Back to prior page

The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.



Tom London

Real name:
Leonard Thomas Clapham

1888 or 1889 - 1963



(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)



(From Old Corral collection)



(Courtesy of Bill Sasser)

Tall, thin Tom London was one of the most familiar faces to B western audiences. He was born Leonard Thomas Clapham in 1888 or 1889 in Kentucky to Henry R. Clapham and Mary J. Huesman.

His movie career began in the early days of the silent film and he worked in many silent features and some serials for Universal, Pathe, Lasky, other production companies. He was in Los Angeles in June, 1917 when he registered for the World War I draft and employed by the Universal Film Company. In the 1920 census, actor Leonard Clapham is living with his parents in Los Angeles. And circa 1925, Clapham did a name change and became "Tom London".

He easily migrated to talking pictures, where he portrayed sheriffs, ranch owners, henchmen and the occasional brains heavy in westerns from the 1930s through the 1950s. In non-westerns, he often wore a Police uniform ... or a suit that covered his detective badge.

One of the most prolific of the Hollywood character/supporting players, Les Adams has London identified in about 500 talkin' pictures - that number includes at least 52 serials and 320 westerns. Among those are about 160 films at Republic Pictures during 1935 - 1951. And much of London's work at Republic occurred from July, 1943 through July, 1947, when he was under a term player contract(s). That contract gave London some security and a regular paycheck, but allowed Republic to utilize him in lots of films ... and they did.

London was typical of the western and serial performers who migrated to television when the B western and cliffhanger faded in the post World War II years. On TV, you can spot him in episodes of THE RANGE RIDER, ANNIE OAKLEY, GENE AUTRY, many other programs.

I have a couple favorite Tom London roles. In Gene Autry's RIDERS IN THE SKY (Columbia, 1949). Tom plays the grizzled (and nice) "Old Man Roberts" who dies at the end ... and becomes one of the mystic riders galloping on white horses while Gene sings "Ghost Riders In The Sky". Another good one is Jimmy Wakely's BRAND OF FEAR (Monogram, 1949), with Tom as an old lawman with a secret past. Decades earlier, he was an outlaw ... and also the father of schoolmarm Gail Davis (who thinks her father died long ago).

Tom was married twice. His first was to silent screen actress Edith Stayart / Edythe Stayart in the 1920s. And in 1934, he tied the knot with a Frances McClellan in Los Angeles, but they were divorced at the time of the 1940 census.

Respected by his peers, he was known as "Ol' Tom". Personal interests were golf and dancing.

Tom London passed away on December 5, 1963 at his North Hollywood home which he shared with his sister, Anita Pearcy. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

And Yes! Tom London / Leonard Clapham is a Guinness World Record Holder - from The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats by Patrick Robertson (Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1993):

"The performer who played in the most movies made for general release was Tom London (1883 - 1963), who was born in Louisville, Ky., and made the first of his over 2000 appearances on screen in The Great Train Robbery (US 03)."

(Couple footnotes on The Great Train Robbery and 2000 film appearances. The Internet Movie Database lists Tom as an uncredited "Locomotive Engineer" inTHE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (Edison, 1903). That was a Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson western which was filmed in the wilds of New Jersey. Tom was born in 1888 or 1889, and he would have been about 15 years old if he worked in that film ... and he had to be in New Jersey for that film role. He did have a railroad background - in the 1910 census, 22 year old Tom was a "Fireman - Steam Railroad" and his father was a foreman on the railroad. As to 2000 appearances, London did hundreds of films and TV programs ... but 2000 seems overstated. That Guinness book was published in 1993, and their info probably came from a bio that was available at that time.)

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Tom London: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0163417/

Daniel Neyer's "The Files of Jerry Blake" serial website has a webpage on Tom London and his many cliffhanger roles: https://filesofjerryblake.com/serial-character-actors-2/tom-london/

The Family Search website (free), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), newspapers, and the death certificate provide more on Tom London. He was married and divorced twice. There is a question on his birth - he reports 1888 on his World War I draft registration and 1889 on his World War II draft registration:

  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky are 58 year old Henry R. Clapham (born Kentucky; occupation "Foreman - Steam Railroad"), his 48 year old wife Mary J. (born Kentucky), 22 year old son Leonard (born Kentucky; occupation "Fireman - Steam Railroad"), 18 year old daughter Natalia M. (born Kentucky) and 15 year old daughter Anita J.: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M2DY-ZD1
  • June 5, 1917 World War I draft registration - 28 year old Leonard Thomas Clapham was born August 24, 1888 in Louisville, Kentucky. Home address was 217 N. Beaudry, Los Angeles, California; he is married; prior military service of 8 months with California Coast Artillery; reports he was "Deaf in one ear"; occupation/employer was "Film Actor - Universal Film Co.": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-26181-27974-28?cc=1968530
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - 32 year old Leonard T. Clapham (born Kentucky; occupation "Actor - Moving Picture") was living in Los Angeles with his parents, 67 year old Henry R. Clapham (born Kentucky; occupation "Painter - Buildings") and 57 year old Mary J. Clapham (born Kentucky): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MHQF-3K9
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 38 year old Leonard Clapham (born Kentucky; occupation "Actor - Motion Pictures") and 36 year old wife Edith S. (born California) own their home at 2568 North Beechwood Drive, Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XCV9-H41
  • Sawtelle Veterans Home and Hospital record from 1931 - Clapham was hospitalized for 50 days for lumbago. Wife Edith is listed on the record. His military service was 17th California Coast Artillery from September 22, 1916 to his discharge on August 29, 1917: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V8MS-S5B
  • April 22, 1934 Los Angeles County marriage license of 42 year old Leonard Thomas Clapham (born Kentucky) to 34 year old Frances McClellan (born Minnesota). His occupation was "Actor - Motion Picture" and parents were Harry [sic] R. Clapham and Mary Josephine Hulsman (both born Kentucky). He was divorced and this was his second marriage. It was Frances' first marriage, and her occupation is "U.S. Govt. Clerk":
    https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-29943-21797-98?cc=1804002
    https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-29943-24523-1?cc=1804002
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - 52 year old Leonard Clapham (born Kentucky) owned his home at 4368 Camellia in Los Angeles. He is divorced; occupation is "Actor - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 36 weeks and earned $3182.00. Living with him are his sister Anita Pearcy and her husband Edmond T. Pearcy: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9H2-Z2F
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet for Tom's ex-wife Frances - 40 year old Frances Clapham (born Minneapolis; divorced) lived in Burbank, Los Angeles County, California. Her occupation was "U. S. Gov't Clerk - Federal Bldg L. A.": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K97N-T9S
  • 1942 World War II draft registration for Leonard Thomas Clapham, born August 24, 1889 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sister Anita Pearcy was his contact, and they still reside at 4368 Camellia, Los Angeles. He lists his occupation as "frequently unemployed": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-16367-13683-30?cc=1861144&wc=MMRW-1VK:n1590504845
  • Death certificate: Leonard T. Clapham, AKA Tom London, passed away December 5, 1963 at his home at 4368 Camellia Avenue, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California. He was born August 24, 1889 in Kentucky; parents were Harry [sic] R. Clapham (born Kentucky) and Mary J. Huesman (born Kentucky). Occupation was "Actor - Free Lance - Movies and Television"; he was a World War I veteran; was widowed; was cremated at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Crematory; death certificate informant was Anita J. Pearcy (his sister). For some reason, the cause of death and some other medical sections on the death certificate are blank; the signature of the doctor includes a title that looks like Deputy Coroner.
  • California Death Index has dual records for Leonard Clapham and Tom London. He was born 8/24/1889 in Kentucky, Mother's maiden name of Huesman, and he passed away on 12/5/1963. There is a corresponding record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), but his name is shown as Leonard Clapham, not Tom London:
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VP4H-53Q
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPKK-RFY
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VM9K-436
  • Find A Grave confirms that London is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/9930845/tom-london
  • Newspaper clippings on Tom London's passing:
    https://www.newspapers.com/clip/83797272/death-notice-for-movie-veteran-tom/
    https://www.newspapers.com/clip/83797187/death-notice-for-movie-veteran-tom/




Biography on Tom London from the 1930 Motion Picture News Bluebook which is available at the Internet Archive. Has his film career beginning around 1917 ... and no mention of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (Edison, 1903).



(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above are Tom London and pretty Republic Pictures heroine Peggy Stewart.




(From Old Corral collection)

Above from left to right are Buddy Roosevelt (with moustache), Benny Corbett, Tom London (on horseback), Jay Wilsey (Buffalo Bill Jr.) and Bob Roper in a scene from WESTWARD BOUND (Webb-Douglas Productions/Syndicate, 1931). Wilsey was the star of this early sound film which was directed by Harry S. Webb, the later owner (with B. B. Ray) of Reliable Pictures.



(Courtesy of Dorothy Hack)

Above from L-to-R are Stanley Blystone, Tom London, Herman Hack, old codger Jack Duffy and Gaylord (Steve) Pendleton in a scene from TRAIL'S END (Beaumont, 1935), which starred Conway Tearle.



(From Old Corral collection)

Above from L-to-R are Joe De La Cruz, Jayne Regan, Jack Perrin, Slim Whitaker and Tom London in a lobby card from CACTUS KID (Reliable, 1935).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Harry Carey versus Tom London in a lobby card from THE LAST OF THE CLINTONS (Ajax, 1935).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Jack Perrin, Tom London, Roger Williams and Oscar Gahan in a lobby card from WILDCAT SAUNDERS (Atlantic, 1936).



(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

L-to-R are Tom London, Max Terhune, John Wayne, and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in SANTA FE STAMPEDE (Republic, 1938), one of the Three Mesquiteers series.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Tommy Coats, Bob Clark, Tom London, Herman Willingham, Herman Nowlin/Nolan, and Clyde Kinney in GHOST VALLEY RAIDERS (Republic, 1940), which starred Don Barry.



(From Old Corral collection)

Above from left to right are Tom London, Frank LaRue and Tex Ritter in a lobby card from ROLL, WAGONS, ROLL (Monogram, 1940).



(From Old Corral collection)

Above is an interesting lobby card from RIDING THE SUNSET TRAIL (Monogram, 1941), and from L-to-R are: Betty Miles, Tom Keene, Kenne Duncan, Sherry Tansey (James Sheridan Tansey), Earl Douglas, and Tom London. Earl Douglas' real name was Lou Yaconelli, the brother of sidekick Frank Yaconelli. If you look close, you might make out the moustached Arkansas Slim Andrews to the right of Keene's face. Can you spot the error on this lobby card - look at all the gunbelts and the holsters as they are on the left side. Apparently, the photo used in preparation of this card was reversed.



(Image courtesy of Carol Murray and her "Jack Hendricks Photo Album")

Lawmen Jack Hendricks (on the left) and Tom London (right) have the drop on Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in a scene from Range Busters #8, FUGITIVE VALLEY (Monogram, 1941).



(From Old Corral collection)

From L-to-R are Robert 'Bobby' Blake as Little Beaver, Roy Barcroft, Jack Kirk, Tom London and Bill Elliott in a lobby card from CHEYENNE WILDCAT (Republic, 1944), one of the Red Ryder adventures.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Herman Hack, Henry Wills, Cliff Parkinson and Tom London in THE SAN ANTONIO KID (Republic, 1944), one of the Red Ryder series starring Bill Elliott.



(From Old Corral collection)

Above is Tom London - without his false teeth - as the sidekick to Republic's Sunset Carson in the mid 1940s.



(From Old Corral collection)

Above is a lobby card from DAYS OF BUFFALO BILL (Republic, 1946) with Tom London (sans teeth) as Sunset Carson's helper. The body on the floor is Rex Lease, one-time cowboy hero and frequent bit player/supporting actor.



(Courtesy of Ted Osborn)

Above is the gang facing Sunset Carson in a lobby card from ALIAS BILLY THE KID (Republic, 1946). Left to right are Tom London, Peggy Stewart, Russ Whiteman and the bearded Tex Terry.



(From Old Corral collection)

From left to right are Tom London, Allan Lane with Peggy Stewart in his arms, whiskered Emmett Lynn, Pierce Lyden, and in the front is Bobby Blake as Little Beaver. Lobby card from RUSTLERS OF DEVIL'S CANYON (Republic, 1947), one of the Red Ryder adventures.



Back to prior page