|The Frontier Marshal series|
6 Films released in 1942
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from left to right are Art Davis, Lee Powell, and Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd from PRC's ALONG THE SUNDOWN TRAIL (PRC, 1942), the sixth and final entry in the Frontier Marshal series.
The Frontier Marshal trio:
Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd
TEXAS MAN HUNT (PRC, 1942)
RAIDERS OF THE WEST (PRC, 1942)
ROLLING DOWN THE GREAT DIVIDE (PRC, 1942)
TUMBLEWEED TRAIL (PRC, 1942)
PRAIRIE PALS (PRC, 1942)
ALONG THE SUNDOWN TRAIL (PRC, 1942)
Most movie buffs and critics feel that B-westerns from Republic Pictures are the best of the genre. Columbia and Universal also had some good oater series. On a lesser scale came Monogram Pictures, and lower still was a small Gower Gulch production outfit which was formed in the late 1930s. Among the company's early names were Producers Pictures and PDC (Producers Distributing Corporation) and they became Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
PRC's bread 'n' butter were B grade detective flicks, horror movies and lots of westerns. In most cases, their films were relegated to the smaller, neighborhood movie houses, and to second feature status on a twin bill. During the ten or so years that PRC existed, it's most memorable cowboy stars were Al 'Lash' LaRue, Buster Crabbe, and singing cowboy Eddie Dean. Around 1947 or so, PRC disappeared when it was merged (absorbed) by the Eagle-Lion company. A few years later, Eagle-Lion was absorbed into United Artists.
Western series featuring multiple heroes were the rage during the 1940s. Republic had the Three Mesquiteers, and Monogram Pictures had three: Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton were the Rough Riders; the initial stars of the Range Busters were Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, John 'Dusty' King and Max 'Alibi' Terhune; and the Trail Blazers had Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard and later, Bob Steele came on board.
PRC wanted a triple threat also and decided to bring forth the Frontier Marshal series. The films would have been a lot more interesting and exciting if early plans had come to fruition. Tom Tyler was slated to co-star with Lee Powell, the original cinema 'masked man of the plains' in Republic's 1938 THE LONE RANGER serial. But that didn't happen, and the trades from May - June, 1941 carried the news:
PRC hired a couple western singers to fill out the trio. Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd got top billing (he was not the William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame). During a long career, he recorded over 200 records for Bluebird (Victor). The other troubador was Oather 'Art' Davis, who did many records for Victor and Columbia, and he wound up as the second lead. Both Boyd and Davis carried some extra poundage around their middle. Producer Sigmund Neufeld probably figured that Boyd and Davis' songs would bring in some extra audience, particularly in the theaters located in the South and West. (PRC's other tuneful cowboy hero during this period was George Houston, The Lone Rider.)
Relegated to the third lead spot was Lee Powell. In addition to Republic's 1938 THE LONE RANGER serial, Powell also starred in another cliffhanger, THE FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS (Republic, 1938). Three plus years after doing those great serials, Powell found himself near rock-bottom, laboring for PRC.
Production shortcomings and meager budgets couldn't be overcome. Additionally, the three prairie pals of Boyd, Davis and Powell had no spark, no charisma. And while Boyd and Davis were good with a tune, they weren't hero material. And there was too much singin' and not enough ridin', ropin', brawlin' and shootin'! After six entries, the trio disappeared ... and Saturday matinee fans didn't seem to notice or care.
The studio quickly re-thought their trio western approach and a new group called 'The Texas Rangers' rode onto the silver screen in late 1942 (starring Dave O'Brien, Jim Newill and Guy Wilkerson). PRC was originally considering the pairing of Art Davis and Dave O'Brien for the Rangers but that didn't happen as Davis enlisted in the Navy in August, 1942.
Trade publications announced the demise ... and the replacement:
While B-western fans fondly remember the Three Mesquiteers, Rough Riders, Range Busters and Trail Blazers, few recall PRC's half dozen Frontier Marshal adventures.
Boyd and Davis exited Hollywood and returned to western singing, western swing, tours and records. For Lee Powell, his time at PRC marked the end of his brief Hollywood career. Two years later, in July, 1944, Marine Sergeant Lee Powell lost his life on Tinian in the Marianas Islands.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above from left to right are George Chesebro, Bill "Cowboy Rambler" Boyd, Art Davis (with a neck hold on an unknown player), and Lee Powell on the stairs in the title lobby card from ROLLING DOWN THE GREAT DIVIDE (PRC, 1942). Note the "Peter Stewart" pseudonym used by prolific director Sam Newfield. Newfield directed all six of the Frontier Marshal adventures.
(Courtesy of Pat LaRosa)
In the above lobby card from PRAIRIE PALS (PRC, 1942), Lee Powell is delivering a left to the jaw of prolific western villain I. Stanford Jolley. Note that Powell is billed third behind singers/musicians Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd and Art Davis.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above is the title lobby card from RAIDERS OF THE WEST (PRC, 1942), with Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd pummeling Archie Hall (Arch Hall, Sr.). This was another Sam Newfield directed film in which he used his "Peter Stewart" alias.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - Ted Adams (left) is all tied up in this discussion with Lee Powell, the star of the 1938 Republic Lone Ranger cliffhanger. Powell looks like he's wearing a shirt patterned after those worn by Gene Autry.