As recounted in our recent two-part look at the Three Mesquiteers movie series (Part 1 here and Part 2 here), that popular cowboy trio was played by a formidable posse of B Western veterans. From 1935-43, sixteen sagebrush stars moved in and out of the roles in the Republic Pictures series and its precursor, the “Barnum and Bailey of Westerns,” Powdersmoke Range.

The Mesquiteer series might have run even longer, but their success inspired so many imitators that by 1943, they’d been rendered almost commonplace by all the three-man teams that stampeded out of the Monogram and PRC studios. The Range Busters, the Rough Riders, the Trail Blazers and the Texas Rangers were the best known knockoffs of William Colt MacDonald’s trendsetting characters, and many of those groups included former Mesquiteers.

The actors who played Stony, Tucson and the gang were trailblazers, but they were also the nexus of virtually the whole wide range of Saturday matinee cowboys, nearly all of whom passed through their little corner of the West at one time or another. The number of top hands each man encountered over the course of his career is impressive; if you spread the associations out a little further, a la the old game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” the total is staggering.

For all the studios that cranked them out, the world of the B Western was a small one. Popular players like Bob Steele and Big Boy Williams worked all over the map and encountered many of the names that are listed below in connection with other actors. What follows is a simplified list, with only a sampling of the repetition of names; the multiple criss-crossing of actors in Powdersmoke Range alone accounts for more than half the famous names in the history of Western movies. For obvious reasons, the Mesquiteers have been omitted unless the two actors in question did not work together in that series. A complete accounting of the times a Mesquiteer crossed the path of other Western stars would boggle the mind.

BIG BOY WILLIAMS – Errol Flynn, Dick Foran, Buck Jones, Randolph Scott and John Wayne.

AL ST. JOHN – Rex Bell, Buster Crabbe, Lash LaRue, Lee Powell and Fred Scott.

HARRY CAREY – Buzz Barton, Buffalo Bill, Jr., William Desmond, Franklin Farnum, William Farnum, Art Mix, Buddy Roosevelt and Wally Wales…all in Powdersmoke Range!

HOOT GIBSON – Ken Maynard and Chief Thundercloud in the Trail Blazers series (which also included Bob Steele), Jack Perrin and Ray Corrigan.

SYD SAYLOR – Buster Crabbe, Ken Maynard, Kermit Maynard, Joel McCrea, George O’Brien, Tex Ritter and Randolph Scott.

RAY CORRIGAN – Rex Allen, Donald “Red” Barry, Monte Hale, Jack Holt, Tom Keene, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Dave O’Brien, Roy Rogers, John “Dusty” King and Dennis Moore (both in the Range Busters series).

BOB LIVINGSTON – Yakima Canutt, William Farnum, Rex Lease, Kermit Maynard, Art Mix, Dennis Moore, Roy Rogers, Al St. John, Chief Thundercloud and Big Boy Williams.

MAX TERHUNE – Johnny Mack Brown, Rex Lease, Dennis Moore and Dave Sharpe (the final three in the Range Busters series).

RALPH BYRD – Harry Carey, Edmund Cobb, Gary Cooper, Hoot Gibson, Tim McCoy, Fred Scott and Tom Tyler.

JOHN WAYNE – Yakima Canutt, Harry Carey, Iron Eyes Cody, Tim Holt, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, Tom Tyler and Big Boy Williams.

RAYMOND HATTON – Rex Bell, Robert “Little Beaver” Blake, Johnny Mack Brown, Gary Cooper, Buck Jones and Tim McCoy (both in the Rough Riders series).

DUNCAN RENALDO – “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh, Harry Carey, Leo Carillo and Chief Thundercloud.

TOM TYLER – Gary Cooper, William “Wild Bill” Elliott, Errol Flynn, Russell Hayden, Tim Holt, Alan Ladd, Wayne Morris, George O’Brien, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, Jay Silverheels and John Wayne.

BOB STEELE – Broncho Billy Anderson, Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Sunset Carson, Lane Chandler, Buster Crabbe, Clint Eastwood, Ben Johnson, Tom Keene, Ken Maynard, Kermit Maynard, Tim McCoy, Joel McCrea, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott and John Wayne.

JIMMIE DODD – Rex Bell, Johnny Mack Brown, James Craig, Dick Foran, Hal Taliaferro and Big Boy Williams.

RUFE DAVIS had few Western credits outside his time with the Mesquiteers, but he deserves some kind of honorable mention for his recurring role on the TV series Petticoat Junction, which teamed him with Edgar Buchanan, Smiley Burnette, Pat Buttram and Roy Roberts in a virtual Western sidekicks’ and character actors’ reunion.

Taking the association a couple of degrees further, we can extend the Mesquiteers to just about every major cowboy star not already on the list. Three of the Mesquiteers acted with Roy Rogers, who in turn acted with Charles Starrett and Gene Autry, who both worked with Jimmy Wakeley. Tom Tyler can be connected through Russell Hayden to James Ellison  and Hopalong Cassidy himself, William Boyd, through Tim Holt to Ray Whitley, and through Jay Silverheels to Clayton Moore, TV’s Lone Ranger. Bob Steele’s co-star Sunset Carson once worked with Bill Cody. Raymond Hatton’s frequent partner Johnny Mack Brown acted with Bob Baker. And many of the Mesquiteers worked at one time or another with Gabby Hayes, who probably worked with everybody we’ve left out.

And let’s not forget the family connections. Bob Livingston’s brother Jack Randall played B Western leads at Monogram and Columbia. And Bob Steele’s father Robert Bradbury directed many movie cowboys, both famous and obscure, including William S. Hart and Tom Mix.

It’s no wonder the Three Mesquiteers rode point during the greatest of the B Western’s golden years – they had the best connections in the West.

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March 15, 2011 · Posted in Legends, Western  
    

(In Part 1, we saw how Western novelist William Colt MacDonald’s popular pulp stories about a fighting cowboy trio slowly made their way to the screen in the 1930s. After a faltering start with the low-budget The Law of 45’s, MacDonald’s Three Mesquiteers hit the big time with the release of “The Barnum and Bailey of Westerns,” Powdersmoke Range.) Read more

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January 27, 2011 · Posted in Legends, Western