Les Adams spent time chatting with Bob Steele and Smith Ballew, and one of the subjects was who was the singing voice for John Wayne in RIDERS OF DESTINY and some other Wayne oaters. Les wrote the following piece on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), but the writeup is no longer there:
Enough already! Lay off Smith Ballew ... he didn't do it., 30 January 2004
Author: Leslie Howard Adams from Texas
As one of the biggest and most-repeated myths in Hollywood film history the one about Smith Ballew dubbing John Wayne's singing voice in RIDERS OF DESTINY may well rank close to the top. It is only out there because it was published in a book on Westerns movies circa 1962 that, line-for-line, contained more errors than most of the self-serving, ghost-written Star bios in recent years. The author and name of the book will not be mentioned since the author is dead and nothing he ever wrote is taken seriously by any real fan or western film historian then or now, other than the mention of his name has caused a lot of films historians to moan, throw up or cry. Often all three. Let's start at the top. RIDERS OF DESTINY was filmed in Lancaster and Palmdale California in August of 1933, and Smith Ballew was nowhere near the whole state of California in August of 1933. Books by the likes of the very-respected Bob Nareau and Bobby Copeland, in which each spent hours, days and/or weeks in the company of the film's director and his son, western film star Bob Steele (Robert Bradbury, Jr.), established for a fact that the man who dubbed John Wayne in this film was Bradbury's son and Bob's twin brother Bill Bradbury, who went on to become a prominent physician in California. (The Bradbury twins, as young boys, had starred in a silent series of films directed by their father.) We visited - bull, forget the royal "we" - I visited Smith Ballew in his home in Fort Worth, Texas in 1966 (following his retirement after 25 years with General Dynamics in Texas and California) in company with the late Elston Brooks, columnist and entertainment editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Smith Ballew denied, when asked, that he was the "singing voice" for Wayne in this film. "Who thought up that piece of ..." was the question he asked. The tone of his question was such that I quickly made sure he didn't think I was the one who thought up that piece of ...! Brooks wrote a story on the interview for the Star-Telegram that expressed Ballew's denial of being Wayne's dubber (minus Ballew's question), and did a couple of follow-up stories and/or columns in the following years on Ballew, in which Ballew hastily, and often without being asked, denied dubbing John Wayne anywhere ... anytime. In later years, a tired and much older (in his late 70's) Ballew went to a couple of, or several, film conventions and was asked again about dubbing for Wayne (some dolt source also thinks he dubbed Wayne in 1934's THE MAN FROM UTAH, although Ballew didn't come west to make films until 1936) and I've been told that he sometimes just shrugged his shoulders and said something like "whatever you think", and a very respected western film historian has said that Ballew was old, sick and tired and mostly tired of denying it and wasting the breath to do so. Flash forward to 1971. Cinema Center Films made a little ditty called SOMETHING BIG starring Dean Martin, Bryan Keith and Honor Blackman, and sent some of the stars and supporting players in the film around and about the U.S. on a junket promoting the film. I don't know who went where but do know that Bryan Keith went to Dallas and Fort Worth, while Bob Steele (who played Teamster No. 3 in the film) came to remote Texas outposts such as Amarillo, Abilene, Midland-Odessa and Lubbock to plug the film. Lubbock was a lay-over stop for Steele and I was fortunate enough to get to spend most of a day in his company including breakfast and lunch. A lot of that time was spent discussing, in addition to his own career, the career of his director-father Robert North Bradbury, and RIDERS OF DESTINY came up. Bob Steele said: "My dad used my twin brother Bill to dub Duke in that film, as he had done several times in the past to dub me in a couple of films, as Bill could at least stay on key and carry a tune and I could do neither, and the small fee Bill got helped to pay his bills in medical school." And director Robert North Bradbury said pretty much the same in a couple of well-researched and documented books on western films by the authors previously mentioned. Summary: Robert North Bradbury was there and said Ballew didn't dub Wayne ever ... Bob Steele was there making films for the same producers (Trem Carr and Paul Malvern) and in the vicinity and said Ballew didn't dub Wayne ... Smith Ballew, who wasn't even in the state of California at the time, said he didn't dub Wayne ever. Well, we, excuse me, I wasn't there but I'm more than familiar with Smith Ballew's singing voice (even have some of his earlier recordings he gave me) and, even without Bob Steele and Robert Bradbury's testimony, it would take one tin ear indeed to think that "Singin' Sandy's" singing voice in RIDERS OF DESTINY was Smith Ballew. No way, Jose. I go with the people who were there ... Bradbury and Steele and not there ... Ballew. And Elston Brooks, who was a close friend of John Wayne and spent a few days on location of every film Wayne made from the 60's until his final THE SHOOTIST once asked Wayne who dubbed him in RIDERS OF DESTINY and Wayne's answer was ... "hell, I don't know but 'Pappy' Kirk (Jack Kirk) dubbed me in a lot of the latter Lone Star and Republic westerns". Which brings up who is the source that thinks Glenn Strange dubbed John Wayne in those films? Glenn Strange was in most of them along with his former Arizona Wranglers band members such as Cactus Mack, Chuck Baldra and Jack "Pappy" Kirk, but it is Kirk's bull-frog singing voice dubbing Wayne in those films and not Strange.
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
From left to right are Charlie/Charley Sargent, Jack Kirk, John Wayne, Cactus Mack McPeters, Chuck Baldra and Glenn Strange in a scene from Wayne's WESTWARD HO (Republic, 1935). On the far right is the non-singing Tex Palmer. In the film's opening titles, Glenn Strange is credited and "the Singing Riders" is listed under Strange's name. These "guys in black shirts" did double duty as singers as well as members of the "Singing Riders" who rode white horses and assisted Wayne. Below are crops/blowups showing the faces in more detail.
Below: Charlie/Charley Sargent, Jack Kirk, John Wayne, Cactus Mack McPeters.
Above: Chuck Baldra, Glenn Strange, and the non-singing Tex Palmer.
There's a lot of stories as to how Wayne acquired the nickname of 'Duke'. Among the oft mentioned are: the nickname kinda matched his good looks; a scrapper, he was good with his 'dukes'; and the story that seems to be most quoted is that the Wayne family - or Wayne himself - had a pooch named 'Duke', and that's where the nickname originated.
Mike Newton e-mailed with more info on the Duke nickname:
"... his real name was Marion Michael Morrison and as a young boy, he was shy and not particularly aggressive. His mother was extremely dominant and his father, though likeable, was a rather mild type character, though Wayne admired him. Anyway, the older boys teased Wayne about his name. Wayne took to hanging around the firehouse in Glendale and somehow acquired a dog whose name was "Duke". It may have been the firehouse dog or just a stray. Anyway, the firemen would always call out when they saw them, "Here's Big Duke and Little Duke". Big Duke of course was the dog, but Wayne liked the name so much that he acquired it as his own and when he went to college, that was how he was called. Of course he didn't acquire the name "John Wayne" until his first movie. This information I acquired from interviews done with Wayne over the years ..."
Wayne addresses people as "Pilgrim" in several films. In THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), he used that response with James Stewart. And in the chaotic mud pit battle in McLINTOCK! (1963), Wayne acknowledges screen tough Leo Gordon as "Pilgrim" ... and then clobbers him.
What are the films in which Wayne was "killed"? There are seven:
REAP THE WILD WIND (1942)
THE FIGHTING SEABEES (1944)
THE WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (1948)
THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949)
THE ALAMO (1960)
THE COWBOYS (1972)
THE SHOOTIST (1976)
As to the number of films where Wayne "died", include the above mentioned seven ... and here's four more:
(From Old Corral collection)
|In the photo left, Yakima Canutt gives a helpin' hand to a young John Wayne in THE STAR PACKER (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934).
For those of you who study Wayne, remember the way he often twirls his six-shooter when he draws it? Canutt did the same and Wayne probably copied that mannerism when he and Yak were working on the Lone Star westerns.
Billy Alford sent me an e-mail reminder that this is seen in RANDY RIDES ALONE (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Wayne and Canutt shoot at a wanted poster. Yak draws, twirls his sixgun, and shoots. Wayne then draws, does the same twirl as Yak, and fires off a round.
Above are crops/blowups of Wayne's gunbelt from a lobby card from BLUE STEEL and a production still from 'NEATH ARIZONA SKIES. He used this gunbelt with the light colored bullet loops and edging during his Lone Star films, and the pattern is very similar to the rig worn by Bob Steele in the early 1930s. Methinks that Wayne's Lone Star gunbelt was influenced by Steele's father, Robert North Bradbury, who directed and scripted many of Wayne's films ... and Bradbury may have gotten the same person that crafted Steele's belt to do one for Wayne. Below is a shot of Steele from his 1932-1933 Monogram films.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - Bob Steele is about to chat with the clean shaven Charlie King in THE FIGHTING CHAMP (Monogram, 1932).
But all things change - above is a crop/blowup of the gunbelt that Wayne used as a member of Republic's Three Mesquiteers. Am unsure whether this was made specifically for Wayne or supplied by Republic's prop department.
John Wayne Enterprises is the sole and exclusive grantee from John Wayne of all commercial merchandising and allied rights relating to the use of his Name, Likeness, Signature, Voice or Photographs. John Wayne Enterprises is a limited partnership owned by the children and grandchildren of John Wayne and is managed by Ethan Wayne. Their mailing address is: John Wayne Enterprises, 210 62nd Street, Newport Beach, CA 92663, and their website is at: https://www.johnwayne.com
The John Wayne Cancer Institute is located at the Saint John's Health Center, Santa Monica, California, and this is their history webpage: https://www.saintjohnscancer.org/about-jwci/
The John Wayne Cancer Foundation was founded by the Wayne family and the website is at: https://johnwayne.org/
The website for John Wayne's birthplace and museum in Winterset, Iowa is at: https://www.johnwaynebirthplace.museum/
Neil Roughley's website on Wayne has tons of details on his films, DVD releases, etc. On this webpage, Neil confirms the running times of about 125 minutes for both the standard 35mm and 70mm Grandeur widescreen versions of THE BIG TRAIL (Fox, 1930). You will need to scroll down toward the bottom of that page to find Neil's notes on THE BIG TRAIL: http://www.dukefilmography.com/john_wayne_dvd_filmography.html#1930s
"John Wayne: The Forgotten History of 'The Duke' " is on the ammo.com website. The article includes Wayne's early years, movies, and lots about his political leanings and conservative politics. There's also a link to a World War II document about Wayne volunteering (unsuccessfully) for duty with director John Ford's Navy photographic unit. During WW2, U. S. Navy Reserve Commander John Ford and crew were under the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and filmed documentaries for the Navy Department: https://ammo.com/articles/john-wayne-the-duke
Kevin Dolph has a John Wayne Fan Forum at: https://dukewayne.com/
There was a website devoted to the artistic works of Pilar Wayne, John Wayne's third wife. However, when I checked in late 2017, the site was no longer working and the domain name was for sale: http://www.pilarwayne.com/
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on John Wayne: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000078/.
The Reel Classics website has a list of the Quigley Publishing Annual Top Ten MoneyMakers Poll from 1932 - 1970, and that includes Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the 1940s. Wayne first made this list in 1949 and continued to be at or near the top of the list for several decades: http://www.reelclassics.com/Articles/General/quigleytop10-article.htm
Reel Classics pages on Wayne includes lots of images and mp3 audio clips: http://www.reelclassics.com/Actors/Wayne/wayne.htm
Emanuel Levy authored the book John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life and has several Wayne articles on his website:
Find A Grave website has a picture of the grave marker for John Wayne at Pacific View Memorial Park, Newport Beach, California: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/1079/john-wayne
Jerry Murbach's Doctor Macro website has a bunch of John Wayne photos:
Filmsite has a detailed review and commentary on John Ford's STAGECOACH: https://www.filmsite.org/stagec.html
Tommy Woolley's tribute to John Wayne website is at: http://johnwayne.byethost3.com/The_Duke.htm