuneful seafaring yarn CAPTAIN CALAMITY (1936) and the above mentioned FRONTIER SCOUT (1938) .  Ritter and Newill wound up at Monogram Pictures continuing their westerns and Renfrew films.  Houston was again looking for work.

Ben Judell (1891 - 1974) formed Progressive Pictures, Producers Pictures, and PDC (Producers Distributing Corporation) in the late 1930s, and below is PDC's 1939-1940 announcement. But his B film empire collapsed in early 1940 due to financial issues. Pathé was among the creditors and the succession plan for Judell's companies resulted in the formation of Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Judell was not part of that new PRC organization.

The 1939-1940 exhibitor announcement of PDC's film release plans proudly proclaimed:

"Producers Distributing Corporation, Ben Judell, President, Is honestly proud to offer for the 1939-40 exhibitor season 60 Profitable Pictures!"

and contained news that Houston would star in 8 Billy The Kid westerns.  That didn't happen.

The announcement also mentioned Tim McCoy doing a series of 8 (that occurred during 1940-41, initially under the PDC name, and then under the PRC logo).  And young Bobby Clark was to star in 8 'Sagebrush Family' yarns (of which only one was filmed).  Appears that PDC was a tad optimistic (and underfunded) to accomplish those goals.

The above logo and the Houston/Billy the Kid announcement on the right were cropped from that 1939-40 PDC exhibitor announcement.  Houston didn't become Billy the Kid, nor did PDC/PRC do that series in 1939-1940.  Bob Steele came on board as Billy the Kid for 6 films which were released in 1940-41.  When Steele exited for the Three Mesquiteers series at Republic, Buster Crabbe became PRC's new Billy the Kid.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

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