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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 Les Adams)
Jimmy/Jimmie Aubrey

James Aubrey

1887 or 1888 - 1983

Birth name may be:

James Aubrey Whitehead

On the left - Jimmy Aubrey circa 1939 - 1940 when he was doing Bob Steele westerns for Bernard B. Ray and Harry Webb's short lived Metropolitan Pictures Corporation.

Jimmy Aubrey was born in Lancashire, England in 1887 and sources indicate his birth name was James Aubrey Whitehead. In England, he was a member of the Fred Karno traveling variety troupe. Other alumni of the Karno group were Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

Circa 1908, Aubrey moved to the United States. His earliest films were the "Heinie and Louie" Starlight Comedies for the Mittendahl Studios in New Jersey which were released through Pathe exchanges. Aubrey was "Heinie" and Walter Kendig portrayed "Louie".

Circa 1919, Aubrey began his "Big V" comedies for Vitagraph, often paired up with Oliver "Babe" Hardy (before his Laurel and Hardy days). There's links below to some other websites which show Aubrey in stills and lobby cards from those Vitagraph comedies. Pay particular attention to his vertical moustache.

His movie career consisted of about 450 films, spread over a 40 year period that ran from about 1915 to the mid 1950s.

After his Vitagraph series ended around 1923, Aubrey did some more silents including a couple with the new comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. When sound arrived, he was able to adapt to the new medium as well as his new (lesser) status. And he became a familiar face in dozens of B westerns of the 1930s and 1940s. Les Adams has Aubrey identified in about 250 sound films and that number includes 133 westerns and 5 chapterplays. In those, he was mostly unbilled/uncredited and his varied roles included lawman, bartender, drunk/barfly, posse member, and henchman. Occasionally he even portrayed the sidekick to our white hatted hero. And when he spoke, the dialog came out flavored with a Cockney English accent.

Despite his lengthy career, Aubrey only worked in two films at Republic Pictures and both were non-westerns (thus, he didn't do any with Gene, Roy, Rocky, Sunset, the Three Mesquiteers, and lots of others). He never appeared in a Mascot serial for Nat Levine. No Hopalong Cassidy features ... nor any westerns starring John Wayne or Ken Maynard or Hoot Gibson or Tom Mix or Wild Bill Elliott or Jimmy Wakely or Whip Wilson or Eddie Dean or Lash LaRue. He did one with Buck Jones, but that was a Rough Riders at Monogram. And he was in one of the mid 1930s Johnny Mack Brown oaters produced by A. W. Hackel / Supreme Pictures.

So where did Jimmy get his paychecks? There are a few people and production companies tied to over two-thirds of his 133 westerns:
  • producer/director/story writer Robert J. Horner.
  • producers/directors Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray.
  • director Sam Newfield in his pre-PRC days.
  • director Sam Newfield and a few other directors at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
Here's some tidbits:

  • In the early to mid 1930s, he did seven westerns for ultra low budget producer/director/story writer Robert J. Horner. There was three with Jack Perrin, a pair with Ted Wells, and two with Bill Cody. Jimmy even did film editing on Cody's BORDER MENACE (Aywon, 1934) which many consider to be the worst B western ever made.

  • In the mid 1930s, Aubrey seemed to find a home at Bernard B. Ray and Harry S. Webb's Reliable Pictures company. He appeared in five of the Bud 'n' Ben shorts which featured Benny Corbett and whomever was available for hero duties - in Aubrey's case, the Bud 'n' Ben lead was Fred Humes, Wally Wales, Dennis Moore, and a pair with Jack Perrin. Reliable had Perrin and Bob Custer in western series and Jimmy was in three Perrins and two Custers. Lastly, Tom Tyler signed on and did eighteen films for Webb and Ray. Aubrey was in thirteen of the Tyler series.

  • After Reliable folded, Webb and Ray formed Metropolitan Pictures Corporation. Though short-lived, Metropolitan churned out an eight film group starring Bob Steele. Aubrey was in five, and in three of those, he was Steele's deputy or helper (in SMOKY TRAILS (Metropolitan, 1939), PINTO CANYON (Metropolitan, 1940) and WILD HORSE VALLEY (Metropolitan, 1940)). Another series was planned, but that was shortened to two films with nearly identical casts which included pretty Luana Walters, Dennis Moore, and one of the later Rin-Tin-Tins. These were FANGS OF THE WILD (Metropolitan, 1939) and LAW OF THE WOLF (Metropolitan, 1939), and Aubrey appeared in both.

  • After the demise of Metropolitan, Harry S. Webb and his production unit wound up at Monogram and were responsible for the final seven entries in Jack Randall's sagebrush adventures. Harry directed one and Raymond K. Johnson, a Webb team member for many years, helmed the remaining half dozen. Aubrey did five including a turn as Randall's saddle pal in KID FROM SANTA FE (Monogram, 1940).

  • There had to be a bond or friendship between Aubrey and director Sam Newfield (Neufeld). Sam employed him in about fifty films beginning with Tim McCoy's Puritan series circa 1936. His busiest streak with Newfield consisted of nearly three dozen of the Buster Crabbe Billy the Kid/Billy Carson and George Houston/Bob Livingston Lone Rider productions at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). He also appeared in non-westerns helmed by Newfield (such as several horror flicks with George Zucco). He also picked up additional work from other PRC directors - he was in eleven of the Texas Rangers trio yarns and two of Bob Steele's last starring series. During breaks between these PRCs, Jimmy did bit parts at MGM, Universal, Paramount, Republic, etc. as well as four Range Busters at Monogram. He was a very busy guy during 1942 - 1946.

Les Adams summarizes Aubrey's employment situation: "Once someone hired Aubrey, they couldn't get rid of him."

There were a few films in which Jimmy had multiple roles and a good example is MYSTERY RANCH (Reliable, 1934), one of Tyler's best at Reliable because it's offbeat and different from the B western norm. Tom plays a dime novel author and journeys to Roberta Gale's ranch to learn about the "real west". Gale decides to stage various events to test or impress Tom. Aubrey is a ranch hand. But he also changes clothes (and moustaches) and does three other roles: he's the overacting loudmouth being strung up in a fake hanging; it's him vs. Lew Meehan in a make believe - and exaggerated gunfight; and Jimmy overacts again in the crazy opening sequence which is a silent film with narration/dubbing added. In summary, Aubrey plays four parts ... and was unbilled/uncredited.

In addition to sidekicking with Randall at Monogram and Steele at Metropolitan, there were a few other hero helper jobs. Examples: Jimmy was a RCMP in COURAGE OF THE NORTH (Empire/Stage and Screen, 1935) which starred John Preston as "Morton of the Mounted"; he's Ted Wells' assistant "Ptomaine Pete" in the terrible PHANTOM COWBOY (Aywon, 1935); and in an even worse oater, Jimmy plays "Polecat Pete" in the dreadful THE BORDER MENACE (Aywon, 1934) which starred Bill Cody.

In his later years, Aubrey resided at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California.

You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the California Death Index. There you will find a record for: James Aubrey, born 10/23/1888, mother's maiden name of Walker, and he passed away in the Los Angeles area on 9/2/1983. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has Aubrey's birthdate as 23 October, 1887.

I'm sure that Aubrey has some fans. Others tolerate - or despise - his over-the-top antics and mugging, and wonder why a guy with an English accent is doing cowboy films. Regardless of your pro or con feelings, Jimmy Aubrey was one of the more familiar faces in the old B western.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Jimmy Aubrey:

Above are two screen captures of Jimmy Aubrey from THE PHANTOM COWBOY (Aywon, 1935), one of several grade Z train wrecks directed by Robert J. Horner. One-time silent screen hero Ted Wells is the star and Aubrey is his overacting sidekick named "Ptomaine Pete". Wells has a dual role and also plays the "phantom cowboy". This thing has rotten dialog, a stationary camera, and lots more negatives. But the worse is when Wells and Aubrey decide to take a cool swim in the local creek ... and strip down to their skivvies. The phantom steals their clothes, gunbelts, and horses, and Ted and Jimmy spend about 10 minutes doing scenes in their underwear.

The bulk of Aubrey's westerns were with/for:
Star/Hero or Producer/Director Production Company Quantity
Sam Newfield directed westerns prior to his stay at PRC (with Rex Bell, Tim McCoy, Fred Scott) Various 12
Ultra low budget oaters for producer/director/story writer Robert J. Horner (3 with Perrin, 2 with Ted Wells, 2 with Bill Cody) Cosmos/West Coast
Bud 'n' Ben shorts (with Humes, Wales, Dennis Moore, 2 w/Perrin) Reliable 5
Tom Tyler Reliable 13
Jack Perrin Reliable 3
Bob Custer Reliable 2
Dennis Moore Metropolitan 2
Bob Steele Metropolitan 5
Jack Randall Monogram 5
Buster Crabbe as Billy the Kid/Billy Carson (directed by Sam Newfield) PRC 26
George Houston Lone Riders (directed by Sam Newfield) PRC 2
Bob Livingston Lone Riders (5 of 6 directed by Sam Newfield) PRC 6
Texas Rangers PRC 11
Bob Steele PRC 2
Range Busters Monogram 4
Total   105
Note: the above quantities are WESTERNS ONLY. Aubrey did some non-westerns for these same folks and production companies and those are not included. Couple of examples: Aubrey was in the Sam Newfield directed THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) and DEAD MEN WALK (PRC, 1943), both with George Zucco, and he was in THE CONTENDER (PRC, 1944), a boxing flick with Buster Crabbe which Newfield also helmed.

On the trail of Jimmy Aubrey

Rick Albright was able to locate various information on Aubrey. Additional comments are shown in ( ):

  • I could not find James Aubrey in the 1920 or 1930 census, and I tried variations on that name and tried Whitehead too. Perhaps he was on location and was missed by the census takers.
  • 22 August, 1908: James Aubrey, age 20, theatrical artist, born Bolton, England, was on the passenger list for the S/S St. Paul, sailing from Southampton, England to New York City.
  • 1910 Census for Manhattan, New York City, NY: James Aubrey, 21, single, actor/theater, born England, parents born Illinois, arrived in the US in 1906 and is an alien. (Perhaps the 1908 ship arrival was his second visit on a theatrical tour.)
  • 2 February, 1935: James Aubrey is a passenger on the S/S California which arrived at Los Angeles. Born England to US parents, resident of Franklin Plaza, Hollywood, CA. (Also on the same passenger list were many film folk, including William and Dorothy Boyd, born 1898 at Cambridge, OH and 1906 at Birmingham, AL, respectively. Also, Lloyd Ingraham, Eleanor Hunt, Leroy Mason and Sam Newfield. Perhaps they were filming on the ship or returning from filming.) The ship had also visited San Diego.
  • 25 April, 1952: James Aubrey of 1861 Wilton Place, Los Angeles, born 23 October, 1887, appears on a naturalization index card with registration number 3249359. (No additional details but his birth info matches.)

Find A Grave has a photo of the marker for Jimmy Aubrey who is interred at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, Mission Hills, Los Angeles County, California. The marker has his birth year as 1887:

Aubrey's silent film career

Noel Mason Smith directed many silent comedies including about a dozen of Jimmy Aubrey's Vitagraph series. Oliver 'Babe' Hardy was featured, years before he teamed up with Stan Laurel. Above is from an October, 1919 issue of Motion Picture News available at the Internet Archive.

The Nitrate Film Interest Group has some nitrate film frames of Aubrey in some unidentified silents:

Rob Stone is the Moving Image Curator at the Library of Congress and has blogs about the solo film careers of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as well as an article on the 1915 death of Walter Kendig in a motorcycle accident (Kendig was "Louie" in the "Heinie and Louie" comedy shorts). He has several Vitagraph lobby cards showing Jimmy Aubrey and Oliver Hardy together circa 1919 - 1920:

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Aubrey and his "Whitehead" surname.

Above is from the pressbook to Bob Steele's MESQUITE BUCKAROO (Metropolitan, 1939). Eighth on the list is "James Whitehead" ... who just happens to be Jimmy Aubrey. Aubrey also had this same name change in Steele's RIDERS OF THE SAGE (Metropolitan, 1939).

We do know that Aubrey used the last name of Whitehead in a few other films in which he did editing and screenplay writing.

Sources indicate that Aubrey's birth name was James Aubrey Whitehead.

(Courtesy of the Robert Webb Family)

A pause in the action on the Bob Steele western SMOKY TRAILS (Metropolitan, 1939). Above are:
1. James Aubrey
2. producer/director Harry S. Webb
3. Eddie Saeta
4. Bob Steele
5. producer/director Bernard B. Ray (he directed SMOKY TRAILS)
6. Rose Gordon, wife of Harry S. Webb
7. Gordon Webb (first son of Harry and Rose)
8. Sammy Gordon.
The leading lady (center) is Jean Carmen, best remembered as the rider of the paint horse in Republic's 1937 serial, THE PAINTED STALLION. Bruce Dane is the tall cowboy on the right.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above from left to right are George Chesebro, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Budd Buster (top hat), Jimmy Aubrey, Archie Ricks and Herman Hack in a saloon scene from the Range Busters BOOT HILL BANDITS (Monogram, 1942). The partial face behind Corrigan's left shoulder is Richard Cramer doing barkeep duty.

Aubrey played the local drunk and a crop/blowup is shown on the left.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above is barkeep Jimmy Aubrey chatting with Max Terhune and dummy Elmer in a still from the Range Busters HAUNTED RANCH (Monogram, 1943). When Jimmy wore that large handlebar moustache, I'm reminded of "Yosemite Sam" in the Looney Tunes cartoons.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card from THE RENEGADE (PRC, 1943) and shows Buster Crabbe on the right sneaking up on Jimmy Aubrey (blue shirt) and screen veteran Jack Montgomery. Sam Newfield directed all 36 of Crabbe's Billy the Kid/Billy Carson films and Aubrey appeared in 26.

Jack Montgomery

Jimmy Aubrey

(Courtesy of John White)

Above from left to right are Curley Dresden, Jess Cavin, Carl Mathews, Jimmy Aubrey and Dan White in a scene from the Buster Crabbe VALLEY OF VENGEANCE (PRC, 1944). Aubrey, Cavin and White are settlers, while Dresden and Mathews play gang members employed by Lynton Brent and Jack Ingram. All five in this photo were unbilled in this film.

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