Bernard B. Ray
B. B., Ben, Benny, Bennie
1895 - 1964
He also directed under
Raymond Samuels (maybe)
He was not
Raymond K. Johnson
Reliable's bread and butter were sagebrush yarns with Jack Perrin, Tom Tyler, and Bob Custer along with the "Bud 'n' Ben" shorts. They also did some non-westerns and examples include crime and mystery flicks starring Richard Talmadge and northwoods / mountie adventures with Rin-Tin-Tin Jr. helping Grant Withers, Francis X. Bushman Jr., Regis Toomey, Rex Lease, and Custer.
Perrin did a half dozen westerns and several of the "Bud 'n' Ben" three-reelers which co-starred Benny Corbett. But Reliable's main range rider was Tom Tyler and he starred in eighteen which were released during 1934 - 1936. However, in late Summer, 1936, Tyler jumped ship and signed on with Sam Katzman's Victory Pictures.
With Tyler gone, Webb and Ray found themselves without a white-hatted hero. They were also impacted by the 1935 formation of Republic Pictures and fan appeal of Gene Autry, ranked as the #3 western hero in the 1936 Motion Picture Herald poll. Autry's popularity skyrocketed and by 1937, he was the #1 movie cowboy in the Boxoffice and Motion Picture Herald rankings.
Webb and Ray made a feeble attempt at "musical westerns". They failed to sign Tex Fletcher, a crooner who billed himself as "The Lonely Cowboy" and performed on New York's Mutual Broadcasting station WOR. But they were successful in hiring Bob Custer, whose most recent screen work were 1932 features for Big 4 and the 1934 Mascot cliffhanger THE LAW OF THE WILD. The bland Custer did lip synch some tunes in his third and last Reliable adventure, SANTA FE RIDES (Reliable, 1937).
SANTA FE RIDES along with Rex Lease and Rin Tin Tin Jr. in THE SILVER TRAIL (Reliable, 1937) were released in February, 1937 and were the company's last. However, the ending dragged on with Reliable promising more films. Issues of the Motion Picture Herald from January, 1937 through January, 1938 listed four more Custers and one Rinty Jr. as "coming". Those didn't happen.
In Spring, 1938, B. B. Ray visited New York City and was interviewed by New York Post newspaper columnist Earl Wilson. The headline of Wilson's May 10, 1938 article was: "Art, With Dash of Sex, Replaces Horse Operas." The Earl Wilson writeup is lengthy, and in summary, Ray lamented that cheap, independently produced westerns were no longer viable, and some of blame was due to pay increases resulting from the Screen Actors Guild. His current plans were exploitation films and he had just completed 'It's All in the Mind' with Byron Foulger and Connie Bergen. (IT'S ALL IN YOUR MIND (1938) became FOOLS OF DESIRE (Metropolitan, 1938) with Ray directing, writing, etc. and Harry S. Webb producing.) Wilson summarized Ray's early years: "Ben Ray ... is practically uneducated, as far as schools are concerned. After coming to this country with his father when he was seven, he went half-heartedly to classes ... until he was fourteen, then bummed to Hollywood, where after a few years at menial jobs in the studios, he became known as 'the boy director'..."
A few B. B. Ray quotes from that Earl Wilson interview:
"The Western business is shot ... The plots are so formula that New York, Philadelphia and Chicago don't go for them any more. The South dearly loves them, but that's not enough ..."
"I used to get $1,850 out of a London distributor for a Western. Now I can't get $100. Hell, I can't give 'em away."
"We got to have somebody in the picture who can ride a horse. Up till the (Screen Actors) Guild got started we could get them for $3 a day and at night they would drink up all their pay except say about a dime for breakfast. Now with the Guild in, they get about $25 a day and STILL have a dime left the next morning."
Harry S. Webb formed Metropolitan Pictures and released a few features including several with Rinty Jr. and a rather lackluster eight film series in 1939 - 1940 with Bob Steele. Webb and Ray remained on good terms as Ray directed Steele's SMOKY TRAILS (Metropolitan, 1939). Harry's Metropolitan company was short-lived, and in 1940, he and his production unit were at Monogram doing the Jack Randall westerns.
In the 1940s, Ray's movie workload slowed. He wrote the story and helmed BROKEN STRINGS (L. C. Borden Prod/International Road Shows, 1940) which starred Clarence Muse and an all black cast featuring Matthew 'Stymie' Beard of "Our Gang" fame. And operating as Beaumont Pictures, Ray churned out a few for Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) - examples: Marjorie Reynolds starred in the northwoods logging adventure LAW OF THE TIMBER (PRC, 1941); the Harry Langdon comedy HOUSE OF ERRORS (PRC, 1942); and a couple with Neil Hamilton.
During his time at PRC, Ray met producer Jack Schwarz. In the post World War II years, Schwarz hired Ray to helm four: Richard Arlen in BUFFALO BILL RIDES AGAIN (Jack Schwarz/Screen Guild, 1947); Ernest Tubb in the country musical HOLLYWOOD BARN DANCE (Jack Schwarz/Screen Guild, 1947); David Bruce in TIMBER FURY (Jack Schwarz/Eagle-Lion, 1950); and during his one year salary argument break from TV's Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore starred in BUFFALO BILL IN TOMAHAWK TERRITORY (Jack Schwarz/United Artists, 1952).
There were two more films for Ray, neither of which I've seen. He produced, directed and co-wrote HOLLYWOOD THRILL-MAKERS (Lippert, 1954) with James Gleason and Bill Henry in a story about stuntmen. And operating as "Rayliable Pictures", B. B.'s finale was producing and directing SPRING AFFAIR (George Bagnall, 1960), a comedy about a mild-mannered bookkeeper who has yearnings for a model.
As to his family and personal life, Ray married Georgia Mae Tallant (1904 - 1958) in 1927 and they settled in Arcadia, California. They had two children - son Leon Nicholas Ray (born 1928) and daughter Jean Alice Ray (born 1931). B. B.'s hobby was chess and he often entertained chess enthusiasts at his home.
Bernard B. Ray passed away December 10, 1964 at the Motion Picture Home and Hospital, Woodland Hills, California.
His Tinseltown career spanned about forty years, from about 1914 through the early 1950s. To B western fans, Bernard B. Ray is best remembered for those eighteen Tom Tyler oaters.
Current biographies on Bernard B. Ray - including the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) - list him with several aliases, one of which is "Raymond K. Johnson". Not so! There was a Raymond K. Johnson / Raymond Kingsbury Johnson (1901 - 1999) who was a cameraman / writer / director, served in the Army during World War II, and became the boss of MGM's camera department. More on Raymond K. Johnson on the next webpage.
B. B. Ray's younger brother Leon Shamroy also wound up in Hollywood and became a noted cinematographer / director of photography. He was nominated eighteen times for Academy Awards and won four Oscars. His many films included BUFFALO BILL (1944), TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949), THE ROBE (1953), THE KING AND I (1956), SOUTH PACIFIC (1958), NORTH TO ALASKA (1960), CLEOPATRA (1963) and PLANET OF THE APES (1968). He was president of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in 1947 - 1948. More on Leon Shamroy on the next webpage.
|Reliable's main series and heroes|
|Jack Perrin||6 western features||1934-1935|
|Tom Tyler||18 western features||1934-1936|
|Richard Talmadge||6 non-western features||1935-1936|
|Bud 'n' Ben shorts||8 three-reelers||1933-1934|
|Bob Custer||3 western features||1936-1937|
|Rin-Tin-Tin Jr.||5 features||1935-1937|
|Footnote on the Bud 'n' Ben shorts: about a dozen were planned and eight were completed and Benny Corbett was in all eight. The other lead was Jack Perrin (in 4); Fred Humes (2); Dennis Moore (1); and Wally Wales / Hal Taliaferro (1) and he was billed as "Walt Williams".|
Above - 1937 organization chart for Reliable Pictures with Ray as president and Webb as general manager.
Above - 1934 trade ad for the first batch of Tom Tyler oaters from B. B. Ray and Harry S. Webb's new Reliable Pictures company. Tyler would star in eighteen for Reliable which were released during 1934 - 1936. The William Steiner company handled the distribution on the early Reliable films.
(Courtesy of the Robert Webb Family)
Above - the Hollywood home of Reliable Pictures circa 1935 at the corner of Beachwood and Sunset Boulevard. The facilities were torn down in the 1990s, but did serve as soundstages 1 and 2 for Columbia Pictures.
Might be difficult to read, but the sign in the above photo proudly proclaims:
B. B. Ray H. S. Webb
Tom Tyler Jack Perrin
(Courtesy of the Robert Webb Family)
Above - a pause in the action from MYSTERY RANCH (Reliable, 1934), one of the eighteen oaters that Tom Tyler did for Reliable Pictures in the mid 1930s. Above are:
1. Bernard B. Ray (producer/director)
2. star Tom Tyler
3. Harry S. Webb (producer/director)
4. Scriptwriter/Reliable Vice President Rose Gordon (Harry S. Webb's wife).
And leading lady Roberta Gale is seated between Tyler and B. B. Ray.
(Courtesy of the Robert Webb Family)
More relaxing during the filming of another Reliable oater of the mid 1930s. Above are: 1. Harry S. Webb, 2. star Jack Perrin, and 3. Bernard B. Ray. This cast and crew shot is probably from RAWHIDE MAIL (Reliable, 1934), and other cast members above are: Chris-Pin Martin (with guitar), Nelson McDowell (in hat and suit) and the pretty heroine is Lillian Gilmore. The guy on the left is unidentified.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above are Ethan Laidlaw and Jack Perrin in a lobby card for RAINBOW RIDERS (Reliable, 1934), one of the Bud 'n' Ben three reelers which co-starred rotund Benny Corbett (photo inset, upper left). Standing between Laidlaw and Perrin is Mack V. Wright. In addition to some acting jobs, Wright spent time behind the camera as the director of oaters such as the Three Mesquiteers' in ROARIN' LEAD and RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL, and co-director/assistant director/second unit director of THE VIGILANTES ARE COMING and THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF WILD BILL HICKOK serials, several of the Rough Riders films, and more.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above from L-to-R are Joe De La Cruz, Jayne Regan, Jack Perrin, Slim Whitaker and Tom London in a lobby card from CACTUS KID (Reliable, 1935).
(Courtesy of Carol Murray and her "Jack Hendricks Photo Album")
Left to right are mounties Jack Hendricks, Jack Mulhall and Regis Toomey in a still from the Rin Tin Tin Jr. SKULL AND CROWN (Reliable, 1935).