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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.

Bob Burns

Full name:
Robert Emmet Burns

1884 - 1957

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

 Fred Burns

Full name:
Frederick Dana Burns

1878 - 1955

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above - Bob Burns, mid 1930s

Above - Fred Burns, mid 1930s

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; Fred's son Forest is spelled with a single R.

Bob and Fred Burns were real life westerners - Fred was born in 1878 at Fort Keogh, Montana and Bob in 1884 at Glendive, Montana. Fort Keogh in the Montana Territory was constructed soon after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and remained an active Army post through the early 1900s. The death certificate on Fred Burns lists his father as John Leonard Burns and his Mother's maiden name as Martin; the genealogy website linked at the bottom of this page lists her as Alice May Martin.

Fred was an expert with a rope, doing multiple horse catches, fancy spinning, etc. and he performed with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Show and Buffalo Bill Wild West Show where he was billed as the "King of the Rope". The brothers wound up in Hollywood circa 1912. In those early days, Bob starred in silent oaters for Vitagraph while Fred did leads at Biograph with Lillian Gish. Bob even did some 1920s starring work, and Grapevine Video has the following silent listed in 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 talkies arrived, the brothers were firmly entrenched in supporting and bit parts, most often in westerns, and both specialized in portraying a ranch owner/foreman, the local lawman, the father of the heroine, etc. Occasionally, one or the other would do a stint as a baddie, often masquerading as a stalwart member of the community.

A few examples of their varied supporting roles follows:

  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 even shows off his rope handling skills; 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); is the sheriff in the George O'Brien BULLET CODE (RKO, 1940).

  Both turn up in many of the Livingston-Corrigan-Terhune Three Mesquiteers adventures at Republic Pictures (playing ranchers, members of the posse, rodeo judge, etc.).

  Along with players such as Hank Bell, Jack Kirk, Silver Tip Baker and others, the Burns brothers frequently handled the reins of a stagecoach. For example, you can see both Bob and Fred driving stagecoaches in the Dick Foran CALIFORNIA MAIL (Warners, 1936).

Bob Burns' last film was the 1954 LAWLESS RIDER which starred Johnny Carpenter. Fred's last film work was at Republic Pictures, circa post World War II.

Les Adams has Fred Burns identified in about 175 sound era films and of these, 161 are westerns and 13 are cliffhangers. Les' count on Bob Burns is similar --- about 195 sound era films which includes 179 westerns and 8 chapterplays. Les also notes that the brothers worked together in at least 42 westerns and 4 serials.

Fred's son Forest Burns did some stunting and henchmen/bit roles in the 1940s - 1950s. There is some confusion on the spelling of his first name - the genealogy website on the Burns family has the spelling as "Forest" (single R) while other sources use "Forrest" (with two R's).

You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral. Then visit the California Death Records database where you will find records for:

Frederick Dana Burns, born 4/24/1878 in Montana, Mother's maiden name of Martin, and he passed away on 7/18/1955.

Robert Emmett Burns, born 11/21/1884 in Montana, Mother's maiden name of Martin, and he passed away on 3/14/1957.

Old Corral contributors Dale Crawford and Jim Sorensen report that both Fred Burns and Bob Burns were cremated, and they are interred at the Chapel of the Pines, Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on the Burns brothers and Fred's son Forest Burns:

     Bob Burns (
     Fred Burns (
     Forest Burns (

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:

Dianne E. Harley-Wintch has a genealogy webpage which has the Burns family, including census and draft registration records, etc.

The page on John Leonard Burns, the father of Fred and Bob is at:
There's several photos of Fred and Bob at:
and there are specific pages on:
Robert Emmet Burns:
Frederick Dana Burns:
Forest G. Burns (Fred Burns' son) (1914-1998):

Fred Burns is listed as one of the circa 1907 performers on the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Show website:

Robert Emmet Burns

(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).

Frederick Dana Burns

(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).

Forest G. Burns

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Art Dillard, Lee Reynolds and 2/3 of the face of Forest Burns in a scene from SANTA FE UPRISING (Republic, 1946), one of the Red Ryder yarns starring Allan Lane.

(Above two photos courtesy of Dorothy Hack)

During the filming of THE BISCUIT EATER (Disney/Buena Vista, 1972) - Dorothy Hack (daughter of prolific western henchie Herman Hack) is sandwiched between two B-western henchmen. On the left is Forest Burns and on the right is Joe Phillips. Fred Burns was Forest Burns' father.

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