(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Above is a very young George Houston.
The Lone Rider at PRC
|Special thanks to western film fan/author Bobby Copeland, Ed Skipworth of Rutgers University Archives, Leslie Kimble and Linda Cox of the Blair Academy Alumni Office and Library, and the Local History Room at the Bernardsville, New Jersey Public Library, for photos and help in verifying the early biographical info on George Houston.|
With the success of singin' cowboys, most of the major and minor studios and production companies tried to bring their own version of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Tex Ritter to the silver screen. Some names that come to mind are: Jack Randall at Monogram, Bob Baker at Universal, Fred Scott for Spectrum ... and the subject of this webpage, George Houston.
There's various stories about Houston's background, and some of this has probably been well mixed with misinformation and studio publicity. George Fleming Houston was born in 1896 or 1898 in Hampton, New Jersey, and his parents were Reverend Thomas and Margaret (nee Fleming) Houston (some biographies list his father's first name as Charles). His father was from Scotland, blinded as a boy in an accident. He became a minister in the Presbyterian church and was known as "The Blind Evangelist". George's singing skills were developed as he sang in church, at church meetings and in public school. From these humble beginnings, the young Houston attended Rutgers University (some say, on a scholarship), and then he continued his musical training at the Julliard School of Music. He served in France during World War I, and after being discharged, the scuttlebutt is that he opened a school of music in New York City, but this effort failed. He connected with the American Opera Company for a while, but was relegated to minor roles, and finally decided to try Broadway musicals.
Some investigative work was required, and following are the details:
"Your question re George Houston was forwarded from the Rutgers Alumni Office to the University Archives for checking. We house a large amount of material on the history of Rutgers and on former students. I looked through each of the college catalogs from 1916 - 1925 which, for their year of publication, should list every student at Rutgers. I did not, unfortunately, find an entry in any of them for George Houston."
"It is no wonder the officials at Rutgers could not find Houston in their files. I think you will find that story a bunch of Hollywood "baloney". Houston attended Blair Academy in New Jersey. From Blair he went to the Institute of Musical Arts in New York and graduated from that school (which is now the world famous Julliard School). He received two degrees, one in voice and one for teaching music. He then entered World War I. Despite many reports, Houston was born in 1896, not 1898."
"Blair is, and has been for the last 150 years, a private 9-12 school attended by a mix of both boarding and day students ..."
"George Fleming Houston did indeed attend Blair Academy, but we have little details of his attendance here. He entered in 1910 and withdrew in 1913. He has been lost to us since November 1937 and there is a notation on his card that says he died on November 12, 1944."
"... apparently he never had his picture taken for the yearbook -- either he left before his senior year -- which isn't clear -- or he was camera shy and never had it taken."
"... did some more checking but still have not found evidence that George Houston attended Rutgers. However, following up on your Blair Academy lead I did find a book in our collection entitled Blair Academy and the Great War. It lists former Blair Academy students who served in World War I and describes briefly, their service. George F. Houston appears. He served with the U.S. Army Ambulance Service and was attached to the 17th French Division. His dates of service were June 5, 1917 to April 12, 1919."
(Courtesy of Blair Academy)
Above is Blair Academy's First Track Team in 1912, and Houston is on the far right, sitting.
(Courtesy of the Local History Room of the Bernardsville Public Library)
Above is the 1921 yearbook photo of the orchestra at Bernards High School, Bernardsville, New Jersey. Houston is on the far right carrying a violin.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
The above logo and the Houston/Billy the Kid announcement on the right were cropped from that 1939-40 PDC exhibitor announcement. Houston didn't become Billy the Kid, nor did PDC/PRC do that series in 1939-1940. Bob Steele came on board as Billy the Kid for 6 films which were released in 1940-41. When Steele exited for the Three Mesquiteers series at Republic, Buster Crabbe became PRC's new Billy the Kid.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)