(From Old Corral collection)
Above from left to right are the final members of PRC's Texas Rangers' trio: Dave O'Brien, Tex Ritter and Guy Wilkerson. Ritter replaced Jim Newill in the last 8 films of the series. The above scene occurs in the opening minutes of FRONTIER FUGITIVES (PRC, 1945).
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - Tex Ritter pounds away on stuntman and supporting player Kermit Maynard, the brother of Ken Maynard, in a lobby card from FLAMING BULLETS (PRC, 1945). This was the last film in the Texas Rangers series and Ritter's finale as a western film hero.
Elmer Clifton directed the first four of the revised Texas Rangers: GANGSTERS OF THE FRONTIER (PRC, 1944) involved townsfolk being forced into mine slavery; THE WHISPERING SKULL (PRC, 1944) was a range who-done-it as the trio tries to capture the titled menace; MARKED FOR MURDER (PRC, 1945) had sheepmen battling cattlemen; and DEAD OR ALIVE (PRC, 1944) had the trio posing as baddies.
Veteran Harry Fraser was in charge of the final four: ENEMY OF THE LAW (PRC, 1945) had the three heroes pursuing terrorists; THREE IN THE SADDLE (1945) involved a land grab scheme; FRONTIER FUGITIVES (PRC, 1945) had whites posing as Indians to rob the fur traders; and FLAMING BULLETS (PRC, 1945) was a good entry about a gang freeing men from prison and turning them in for the reward.
Chief antagonists from the well-recognized (and well-worn) PRC stable were I. Stanford Jolley, Jack Ingram, Kermit Maynard and Bud Osborne. And in seven of the screen adventures, Tex was reunited with Charlie King, but their fistic heydays at Grand National and Monogram couldn't be rekindled since King was much older and heavier.
Tex's starring career ended with the Texas Rangers and PRC. World War II was winding down. And people's values and movie choices were changing, and sadly, the B western was feeling the impact. Maynard, Gibson and other Saturday matinee heroes were no longer on the flickering screen. Even the stalwart Range Busters, Three Mesquiteers, Trail Blazers, and Rough Riders were no more. Ritter was one of many sagebrush personalities caught in the death throes of the B western.
Tex's western attire changed about as often as he switched production companies --- white or black hat, twin six-shooters, and a leather jacket covering some garish western shirts were the typical uniform of his Grand National and Monogram period. He sported a two-tone jacket and single holster during his work with Elliott at Columbia. And a flat-topped Stetson and dark clothing was typical of his Universal films with Johnny Mack Brown. When Tex graduated to his own short-lived series at Universal, as well as with PRC's Texas Rangers, his garb reverted back to the look of his Monogram period.
Ouick on the draw and a reasonably good equestrian atop any of several White Flashes, Tex fought and sang his way through 59 westerns over a ten-year period. Ranked often among the Top 10 cowboys in both the Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls, Ritter had a better voice and more authentic range persona than his main competition, Gene Autry. He made some good films, and remains as one of the favorite stars of the low budget western. And when folks recall the cinema cowboys that warbled a tune and strummed a guitar, the names that come to mind are Gene, Roy ... and Tex.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - THE WHISPERING SKULL (PRC, 1944) had a mystery twist and was one of the better PRC Texas Rangers films.
It appears that Ritter sensed that his film career - and the B western - was ending. He became a country and western singing great, recorded the title song for Gary Cooper's HIGH NOON (1952) and had a hit around 1961 with "I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven" (though he did revise the lyrics of this song authored by Hal Sothern and movie cowboy Eddie Dean). Ritter had his own RANCH PARTY show on early TV, recorded scores of records for Decca and Capitol, was a star of the Grand Ole Opry, and unsuccessfully ran for the U. S. Senate Republican nomination from Tennessee in 1970 (another movie cowboy who ran for Congress was Reb Russell, and he won the Democratic nomination in 1964 but lost to the incumbent in the general election). Ritter also did lots of personal appearance tours/rodeos/fairs, often with his group "Tex Ritter and the Texans". He even had his own comic book series. And he and Johnny Bond formed their own music publishing business, Vidor Publications. (You may be able to locate a used copy of The Tex Ritter Story by Johnny Bond (Chappell Music Company, 1976).) Additionally, Ritter's son John was a recognized and respected TV star, and his credits include the lead in ABC's long running television comedy THREES COMPANY.
Got an e-mail from musician/songwriter/producer Larry Killip in July, 2001. Larry writes:
"I live in Auckland, New Zealand. In the very early 70's, a 'country' show was advertised in town and I went along. I didn't think it was anything special (I was a bit ignorant on country artists) especially as it was held in the YMCA, not a concert hall. After some of the acts came on and began doing their thing, I realised I knew a lot of the songs. Then I realised these were the original artists --- Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Wanda Jackson, and most interestingly of all, an old chap named Tex Ritter. Tex sang live "The Deck Of Cards". I don't think even then I fully realised what I was watching. It was a very special show, and I have never forgotten it."
Tex died January 2, 1974 in Nashville, Tennessee after suffering a heart attack. Dorothy had a stroke several years ago which cost her her speech, and she resided at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California. Tex and Dorothy had two children --- sons Tom and John (of TV's THREE'S COMPANY fame). John Ritter passed away unexpectedly at the age of 54 on September 11, 2003 and Dorothy passed away at the age of 88 on November 5, 2003.
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.
Ritter was ranked during most of the years in which he did films. However, he did drop from the Top Ten during 1942-1943 when he was paired up with Elliott at Columbia and Brown at Universal.
|Popularity Rankings of Tex Ritter|
Ritter's highest rating shown in this color
|Year||Motion Picture Herald