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Lane Chandler

Real name: Robert Clinton Oakes

1899 - 1972

Middle name is often noted as "Chandler"

Recent info confirms his middle name was "Clinton"

(Courtesy of Jack Jones)
Chandler, circa 1928

(From Old Corral image collection)

While under contract to Paramount in the late 1920s, the tall, lanky Chandler was competing for stardom with Gary Cooper. Above - the "It" girl, Clara Bow is being romanced by Lane Chandler in RED HAIR (Paramount, 1928).  Bow married Rex Bell, cowboy star of the 1920s - 1930s, who later became Lt. Governor of Nevada.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Lane Chandler, 1950s

Special thanks to guest commentator Bill Russell for authoring the biography on Lane Chandler.

It's often been said that if Gary Cooper hadn't come along, Lane Chandler might have been the major male star at Paramount Studios. At one point it was a toss-up at Paramount who would get the leading man role. Cooper obviously won out, but Chandler came close.

There were similarities. Both were tall and rangy (6' 2" or thereabouts), both had Montana connections (Cooper was born there; Lane grew up there), there was less than two years difference in age, both had deep, resonant voices quite attuned to the prairie, and both may have attended Montana Wesleyan College. But Cooper apparently had that extra ingredient that propelled him to major stardom. Nevertheless, Lane Chandler was certainly a star in his own right.

He was born Robert C. Oakes on June 4, 1899 in South Dakota, although some sources list Culbertson, Montana as his place of birth. His death certificate, however, states he was born in South Dakota. His family later moved to Culbertson where his father raised horses and young Lane received his early education.  He reportedly enrolled at Montana Wesleyan College for a short time before leaving to take a job as a tour bus driver at Yellowstone National Park. (On a subsequent webpage, you'll find lots of newly discovered info on Chandler including family details and census information. He was born in North Dakota. But the Oakes family moved often - from North Dakota to South Dakota to Wisconsin ... and in the late 1910s, they were in Montana.)

Eventually, he found himself in Los Angeles and was working as a mechanic when he was signed as a contract player by Paramount. Because of his Western background, he probably appeared in a number of unbilled Westerns as a bit player until 1927 when he was given his one and only lead in a silent western, OPEN RANGE, with Betty Bronson. After that, Chandler made no further Westerns for the studio, which apparently felt he was more suited for leading man roles in romantic/comedy vehicles.

The year 1928 was a busy one for Lane Chandler. Following OPEN RANGE, Paramount cast him opposite two of their biggest stars, Esther Ralston and Clara Bow. He had good supporting roles in LEGION OF THE CONDEMNED and THE FIRST KISS, both of which starred Cooper, whom Chandler would frequently work with in the coming years. He also appeared to good advantage in THE BIG KILLING, with the then popular comedy team of Wallace Berry and Raymond Hatton. In 1929 he appeared in his first sound film, THE STUDIO MURDER MYSTERY, with Fredric March and Doris Hill. Several years later, Miss Hill would be Chandler's leading lady in two of the Willis Kent Westerns.

Paramount now realized that with Cooper, Richard Arlen, March, and Neil Hamilton, it had too many leading men on the roster, and during an economy move, Chandler was dropped.  He made one film at MGM with Greta Garbo, THE SINGLE STANDARD, which also featured Nils Asher and John Mack Brown (before his Western starring days), and supported Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in THE FORWARD PASS (First National). Playing a minor role in the latter film was Allan Lane, who would appear as an important Western star at Republic years later.

Lane then went free-lancing and was able to land the lead in an early Big 4 Western, FIREBRAND JORDAN, Chandler's first Western of the sound era. Although a cheapie production, it featured a good supporting cast that included Yakima Canutt, Tom London, Frank Yaconelli and Cliff 'Tex' Lyons. Then came another independent effort produced and directed by Robert Emmett Tansey entitled RIDERS OF THE RIO, released by an outfit called Round-Up Pictures.

Further free-lancing during those early days of sound found Chandler playing a detective in a crime drama, ROUGH WATERS, basically a vehicle for the great canine star, Rin-Tin-Tin, directed by John Daumery, two more independently produced Westerns released in 1930 by Syndicate Pictures, BEYOND THE LAW and UNDER TEXAS SKIES, the latter a somewhat bizarre tale that starred Bob Custer, with Bill Cody and Chandler lending support. Both were directed by the prolific J. P. McGowan, who seemed to be just about everywhere in those days.

In 1931, Chandler signed with independent producer Willis Kent (who would later make a series starring Reb Russell) for a group of eight, beginning with THE HURRICANE HORSEMAN.  Directed by Armand Schaefer, who produced many of the Gene Autry pictures and scripted by Oliver Drake, it was a good start for the tall, handsome, resonant-voiced cowboy.

CHEYENNE CYLONE followed, another Schaefer/Drake effort with a good supporting cast that included young Frankie Darro, then came BATTLING BUCKAROO, another good one by the Schaefer/Drake team and featuring ingenue Doris Hill, who graced a number of Westerns in the late 20's and early 30's but seemingly disappeared after appearing in a Bud N Ben short (THE RIDIN' GENT) in 1934. Interestingly, BATTLING BUCKAROO also has former silent star Bill Patton in a small role. He had starred in a picture in 1926 under the same title.

The Kent series would continue with GUNS FOR HIRE, a fairly routine entry directed by Lewis Collins but still scripted by Drake. Directorial duties on the series would alternate between Schaefer, McGowan, and Lew Collins. It was followed by LAWLESS VALLEY and RECKLESS RIDER, with Neal Hart and Franklyn Farnum supporting, and TEXAS TORNADO, a yarn set in modern-day period with Chandler as a Texas Ranger going up against crooks wielding 'Tommy' guns (Thompson .45 calibre submachine gun, originally designed for the military but a favorite of Prohibition era gangsters and used in the Chicago St. Valentine's Day massacre).

With the release of WYOMING WHIRLWIND in late 1932, Chandler's series with Kent came to an end.

For the '34-'35 season, Lane was selected as star of 'The Phantom Rider' series, a projected six-film package from Kinematrade with distribution by Empire Pictures. Only the first two were made (THE LONE BANDIT and THE OUTLAW TAMER), both of which featured strong casts and given high marks for a B-Western.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Sherry Tansey is about to take a board to Chandler who is poundin' away on an unidentified player in a lobby card from the lost/missing RIDERS OF THE RIO (Round-Up Pictures, 1931).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Richard 'Dick' Cramer has his grip on Gertrude Messinger while Chandler looks on in this title card from LAWLESS VALLEY (Willis Kent, 1932). A few years after the Chandler oaters, Willis Kent signed Northwestern University fullback Lafayette H. 'Reb' Russell to a contract for a series of western flicks.

After that Chandler began his long career in countless support roles. Among his best was a third-lead entry in the John Wayne starrer, WINDS OF THE WASTELAND, a Republic picture which this author feels is one of the best B-Westerns made. Chandler turns in a solid performance. He had appeared with Wayne in 1933 in the Monogram/Lone Star production, SAGEBRUSH TRAIL. That same year, Chandler had contributed solid performances in two Jack Hoxie Majestic Pictures (TROUBLE BUSTERS and VIA PONY EXPRESS) and supported Tom Tyler in Monarch's WAR OF THE RANGE.

Serials also played an important part in Chandler's career, although he starred in only one, the 1930 LIGHTNING EXPRESS, a sound remake of the Wallace MacDonald 1927 cliffhanger, WHISPERING SMITH RIDES. He could be seen in numerous other serials during the 30's but the most notable and best remembered was his role as 'Dick Forrest' in Republic's all-time classic serial, THE LONE RANGER. That same year Chandler had a featured role as 'Davy Crockett' in Sunset Productions' HEROES OF THE ALAMO.

But by now it was all support work for Chandler, who was developing into one of the most effective support actors in Hollywood, portraying all sorts of different characters, good and bad. Sometimes he was credited and sometimes he wasn't but in each his strong, forceful portrayal came through. He was a favorite of Cecil B. deMille and the noted director used him in many of his films. Chandler is reported to have once stated in an interview that while the parts were small, his favorite roles were those he played in deMille pictures.

With television looming on the horizon, Chandler, who had survived the transition from silent to sound, now made his move into television. In 1949 he made his first appearance in a TV Western when he appeared in an early episode of THE LONE RANGER. He would appear in numerous TV Westerns throughout the 50's and 60's.

His last big-screen appearance occurred in 1971 with release of Universal's ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB, starring George Peppard. Before that he had appeared in Alex Gordon's nostalgic REQUIEM FOR A GUNFIGHTER ('65) which starred Rod Cameron but included a bevy of former genre stars.

Off screen, Chandler was considered an 'astute businessman', having an interest in a metal parts manufacturing company and a ranch in the 29 Palms area of California, which he reportedly sub-divided.

On September 14, 1972, Lane Chandler died in Los Angeles at the age of 73.

The variety of roles and number of pictures Chandler played in is staggering (in the neighborhood of 300 or more if you include the unbilled ones). One can only wonder why Chandler, who really had all the assets of a leading cowboy star, including superb acting capabilities, didn't get more starring work, especially when you consider his fine work with Hoxie, Wayne, Tyler and others. Western producer Alex Gordon has said that Chandler lost out to Tom Tyler for a series that Reliable made between 1934-36, a loss that might have enabled him to continue as a Western hero for a few more years.

The Motion Picture Herald and BoxOffice trade magazine polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. With a few exceptions, the annual results would list the 'Top Ten' (or 'Top Five') cowboy film stars. In most cases, the winners were what you would expect --- Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc. These polls did not begin until 1936, which was past Lane Chandler's period as a western film hero.

Les Adams has Chandler identified in over 300 sound era films, and this includes 130 westerns and 35 serials.

Lane Chandler
Starring roles --- westerns and serials
Sound films only
Special thanks to Les Adams for providing this filmography

Title Company Director Leading
1/28/30 FIREBRAND JORDAN Big 4 Alvin J. Neitz (Alan James) Aline Goodwin Firebrand Jordan
12/1/30 RIDERS OF THE RIO Round-Up Robert Emmett Tansey Karla Cowan Unknown
4/30/30 THE LIGHTNING EXPRESS (Serial) Universal Pictures Henry MacRae Louise Lorraine Jack Venable
10/11/31 HURRICANE HORSEMAN Kent Prod Armand Schaefer Marie Quillan Gun Smith
12/15/31 CHEYENNE CYCLONE Kent Prod Armand Schaefer Marie Quillan Bob Carlton
2/11/32 BATTLING BUCKAROO Kent Prod. Armand Schaefer Doris Hill Jack Winslow
4/1/32 TEXAS TORNADO Kent Prod Oliver Drake Doris Hill Tex Robbins
5/1/32 LAWLESS VALLEY Kent Prod J. P. McGowan Gertrude Messinger Bob Rand
7/1/32 RECKLESS RIDER, THE Kent Prod Armand Schaefer Phyllis Barrington Tex Wilkins
9/1/32 GUNS FOR HIRE Kent Prod Lewis Collins Sally Darling (Djarling) Ken Wayne/Flip LaRue
12/30/32 WYOMING WHIRLWIND, THE Kent Prod Armand Schaefer Adele Tracy Keene (The Wolf) Wallace
2/1/35 LONE BANDIT, THE Empire J. P. McGowan Doris Brook Lane Cartwright
3/15/35 OUTLAW TAMER , THE Empire J. P. McGowan Janet Morgan (Blanche MeHaffey) Tex Broderick
8/6/37 HEROES OF THE ALAMO Sunset Prod. Harry Fraser n/a Davy Crockett

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