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Charles Starrett

The Durango Kid

Full name: Charles Robert Starrett

Nickname: Charlie

1903 - 1986

(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is Starrett - early 1930s

(From Old Corral image collection)
Above as the Durango Kid

Special thanks to Boyd Magers for authoring the following biography on Charles Starrett ... and to Larry Imber for information and photos on the later days of Charles Starrett and his wife Mary.

Click HERE and a separate window will open with the filmography on Charles Starrett which includes the directors, leading ladies and sidekicks, as well as the films in which he portrayed The Durango Kid ... and how many times he portrayed "Steve Something-or-other".

"It's the Durango Kid!" came the shouted exclamation from the B-western on-screen heavies as well as the Saturday matinee front row kids. Altho the Dartmouth College educated Charles Starrett didn't set out to make his mark in screen history as the black masked Durango Kid of '40s and '50s B-western fame, he became as synonymous with the character as Clayton Moore was with the Lone Ranger and William Boyd was to Hopalong Cassidy.

His western career so far overshadowed all else Starrett did, it's hard to realize he actually began film life as a Paramount contract player making six for them between 1930-1932 including FAST AND LOOSE with Carole Lombard, THE AGE OF LOVE with Billie Dove and two with Richard Arlen, TOUCHDOWN and SKY BRIDE. Following his mostly supporting roles at Paramount, Starrett landed a lead role in MGM's MASK OF FU MANCHU ('32) with Boris Karloff as the evil incarnate Doctor. Unfortunately, the meaty big studio role did not lead to better things and Charles toiled for two years in low budget independent quickies such as JUNGLE BRIDE (Monogram, '33), MURDER ON THE CAMPUS (Chesterfield, '34), GREEN EYES (Chesterfield, '34), WHAT PRICE CRIME (Beacon, '35), SILVER STREAK (RKO, '34) and UNDERCOVER MAN (Booth Dominion, '35) before Columbia cast him as their new B-western star to replace the aging Tim McCoy.

(Courtesy of Mark Heller)

Above is a cast and crew shot from the mountie adventure UNDERCOVER MEN (J. R. Booth/Dominion, 1935).

This was filmed in Canada as part of the "British Quota System" and distributed in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures.

Standing from left to right are: unidentified woman, director Sam Newfield, heroine Adrienne Doré, unidentified man, a very young Kenne Duncan (in hat and suit, and billed as Kenneth Duncan), unidentified woman, and Wheeler Oakman.

Left to right kneeling in the front row are: unidentified man, Charles Starrett, unidentified man (may be actor Eric Clavering; definitely not I. Stanford Jolley), and actor Phil Brandon (who portrayed one of the mounties).

Starrett recalled, "I was freelancing doing independent pictures from which I had gotten some good training in the business. I heard Columbia was looking for a western star to take the place of Tim McCoy. I got the job and when I signed the contract, I told them I didn't want to be 'typed' but would do films for two years. But they had a five year contract on me and picked up my option each time my contract was up. I tried breaking away from westerns (START CHEERING, Columbia, '38 with Jimmy Durante and The 3 Stooges), but the bosses kept telling me I was a 'box office name' which meant more money for the studio. I was making about $450 a week for 52 weeks while I was at Paramount; when I signed with Columbia my salary was $400, a drop of $50. I was a bit disturbed at first, but made up for it as the years went by and Columbia gave me a bump (raise) every year because my pictures were doing good." So good, in fact, that the 6'2" Starrett made 131 B-westerns for Columbia between 1935 (starting with GALLANT DEFENDER) and 1952 (his last was KID FROM BROKEN GUN), both a longevity and quantitative record for a western star at a single studio in a series. Between 1937-1952 he was among the top ten western moneymakers every year but one, 1943.

Oddly, Starrett's background was hardly that of a cowboy. Born March 28, 1903, in Athol, Massachusetts, Charles was the youngest of nine children of Frank and Lena Starrett. Father Frank was the son of Leroy Starrett, founder of the Starrett Precision Tool Company. Charlie attended Dartmouth College and played varsity football. In 1926, a Paramount film crew lensed a portion of THE QUARTERBACK with Richard Dix at Dartmouth, using the football squad for several scenes, and giving Starrett his first screen exposure. Upon graduation, he pursued an acting career, touring with a stock company for three years in the New England states. A Broadway play, CLAIRE ADAMS, brought him to the attention of a Paramount scout who arranged a screen test.

Athletic and handsome in his white Stetson, black shirt and long flowing scarf, Starrett was solidly entrenched at Columbia as their new western star and turned out top rated action westerns with titles like MYSTERIOUS AVENGER, STAMPEDE, TWO GUN LAW and OUTLAWS OF THE PRAIRIE. When Charlie began the series he approached the wardrobe man to ask about a scarf for his neck. Fifteen minutes later the costumer was back with a beautiful silk scarf. He'd taken a piece of silk from a nightgown Rita Hayworth used in a film. "It always blew beautifully in the breeze", Charlie recalled.

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above are Charles Starrett and the short and balding Art Mix (George Kesterson) sluggin' it out in Starrett's OUTLAWS OF THE PRAIRIE (Columbia, 1937).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Charles Starrett is about to get a pitchfork from Dick Curtis in a scene from WEST OF CHEYENNE (Columbia, 1938).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Charles Starrett, Iris Meredith and Sons of the Pioneers member Bob Nolan in SPOILERS OF THE RANGE (Columbia, 1939).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Hank Bell, with his customary moustache, Starrett, Kenneth MacDonald, Iris Meredith and Ed Cobb in SPOILERS OF THE RANGE (Columbia, 1939).

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