|The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.|
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Sunset Carson is about to tangle with Weldon Heyburn (on the left) in CODE OF THE PRAIRIE (Republic, 1944). Check out Sunset's gunbelt with the butts forward. Also note the tape wrapped around the grip on Heyburn's six-shooter. Heyburn was about forty years old when he did this western.
Above from the March, 1932 issue of New Movie magazine (available at the Internet Archive).
Full name: Weldon Heyburn Franks
Biographies on Weldon Heyburn are confusing - some have him born in 1903, 1904 or 1910 in Washington D. C.
Weldon Heyburn Franks was born in 1903. Other information indicates that his birth place MAY be Delaware City, Delaware which is about 110 miles northeast of Washington D. C.
His parents were Marie Pierce and Wyatt G. Franks, and father Wyatt was in U.S. government service and a U. S. Army officer. Son Weldon served (briefly) in the U. S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. Both father and son are interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Weldon studied law at the University of Alabama, and is listed in their 1924 yearbook as a member of the Class of 1925. Unsure of his graduation as he shows up as the lead in "Honors Are Even", a play which opened Labor Day, 1924 in Lynn, Massachusetts. Perhaps the "acting bug" overruled his law school and college plans.
His stage career continued off and on for over twenty years. In his early years, he did stock theater which included a run as "Abie" in one of the many touring companies of "Abie's Irish Rose". In 1927, he was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with the Anne Bronaugh Players. And in 1928 and 1929, he was doing leading man duties at the Temple and Empire Theaters in Syracuse, New York. His Broadway debut occurred circa 1928.
Hollywood noticed his theater work and Heyburn signed with Fox in 1931 where he did mostly featured roles. Example: he portrayed "Abdulah" in the Bela Lugosi and Edmund Lowe CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, 1932). His first western was the George O'Brien THE GAY CABALLERO (Fox, 1932). Heyburn was good looking and had a fine voice - and trade papers and fan magazines compared him to MGM's Clark Gable - see photo right.
Weldon and another Fox contractee, Greta Nissen, starred in THE SILENT WITNESS (Fox, 1932). They married in 1932 and there were many newspaper and trade blurbs on their troubled relationship. Hans Wollstein provided more on Greta and Weldon:
"Heyburn signed a contract with FOX circa 1931. The following year, he played the juvenile lead in THE SILENT WITNESS (Fox, 1932) opposite Norwegian-born actress Greta Nissen. The couple fell in love and were married March 30, 1932 in a ceremony in Tijuana, Mexico. Wedded bliss was apparently shortlived and they separated in 1934 - but not before co-starring in the low-budget HIRED WIFE (Pinnacle Prod., 1933). In 1936, Nissen was granted an annulment. "We were much better suited as friends", she explained to the press. Nissen of course is known to B-Western fans for her role opposite George O'Brien in LIFE IN THE RAW (Fox, 1933), and to everyone for her being replaced by Jean Harlow in the sound version of HELL'S ANGELS (1930)."
Greta and Weldon were together in one other film, The HIRED WIFE (Pinnacle Prod., 1933), which was lensed at the Kennedy Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida.
After his time at Fox, Heyburn was (briefly) at Warners. In late 1935, he was back in New York City starring in "I Want a Policeman" at the Lyceum Theater. Early 1936, he returned to Hollywood for a short stint with MGM.
Though hailed as another Clark Gable, Tinseltown stardom was not in the cards for Weldon Heyburn. He was freelancing by the late 1930s, picking up starring and heavy roles at Monogram, Grand National, Republic, Columbia, others. During this period, he got meaty roles in a few westerns - there was Gene Autry's GIT ALONG LITTLE DOGIES (Republic, 1937) and the excellent MYSTERIOUS RIDER (Paramount, 1938), which starred Douglas Dumbrille and Russell Hayden and was crafted by Hopalong Cassidy producer Harry 'Pop' Sherman.
To fans of the western, Weldon Heyburn is probably best remembered in a batch of B westerns released during 1940-1946 from Paramount, Monogram, Republic and Columbia. These were:
|THE TRAIL BLAZERS||Three Mesquiteers||Republic, 1940|
|IN OLD COLORADO||Hopalong Cassidy||Paramount, 1941|
|STICK TO YOUR GUNS||Hopalong Cassidy||Paramount, 1941|
|THE ROUNDUP||Richard Dix||Paramount, 1941|
|CODE OF THE OUTLAW||Three Mesquiteers||Republic, 1942|
|ROCK RIVER RENEGADES||Range Busters||Monogram, 1942|
|BLAZING GUNS||Trail Blazers||Monogram, 1943|
|OVERLAND MAIL ROBBERY||Wild Bill Elliott||Republic, 1943|
|DEATH VALLEY MANHUNT||Wild Bill Elliott||Republic, 1943|
|DEATH VALLEY RANGERS||Trail Blazers||Monogram, 1943|
|WESTWARD BOUND||Trail Blazers||Monogram, 1944|
|THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS||Roy Rogers||Republic, 1944|
|BORDERTOWN TRAIL||Sunset Carson||Republic, 1944|
|CODE OF THE PRAIRIE||Sunset Carson||Republic, 1944|
|FRONTIER GUNLAW||Charles Starrett||Columbia, 1946|
There were other B grade films during those years. Examples: he was a detective in the Sidney Toler CHARLIE CHAN IN THE CHINESE CAT (Monogram, 1944) and the head of an expedition looking for a jungle fever cure in the dreadful JUNGLE MAN (PRC, 1941) which starred Buster Crabbe. He also did a brief hitch in the U. S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, serving from May 18, 1942 through his April 9, 1943 discharge.
Heyburn's screen credits run from the early 1930s until shortly before his death in 1951. In total, he did about 70 movies and about twenty were A and B grade oaters scattered over the years 1932-1946. He did no serials.
Circa 1946, his work load drops to near zero which may indicate the start of medical/health issues. In late 1949, a newspaper article noted that Heyburn was in a Birmingham hospital awaiting surgery. Alas - I found no follow-up articles with more details on his hospital stay.
Some Heyburn biographies tag him with a drinking problem. However, in reviewing dozens of newspaper and trade articles for this profile, I found no mention of alcohol abuse.
Suffering from cancer, Weldon Heyburn passed away on May 19, 1951 at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Sawtelle (Los Angeles). According to his death certificate, he had been a patient at Sawtelle for nearly a year. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery next to his father, Wyatt G. Franks.
In reviewing his life and career, we must include marriages, divorces and romantic entanglements. In addition to Greta Nissen, there were three other wives. In the mid 1920s, Weldon and English born actress Phyllis Connard did stock theater with the Mack Players in Lynn, Massachusetts. They married in 1924 and divorced in 1926. The marriage to Greta Nissen ran from 1932-1936. A few days after the official split from Nissen, Heyburn wed New York socialite Jane Eichelberger and were together until 1939. Then came a September, 1939 marriage to another east coast socialite, Virginia Maggard. Unsure when Heyburn and Virginia went their separate ways, but he was divorced when he enlisted in the Army in May, 1942. There were newspaper reports of romances with actress Grace Brinkley, a Portland, Oregon debutante named Dorothy McCallam, more.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from left to right are Harry Davenport, Heyburn and Anne Nagel - from the pressbook for SALESLADY (Monogram, 1938).
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from left to right are Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Weldon Heyburn, Carl Mathews, Max 'Alibi' Terhune, Frank Ellis and John 'Dusty' King in a scene from the Range Busters adventure ROCK RIVER RENEGADES (Monogram, 1942).
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is the title lobby card for BORDERTOWN TRAIL (Republic, 1944) which starred Smiley Burnette and Sunset Carson. Weldon Heyburn is wearing the suit. Heyburn did another with Sunset and Smiley, CODE OF THE PRAIRIE (Republic, 1944).
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Weldon Heyburn: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0382165/
YouTube and the Internet Archive have Heyburn starring in THE 13TH MAN (Monogram, 1937) and SEA RACKETEERS (Republic, 1937) as well as appearances in Roy Rogers' YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS (Republic, 1944), the Range Busters' ROCK RIVER RENEGADES (Monogram, 1943), the Douglas Dumbrille / Russell Hayden MYSTERIOUS RIDER (Paramount, 1938), Buster Crabbe in JUNGLE MAN (PRC, 1941), more:
Weldon Heyburn photos:
Lots of marriages and divorces for Weldon Heyburn
We can confirm four (brief) marriages for Heyburn:
Stage actress Phyllis Connard from 1924-1926
All four women are mentioned in the articles and links below. I've highlighted their names in this COLOR.
The Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library Digital Collections has several photos of Phyllis Connard: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/search/index?filters[title_mtxt_s]=Phyllis%20Connard&keywords=&layout=false
Getty Images has several photos of Weldon Heyburn and wife Greta Nissen:
1920s-1930s: film and theater roles - back and forth between Broadway and Hollywood - marriages and divorces.
As mentioned, Heyburn did stock theater, Broadway plays and toured, and was under Hollywood contracts with Fox, Vitaphone and M-G-M. Tradezines, fan magazines and newspapers had many articles on his brief marriage to actresses Phyllis Connard and Greta Nissen as well as comparisons of Heyburn to Clark Gable. Below are a few highlights of his life from the mid 1920s through the late 1930s:
The Internet Broadway Database has Weldon Heyburn in four New York plays during the years 1927-1936: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/weldon-heyburn-45064
The Playbill Vault website has playbills from several Broadway theater productions starring Heyburn - "The Mystery Man" at the Bayes Theater, New York City, January, 1928; Heyburn and Zita Johann starring in the brief run of "Troyka" at the Hudson Theater, New York City, March 1930 ; "Good Men and True" at the Biltmore Theater, New York City in 1935 ; "I Want A Policeman" at the Lyceum Theater, New York City, January, 1936: https://www.playbill.com/person/weldon-heyburn-vault-0000101157
On the trail of Weldon Heyburn / Weldon Heyburn Franks
There are many errors in Weldon Heyburn's death certificate, California Death Index and Arlington National Cemetery records:
There's more on those issues which I've highlighted below with a ❋
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), ProQuest obituaries, Newspaper Archive, California Death Index, death certificate and military records provide more on Weldon Heyburn Franks and family.
Find A Grave website:
What about his time at the University of Alabama?
Was he related to the Senator from Idaho named Weldon Brinton Heyburn (1852-1912)?
Some biographies and newspaper articles on our actor have him as a nephew or other distant relative of Idaho senator Weldon Brinton Heyburn (1852-1912). Not so ... especially since our actor's last name was Franks. The Google Newspaper archive has a 1925 article about this controversy ... confirming the actor had no ties to Senator Weldon Brinton Heyburn and his family: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1338&dat=19251205&id=wctXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ifQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5348,1034275&hl=en
As mentioned above, Ancestry.com had the 1924 The Corolla yearbook from the University of Alabama and Weldon Franks is listed under the "Law Class of 1925" and a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Alabama Mu Chapter. I found nothing on Heyburn doing football at Alabama. In January, 2016, I sent an e-mail to the University of Alabama Alumni organization asking for info but never received a response.