Obtaining a release from his verbal or contractual arrangements with Sol Lesser, Reb wound up chatting with independent producer Willis Kent (1878 - 1966), one of many Poverty Row film magnates whose previous low-budget offerings included a series of eight westerns starring Lane Chandler which were released in 1931 - 1932 (click here for a well worn lobby card from one of Chandler's films for Kent).
Coming to terms with Kent, Reb agreed to star in a batch of sagebrush adventures. The June 11, 1934 issue of Film Daily carried the announcement: "Reb Russell, former Northwestern football star, has been placed under a three-year contract by Willis Kent. He will be starred in a series of westerns."
Let's explore a bit of Hollywood reality or myth as it relates to Reb:
A story reported by many is that Tom Mix tried to have Reb replace the rambunctious and temperamental Ken Maynard after Maynard's series for producer Larry Darmour (at Columbia) in the mid-1930s. But this appears to be pure hogwash as Ken followed Mix at Universal circa 1933-1934. After being cut loose by Universal, Maynard worked for Nat Levine and Mascot in the MYSTERY MOUNTAIN cliffhanger and IN OLD SANTA FE feature, both of which were released in 1934. These dates are key as Maynard would not even join the Larry Darmour production unit at Columbia until mid-1935, and by that time, many of the Reb Russell/Willis Kent oaters were already in states rights distribution and playing at small town movie houses. Carrying this myth/reality to further extremes, there was also some scuttlebutt that Mix tried to persuade the Universal brass to select Reb as the follow-up to Maynard. Even if this had occurred, Carl and Junior Laemmle, the Universal bosses, had already chosen Buck Jones as the replacement for the cantankerous Maynard, who didn't seem to care about such things as production budget overruns. The Laemmle's were familiar with Jones and had starred him in the 1933 GORDON OF GHOST CITY serial. Regardless of the rumors and happenings some 75+ years ago, Reb Russell and his new cinema career were tied to independent producer Willis Kent.
Above - 1934 tradepaper ad for new cowboy hero Reb and his trusty steed Rebel.
|Purchasing a beautiful white gelding named Rebel and billed as "The Marvel Horse", Russell had the hoss trained by veteran Tracey Lane. With few if any acting lessons under his belt, the good-looking and muscular Reb adopted a white hat, dark shirt with draw strings, and even sported leather chaps on occasion.|
On the right is Buck Jones wearing a drawstring shirt with little silver horseshoes on the collar.
Did Reb pattern his costume based on Jones' range outfits?
Take a gander at the photo below - looks like Reb borrowed one of Buck Jones' shirts.
(From Old Corral collection)
(Courtesy of Jack Jones)
Above from L-to-R are Chuck Baldra, Jack Jones, Reb is in the middle (with drawstring shirt and horseshoes on the collar), then Jack Kirk, and on the far right is Yakima Canutt in FIGHTING THROUGH (Willis Kent, 1934), Reb's first or second film. And it looks like Reb is wearing Yak's traditional gunbelt which has the light colored accents and bullet loops. Can't remember Canutt's gunbelt --- click here for a crop from a lobby card showing John Wayne and Canutt from RANDY RIDES ALONE (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934).
Baldra, Jones and Kirk did supporting roles, played henchies, and also worked with many singing groups (under various names, including the Arizona Wranglers and Range Riders), and those groups often featured Glenn Strange and Cactus Mack McPeters ... or some combination thereof. And sometimes they didn't even have a name ... just cowhands or part of the outlaw gang singing around the ol' campfire.
(From Old Corral collection)
From L-to-R are Russell, Yvonne Pelletier, Fred Kohler, and Dick Botiller in LIGHTNING TRIGGERS (Willis Kent, 1935), Reb's last film. By this time, Reb had changed to a more traditional western shirt. Note the disfigured right hand on Kohler.
Copyright and release dates on Reb's films have always confused me and many were re-titled for early TV days when westerns were about all that could be rented by the television stations.
THE MAN FROM HELL (directed by Lew Collins, 1934) has a strong supporting cast including perpetual baddie Fred Kohler, George Hayes in his pre-"Gabby" days, and stuntman Yakima Canutt who provided some riding and brawling tips to the newcomer. Yak returned with a cast of recognizable character players in FIGHTING THROUGH (Harry Fraser, 1934); moustached baddie Al Bridge joined Canutt for OUTLAW RULE (S. Roy Luby, 1935); RANGE WARFARE (S. Roy Luby, 1935) enjoyed the stalwart services of one-time cowboy hero Wally Wales (later known as Hal Taliaferro); Edmund Cobb had a juicy role in ARIZONA BAD MAN (S. Roy Luby, 1935); Charles "Slim" Whitaker seemed to appear in most of the flicks including BLAZING GUNS and BORDER VENGEANCE (both Ray Heinz, 1935); Cobb came back for CHEYENNE TORNADO (William O'Connor, 1935); and burly Fred Kohler returned for LIGHTNING TRIGGERS (S. Roy Luby, 1935).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
John McGuire has the drop on Reb and Rebel in the above title lobby card from OUTLAW RULE (Willis Kent, 1935). Note "The Marvel Horse" billing for Rebel.