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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.




Fred Burns, late 1930s
Fred Burns

Full name:
Frederick Dana Burns

1878 - 1955




Bob Burns, mid 1930s
Bob Burns

Full name:
Robert Emmet Burns

1884 - 1957




Edward Burns, early 1930s
Ed / Edward Burns

Full name:
Forest Edward Burns

1879 - 1954


September, 2011: special thanks to May Bopp, Bob Burns' daughter, for assisting in this profile on the Burns Brothers ... and for a couple of corrections. I had originally noted that Forest Burns was Bob's son. Forest was Fred's son. And Fred Burns was a champion roper and billed as "King of the Rope". He was not a bronc rider or buster. May also confirmed several name spellings: Robert Emmet Burns, and Emmet has only one T; and Fred's son Forest is spelled with a single R.
Sad to report that May Bopp passed away October 24, 2019.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Bob Burns



(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Fred Burns



(Courtesy of May Bopp, Bob Burns' daughter)

Fred's son Forest Galvin
Burns (1914 - 1998)
Bob and Fred Burns were real life westerners. Bob was born in Glendive, Dawson County, Montana in 1884. Fred was born in 1878 at Fort Keogh, Montana. Fort Keogh in the Montana Territory was located on the outskirts of present day Miles City. It was constructed soon after the Battle of the Little Big Horn and remained an active Army post through the early 1900s.

There was another brother who wound up in Hollywood with Fred and Bob. Forest Edward Burns was born in Glendive, Dawson County, Montana in 1879. Over the years, he did a few acting jobs but found his niche as a carpenter and labor foreman at the studios. His daughters, Thelma and Beulah, had brief movie careers circa 1915 - 1918 as members of the Triangle/Fine Arts and later Fox "Kiddies".

Parents of Fred, Bob and Ed were John Leonard Burns and Alice May Martin, and the family was living in Dawson County, Montana at the time of the 1880 census.

The brothers arrived in Tinseltown circa 1912, and quickly became busy as they were real cowboys with horse riding skills. All three had uncredited parts in D. W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915).

Fred's early years were spent with various wild west shows. In His book Montana Entertainers, Famous and Almost Forgotton (The History Press, 2019), Brian D'Ambrosio has a brief bio on Fred and mentions that "... for six years, he was in charge of Buffalo Bill Cody's ranch near Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he 'broke' wild mustangs for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. His adroitness as part of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show earned him billing as the 'King of the Rope'."

Fred became an expert with a rope, doing multiple horse catches, fancy spinning, etc. and tradezines and other sources have him performing with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch (in 1907) and "arena director" for Vernon C. Seaver's Young Buffalo Wild West (circa 1911). In 1917, Fred exited Hollywood for a brief spell and was with the Pawnee Bill organization. Fred played the lead in a few films but was mostly a character / support player and did movies with Lillian Gish, a couple with Douglas Fairbanks, a Ruth Roland cliffhanger, with Josie Sedgwick at Universal, more. By the mid to late 1920s, he was doing oaters with Leo Maloney at Pathe, Tom Tyler at F. B. O., and Ken Maynard at Universal.

The younger Bob starred in westerns for Vitagraph, and in the 1920s, was at Universal in his own brief starring series as well as Pete Morrison and Hoot Gibson sagebrushers. In the mid 1920s, he was a cowboy hero for independent Sierra Pictures and Grapevine Video had the following info on their online catalog:

JUST TRAVELIN' (Sierra, 1927): Directed by Horace B. Carpenter and the cast includes Bob Burns, Dorothy Donald, Lew Meehan and Harry O'Connor. This appears to be the only surviving work of cowboy star Bob Burns during the silent era. Burns plays a drifter who comes to the aid of a prospector and his daughter. The two are having trouble with a vicious French-Canadian heel (Meehan), who is lusting after both the gold and the girl. Burns remained in films until 1951 usually playing stage-drivers, lawmen or, occasionally, outlaws. Transferred from the only known 35mm Nitrate print.

When sound arrived, brother Ed was working carpenter duty at the studios. Fred and Bob continued acting, picking up paychecks for various character and bit parts, sometimes credited and sometimes unbilled. They were most often in westerns - and both specialized in portraying a ranch owner / foreman, local lawman, father of the heroine, etc. Occasionally, they played a baddie, sometimes masquerading as a stalwart member of the community. And both can be spotted driving wagons and stagecoaches.

A few examples of their sound era roles:

  Fred Burns: is the killer of Hoot Gibson's dad in MOUNTED STRANGER (Universal, 1930); in Tom Keene's THE SADDLE BUSTER (RKO, 1932), Fred's the boss of a bunch of bronc riders - and shows off his rope handling skills; and he's stunt lady Betty Miles' father in the Tex Ritter RIDIN' THE CHEROKEE TRAIL (Monogram, 1941).

  Bob Burns: has a father role in the Jack Hoxie LAW AND LAWLESS (Majestic, 1932); and plays the sheriff in George O'Brien's BULLET CODE (RKO, 1940) and Tom Tyler's WHEN A MAN RIDES ALONE (Monarch, 1933).

  Both turn up in many Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Don Barry, and Three Mesquiteers adventures at Republic Pictures (playing ranchers, posse members, rodeo judge, etc.).

  Fred and Bob were frequent stagecoach and wagon drivers. Example: in the Dick Foran CALIFORNIA MAIL (Warners, 1936), Fred is handling the reins during a stagecoach race, while Bob is driving a stage that gets held up.

Fred and Bob were involved in the 1933 formation of the Riding Actors Association, Inc. of Hollywood. This was in response to the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and National Recovery Administration (NRA). An NRA requirement was for business and industry - including Hollywood - to establish "codes" defining work rules, pay schedules, maximum work hours per week, etc. In response to that NRA code requirement, a group of about 500 (mostly) western movie stunt men and "riding extras" formed the "Riding Actors Association, Inc. of Hollywood". The membership also included heroes, directors, writers, etc. The Riding Actors developed wage rates as well as pricing for stunts and action sequences. The first president of the Riding Actors Association was Fred Burns and Bob was on their Executive Board.

Fred wrapped up his career at Republic Pictures, circa post World War II. Bob continued through the 1940s and 1950s, including some TV jobs. During this later period, he was most often in the background as a townsman, barfly, rancher, farmer, etc.

Fred's son Forest Burns did some stunting and henchman/bit roles in the 1940s - 1950s. Fred and son were involved in a gold mining venture with burly actor Bill Nestell, and more on that is on the next webpage.

77 year old Frederick Dana Burns passed away on July 18, 1955 from heart problems at the Motion Picture Country Hospital, Los Angeles and is interred at Chapel of the Pines.

72 year old Robert Emmet Burns passed away on March 14, 1957 at St. Joseph Hospital, Burbank, California and is interred at Chapel of the Pines.

74 year old Forest Edward Burns passed away at his Los Angeles home on July 4, 1954 from heart problems and asthma and is interred at Chapel of the Pines.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on the Burns family:

Bob Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122590/

Fred Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122668/
Fred's son, Forest Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122664/

Edward Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122655/
Edward Burns' daughter Thelma: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122896/
Edward Burns' daughter Beulah: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122581/

The IMDb has a "People Working Together" search - Bob and Fred worked together in about 80 films, mostly westerns and a few serials: https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?roles=nm0122668,nm0122590

Do NOT get our western and serial Bob Burns confused with vaudeville and film performer Bob "Bazooka" Burns, the "Arkansas Traveler". The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has info on him: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122589/

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West website has an advertising flyer for Vernon C. Seaver's Young Buffalo Wild West. And it includes a photo of "Arena Director" Fred Burns: http://library.centerofthewest.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p17097coll6/id/842/rec/2

Fred Burns - as "Rope Spinner, Juggler; Cowboy" is listed as one of the circa 1907 performers on the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch website: http://www.kaycounty.info/101_ranch/listb.htm

Dianne E. Harley-Wintch has genealogy webpages on several of the Burns family:

The page on John Leonard Burns, the father of Fred and Bob is at: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=deharley&id=I10741
There's several photos of Fred and Bob at: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~eaglesnest/Surname/Martin/album.html
and there are specific pages on:
Robert Emmet Burns: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=deharley&id=I10598
Frederick Dana Burns: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=deharley&id=I10735
Forest G. Burns (Fred Burns' son) (1914 - 1998): http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=deharley&id=I27399



Film counts by decade for the Burns Brothers. Includes westerns, non-westerns, serials, shorts, et al. The 1950-1959 quantity for Bob Burns includes some TV shows.
  1910-1919 1920-1929 1930-1939 1940-1949 1950-1959 Total
Bob Burns 40 33 162 138 70 443
Fred Burns 51 29 120 67 none 267
Edward Burns 15 17 14 6 none 52



Robert Emmet Burns (1884 - 1957)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Jack Hoxie, Bob Burns, heroine Betty Boyd and Harry Todd in a lobby card from GUN LAW (Majestic, 1933).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Betty Boyd, Mary Carr, Archie Ricks, Harry Todd, Jack Kirk, and Bob Burns in a scene from the Jack Hoxie GUNLAW (Majestic, 1933).



(Courtesy of Fabian Cepeda)

Above from left to right are Kit Guard, William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Bob Burns, big and burly Bill Nestell, and Jack Casey in the Hopalong Cassidy LEATHER BURNERS (United Artists, 1943).


  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Bob Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122590/

Family Search and death certificate provide more on Robert Emmet 'Bob' Burns:

  • 1890 census is unavailable - it was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
  • November 21, 1907 marriage license of 23 year old Robert E. Burns (birthplace: Burn's Ranch, Dawson, Montana) and 22 year old Lilian T. Decostella (born Kentucky) in Billings, Yellowstone County, Montana. His parents were John L. and Alice May Burns: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F3QJ-R2W
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in Los Angeles, California are 35 year old Robert E. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Actor - Moving Pictures"), his 27 year old wife Julia (born England), and 31 year old sister-in-law Olive Bearcroft (born England): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHQV-H9J
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 6128 Whilset (?) Avenue, Los Angeles are 44 year old Robert E. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Actor - Motion Pictures"), his 37 year old wife Julia B. (born England), 5 year old daughter Joan (born California) and 2 year old daughter May A. (born California). Bob was not a military veteran: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XC8Q-6F9
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 4642 Forman Avenue, Los Angeles are 55 year old Robert E. Burns (born Montana), his 47 year old wife Julia (born England), 15 year old daughter Joan (born California) and 12 year old daughter May Ann (born California). His occupation is "Actor - Motion Pictures" and in 1939, he worked 30 weeks and earned $2433.00: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9H2-VZG
  • World War II draft registration - 57 year old Robert Emmett Burns was born November 21, 1884 in Custer County, Montana. He and wife Julia live at 4642 Forman Avenue, North Hollywood, California; his employer is "Gene Autrey [sic] - Flying 'A' Ranch - North Hollywood"; and he's 6 feet tall and 175 pounds. He signed the registration as Robert Emmet Burns (with a single T in Emmet): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V48Y-7BS
  • California Death Index for Robert Emmett [sic] Burns - he was born 11/21/1884 in Montana, Mother's maiden name of Martin, and he passed away on 3/14/1957 in the Los Angeles area: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGRW-J79
  • Death certificate - 72 year old Robert Emmett Burns was born November 21, 1884 in Montana and parents were John L. Burns and Alice M. Martin. Occupation was "Actor - Motion Pictures". He passed away at St. Joseph Hospital, Los Angeles. Death certificate informant was wife Julia B. Burns, and they lived at 4642 Forman Street, North Hollywood, California. Pierce Brothers - Valhalla was the funeral director and cremation at Chapel of the Pines.


Frederick Dana Burns (1878 - 1955)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right in the front are Fred Burns, Maude Eburne, Carol Hughes and Hal Taliaferro. Left to right on horseback are Bob Card, Ted Mapes and Jack Montgomery. Crop from a lobby card from the Roy Rogers starrer, THE BORDER LEGION (Republic, 1940).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Ted Mapes, Sally Payne, Chuck Baldra, Roy Rogers, unidentified woman and Fred Burns in a crop from a lobby card from IN OLD CHEYENNE (Republic, 1941).



(From Old Corral collection)

Above from left to right are a wounded Fred Burns, Roy Rogers, and Gabby Hayes in SUNSET ON THE DESERT (Republic, 1942).


  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Fred Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122668/

Family Search and death certificate provide more on Frederick 'Fred' Dana Burns:

  • 1880 census summary and census takers worksheet - living in Dawson, Montana are 38 year old John L. Burns (born New York; occupation "Ranchman"), his 29 year old wife Alice M. (born Illinois), 24 year old brother-in-law Fredrick Martin (born Illinois), and three boarders. The Burns have four sons and one daughter - 13 year old daughter Francis M. (born Minnesota), 9 year old son James S. (born Minnesota), 7 year old son Alba S. (born Minnesota), 2 year old son Fredrick [sic] D. (born Montana), and newborn son Forest E. (born Montana): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH84-QYX
  • 1890 census is unavailable - it was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
  • World War I draft registration - 40 year old Frederick Dana Burns was born April 24, 1878. Occupation and employer is "Motion Picture Actor", "Astra Films Co., Universal City, Los Angeles". He and wife Helen live at 4320 Melbourne, Los Angeles: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZVN-FS1
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in Los Angeles, California are 41 year old Fred D. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Actor - Movie Studio"), his 29 year old wife Helen (born Minnesota), 7 year old son Richard (born California), 5 year old son Forrest [sic] (born California), and 46 year old mother-in-law May Galvin (born England): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHQN-DQ1
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 4628 Forman Avenue, Los Angeles are 51 year old Frederick D. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Actor - Moving Pictures"), his 30 year old wife Helen (born Minnesota), 17 year old son Richard E. (born California), 15 year old son Forrest [sic] G. (born California), and 57 year old mother-in-law May G. Galvin (born England). Fred was not a military veteran: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XC83-QPR
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - 61 year old Frederick D. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Actor - Motion Picture Production") is living with his son, 26 year old Forest G. Burns and his 24 year old wife Claire L. Burns. Forest is renting the home at 4226 Mary Ellen, Los Angeles, and his occupation is "Actor - Motion Picture Production": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9H2-2ZQ
  • World War II draft registration - 64 year old Frederick Dana Burns was born April 24, 1878 at Old Fort Keough, Montana. He's six feet, one inch tall and 180 pounds. Occupation is "Freelancer". He and son Forrest Burns live at 4226 Mary Ellen, Van Nuys, California: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V48Y-7B9
  • California Death Index for Frederick Dana Burns - he was born 4/24/1878 in Montana, Mother's maiden name of Martin, and passed away on 7/18/1955 in the Los Angeles area: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGRS-BV5
  • Death certificate - 77 year old Frederick Dana Burns was born April 24, 1878 in Montana and parents were John Leonard Burns and mother's last name was Martin. Occupation was "Actor - Motion Pictures"; he was a widower; and residence was 9210 La Tuna Canyon Road, Sun Valley, California. He passed away on July 18, 1955 from various heart problems at the Motion Picture Country Hospital, Los Angeles. Death certificate informant was son Forest Burns. Pierce Brothers - Valhalla was the funeral director and cremation at Chapel of the Pines.


Forest Edward Burns (1879 - 1954)

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Forest Edward Burns: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122655/

Family Search, Fold3 Military Records, and death certificate provide more on Forest Edward Burns:

  • 1880 census summary and census takers worksheet - living in Dawson, Montana are 38 year old John L. Burns (born New York; occupation "Ranchman"), his 29 year old wife Alice M. (born Illinois), 24 year old brother-in-law Fredrick Martin (born Illinois), and three boarders. The Burns have four sons and one daughter - 13 year old daughter Francis M. (born Minnesota), 9 year old son James S. (born Minnesota), 7 year old son Alba S. (born Minnesota), 2 year old son Fredrick [sic] D. (born Montana), and newborn son Forest E. (born Montana): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH84-QYX
  • 1890 census is unavailable - it was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
  • April 30, 1907 marriage license of 27 year old Forest E. Burns (birthplace: Glendive, Dawson County, Montana) and 26 year old Katharine Jesmer (born Denmark; divorced) in Billings, Yellowstone County, Montana. His parents were John L. Burns and Alice M. Martin: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F3QJ-PPS
  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in an apartment / multi-unit facility are 67 year old John L. Burns (born New York; occupation "Liquor Seller - Wholesale"), his 59 year old wife Alice M. (born Illinois), 30 year son Edward (born Montana; occupation "Driver - Odd Jobs") and Edward's 30 year old wife Catherine [sic] (born Denmark): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MVLY-VB7
  • Fold3 Military Records has his World War I draft registration - 38 year old Forest Edward Burns was born September 21, 1879. He and wife Catherine Burns living 4317 Kingswell Avenue, Los Angeles, California. Occupation is "Actor" and employer is Douglas Fairbanks.
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 4317 Kingswell, Los Angeles, California are 40 year old Forest E. Burns (born Montana), his 39 year old wife Catherine [sic] (born Denmark), 11 year old daughter Bulah [sic] D. (born Wyoming), 9 year old daughter Thelma (born California), and 6 year old son Robert S. (born California). All five members have an occupation of "Actor - Motion Pictures": https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHQX-PMS
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 4317 Kingswell, Los Angeles, California are 50 year old Forest D. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Carpenter - Movie Studio"), his 50 year old wife Katherine (born Denmark; no occupation listed), 19 year old daughter Thelma V. (born California; no occupation listed), and 17 year old son Robert E. (born California; no occupation listed): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJT-D1S
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 4317 Kingswell Avenue, Los Angeles, California are 60 year old Forest E. Burns (born Montana; occupation "Labor Foreman - Movie Industry") and his 60 year old wife Kathrine [sic] (born Denmark): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9CZ-TPD
  • Death certificate - 74 year old Forest Edward Burns was born September 21, 1879 in Montana to John L. Burns and May Martin. Occupation was "Contractor - Carpentry". Death certificate informant was wife Katherine Burns and they lived at 4317 Kingswell Avenue, Los Angeles. He passed away at his home on July 4, 1954 from chronic heart problems and bronchial asthma. Pierce Brothers - Hollywood was the funeral director and cremation at Chapel of the Pines.



Above are Edward Burns' daughters, Thelma and Beulah, and the girls had brief movie careers as members of the Triangle/Fine Arts and later Fox "Kiddies" circa 1915 - 1918. The above photos are from the May 29, 1915 issue of Reel Life which is available at the Internet Archive. Interestingly, several trade publications mention Fred as the father of Beulah and Thelma.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Thelma and Beulah Burns:
     Edward Burns' daughter Thelma Burns (1910 - 2004) (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122896/)
     Edward Burns' daughter Beulah Burns (1908 - 1970) (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122581/)


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