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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.

(Courtesy of Sam Lawson)
Frank Ellis

Full name:
Frank Birney Ellis

1897 - 1969

Above - Frank Ellis circa 1931, and about 34 years old.

Above - Frank Ellis circa 1941, and about 44 years old. In the background is Augie Gomez.
B western and serial performer Tom London did over 600 films and is recognized as the actor that appeared in the most movies. Runner-up to that crown may be Frank Ellis as his film quantity is currently at 561, and you'll find a chart further down this webpage.

Frank Birney Ellis was born February 26, 1897 in Newkirk, Kay County, Oklahoma Territory, and his movie career began in 1920s silents starring Buffalo Bill Jr., Ken Maynard, Al Hoxie, Bob Custer, Wally Wales, Buddy Roosevelt and Bill Cody.

In the 1930s, he did oaters at Columbia with Charles Starrett and Bill Elliott; at Republic with Gene Autry and the Three Mesquiteers; at Universal with Johnny Mack Brown; about a dozen Hopalong Cassidy films; many with Tim McCoy and Buck Jones; several cliffhangers for Nat Levine and Mascot; lots more.

In the 1940s, he became a member of Monogram and PRC's stable of bad guys ... and his waistline had considerably expanded. At Monogram, you can spot him in over three dozen westerns with the Range Busters, Trail Blazers, Rough Riders, Jimmy Wakely, Whip Wilson, and Johnny Mack Brown. He did about five dozen 1940s westerns at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). At PRC, he did villainy vs. Eddie Dean, Lash La Rue, Texas Rangers and Frontier Marshal trios, Lone Rider adventures starring George Houston and Bob Livingston, and the Billy the Kid / Billy Carson series with Bob Steele and Buster Crabbe.

His work for Republic Pictures consisted of about 75 films during the period 1935 - 1953.

Ellis was a favorite of prolific director Sam Newfield and producer Sam Katzman. He was employed in 60+ Newfield films scattered over the years 1935 - 1952, and most were westerns at PRC with Houston, Livingston, Steele and Crabbe. And during 1939 - 1954, he had roles in 20+ adventures produced by Sam Katzman. Most were 1940s - 1950s serials that Katzman did for Columbia Pictures.

In B westerns, Frank was most often "the second or third or fourth henchman through the door", and many of his roles were unbilled / uncredited. And he did play the lead villain a time or two and an example is the Jack Randall starrer COVERED WAGON TRAILS (Monogram, 1940). He was better at portraying henchmen and bullies rather than the brains heavy.

Ellis was another of the B western and serial performers who successfully transitioned to TV, and shows up in episodes of GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, WAGON TRAIN, THE VIRGINIAN, GENE AUTRY SHOW, ANNIE OAKLEY, lots more. Most of his television appearances were background roles as a townsman, barfly, etc.

He had a unique voice which I immediately recognize. And when I originally did this webpage on Ellis, I was surprised at his 1897 birth year - he seemed older to me.

There's an interesting tidbit on Frank's World War II draft registration - he was employed by the Department of Water and Power, North Hollywood. Part-time job perhaps?

There were two marriages for Frank. His first was to a Jessie M. with an unknown surname. In 1927, he married Madonna L. Shelburg and they were together through her death in 1964. Son Frank Wilner Ellis was born in 1934 and Family Trees at indicate that he died in 2008.

Frank's film career spanned nearly fifty years with his first movie circa 1920 and his last was released in 1969.

A few days shy of his 72nd birthday, Frank Ellis passed away February 23, 1969 at the Santa Clarita Hospital, Saugus, Los Angeles County, California. Medical conditions included COPD and emphysema, but cause of death was respiratory failure, lung cancer and pulmonary disease.

Well liked and respected by his peers, Frank Ellis was one of the dependable western and serial performers - otherwise he would never have gotten so much work over so many years.

Movie stats for Frank Ellis
Total film count in this chart = 561
Ellis did film roles from the 1920s - late 1960s. Film quantities in the charts below are westerns, serials, shorts, and other films. TV roles are NOT included. I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database so the results may be a little skewed. Was he injured or ill in 1934?

1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941

1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954

Mike Newton provided a story about a friend of his meeting up with Frank Ellis: "I had a friend who was Ray Johnston's office boy at Monogram in the summer of 1940. He would tell me about meeting all the movie actors and cowboy stars while he was visiting the sets. This one day, he happened to be off and went over to PRC Studios where they were making a Lone Rider western with George Houston. Apparently security was not too tight, or they figured he belonged there. But as he stood watching the action, he felt a tap on his shoulder. "What the h--- are you doin' here, boy." Bob turned around to see Frank Ellis standing behind him, glowering. "Nothing, sir. I was just watching." "Get the h--- out of here, boy, now." Bob didn't feel it was prudent to argue the situation, having seen Mr. Ellis handle himself on the screen, so he "git". I told him that reality had a way of mirroring fantasy and that the tenderfoot got run out of town by the bully."

(Courtesy of Bill McCann)

Left to right are Veda Ann Borg, Charles 'Slim' Whitaker, Bill Elliott and Frank Ellis (with his bushy mustache) in THE LAW COMES TO TEXAS (Columbia, 1939).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Fuzzy St. John, I. Stanford Jolley and stage driver Frank Ellis in a lobby card from BLAZING FRONTIER (PRC, 1943), one of the Buster Crabbe oaters. Note the expanded waistline on Ellis.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

From L-to-R in the front are Bud Geary, Bob Wilke and Roy Barcroft. Behind this threesome is Frank Ellis as "the fourth man through the door". From CODE OF THE PRAIRIE (Republic, 1944) which starred Smiley Burnette and Sunset Carson.

On the trail of Frank Ellis

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Frank Ellis:

The IMDb has a "people working together" search function. Ellis did a lot of films for Sam Newfield and Sam Katzman:

22 films from 1939 - 1954 for producer Sam Katzman, and most were serials:,nm0441947

61 films from 1935 - 1952 for director Sam Newfield, and most were westerns:,nm0627864

Ellis did a couple comedy shorts with the Three Stooges:

The Family Search website (free), (subscription), Oklahoma records index, California Death Index, and death certificate provide more on Frank Ellis and family:

  • Oklahoma Records Index has a birth record for Frank B. Ellis, born February 26, 1897 in Kay County, Oklahoma:
  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - 29 year old Frank E. Ellis (born Iowa; occupation "Farmer"), 28 year old wife Nellie B. (born Iowa), 3 year old son Frank B. (born Oklahoma), and newborn daughter Byrl H. (born Oklahoma) lived in Newkirk Township, Kay County, Oklahoma Territory. When viewing the census takers worksheet, there's more Ellis's living next door which may be Frank's uncle and grandparents - Herbert E. Ellis (born Iowa; occupation "Farmer"), his father Wellington A. Ellis (born 1835 in Virginia) and mother Carry (born 1845 in Ohio):
  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - and the family is on two census takers worksheets - 39 year old Frank E. Ellis (born Iowa), his 38 year old wife Nellie B. Ellis (born Iowa), 13 year old son Frank B. (born Oklahoma), and 10 year old daughter Beryle H. were living in Los Angeles:
  • World War I draft registration dated June 5, 1918 - 21 year old Frank B. Ellis was single, unemployed, and born February 26, 1897 in Newkirk, Oklahoma. Home address was 1853 Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles, and nearest relative was mother Nellie B. Roberts:
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting at 649 Virgil Avenue, Los Angeles were 22 year old Frank B. Ellis (born Oklahoma) and 21 year old wife Jessie M. (born California). Frank's occupation was "Actor - Motion Pictures":
  • December 7, 1927 marriage license of Frank B. Ellis (born Oklahoma) and Madonna L. Shelburg (born Iowa) in North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California. His occupation was "Actor - DeMille Motion Pictures":
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 33 year old Frank B. Ellis (born Oklahoma) and his 21 year old wife Madonna L. (born Iowa) were renting in Los Angeles (but I couldn't read the street name). He was not a military veteran; and occupation was "Actor - Moving Pictures":
  • California Birth Index for Frank Wilner Ellis, born May 19, 1934, and mother's maiden name was Shulburg [sic]:
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 6140 Simpson, Los Angeles were 43 year old Frank B. Ellis (born Oklahoma), 31 year old wife Madonna (born Iowa), and 5 year old son Frank W. (born California). Frank completed school through 8th grade; occupation was "Motion Picture actor on call - Motion Pictures", and in 1939, he worked 52 weeks and earned $2600.00:
  • had the World War II draft registration dated February 14, 1942 for Frank Birney Ellis. He was born February 26, 1897 in Newkirk, Oklahoma; lived in North Hollywood, California; and was 6 feet tall and weighed 215 pounds. He reported his employer as Department of Water and Power, North Hollywood. (Part-time job?)
  • 1950 census summary and census takers worksheet - 53 year old Frank B. Ellis (born Oklahoma; occupation "Actor - Motion Pictures"), his 41 year old wife Madonna R. (born Iowa), and 15 year old son Frank W. Ellis (born California) were living at an apartment in Soledad Township, Los Angeles County, California:
  • California Death Index for Frank's wife, Madonna L. Ellis, who passed away February 11, 1964 in the Los Angeles area:
  • California Death Index for Frank B. Ellis, born February 26, 1897 in Oklahoma, and he passed away on February 23, 1969 in the Los Angeles area:
  • Death certificate - 71 year old Frank Birney Ellis was born February 26, 1897 in Oklahoma to unidentified parents. He was widowed and occupation was "Actor - Free Lance - TV and Motion Pictures". He passed away February 23, 1969 at the Santa Clarita Hospital, Saugus, Los Angeles County, California. Medical conditions included COPD and emphysema, but cause of death was respiratory failure, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Home address was 33618 Aqua Dulce Canyon Road, Saugus, California, and death certificate informant was son Frank Ellis, Jr., also living at that address. Interment at Pierce Bros. - Valhalla.
  • Find A Grave has a photo of the marker for Frank Birney Ellis who is interred at Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California:
  • Did not find a death or funeral notice for Ellis on

Boyd Magers' Western Clippings website has a profile on Frank Ellis:

Did Frank Ellis manage amateur/semi-pro baseball teams in 1942-1945?
That's questionable. Looks like the baseball coach was another Frank Ellis.

Some Ellis biographies have him managing amateur / semi-pro baseball teams in the early - mid 1940s ... and his team won the San Fernando Valley championship in 1944. That attribution to our B western movie guy is suspect. had several dozen articles circa 1942 - 1945 about Frank Ellis / Frank N. Ellis managing various local baseball teams including the "Reseda Athletics", and "Encino Oaks", both of which were in Los Angeles County. The "Encino Oaks" team had civilian and military members. But none of the articles mention coach Ellis being an actor or having ties to Hollywood and movies.

There was a 1941 newspaper report that Frank N. Ellis was hired as a physical education instructor at Arrowview Junior High School in San Bernardino, California. Subsequent articles have him coaching baseball, track, tennis, and other sports at Arrowview.

And in the statistics table above, Frank has a lot of movie work in the 1940s which would minimize his free time for coaching, team practices, and games.

Another unsolved mystery.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Monte Montague being subdued by Bob Custer while oldster Richard Carlyle is restrained by a young and thinnish Frank Ellis in Custer's QUICK TRIGGER LEE (Big 4, 1931).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

In the above still and crop/blowups, Ken Maynard is prone among an entire regiment of henchies in THE FIDDLIN' BUCKAROO (Universal, 1933). From L-to-R are Slim Whitaker, Bud McClure, Frank Ellis (face in shadows), Roy Bucko (with Maynard's pearl handled six-shooter in his belt), Hank Bell (with Maynard's other pearl handled six-shooter in his belt), Jack Kirk (face in shadows), Jack King (tall hat), Fred Kohler, partial face of unidentified guy, and Buck Bucko.

(From Old Corral Collection)

Left to right in this lobby card from TOO MUCH BEEF (Normandy, 1936) are a clean shaven Frank Ellis, Jack King, hero Rex Bell and Horace Murphy.

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

L-to-R are Robert Walker, a thinnish Frank Ellis, Dick Rush, Edmund Cobb, John Doe #3, Charles Starrett, and George Morrell (behind and right of Starrett). In the background on horseback are Steve Clark and Tex Cooper (Buffalo Bill-looking character). Scene from TWO-FISTED SHERIFF (Columbia, 1937).

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Ray Corrigan tries to teach the milk drenched Frank Ellis how to drink the white liquid in an amusing bit from one of the weakest of the Range Busters, TEXAS TROUBLE SHOOTERS (Monogram, 1942). Ellis was about 45 years old when he did this film.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Range Busters' Dave Sharpe and John 'Dusty' King have the drop on Frank Ellis in TEXAS TO BATAAN (Monogram, 1942). This was the 17th of 24 films in the Range Busters series and the plot involved the trio delivering Army horses to the Phillipines. At the end, there's a radio broadcast announcing the Pearl Harbor attack and the three heroes decide to enlist.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above from left to right are Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Weldon Heyburn, Carl Mathews, Max 'Alibi' Terhune, Frank Ellis, and John 'Dusty' King in a scene from the Range Busters adventure ROCK RIVER RENEGADES (Monogram, 1942).

(From Old Corral collection)

Above from L-to-R are Kermit Maynard, Buster Crabbe, Frank Ellis and Charlie King in a lobby card and crop/blowup from FRONTIER OUTLAWS (PRC, 1944), another of the Crabbe "Billy Carson" series.

Notice that Frank is wearing the same shirt
and hat in the above lobby card and photo below.

(Courtesy of Ken Jones)

Hoot Gibson (on the left) and Chief Thunder Cloud (on the right) have apprehended a trio of henchmen in OUTLAW TRAIL (Monogram, 1944), an entry in the Trail Blazers series. In the center from L-to-R are Jim Thorpe, Al Ferguson, and Frank Ellis. James Francis 'Jim' Thorpe (1888 - 1953) won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic games, but was later stripped of his medals since he had played pro sports.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above from left to right are Jack Hendricks (AKA Ray Henderson), Buster Crabbe, Frank Ellis, Al 'Fuzzy' St. John, Ray Jones and Lorraine Miller in a still from BORDER BADMEN (PRC, 1945).

(From Old Corral collection)

From left to right are Al 'Fuzzy' St. John, Frank Ellis, Lorraine Miller and Buster Crabbe in a lobby card from BORDER BADMEN (PRC, 1945). Left to right in the background are an unidentified guy (black hat), Victor Cox and Jack Hendricks (AKA Ray Henderson). Cox, Hendricks and Ellis were henchmen reporting to boss Charlie King.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above from left to right are Ted Adams, Frank Ellis, Shirley Patterson (Shawn Smith) and singin' cowboy Eddie Dean in Dean's TUMBLEWEED TRAIL (PRC, 1946). Shirley Patterson was the heroine in the first BATMAN (Columbia, 1943) serial. One of her last films - when she had re-named herself to "Shawn Smith" - was THE LAND UNKNOWN (Universal, 1957), a tale of a military expedition landing inside a volcano and finding dinosaurs.

(Courtesy of Phil Arnold)

Ellis picked up work in various films. Above is his 1946 Day Player Agreement to portray a "western character" in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (Samuel Goldwyn, 1947) which starred Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. His pay was $50.00 per day, $250.00 weekly. Adjusted for inflation, $250 in 1946 = $4,213 in 2024 dollars.

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