(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the cover of the pressbook for FIGHTING PIONEERS (Resolute, 1935), one of the quartet of trio westerns starring Rex Bell and featuring Tom Mix's daughter Ruth and Buzz Barton. Note the proclaimation at the top of the pressbook: "The Three Aces of the Saddle Ride Again !" and the round photo insets from L-to-R are Ruth Mix, Bell and Buzz Barton.
Film Booking Offices (F. B. O.) had an extensive stable of sagebrush heroes in the 1920s including young Buzz Barton, Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, Bob Custer ... Tom Mix even worked for F. B. O. after his career at Fox ended. In the late 1920s, F. B. O. was run by Joseph Kennedy, Sr., President John F. Kennedy's father.
|Special thanks to Bill Russell for authoring the following narrative and background info on Buzz Barton.|
Making the transition from silent to sound was the last casting call for many silent stars, due principally to several factors - voice unsuited or untrained for dialog, waning popularity at the end of the decade, and the general decline of western film production at that time. Combine these factors with the transition at the same time from child star to adult, and the problems are compounded. Take the case of Buzz Barton, called "The Boy Wonder of Westerns", - he was probably the most successful and well known of the young, silent screen cowpokes, but his starring career floundered as he reached puberty and the new medium of sound emerged.
A rip-roaring rider and roper from the get-go, Buzz was born William Andrew Lamoreaux (not Lamar as many sources cite) in Gallatin, Missouri, on September 3, 1913. His family later moved to California, settling down in the Newhall area. There, young William hung around the western streets where they kept the horses and coaches used in pictures at the Newhall movie site and the unconfirmed story goes that it was there where he met cowboy star Jack Perrin, who got him into films. It's true that Perrin did help the young, freckle-faced kid get into movies. Another story has Barton credited with winning several national rodeo championships before reaching the age of 12, but national rodeo associations sources carry no listing of Buzz as a title holder. It's very likely, however, that he did win some local, unsanctioned championships, since he was a skilled rider and roper by the time he entered films.
His first film experience came in 1926 around the age of 13 when he appeared in the Rayart series with his mentor Jack Perrin, who allegedly gave him the name of Billy Lamar and featured him in five of his Rayart pictures (THE LAFFIN' FOOL, KNOCKOUT KID, MAN FROM OKLAHOMA, WEST OF RAINBOW'S END, and THUNDERBOLT'S TRACKS). He and Perrin became life-long friends. Also during this period Buzz appeared with Tom Tyler in SPLITTING THE BREEZE under the name of Red Lennox.
During this period, a nationwide emphasis was placed on youth in the movies, and in 1927, at the age of 14, his parents, Floyd and Myrtle Lamoreaux, signed a long-term contract for Buzz to star in a series of westerns for F.B.O. (later RKO), making him the youngest actor to star in a western series. Coincidently, F.B.O. had another young player under contract named Frankie Darro, and had just signed a young Bob Steele.
Changing Lamar's Rayart name to Buzz Barton, the studio teamed him up with lanky, grizzled veteran Frank Rice, under the direction of Louis King, and released the first one, THE BOY WONDER, on October 23, 1927. This was followed by THE SLINGSHOT KID in December. Trade reviewers, normally not partial to westerns, gave the beginning of the series good marks, but as the series continued, they became less enamored with the youth-oriented features. One early reviewer described Barton as a combination Mix, Maynard, and Fred Thomson. The reviewer may have been a little overzealous, but nevertheless, the pint-sized little cowboy could ride and rope with the best of them, and attracted a following that sustained him throughout the remainder of the silent period. Most of the titles reflected Buzz' youth - THE PINTO KID, THE BANTAM COWBOY, THE FIGHTING REDHEAD, THE VAGABOND CUB, etc. In all of them he played a character named David "Red" Hepner.
Then it ended, and with it his starring series. He had the misfortune (as well as a number of older cowboy stars) of coming on the scene as the silent era was running out and that "demon" sound (as some called it) was coming in. Although his films were good, fast-paced little oaters, they were not strong enough to endure the changes taking place in Hollywood and the studio dropped him after starring in 14 features. The last one, PALS OF THE PRAIRE, was released in July, 1929.
Buzz was off screen until the summer of 1930 when he landed a good role in the Big 4 production of CANYON HAWKS, opposite star Yakima Canutt (his only starring talkie). Barton would also appear with Wally Wales in BREED OF THE WEST in late 1930 and also back with his old pal Perrin in THE APACHE KID'S ESCAPE, a Robert J. Horner production. Buzz also made his first appearance in a serial when he teamed up with star Rin-Tin-Tin, Jr., and Walter Miller in the 1930 Mascot cliffhanger, THE LONE DEFENDER.
In early '31, Barton rejoined Perrin in another cheapie Horner film, released by Cosmos entitled WILD WEST WHOOPEE. The title alone would discourage most viewers. Then it was back to Big 4 again for two more with Wales, RIDERS OF THE CACTUS and FLYING LARIATS.
His popularity at the time still remained so strong that the Daisy Company introduced the "Buzz Barton Special Daisy Air Rifle" (complete with telescope sight), to tie in with his Big 4 pictures. Big 4 had just starred Barton in THE CYCLONE KID, released in October '31, HUMAN TARGETS, issued early the following year, and TANGLED FORTUNES, released in March. Francis X. Bushman, Jr. (son of the famous silent star, was born Ralph E. Bushman) shared the starring honors in all three and Rin-Tin-Tin, Jr., was featured in HUMAN TARGETS. Buzz was also cast with Robert Frazer in another serial, the 10-chapter Syndicate effort entitled THE MYSTERY TROOPER.