On Oct. 9, struggling us published this picture in our blog, and asked if any of you out there could identify this hombre.
We’d said that a faithful Texas-reared reader informed us that the photo above is of an “old western star” very much prized by a relative’s dad, who is no longer with us.
She came to us for identification, but we were — sad to report — completely stumped.
Since our Texas-reared reader is Frank’s daughter-in-law Erin (who studied film for a time at the U. of T.), his ignorance in the matter is particularly embarrassing. We are the masters of the classic movie world, after all.
So we asked our readers, who IS this guy?
Thank heaven, this terse email came in a month later from Robert Velez:
The Mystery Cowboy is Ken Maynard!
Of course, we say. Adding, right you are, Robert. Many thanks for stepping up in the clutch.
You might ask, who exactly was Ken Maynard?
Born in 1895 in Indiana — and not Texas, as studio publicists insisted — Maynard was the genuine article, a real cowpoke with trick horseback riding skills featured in Buffalo Bill and Ringling Brothers Wild West Shows of the 1920’s. He also was a champion show competitor, and excelled in rodeos before and after his movie career.
After serving in the Army during World War I, Maynard broke into silents in 1923, and after successfully making the transition to talkies, he continued until the mid-Forties. He appeared in nearly 100 pictures, mostly made (very quickly) by obscure low-budget production outfits such as Mascot Pictures, Astor Pictures and Colony Pictures.
He also occasionally produced his own titles with at least one (1933’s Gun Justice) receiving big studio distribution (Universal).
Maynard developed himself into a genuine cowboy star, drawing a youth audience with his antics (he had started out as a stunt rider) on his signature horse — Tarzan. Perhaps more significantly, he is regarded by horse opera buffs as the movies’ first singing cowboy who introduced songs into westerns long before Gene Autry and Roy Rogers arrived.
In fact, Autry (who really was born in Texas in 1907) made his screen debut in Maynard’s 1934 outing, In Old Sante Fe. While he was a 20-something fresh singing face, Maynard by then was a grizzled 40-year-old veteran who had been riding the range onscreen for more than a decade.
At the peak of his career, Maynard was right up there in the star department with the likes of William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Buck Jones. He was once ranked among the top 10, most highly paid Hollywood personalities of the 1930’s.
Maynard’s final years were difficult. He worked outside the movies from 1944 on, at rodeos, state fairs, personal appearances, you name it. His finances were drained by a number of business investment misfires.
He managed to pop up in a couple of bare-bones-budget independent films in the 1970’s (1970’s Big Foot with John Carradine and with fellow singing screen cowboy Tex Ritter in 1972’s The Marshal of Windy Hollow).
But his long losing battle with alcoholism and severely straightened finances took a toll. At the time of his death, in 1973 at age 77, he was living in a trailer in rural Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. He was said to have been suffering from what was termed “nutritional deterioration.”
Maynard’s star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame can be found on the north side of the 6700 block of Hollywood Boulevard.