(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
1918 - 2006
John Alec Kimbrough
Sports heroes doing movies was common in old Hollywood. Perhaps because they were big, burly and well-muscled. Or more probably, they had some name recognition due to their sports career and Hollywood figured that meant ticket sales. Olympic champions and college football All-Americans such as Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, Herman Brix (Bruce Bennett) and Johnny Mack Brown had long careers in films. Being a big name sports personality didn't guarantee cinema stardom or longevity. Quarterback Slingin' Sammy Baugh - and the subject of this webpage, "Jarrin'" John Kimbrough - did only a film or two and exited Tinseltown.
Haskell, Texas native John Kimbrough was born June 14, 1918 and graduated from Abilene High School in 1937. He had a scholarship and played his first year of college football as a tackle for Tulane University.
He moved to Texas A&M where he excelled as their starting fullback for three seasons, 1938-1940. Wearing jersey number 39, the 6' 2", 210 pounder was a consensus All-American on A&M's 1939 and 1940 teams which had records of 11-0-0 (1939) and 9-1-0 (1940). He scored both touchdowns in the 1939 Aggies' 14-13 Sugar Bowl victory over Tulane for the National Championship. And he scored one touchdown in their 13-12 win over Fordham in the 1940 Cotton Bowl. In the 1939 Heisman trophy voting, Kimbrough came in fifth. In the 1940 Heisman balloting, Kimbrough took second place (the winner was running back Tom Harmon of Michigan). In the 1941 NFL draft, Tom Harmon was pick #1 and chosen by the Chicago Bears, and Kimbrough was #2, selected by the Chicago Cardinals.
Kimbrough graduated from Texas A&M in 1941, and he married Barbara Golding on October 27, 1941.
As to John Kimbrough and his brief film career, let's back track a bit. George Montgomery's earliest film work - as George Letz - occurred in the mid to late 1930s at Republic Pictures where he did bit parts and supporting roles in about thirty films, most of which were B westerns and serials. During this period, his most remembered role was portraying 'Jim Clark', one of the five Rangers in the cliffhanger, THE LONE RANGER (Republic, 1938). It was circa late 1939, around the time that he exited Republic and signed with 20th Century Fox, that George Letz became George Montgomery. While under contract to 20th Century Fox, he starred in two remakes of Zane Grey westerns, LAST OF THE DUANES (20th Century Fox, 1941) and RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (20th Century Fox, 1941). Then 20th Century Fox boss Darryl Zanuck promoted Montgomery to higher grade productions including: ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942) with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, TEN GENTLEMEN FROM WEST POINT (1942) with Maureen O'Hara, CHINA GIRL (1942) with Gene Tierney, ROXIE HART (1942) with Ginger Rogers, and CONEY ISLAND (1943) with Betty Grable.
Replacing Montgomery in the Zane Grey series was John Kimbrough ... and he starred in a pair: SUNDOWN JIM (20th Century Fox, 1942) and LONE STAR RANGER (20th Century Fox, 1942). James Tinling (1889-1967) directed all four of the Montgomery and Kimbrough oaters. He had been around the Fox lot since the silent film days and had helmed various features including a Mr. Moto and a Charlie Chan. He even directed an earlier Zane Grey adaptation, THE LAST TRAIL (Fox, 1933), which starred George O'Brien and Claire Trevor. Tinling wound up doing early TV, directing episodes of the STU ERWIN SHOW, PUBLIC DEFENDER and RACKET SQUAD starring Reed Hadley, more.
Kimbrough became an Army Air Corps pilot during World War II. Obituaries mention that he did not fly any combat missions, but was a member of the US Army Football All-Star team which raised money for relief and war bonds by playing football, including exhibition games against NFL opponents. Upon release from the service in 1946, he never returned to Hollywood and films. Instead, he signed on to play professional football in the fledgling All American Football Conference (AAFC) - see footnote below. He was in the backfield for the Los Angeles Dons for seasons 1946-1948, and the home field of the AAFC LA Dons was the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Around 1949, Kimbrough and wife Barbara returned to Haskell, Texas and took up ranching and farming. Kimbrough served in the Texas State Legislature from 1953 to 1955.
He received many accolades and honors for his football prowess including induction in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1958.
87 year old John Kimbrough passed away on May 8, 2006 after a brief bout with pneumonia.
|Footnote: the All American Football Conference (AAFC) was formed in 1944, and their initial playing season was 1946. The AAFC lasted through the 1949 season. When the league folded, three of the teams merged (were absorbed) into the NFL: the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts. The most famous of the AAFC teams was the Cleveland Browns. Coached by legendary Paul Brown, they had Otto Graham at quarterback and Lou Groza doing the kicking. Their first season in the NFL was 1950 and the Browns beat Los Angeles 30-28 in the title game to win the NFL championship.|
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on John Kimbrough: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0453917/
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has the official records of college football All-Americans, and that information has been published in Football's Finest (NCAA, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2002). The book includes First Team All-Americans through year 2000 and there are about 2900 names on the list. In the listing for First Team All-Americans, you'll find John Kimbrough, Texas A&M, Fullback, for years 1939 and 1940. And in both years, he was a unanimous/consensus All American. An Adobe Acrobat pdf file listing the First Team All-Americans from the book is available at the following link, and Kimbrough is listed under Texas A&M: http://web1.ncaa.org/web_files/stats/football_records/2001football_finest.pdf
The Walter Camp Football Foundation has Kimbrough on their All-American teams listing for 1939 and 1940: https://waltercamp.org/
During Kimbrough's 1939 and 1940 seasons, the Texas A&M Aggies were 11-0-0 (1939) and 9-1-0 (1940), and total points scored for the two seasons was 395 (vs. a total of 77 for their opposition). Their wins, losses, game scores and "power rating" are listed at James Howell's football statistics website:
Kimbrough was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954: https://footballfoundation.org/hof_search.aspx?hof=1534
Kimbrough was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1958: https://www.tshofinductees.org/product-page/john-kimbrough
Some biographies on Kimbrough note that he is a member of Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, I do not find him listed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame website: https://www.profootballhof.com/heroes-of-the-game/alphabetically/
The official Heisman Trophy website has info on 1940 winner Tom Harmon. John Kimbrough was the runnerup for the 1940 award: https://www.heisman.com/heisman-winners/tom-harmon/
There's a 1955 Topps All-American football card of Kimbrough at the Vintage Football Card Gallery website: http://www.footballcardgallery.com/1955+Topps+All-American/2/