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Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.

Jim Mason

Full name:
James Pier Mason

1889 - 1959

Jim Mason - circa 1936

James Pier Mason was born in Paris, France in 1889. His family was wealthy and their home was Manhattan, New York.

His movie career began around 1915. In silent films, he did mostly credited roles in A and B grade mysteries, melodramas, costumers, etc. And he most often portrayed a heavy. Examples: he was featured in THE PENALTY (Goldwyn, 1920) with Lon Chaney; a pair with Will Rogers, JUBILO (Goldwyn, 1919) and THE STRANGE BOARDER (Goldwyn, 1920); and several with Douglas Fairbanks.

Tradepapers indicate that Mason worked on the Fairbanks film production team (along with Vester Pegg, Charlie Stevens, Frank Campeau, others). And he did villainy in silent westerns with William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, Buck Jones, more.

Above is a photo ad for James Mason in the "Heavies" section of the 1925 Standard Casting Directory (available at the Internet Archive).

When talkies arrived, he stayed busy, though film jobs were less substantial. During the 1930s, he was often employed as a henchman, ranch hand, etc. in oaters with Buck Jones, George O'Brien, William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy, more.

By 1940 or so, the 50+ year old Mason was greyer and less malevolent ... and moved into minor background roles as a townsman, saloon patron, etc. An example is barfly Mason in LUCKY CISCO KID (20th Century Fox, 1940).

His Hollywood career amounted to about 200 movies over a 35+ year period that ran from approximately 1915 - 1952. Les Adams has him identified in about 65 sound films - that number includes 60 westerns and a couple cliffhangers.

Hers's a few examples of Mason in 1930s:

  • In the Little Rascals' short FLY MY KITE (Hal Roach/MGM, 1931), slick and slippery Jim Mason is out to cheat lovable grandma out of her home and some hidden bonds. The Rascals beat him up badly. At the end, he's trapped on the top of a utility pole ... while the kids saw it down.
  • He's the boss baddie in the Buck Jones BORDER LAW (Columbia, 1931) ... and he's billed third behind Buck and leading lady Lupita Tovar.
  • He's "the dummy", a mute and scarfaced gang member working for Hooper Atchley and Creighton Chaney (Lon Chaney Jr.), in Tom Keene's SCARLET RIVER (RKO, 1933). He's billed as "James Mason" in the opening titles and credits.
  • He's a good guy ranch hand helping George O'Brien in THE DUDE COWBOY (Fox, 1934). He's billed as "James Mason".
  • He's a henchie working for Kenneth Thomson in HOPALONG CASSIDY (Harry Sherman Prod./Paramount, 1935). He's listed as "Jim Mason" in the opening titles and credits.
  • In the Hoppy adventure CALL OF THE PRAIRIE (Harry Sherman Prod./Paramount, 1936), he's a member of Al Bridge's gang and billed as "Jim Mason".
  • In THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (RKO, 1939), an older looking Mason draws his six-shooter on George O'Brien and Henry Brandon in the saloon scene. O'Brien shoots the gun out of Mason's hand. A very minor part and Mason is unbilled/uncredited in this one.

Above - Jim Mason in the mid 1930s.

The Internet Movie Database biography has Mason attending Cornell University (New York). And in the 1940 census, Mason reports two years of college attendance. Instead of Cornell in New York, Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity alumni records indicate that an early film actor from France named James Pier Mason was a member of the Iowa State chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa. There is a Cornell College in Iowa, and Mason may have attended there, or at another Iowa college or university. More at:

In August, 2014, I e-mailed the Alumni organizations at Cornell College (Mount Vernon, Iowa), Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa), and Cornell University (New York). They checked their records for a James Pier Mason/James P. Mason, etc. attending circa 1908 or so. Alas - nothing was found on him.

Suffering from heart problems, Mason passed away November 7, 1959 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles and is interred at at Valhalla Memorial Park.

There's an unanswered question about Mason which relates to his birth in Paris, France. Were his parents living there when he was born? Was he adopted?

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are an unidentified bartender (possibly Charles Kemper), Warner Richmond, Steve Clark, Jim Mason, Dave Sharpe, Archie Ricks and Bud Osborne in a scene from the Tom Keene oater, WHERE TRAILS DIVIDE (Monogram, 1937). This is a good one with lawyer Keene finding his brother - portrayed by the youthful Dave Sharpe - working in a gang run by Warner Richmond. In this, Mason is a henchie working for Richmond.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Jim Mason:

The Family Search website (free), California Death Index, and the death certificate have information on Jim Mason:

  • If the 1890 census was available, we'd probably learn more about Mason. That 1890 census was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - the family owns their home at 10 East 60th Street, Manhattan, New York. Must have been a wealthy family as there are five servants living there (butler, chamber maid, etc.). The Mason family consists of 60 year old George Pier (head of household; born New York), his 58 year old wife Camile Pier (born New York), and 22 year old nephew Homer Searls (born New York). Additional members are their daughter, son-in-law, and children: 45 year old James K. Mason (son-in-law; born New York), his 35 year old wife Kate E. Mason (born New York), 11 year old grandson James P. Mason (born Paris), and 10 year old granddaughter Gladys G. K. Mason (born New York). Grandson James P. Mason was born February, 1889 in Paris and is "at school". Occupation of George Pier, Homer Searls and and Jim Mason's father James K. Mason is "Brewer":
  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - 21 year old Pier Mason (born France) is single and living in Red Wing, Goodhue county, Minnesota:
    On the 1910 census takers worksheet, Mason's occupation is "Own Income". Wonder what that means? Go to:
    and the definition is: "The entry 'own income' should be made in the case of all persons who follow no specific occupation but have an independent income upon which they are living."
  • August 29, 1910 Minneapolis, Minnesota marriage license of James Pier Mason (of Hennepin County, Minnesota) to Lillian Ericson (of Goodhue County, Minnesota):
  • World War I draft registration dated June 5, 1917 - 28 year old James Pier Mason was born February 3, 1889 in Paris, France and is a Naturalized Citizen. He is married; resides at 1241 Vine Street, Los Angeles; occupation is "Moving picture actor" and employer is Lasky Feature Film Co., Vine and Sunset Blvd., Hollywood:
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 41 year old James Mason (born France) and 40 year old wife Lillian M. (born Minnesota) own their home at 4135 Madison Avenue, Culver City, California. Jim's occupation is "Actor - Movies", and he answers "No" to the are you a military veteran question:
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - 51 year old James Mason (born France) and 50 year old wife Lillian (born Minnesota) own their home at 4135 Madison Avenue, Culver City, California, and they lived there in 1935. Mason completed two years of college and is a Naturalized citzen. His occupation is "Extra Actor-Movie Studio", and in 1939, he worked 26 weeks and earned $2000.00:
  • World War II draft registration - 53 year old James Pier Mason was born February 3, 1889 in Paris, France. He is living at 4135 Madison Avenue, Culver City, California and occupation is "Motion Picture Studio (Free lance)". His contact is wife Lillian at that same address:
  • Death certificate - 70 year old James Pier Mason was born February 3, 1889 in France and passed away November 7, 1959 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Los Angeles. Occupation was "Actor-Free Lance-Motion Pictures"; his father was James K. Mason and mother's first name was unknown and her last name was Pier. Wife Lillian was the death certificate informant and they lived at 4135 Madison Avenue, Culver City, California. Mason had been under treatment for ten years for atherosclerosis, but primary cause of death was coronary thrombosis. Pierce Bros. Hollywood was the funeral director and burial at Valhalla Memorial Park.
  • California Death Index mirrors the death certificate - James Pier Mason, born February 3, 1889 in "Other Country" (meaning not the U.S.), Mother's maiden name of Pier, and he passed away November 7, 1959 in the Los Angeles area:

Long Island Genealogy website has info on Jim Mason and his parents, James Kent Mason and Katherine Evelyn Pier:

Find A Grave website has a photo of the grave marker for James P. Mason at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California:

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