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Reno Browne / Reno Blair

Real name: Josephine Ruth Clarke

1924 - 1991

In the 1940s, Monogram Pictures had several leading ladies who were proficient on horseback. Stunt woman and great rider Betty Miles worked with Tex Ritter, Tom Keene and the Trail Blazers. And ridin' wizard Evelyn Finley rode the cinema trails with Ritter, Keene, the Range Busters and Johnny Mack Brown. Another was Reno Blair / Reno Browne.

She was born Josephine Ruth Clarke on April 20, 1924 in Reno, Nevada, the only child of Moss Matilda Clarke (1897 - 1958) and John Robb Clarke (1887 - 1970), a wealthy divorce attorney who practiced in Reno for decades. Their large home at 25 Bret Harte Avenue in Reno was a Spanish style and the socially prominent family often entertained there. Lawyer Clarke bought the home in 1930 and it had an in-ground swimming pool. The property was sold circa 1971, about a year after Reno's father passed away.

Some biographies have her born in 1921. But April 20, 1924 is correct. The April 23, 1930 Society column in the Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette newspaper reported that "Josephine Ruth Clarke ... entertained several small friends on her sixth birthday at an Easter party at her home."

Family wealth brought many benefits to Ruth Clarke. Biographies, fan magazine tidbits, and newspaper articles have her taking ballet and piano lessons, high school at the Dominican Convent at San Rafael, California, obtaining a private pilots license, Civil Air Patrol membership, University of Nevada attendance, acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse, more. She loved horses and riding and settled on an acting career. And 1944 - 1946 were pivotal years - her first marriage was brief and ended in divorce; as "Reno Browne", she was crowned "Miss Reno Rodeo of 1945"; and using the screen name of "Reno Blair", she was signed by Monogram Pictures for their Johnny Mack Brown oaters.

As to her brief western movie career - during 1946 - 1950, she was busy at Monogram Pictures in westerns starring Johnny Mack Brown (in 6 films), Whip Wilson (6 films), and Jimmy Wakely (1 film). To minimize confusion with hero Johnny Mack Brown, her last name was changed to Blair. After her first five as Reno Blair, she returned to her Reno Browne moniker.

Her B western finale was Whip Wilson's GUNSLINGERS (Monogram, 1950) which was released in early April, 1950. A few weeks later, she turned 26 years old ... and her Hollywood career was over.

Bob Pontes interviewed her for the Summer, 1985 issue of Favorite Westerns and Serials Plus magazine from Kietzer Publishing. Some quotes from that interview:

  • "I had an agent in Hollywood who was in a barbershop getting a haircut and next to him was a man named Scotty Dunlap. Dunlap was looking for a girl for westerns who could ride horseback. The girl he had hired before had fallen off the horse. My agent told him about me and I went out for the interview and got the job." (Scott R. Dunlap was Vice President in charge of production at Monogram Pictures.)
  • "When I first signed, I was working with Johnny Mack Brown and (the studio) thought the public would think I was his daughter or something. So they made me use the name Blair. Funny though, his horse's name was Reno, so when I changed my last name to Blair they had to change his horse's name to Rebel."
  • Regarding Johnny Mack Brown and Whip Wilson: "I found those two the most gentlemanly people I have ever met. And I loved Johnny Mack Brown when he played the spoons. He used to get hold of a couple of spoons and make rhythms against his leg. It was so much fun to sit around and watch him do that and listen to him."
    "Those were entirely different people. Johnny was more eager and knew his craft very well since he had been active in westerns and motion pictures for many years.
    Whip "had quite a voice." and "was fairly new to the motion picture business but he was a quick learner." ; ... "my boss asked me to take him (Whip) out for a ride to see how he did. He rode pretty well except the horse ran away from him. After that, though, he had no trouble whatsoever with the horse."
  • Regarding Jimmy Wakely: "Jimmy was such a charming, quiet man with good humor and he had a beautiful voice. He was very warm-hearted to all he met, a grand human being. He looked larger than he was."
  • Interviewer Bob Pontes was unaware that Reno and Lash LaRue were married. "I had two husbands and I didn't have any children. I have stepchildren - Lash LaRue's children by a previous marriage - they still call me 'Mom'." She added that "he was a very nice man to me."

Hollywood performers got endorsement deals and Reno had a few. In 1944, she was finishing her Pasadena Playhouse time and searching for acting jobs. The Endura Home Permanent company hired her - and her long blonde hair. In print ads for Endura, she was "Boodie Pepper, Hollywood beauty and Reno socialite, has hair insured for $100,000 with Lloyds of London." Couple years later, she showed off her blonde tresses for Golden Glint shampoo. And wearing her western costume, Reno did ads for Hollywood Bread.

She holds the distinction of being the only B western actress - besides Dale Evans - to have her own comic book series. In 1950, Marvel / Medalion Publishing did three issues with photo covers and proclaimed her as "HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST COWGAL!".

There's a couple lengthy newspaper articles and interviews from late 1950 after her contract with Monogram ended. She wondered why Hollywood overlooked the cowgirl as the star and hero of a B western series. And she was ready to assume that role as "Queen of the Westerns", and mentioned plans for a TV show, radio program, etc. One article's headline was "Millionaire Cowgirl". A few quotes:

"Miss Browne, who lives alone and likes it, said she devotes most of her spare time to her fan club."

"The club has a quarterly magazine and chapters in every country outside the Iron Curtain. Its expenses are borne by the founder, Reno's father, who also bankrolled her house, private plane, automobiles and lavish wardrobe. Next to his daughter, he is most interested in seeing Reno Browne become 'Queen of the Westerns'. 'Dad is my No. 1 fan', she said."

".. she owns a $6,000 horse and at least one $15,000 saddle. 'Dad bought them,' she says. 'He wants me to make good in Westerns. It's clean, wholesome work for a girl.' "

"As the only child of a millionaire Nevada attorney and rancher, Reno (real name: Ruth Josephine Clark) lives in solitary grandeur in a $75,000 house her father bought her on a Laurel Canyon mountain top, owns a horse, an airplane, several cars and a closet stuffed with mink and bright-hued western outfits. Naturally, she doesn't have to ride the Hollywood range for a living. So she does it for another reason. 'I want to be Queen of the Westerns', she says."

Les Adams has Reno identified in fourteen B westerns, thirteen of which were for Monogram Pictures. Les also found an article in the pressbook for Whip Wilson's HAUNTED TRAILS (Monogram, 1949) which notes that she was the star (and creator) of her own thirteen episode transcribed radio series called "Reno Rides the Range" and her palomino horse was named 'Major'.

Not much exists on her "Reno Rides the Range" radio program. A transcription disc with partial episodes was recently discovered and the label has a 1949 copyright date and the creator was "RENO BROWNE PRODUCTIONS".

Another riddle are a couple 1950 recordings by "Reno Browne and Her Buckaroos" on the Cowboy Records label. However, Reno didn't do any singing on those tunes. The vocals were done by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen. Haley is best known for his group the Comets and "Rock Around the Clock".

Methinks (meaning conjecture) the radio show and those two records were financed by family money to enhance her chances of becoming "Queen of the Westerns". But Reno's timing was off and her dreams never came to fruition as the B grade western was nearing extinction by the early 1950s. (A cowgirl hero did occur a few years later when Gail Davis starred as TV's ANNIE OAKLEY for Gene Autry's Flying A production company.)

In the late 1940s through 1950s, she did guest appearances at events and theaters and also rode in parades and rodeo celebrations. Examples: 1949 was a very busy year as she was guest star at the Variety Club Rodeo in San Francisco; Grand Marshal of the Lamont Fall Festival parade (near Bakersfield, California); rode in the 1949 Pendleton, Oregon Roundup parade; and was Queen of the Klamath Falls, Oregon rodeo; in 1952, she's Queen of the 12th Annual Palm Springs Rodeo of the Stars.

In the 1950s, Reno moved back in Reno and lived with her parents at their Bret Harte Avenue home. And she became involved in several properties owned by the Clarkes - there was the El Ruth Court motel at 2251 West Fourth Street, and next door was the Circle RB Lodge at 2205 West Fourth Street. The lodge and motel were named for daughter Ruth Clarke / Reno Browne.

In Reno's Heyday: 1931-1991 (Arcadia Publishing, 2016), author David Lowndes mentions her running the El Ruth Court motel. A few quotes from his book: "Her parents owned a motel in Reno that was named for her called the El Ruth Court ..." ; "... brochure lists her as the managing director." ; "Reno Browne later married Western actor Lash LaRue, and they operated the motel together in the early 1960s."

Her second marriage was to Lash LaRue and they tied the knot on January 10, 1962 in Placer county, California which is about 100 miles southwest of Reno, Nevada. In the couple years they were together, the El Ruth Court was re-named "Lash LaRue's Lodge" and 1963 - 1964 Reno newspapers had "apartments for rent" ads. Unsure if and when they divorced ... or Lash simply disappeared from her life circa 1965. We do know that he was broke and arrested on a vagrancy charge in January, 1966 in Miami, Florida.

In the 1980s, Reno guested at a couple of western / nostalgia conventions. In 1987, there was a banquet celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Reno, Nevada Rodeo. Over a dozen of the former rodeo Queens attended the event including 1945 Queen Ruth Clarke / Reno Browne.

67 year old Josephine Ruth Clarke passed away from cancer on May 15, 1991 at the Physicians Hospital for Extended Care, Reno, Nevada.





1947




(Courtesy of Bill McCann)

Above - Whip Wilson and Reno Browne on the cover of Western Love #2 from September / October, 1949.



(Courtesy of Bill McCann)

Above - Reno on a cover from her brief comic book series in 1950 from Marvel / Medalion Publishing. Three issues were published and all had photo covers of her.



On January 10, 1962, Reno married Lash LaRue. They resided in Reno, Nevada and ran the Clarke family owned El Ruth Court motel which was re-named as "Lash LaRue's Lodge". January, 1964 newspaper want ad above.




(From Old Corral collection)
L-to-R are Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Reno Browne, and Whip Wilson.

Based on the "Introducing Rex Allen" sign in the left background, this has to be from 1950.

Dale Evans and Reno Browne were the only B western ladies to have their own comic book series.


Lash LaRue was re-united with ex-wife Josephine Ruth Clarke (Reno Browne / Reno Blair) at the 1987 Charlotte Film Fest.

She is ill from the cancer that would claim her life in 1991.

(Courtesy of Bill Sasser)



Reno Blair / Reno Browne westerns.
Name change to "Reno Blair" (to avoid confusion with hero Johnny Mack Brown):

  • UNDER ARIZONA SKIES (Monogram, 1946) with Johnny Mack Brown
  • THE GENTLEMAN FROM TEXAS (Monogram, 1946) with Johnny Mack Brown
  • RAIDERS OF THE SOUTH (Monogram, 1947) with Johnny Mack Brown
  • THE LAW COMES TO GUNSIGHT (Monogram, 1947) with Johnny Mack Brown
  • FRONTIER AGENT (Monogram, 1948) with Johnny Mack Brown

Billed as Reno Browne:

  • WEST OF EL DORADO (Monogram, 1949) with Johnny Mack Brown
  • SHADOWS OF THE WEST (Monogram, 1949) with Whip Wilson
  • ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE (Monogram, 1949) with Jimmy Wakely
  • HAUNTED TRAILS (Monogram, 1949) with Whip Wilson
  • RIDERS OF THE DUSK (Monogram, 1949) with Whip Wilson
  • RANGE LAND (Monogram, 1949) with Whip Wilson
  • FENCE RIDERS (Monogram, 1950) with Whip Wilson
  • GUNSLINGERS (Monogram, 1950) with Whip Wilson

Not at Monogram:

  • RED ROCK OUTLAW (Raymond Friedgen, 1949 or 1950); ultra low budget mess starring Bob Gilbert



"Reno Rides the Range" radio show ... and the two records with Bill Haley. All of this occurs in 1949 - 1950 when she was pushing to become a B western hero and "Queen of the Westerns".
Alas - there was no trace of her "Reno Rides the Range" radio show in:

  • Handbook of Old-Time Radio, A Comprehensive Guide to Golden Age Radio Listening and Collecting (Scarecrow Press, 1993) by Jon D. Swartz and Robert C. Reinehr
  • On the Air, The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio (Oxford Press, 1998) by John Dunning
  • Radio Rides the Range - A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929-1967 (McFarland, 2014) by Jack French and David S. Siegel
  • J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website at: http://radiogoldindex.com/

But there is some good news. You'll find links below and you can listen to a couple partial broadcasts which were recently discovered. These were on a 16 inch transcription disc and the label has a photo of her and her trusty steed Major ... along with RENO BROWNE PRODUCTIONS and a 1949 copyright date. Looks like she created and financed the program on her own - perhaps to enhance her personal appearances and touring ... or hoping the series would be picked up for syndication as part of her dream to become "Queen of the Westerns".

Rand's Esoteric OTR website is a treasure trove of old radio transcriptions. He obtained a 16 inch red vinyl transcription disc with two partial broadcasts from RENO RIDES THE RANGE. You can view the label and listen to the second half of both programs at:
     Program 3, Part 2: https://randsesotericotr.podbean.com/e/reno-rides-the-range-pgm-3-part-2/
     Program 4, Part 2: https://randsesotericotr.podbean.com/e/reno-rides-the-range-pgm-4-part-2/

Circa late 1950, there were two songs released on the Cowboy Records label featuring "Reno Browne and her Buckaroos".

Reno does not sing on either "My Sweet Little Girl From Nevada" or "My Palomino And I". The vocalist is Bill Haley, later of the Comets and "Rock Around the Clock" fame. Indications are that these were the last - or among the last recordings from Cowboy Records which went belly-up in the early 1950s.

"My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada" has Braun - Reber - Davis as the song writers, and you can view the label and listen to the tune on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaAkzyMf6b0&feature=youtu.be

"My Palomino and I" has the writers as Reno Browne - Bill Lennerts, and is also available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRtJM_bRHTk&feature=youtu.be

Both song titles are listed at the BMI website. However, the writing credits aren't the names listed on the record labels: https://repertoire.bmi.com/




(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

From L-to-R are Max Terhune, Johnny Mack Brown and Reno Browne in WEST OF EL DORADO (Monogram, 1949).



(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

From L-to-R are Johnny Mack Brown, Max Terhune, Reno Browne, and Teddy Infuhr in another still from WEST OF EL DORADO (Monogram, 1949).



(From Old Corral collection)

Left to right are Andy Clyde, Reno Browne and Whip Wilson in a still from HAUNTED TRAILS (Monogram, 1949).




(From Old Corral collection)

From L-to-R are Kenne Duncan, Andy Clyde, Riley Hill and Reno Browne in a still from the Whip Wilson SHADOWS OF THE WEST (Monogram, 1949).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Reno did one oater with Jimmy Wakely, ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE (Monogram, 1949).



Links


  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Reno Browne: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0115066/

Sunset Carson and producer/director/friend Jerry Whittington were developing a TV series when Sunset passed away. There were dozens of interviews with B western personalities and most were filmed circa 1982 at Movieland Frontier Town, Colton, California. Sunset's interview with Reno Browne is on YouTube and will open in a separate window / tab: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7gNm8PxG-k

If you're on Facebook, the Nevada Historical Society has Reno's gun and gunbelt, a brochure (with her photo) for the El Ruth Court motel, and sheet music cover for "My Sweet Little Girl from Nevada": https://www.facebook.com/222667994385/posts/history-detective-post-todays-post-showcases-one-of-nevadas-actors-reno-browne-w/10154383613744386/

More on the Circle RB lodge and restaurant which was owned by Reno's attorney father: https://karlbreckenridge.com/2014/11/19/the-early-neighborhood-on-west-fourth-street/

Current photo of the El Ruth Court at 2251 West Fourth Street, Reno Nevada via Google Maps / Street View. It's now the Tombstone Territory motel. This will open in a separate window / tab: https://www.google.com/maps/place/2251+W+4th+St,+Reno,+NV+89503/@39.5226588,-119.8393197,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1stX6CuNUVK1Hucmw4g8fVNw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo3.ggpht.com%2Fmaps%2Fphotothumb%2Ffd%2Fv1%3Fbpb%3DCiwKKnNlYXJjaC5nd3MtcHJvZC9tYXBzL2xvY2FsLWRldGFpbHMtZ2V0Y2FyZBJmCjgJZ5_ASNRGmYARFGwUxRJ1JrcaJAsQ04W4QhobEhkKFAoSCWefwEjURpmAEYx0bTidjCd3EMsRDBIKDQOujhcV8vqRuBoSCWtwluOvRpmAETDvKkcV0dKpKgoNQrmOFxVf85G4GgQIVhBW%26gl%3DUS!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x809946d448c09f67:0xb7267512c5146c14!8m2!3d39.5229506!4d-119.8394529?hl=en

Current photo of what once was the Circle RB Lodge at 2205 West Fourth Street, Reno Nevada via Google Maps / Street View. It's now the Micasa Too! Mexican restaurant. This will open in a separate window / tab: https://www.google.com/maps/place/2205+W+4th+St,+Reno,+NV+89503/@39.5227906,-119.8390009,3a,75y,342.55h,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1scW9qSu5ITWoTCWykqwEvig!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo3.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DcW9qSu5ITWoTCWykqwEvig%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dsearch.gws-prod%2Fmaps%2Flocal-details-getcard.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D86%26h%3D86%26yaw%3D342.55008%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x809946d438f2e9ad:0xaa73112e90c2ac4f!8m2!3d39.5230145!4d-119.8390868?hl=en

The Historic Reno Preservation Society has a photo and details on the Clarke home at 25 Bret Harte Avenue from their 2015 Hall of Fame. This link will download a pdf file, and scroll down for the photo and details on the Clarke home which was sold circa 1971, about a year after Mr. Clarke passed away: http://www.historicreno.org/media/custom/docs/2015HoHProgram.pdf

or, you can check their website and click on year 2015: http://www.historicreno.org/index.php/tours/harvest-of-homes/hall-of-fame

Postcard of Reno Browne, "Queen of the Westerns", showing her next to a single engine plane: https://www.cardcow.com/773538/reno-browne-queen-westerns-actresses/

In 1950, several newspaper articles highlighted Reno and her desire to become a B western hero ... and she was planning on a TV series, radio, etc. The Library of Congress website has one of those 1950 articles on her career and plans: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1950-10-22/ed-1/seq-59/

The Reno Rodeo website has Reno Browne as "Miss Reno Rodeo" for 1945: https://renorodeo.com/about/history/miss-reno-rodeo-1920-2018/

Reno was a guest star at the 1951 Clovis, California Roundup and Rodeo: https://www.clovisroundup.com/lets-talk-clovis-time-rodeo/

Her short-lived comic book series from 1950 is covered at the Grand Comics Database (GCD): https://www.comics.org/series/740/covers/


On the trail of Josephine Ruth Clarke / Reno Blair / Reno Browne


The Newspaper Archive, Library of Congress newspaper archive, trade / movie fan publications, and other sources had many articles on she and her parents, her two marriages, more. Below are some highlights, quotes and timelines:

The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), Nevada Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and newspapers provide more on our B western leading lady:

Find A Grave website notes that Reno Browne and her parents are interred at Mountain View Cemetery, Reno, Nevada:
     Josephine Ruth 'Reno Browne' Clarke (1924 - 1991): https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/131182414
     John Robb Clarke (1887 - 1970): https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54313907
     Moss Matilda Edwards Clarke (1897 - 1958): https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/131182342



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