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As recounted in our Nov. 21 blog (Mystery Cowboy — Named At Last) we were at a loss to visually identify cowboy pioneer Ken Maynard in an old photo, until reader Robert Velez clued us in. We then profiled Maynard’s impressive back round, mentioning that he appeared in nearly 100 pictures, mostly made by obscure low-budget production outfits such as Mascot Pictures, Astor Pictures and Colony Pictures.
Not so fast, responded reader Richard M. Roberts, who took exception to the implication that Maynard’s output was confined to classic Hollywood’s “poverty row” studio outfits. His email also detailed several other points of interest regarding Maynard’s impressive career.
So today, by way of thanks, we are running Roberts’ missive in its entirety:
A few corrections: Ken Maynard did not make the majority of his films for “Poverty Row Studios”, as you claim, he was one of the major Cowboy stars of the late 20’s-early 30’s, most of his silent westerns were released by First National, and were some of the most elaborate and well made westerns of the Silent Era.
Ken then moved to Universal(Pictures), where he made his first talkies, making one season of sight westerns before (studio founder) Carl Laemmle dumped all of his western stars in late 1930.
Though Maynard then moved to Tiffany on 1931, he was still making top-dollar working for a studio that was shooting at being a major, and his 11 films for them were popular and successful, as were the 7 he made for K.B.S Productions-World Wide Pictures, another conglomeration of major independent producers like Mack Sennett, Al Christie and E. W. Hammons that shot for major status, but ended up being a disastrous business venture — even though Maynard’s westerns were successful.
Maynard was then back at Universal for the 1933-34 season, making 9 successful films for them before fighting with Carl Laemmle again over cost overruns and being shown the door.
He was picked up by Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures, and his serial for them, ‘MYSTERY MOUNTAIN’ (1934) was their most successful serial to date, but after one more feature, ‘IN OLD SANTA FE’ (1934), Maynard’s difficult personality led to Levine replacing him with a young Gene Autry in the follow-up serial, ‘THE PHANTOM EMPIRE ‘(1935).
Yet Maynard then went over to Columbia and made 8 more westerns for Columbia that were produced by Larry Darmour, so basically, he was a major (studio) western star until 1936, when he had finally wore out his welcome.
Then he spent the rest of his career appearing in Wild West Shows, or making films for Grand National (4), Colony Pictures (4) and Monogram (6). Maynard never made any westerns for Astor, those were reissues of the Grand National westerns.
But any way you want to count it, the majority of his starring westerns were made for major studios (44) as opposed to “poverty row” studios (39). As you say, he was one of the top Hollywood Cowboy stars and top 10 highest paid personalities of the 1930’s.
It was more his own personality and personal problems that hurt him, but even in his sadder late years, he was basically living on a modest monthly stipend sent to him by Gene Autry, who was always a fan of his and never forgot that he himself had his big break from Maynard’s own firing from ‘THE PHANTOM EMPIRE.’
Maynard indeed did have acting talent. No matter his off-screen surliness, he projected a likable and capable personality onscreen; you even see it in his last released film, ‘BIGFOOT,’ where he capably holds his own in moments with scene-stealer extraordinaire John Carradine.
Again, thanks Richard. Any way you slice it, Maynard was a major figure in the history of the Hollywood western.