(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above - Max during his days as a Range Buster and wearing the gunbelt that Eddie Dean made for him. Elmer Sneezeweed is sitting in Ray Corrigan's saddle.
|Special Thanks to Minard Coons for providing many of these wonderful photos and clippings of his friend, Max Terhune ... and to Tracy Terhune, Max's grandson, for helping with photo captions, dates and information about his grandfather and the Terhune family ... and to Ed Cassada for sharing some great family photos.|
Robert Max Terhune was born February 12, 1891 in the family home in Amity, Indiana, a small community located near Franklin, Indiana. Max would spend most of the first thirty years of his life in the Hoosier state. On his World War I draft registration from 1917, Max was still in Franklin, Indiana and employed as a laborer for the Dairy Cream Separator Company in Lebanon, Indiana. In the 1920s, Max worked at the Delco-Remy plant in Anderson, Indiana, where he played baseball (pitching) in the evenings for the Delco-Remy team. After several years of courtship, Max and Maude Cassada married on December 15, 1922 in Muncie, Indiana. There were three children - daughter Doris Maxine was born in 1923, son Robert Max Jr. in 1928, and son Donald Roltaire arrived in 1930.
Max honed his skills in ventriloquism, card tricks, birdcalls, and barnyard critter sounds on the vaudeville circuit during the 1920s, and there's a few newspaper indications he was doing this even earlier. Circa 1932, he joined the National Barn Dance radio program which was broadcast on Saturday evenings over Chicago's WLS radio station. Max and the Barn Dance members not only worked the radio show but also performed in Barn Dance traveling groups that played theaters, auditoriums, and county and state fairs throughout the Midwest. Based on photos and info published in the annual WLS Family Album magazines, Max was with the Barn Dance from late 1932 through mid 1936. During that period, he became friends with another Barn Dance performer named Gene Autry.
(Courtesy of Ed Cassada)
(Courtesy of Ed Cassada)
(Courtesy of Minard Coons and Tracy Terhune)
Above - Chicago radio station WLS had the National Barn Dance, and their star performers were doing shows on the road. On the far left, with the light colored suit and cowboy hat is Gene Autry. Seated in the bottom row are Max Terhune, wearing suspenders and fanning a deck of cards. To his left and wearing the cowboy hat is Lester Alvin 'Smiley' Burnette. The two ladies wearing the vests and cowboy hats are Millie Good (Mildred Fern Good; 1913-1993) and Dolly Good (Dorothy Laverne Good; 1915-1967), and they billed themselves as "The Girls of the Golden West". There's more details along with a closeup of the performers on a subsequent webpage.
In 1934, Autry moved to California where he did some bit roles in a Ken Maynard feature and serial for Nat Levine at Mascot Pictures. He then starred in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935) chapterplay, and soon after, became part of the newly formed Republic Pictures company. Gene suggested that Terhune come to Hollywood, but Max was hesitant about uprooting himself and family. But sometime in 1936, the Terhune clan made the move to sunny California.
Max's first film role occurred in Gene's RIDE, RANGER, RIDE (Republic, 1936) which was released in September, 1936. Max and dummy Elmer were among the many performers in Autry's THE BIG SHOW (Republic, 1936). Released in November 1936, THE BIG SHOW ran for 70 minutes and had Gene in a dual role against the backdrop of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. Max's first as Three Mesquiteer 'Lullaby' Joslin was GHOST TOWN GOLD (Republic, 1936) which was released in October, 1936.
Max must have impressed the brass at Republic Pictures as he was signed to a contract. The deal was mentioned in the August 27, 1936 Film Daily tradepaper: "Max Terhune, vaudevillian for a score of years, has been signed to a long term contract by President Nat Levine of Republic. He will be featured as the comedy member of the 'Three Mesquiteers' team, a cowboy trio ..."
Max's Term Player contract(s) ran from September 25, 1936 to March 24, 1939. While his primary job was playing 'Lullaby' Joslin in the Three Mesquiteers, Republic utilized him in a few other films. During his stay, he became close friends with another member of the Mesquiteers, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan.
Autry had signed a contract with Nat Levine and Mascot in 1934, and they were part of the mergers that formed the new Republic Pictures company. Levine became Republic President and production boss and was in charge of their western and serial output. Methinks that Levine understood that Max had a large fan following, especially to Midwesterners who tuned in to the Barn Dance program every Saturday evening. And that fanbase would generate ticket sales for the Mesquiteers series. Methinks also that Terhune's name recognition was equal to or greater than his Mesquiteer co-stars, Bob Livingston and Ray Corrigan. Good probability that Autry was also doing some "cheerleading" for Max.
It was during those early days at Republic that Max's "Skully" became "Elmer Sneezeweed". The story goes that someone at Republic didn't like the name "Skully" (and my guess is that it was Nat Levine who requested the name change).
Terhune appeared in twenty-one consecutive Mesquiteers adventures and then he was out of the trio and gone from Republic. His last was THREE TEXAS STEERS (Republic, 1939) which starred John Wayne and Corrigan. The studio opted not to renew Terhune's contract ... or Republic wouldn't give Max a raise and he decided to leave. Screen veteran Raymond Hatton replaced him in the Mesquiteers as 'Rusty Joslin'. Corrigan had similar money and contract problems, and he also exited Republic after completing a couple more of the trio adventures. A few years later, both men were in the Range Busters series. Terhune would appear in all twenty-four of those films which were released by Monogram during 1940-1943. In the late 1940s, he would become the trail pard to Johnny Mack Brown, also at Monogram.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the title lobby card from GHOST TOWN GOLD (Republic, 1936), the second Three Mesquiteers adventure and the first with Max Terhune (and his dummy Elmer). Max is billed third, behind Bob Livingston and Ray Corrigan. Notice that all three get the same size lettering in the credits.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from left to right are Max Terhune (as Lullaby Joslin), Bob Livingston (as Stony Brooke), and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan (as Tucson Smith) in the Three Mesquiteers adventure HIT THE SADDLE (Republic, 1937). The pretty lady is Rita Cansino (a few years before a name change to Rita Hayworth).
HIT THE SADDLE is a good example of how Terhune's talents were integrated into the Mesquiteers adventures: around the 7 1/2 minute mark, he does hog calls; around 30 minutes into the film, he and Elmer do a routine at the cantina bar; and there's more critter sounds around the 53 minute mark.
(From Old Corral image collection)
THREE TEXAS STEERS (Republic, 1939) was Terhune's last as a member of the Three Mesquiteers. No question that Wayne is the lead and star - check out the size of the lettering.