September 18th, 2011

carole lombard 07
  • vp19

From Dartmouth to Durango via Queens with Carole



Carole Lombard may not have appeared in any westerns after 1930, but she did work in films with two famed stars of oaters. One was William Boyd, the future Hopalong Cassidy who worked with Lombard on multiple films at Pathe. The second isn't quite as remembered today aside from those who follow the genre, but he had a fascinating life story.



His name was Charles Starrett, shown with Carole in the 1930 film "Fast And Loose," Lombard's only film at Paramount's New York studio in Astoria, Queens. As you can tell, that's not a western, but it was Starrett's first substantial film role.

And Starrett was no westerner in real life, either. Born in 1903 to a wealthy family in Athol, Mass., he attended Worcester Academy (fellow alums range from Cole Porter to '60s radical Abbie Hoffman), then attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. There, he was active in theater, majored in philosophy and was a member of the college's unbeaten national champion football team in 1925, graduating the following spring. From there, he went on to regional stage and vaudeville work before being spotted by a Paramount talent scout.

Starrett made an impression in "Fast And Loose," going on from there to appear in early '30s films such as "The Royal Family Of Broadway" with Ina Claire and Fredric March, "The Mask Of Fu Manchu" with Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy, and "Our Betters" with Constance Bennett. He also was active in organizing the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. By that time, Starrett was largely relegated to second-tier films, such as "Murder On Campus" (1933), with Shirley Grey and J. Farrell MacDonald.



Starrett signed with Columbia and found himself as the studio's western star, making several "B" oaters a year and ranking alongside Gene Autry and others as the industry's most popular western hero. In 1940, Columbia put him in a film called "The Durango Kid."



Several years later, the studio brought the alter ego back for an unrelated series of more than 60 films with the Durango Kid. His character was invariably named "Steve," though the character's last name always changed. These films, such as 1949's "The Blazing Trail," were quite popular with western buffs.



By 1952, Starrett was in his late forties and wasn't quite as convincing, so he retired from films after making "The Kid From Broken Gun." The Durango Kid films should have been transferred to television, as Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy series had done, but Starrett and Columbia couldn't come to a promotional agreement, so they have received minimal exposure over the years.



Starrett retired to his Laguna Beach home with his wife, Mary, and appeared at several film festivals and memorabilia shows in the early '80s; he died in March of 1986, and his ashes were scattered over the same Dartmouth College football field where he had played in the 1920s.



Learn more about Starrett and other cowboy stars by visiting a fascinating blog, http://stevesomething.wordpress.com.
  • Current Mood
    nostalgic nostalgic