Fred Scott - Spectrum's singing cowboy circa 1937.
Billed as the:
"Silvery Voiced Baritone"
"Silvery Voiced Buckaroo"
Frederick Leedom Scott
1902 - 1991
Above - Fred Scott at Pathe circa 1930.
Above - 1930 tradepaper ad for Scott at Pathe.
Spectrum Pictures lasted from the mid 1930s until early 1940 and they distributed the Fred Scott series. Prior to Scott, Spectrum had Bill Cody in nine oaters.
Early 1960s newspaper ad for Fred's Los Angeles area real estate business at 3303 Cahuenga Boulevard.
|Special thanks to Donn and Nancy Moyer and Andy Southard for photos and remembrances of Fred and Mary Scott. And a big thank you to Mary and Fred Scott's daughter Brenda L. Scott for sharing memories of her parents.|
Frederick Leedom Scott was born in Fresno, California in 1902 to Chancellor Scott and Violet Patterson Scott, and as a youngster, he learned to ride. But he soon became interested in singing and several years of operatic voice lessons with a teacher in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Scott became a professional singer, and performed in concerts, theaters, opera, radio and night clubs.
Around 1925 or 1926, he began his Hollywood career in silents, and was under contract to Pathe for several years and did some bits in Mack Sennett comedies.
With the Depression in full swing, he found himself looking for work outside of film ... and found same with the San Francisco Light Opera Company ... but mostly in Hollywood night spots. A few tradepaper mentions:
An occasional film role came his way. If you watch closely, he had a bit in Universal's first FLASH GORDON serial and did some singing in THE LAST OUTLAW (RKO, 1936) with Harry Carey.
The popularity of the traditional B western film was waning by the mid 1930s. But a change occurred that significantly impacted the genre - the "singing cowboy" arrived. Nat Levine's Mascot cliffhanger factory had produced a song-laden serial titled THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) starring former WLS Barn Dance radio performer Gene Autry. Autry was under contract with Levine and both became part of the newly formed Republic Pictures in 1935 when it was created via a merger of Mascot, Monogram, Consolidated Film Laboratories, more.
Levine and Republic decided to try Autry in some feature westerns, and his first starrer, TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS (Republic, 1935), hit the screens in late Summer, 1935. This was quickly followed by MELODY TRAIL (Republic, 1935) and THE SAGEBRUSH TROUBADOUR (Republic, 1935). The rest is cinema history, and soon after, major and minor B western film producers shifted their priorities to "singing westerns". There were lots of Autry imitators including Fred Scott, the "Silvery Voiced Baritone" and "Silvery Voiced Buckaroo".
Spectrum Pictures Corporation was a film distributor and existed from about 1934 - 1940. Its lifespan was brief and output consisted of a couple dozen features, all churned out by independent production outfits. Spectrum's first range rider was Bill Cody in nine oaters produced by Ray Kirkwood. Spectrum's second - and last - sagebrush hero was Fred Scott and trade publications carried the news:
Fred's first, ROMANCE RIDES THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936), arrived in theaters in late 1936, roughly a year after Gene Autry's initial Republic starrer. Production boss for Fred's first nine adventures was Jed Buell (1897 - 1961), former theater manager and onetime publicity boss for Mack Sennett. Sam Newfield (Samuel Neufeld) handled the directing chores on a half dozen. William Jedediah 'Jed' Buell seemed to be one who would take chances to make a buck - he's best remembered for THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN (1938) western with an all midget cast, as well as HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1937) which featured big band singer Herb Jeffries.
Stan Laurel (of Laurel & Hardy fame) had just started a new production company ... and got involved in the Scott series. Jed Buell was still producing, but somethin' didn't click ... or there was a clash ... and Buell quit or was forced out. Fred's final four were produced by C. C. Burr (1891 - 1956) and directed by Raymond K. Johnson (1902 - 1999). Trades carried news of the organization shufflin':
Another half dozen Scott Spectrum westerns were announced for 1939 - 1940. But only one was completed:
RIDIN' THE TRAIL was Fred's thirteenth starring western. But it got lost or misplaced during the financial meltdown and collapse of the Spectrum company. Trade publications indicate that Monogram had the movie and scheduled a June 27, 1940 release ... and then it was listed as postponed. Independent distributor Arthur Ziehm acquired RIDIN' and released it in late 1941 - early 1942. Trades also reported that Ziehm was planning on starring Fred and youngster Buzzy Henry in four musical westerns circa late 1941. But that didn't happen. Lastly, April, 1940 issues of Boxoffice, Motion Picture Daily, and Motion Picture Herald had details on the 1940 - 1941 release season for Monogram Pictures. Monogram was considering a Fred Scott series to go along with their Tex Ritter adventures and new "Two Pals" westerns starring Ray Corrigan and John King ("Two Pals" became the Range Busters with the addition of Max Terhune). The Scott Monograms didn't happen either.
There were a few more movie jobs for Fred. The two-reel short SWINGIN' IN THE BARN (Universal, 1940) featured many musical and novelty acts including Texas Jim Lewis and his band, the King Sisters ... and Fred crooning a western tune. Spade Cooley and Fred (sporting a mustache and playing a guitar) were members of a musical group in Tim Holt's THUNDERING HOOFS (RKO, 1942). Scott retired from the screen after starring in RODEO RHYTHM (PRC, 1942), an amateurish mess filmed in / around Kansas City. Locally produced and financed, it showcased Roy Knapp's Juvenile Rough Rider Kids in a tale about saving an orphanage.
Circa 1941 - 1944, Fred was the singer, manager, and part-owner of the Florentine Gardens nightclub in Hollywood. Later, he worked for MGM's sound department. And Fred put on a pirate costume and a 'stache and did some tunes in "Treasure Chest" a 1945 soundie playable in the Mills Novelty Company Panoram machine.
There was a second marriage - on August 24, 1936, Fred tied the knot with Mary Kathryn Grable at the Court House in San Francisco. And they had two daughters - Helen May Scott was born in 1937 and Brenda Lee Scott in 1940.
Wife Mary had an extensive stage and dance career and starred as "Marietta", a toe dancer, with the George White's Scandals show. Brenda mentioned that her Mom and Dad met when both were performing on the same bill at the Biltmore Bowl at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. On a later webpage, there's links to a couple articles from late 1935 - early 1936 with mentions of both Fred and Mary / Marietta at the Biltmore Bowl.
In the late 1930s, Fred did personal appearances at various theaters to publicize his Spectrum oaters. Traveling and performing with him was wife Mary.
Author and circus performer Donn Moyer visited Fred and Mary several times, and he recalled Fred describing when he and Mary met, dated, and Fred's marriage proposal: "He said he promptly fell for her but she was standoffish for some time. They were then both on Broadway in shows and began dating. Later, in California, they continued to date and after some time, Fred drove to a lookout on Mulholland Drive where you could see Los Angeles from afar. He said 'Mary, will you marry me?', and she answered in the affirmative and Fred swears he said, 'Good! Otherwise I was going to drive us off the cliff'. Fred and Mary both had a great sense of humor."
He became a successful - and well known - Los Angeles area realtor, and was heavily involved in the formation of the Allied Brokers of California. He served as 1961 president of that realtor association.
In their later years, Fred and Mary retired to Palm Springs, California where he remained very busy. He was a board member of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Among Fred's closest friends were Gene Autry, William "Hoppy" Boyd, and Walter Pidgeon. The Scotts had a beautiful, tastefully decorated condo on Camino Parocella in Palm Springs, and it was located just around the corner from the home of movie baddie Marc Lawrence. The Scotts always had a bird feeding station and enjoyed watching the birds, especially a hummingbird that seemed to have taken up residence with them.
Brenda mentioned that many fans visited their Palm Springs home. They'd park their RVs across the street and Mom and Dad would take them in. Mom would come up with cookies, or the like, and punch, etc. Western movie folks also stopped by, including Sunset Carson and stunt man Yakima Canutt.
Fred was very close to Al St. John (who was originally one of the Keystone Cops and the nephew of comic Fatty Arbuckle). Al drank too much but always seemed to make it through his lines ... most of the time. St. John worked for about five years with 'Doc' Tommy Scott's Wild West Show, and passed away from a heart attack on January 21, 1963 while working with the show during a stop in Lyons, Georgia (not the oft reported Vidalia, Georgia). Fred thought very highly of St. John, both professionally and personally. In the silent days, Fred had been support in some of Al St. John's films, and as fate would have it, now St. John was the sidekick to Fred. Fred also liked Harry Harvey, one of his other sidekicks, and thought he was a talented actor.
His favorite leading lady was Lois January, who was the heroine in two of his films, THE ROAMING COWBOY (Spectrum, 1937) and MOONLIGHT ON THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1937).
For his contributions to the western film genre, Fred Scott was awarded a Golden Boot at the 1988 awards ceremony. Photos from the awards program are on a later webpage.
89 year old Fred Scott passed away from a heart attack on December 16, 1991 at the Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, California. He was cremated and his ashes scattered.
In retrospect, Fred Scott and his westerns had little impact on the genre. He was simply another talented singer who tried to overcome shoestring budgets and production ineptitudes in Poverty Row productions. While Scott had a marvelous (booming) voice, it was too formal for a cowboy hero (whereas Autry, Ritter, Rogers, Eddie Dean, and Jimmy Wakely had a more "down home" western flavor in their warblings). If Scott had connected with Republic, Universal, Columbia or even Monogram, his career may have been longer and his films would have been much better. As to Scott personally, he was regarded as a genuine nice guy.
The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual poll 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. Fred Scott never achieved a top ten ranking in those polls.
(From Old Corral collection)
Poster for Fred's first starring western, ROMANCE RIDES THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936). Note the reference (upper right corner) to Scott as the "Silvery Voiced Baritone" and his hoss as "White King".
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Fred Scott with Lois January, his favorite leading lady, in MOONLIGHT ON THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1937).
(From Old Corral collection)
RIDIN' THE TRAIL was the last of singin' cowboy Fred Scott's series for Spectrum and was filmed in late 1939. However, it got lost or misplaced during Spectrum Picture's financial meltdown and collapse.
Trade publications indicate that Monogram had the film and planned a June 27, 1940 release ... and then it's listed as postponed.
Independent distributor Arthur Ziehm acquired the film and released it in late 1941 - early 1942. The earliest review I found was in the January 14, 1942 issue of The Exhibitor tradezine. And that review was very negative.
Circa 1937 - 1939, Fred did personal appearances at various theaters and the above ad is from an April, 1938 tour stop in Missouri. Those shows provided an extra source of income as well as publicizing Fred's Spectrum westerns. "Marietta - Cowgirl Tap Dancer Star of 'George White Scandals' " was Fred's wife Mary.
Also performing with the show was Curtis 'Cactus Mack' McPeters, a prolific B western musician, henchman, stage driver, etc. Youngster Billy Lenhart appeared in a couple of Fred's westerns, and he's "Bull Fiddle Bill" and a member of the "Lenhart Family Hillbilly Band".
(Courtesy of Andy Southard)
Andy Southard took this photo in 1989. And Brenda writes: "Dad in his den at their Palm Springs, California condo. His room was wallpapered with things sent to him by fans. He had quite a collection of arm patches from City/Town Police Departments. His typing style was the 'ol single finger hunt and peck. However, he was pretty good at it. He was a lefty. He had a stroke in 1970 and could not use his left hand properly anymore. He trained himself to use his right hand (typical Dad), and so his hunt and peck was even more picturesque, and I think he could take on any hunt and peck competition!"