Back to prior page


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 Jack Tillmany)




1956 trade ad for BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL.

Lee Roberts, the last of the serial heroes

Real name: Robert Lee Allen

1913 - 1993


Special thanks to Bill Russell for authoring the initial biography on Lee Roberts which went online back in 2009. There was always a question about Roberts' real name and identity. Ye Old Corral webmaster updated this profile in July, 2017 after finding the 1955 marriage license of Lee Roberts and actress Evelyn Finley. In late 2022, more records were discovered and I did another update to his bio.

While most western fans consider Wayne Morris' TWO GUNS AND A BADGE (Monogram, 1954) as the last B-western released, BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL, released by Columbia two years later was the last serial for theatrical release. Not only was it the final serial produced, it heralded the end of an era, and was the last opportunity for a western actor named Lee Roberts to seek stardom. It also may have been the reason for his mysterious disappearance some three years later.

Statistically, according to historian Les Adams, it was Columbia's 57th serial and the last of the 231 serials made during the sound period. BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL utilized a good deal of Columbia stock footage, especially from the studio's 1939 OVERLAND WITH KIT CARSON with Bill Elliott and Buck Jones's 1941 serial, WHITE EAGLE. Columbia put Roberts in a costume similar to the two stars in order to utilize the stock action scenes.

Roberts, who had been around since the early forties, had mostly played heavies, portraying characters named "Blackie", "Trigger", or "Lefty". There is not information on his early life, except his real name may have been "Robert Allen", as he is listed in his first possible known film, BLAZING GUNS, a Ken Maynard/Hoot Gibson Monogram Trail Blazers entry released in 1943. He may have changed his name so as not to be confused with the other Bob Allen. One could make the case that officially his first appearance as Lee Roberts was that of a pier guard in the Republic serial, THE MASKED MARVEL, starring ace stuntman Tom Steele. Nevertheless, he would continue in uncredited roles until 1946 when he received a billed part in the PRC/Eddie Dean color opus THE WILD WEST, cut and reissued in 1948 in black and white as PRAIRIE OUTLAWS. Roberts would continue to work at PRC for the next two years, appearing in several Lash LaRue films. After that he bounced around from one studio to another, supporting such stars as Johnny Mack Brown, Sunset Carson, Charles Starrett, Gene Autry, and Whip Wilson. He played second-fiddle to Carson in the 1950 Astor film, BATTLING MARSHAL. Roberts became a Monogram "regular" in the early fifties supporting primarily Wilson and Brown. In CANYON AMBUSH (1952), Brown's last starring film, Roberts has a good billing as the local sheriff to whom Brown comes to his aid.

But serials would become Roberts' forte, appearing in numerous cliffhangers during this period. To mention a few would include DESPERADOES OF THE WEST (1950), THE JAMES BROTHERS OF MISSOURI (1950), KING OF THE CONGO (1952), RIDING WITH BUFFALO BILL (1954), and GUNFIGHTERS OF THE NORTHWEST (1954), the next to the last serial (Jock Mahoney), and of course Roberts' 1956 starring role in BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL.

Unfortunately for Roberts, it did not bode well for future stardom. Columbia had spliced in all the action scenes from its successful 1939 and 1941 serials so Roberts was pretty much relegated to talking scenes. Cost-cutting was critical in those days. Also that year, Roberts appeared in another serial, THE PERILS OF THE WILDERNESS, starring Dennis Moore.

After that, Roberts would appear uncredited in a host of pictures, including such classics as the 1957 James Stewart THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, and one of the Clanton boys ("Finn") in the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas epic, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL. In 1959, he appeared in probably the last film of his screen career, in the sci-fi flick, MISSILE TO THE MOON, starring Richard Travis.

Like most screen actors of the day, when motion picture work was scarce and television was on the rise, Roberts sought work in the new industry, appearing in a number of westerns, including THE LONE RANGER, THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, several episodes of the THE CISCO KID, THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN, and COWBOY G-MEN. He also played a detective in a 1958 PERRY MASON episode.

Pierce Lyden, a popular veteran of countless westerns and serials, said: "I always thought he would get a break and move up. Lee was quiet, steady and a real nice guy. When (Sam) Katzman gave him a chance in the serial (BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL), he looked great and it could have led to something big. It didn't."

Once married to actress and stuntwoman Evelyn Finley, who appeared with him in the serial, PERILS OF THE WILDERNESS, Roberts has been described as a "closet" alcoholic. Sometime, probably around 1959, he disappeared and his disappearance has been a mystery ever since. He is believed to have hit "skid row" in Los Angeles, probably in despair over his failed movie career. Finley, who reportedly searched for him for a while, said: "One day he left. We have never heard from him again. He was without a doubt one of the finest, most clean-minded men, a gentleman at all times. I can't put my finger on the reason Lee wasn't successful in motion pictures - unless he just didn't care that much about acting." Miss Finley died in 1989, never knowing what happened to Lee Roberts.

Buck Rainey, in his book Sweethearts of the Sage (McFarland, 1992), notes that Roberts and Finley met while working together on the serial PERILS OF THE WILDERNESS (Columbia, 1956), and their marriage lasted about six years. Family Search had the August 30, 1955 marriage license for 42 year old Robert Lee Allen (born Texas about 1913) and 39 year old Evelyn Ruth Finley George. Family Search and Ancestry.com also had his March 10, 1913 Texas birth certificate.

Our movie and TV actor Lee Roberts was born Robert Lee Allen on March 10, 1913 in Taft, Texas to Howard Richardson Allen and Annie Roberta 'Bertha' Fitzpatrick. His Hollywood career ran from about 1943 - 1961 and he worked in about 150 films and television programs. In his later years, he was a real estate agent and he passed away from pneumonia on May 18, 1993 at Villa Rancho Bernardo skilled care facility, San Diego, California.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Lee Roberts: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0731340/

Jack Tillmany had a copy of the 1960 Academy Players Directory which includes a mention of Roberts. He's listed as "Lee J. Roberts" and there are two photos and he was represented by the Jerry Rosen Agency.

Boyd Magers' Western Clippings website has a bio on Lee Roberts. However, he has him incorrectly identified as Robert R. Allen and passing away on April 24, 1989 in Stockton, California. More below on that person: http://www.westernclippings.com/heavies/leeroberts_charactersheavies.shtml


On the trail of Lee Roberts. Found him - he's Robert Lee Allen, born March 10, 1913 in Texas, and passed away May 18, 1993 in Oceanside, San Diego County, California.
Right is actress, stunt woman, and great rider Evelyn Finley (1916 - 1989). Finley was married to Lee Roberts, and in her later years, she searched but was unable to locate him.

Lee Roberts was ROBERT LEE ALLEN (1913 - 1993). Discovery of his real identity occurred when I located the marriage license of he and Evelyn Finley. Later discoveries included his death certificate and family trees on Family Search and Ancestry.com. I've highlighted the most significant findings below with a .

Common threads in the info below are his 1913 birth date, his mother's name of Bertha, and her maiden name was Fitzpatrick. I've highlighted those in this color.

  •  Texas birth record for Robert Lee Allen, born March 10, 1913 in Taft, San Patricio County, Texas. Parents were Howard Richardson Allen (occupation "Bookeeper") and Annie Roberta Fitzpatrick, and the family lived in Gregory, San Patricio County, Texas: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XL7Z-49J
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - 30 year old H. R. Allen (born Alabama; occupation "Manager - Garage"), his 28 year old wife Bertha F. (born Alabama), 6 year old son Robert Lee (born Texas), 2 year old son Howard R. Jr. (born Texas) and newborn son Holbombe [sic] (born Texas) owned their home at 426 East Johnston Avenue, Kingsville, Kleberg County, Texas: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCSC-1WD
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 41 year old Howard R. Allen (born Alabama; occupation "Salesman - Real Estate"), his 39 year old wife Bertha F. (born Alabama), 17 year old son Robert (born Texas) and 12 year old son Howard (born Texas) owned their home at 8360 West Fourth Street, Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCV3-CZR
  • In the 1930s, Allen married Esther Burdick. California Birth Index for Sarah Anne Allen. She was born January 17, 1936 in Los Angeles, California, and her mother's maiden name was Burdick: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VG75-RF5
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting at 18619 Strathern Street, Los Angeles, California are 27 year old Robert L. Allen (born Texas; occupation "Station Manager - Oil Company"), his 25 year old wife Esther E. (born Illinois), and 4 year old daughter Sarah A. (born California): https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9HV-RQW
  • 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet for his mother and brother Howard. 53 year old Bertha Allen (born Alabama; widow) and 22 year old son Howard R. (born Texas; occupation "Attendant - Gasoline Filling Station") were renting in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9CP-F42
  • Ancestry.com had the World War II draft registration dated October 16, 1940 for Robert Lee Allen. He was born March 10, 1913 in Gregory, Texas. Home address was 3123 Ivy Street, Los Angeles; employer was "Union Oil Company"; and his contact was father-in-law Paul Howard Burdick (see 1930 census below for wife Esther and the Burdick family).
    1930 census for his first wife - Esther E. Burdick (born Illinois) is the 14 year old daughter of Mary L. and Paul H. Burdick and they lived in Los Angeles: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCV5-DJJ
  • September 4, 1954 marriage license of Sarah Ann Allen and Nathan Albert McIntyre in Los Angeles. Her parents were Robert Lee Allen and Esther Burdick: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K86X-7LM
  •  August 30, 1955 marriage license of 42 year old Robert Lee Allen (born Texas about 1913) and 39 year old Evelyn Ruth Finley George in Santa Barbara, California. Was his second marriage and her third. Her maiden name was Evelyn Ruth Finley and parents were Fitzhugh C. Finley and Amelia Osburn. His parents were Howard Allen (born Georgia) and Bertha Fitzpatrick (born Alabama): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8X3-1LS
  • California Death Index for Robert Lee Allen, born March 10, 1913 in Texas, mother's maiden name of Fitzpatrick, and he passed away May 18, 1993 in the San Diego, California area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPZY-CST
  • Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has an incorrect death date - Robert L. Allen was born March 10, 1913 and passed away on May 17, 1993 in Oceanside, San Diego County, California: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VMMZ-PYW
  •  Death certificate: 80 year old Robert Lee Allen passed away from pneumonia on May 18, 1993 at Villa Rancho Bernardo skilled care facility, San Diego, California. He was born March 10, 1913 in Texas to Howard R. Allen and Roberta A. Fitzpatrick. Home address was 4249 Spoonbill Way, Oceanside, San Diego County, California. Was divorced and occupation was "Real Estate Agent for Chandler and Associates". Death certificate informant was daughter Barbara Guertin, San Diego, California. Cremation and interment at Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, San Diego County, California.
  • Find A Grave confirms that Robert L. Allen (1913 - 1993) was interred at Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, San Diego County, California: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/104324231/robert-l-allen
  •  Family tree at Family Search lists three marriages for Robert L. Allen:
    Evelyn Ruth Finley in 1955
    Myrtle Lucille Douglas Upchurch in 1966
    Virginia Chalk in 1976
    missing was Esther Burdick whom he married in the 1930s
    Family tree is at: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/LV61-JQB

(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)

Above - Evelyn Finley.




Lee Roberts in a 1949 western.


Biographies have Lee Roberts born Robert R. Allen on June 17, 1913 in Ohio and passing on April 24, 1989 in Stockton, San Joaquin County, California. That's not actor Lee Roberts. That person was Bob Allen, vocalist for the Hal Kemp big band and other orchestras. More on him below.




(Courtesy of Les Adams)

L-to-R are Lee Roberts, Black Jack O'Shea and Matty Roubert in a lobby card from Lash LaRue's LAW OF THE LASH (PRC, 1947). This was Lash's first starring role after working in some Eddie Dean westerns. O'Shea was the brains heavy in this one.



(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above - an older Johnny Mack Brown has the drop on Lee Roberts (center) and Terry Frost (on the right) in TEXAS LAWMEN (Monogram, 1951).



(Courtesy of Virginia Herrick & Dick Madigan)

L-to-R are Johnny Mack Brown, Virginia Herrick, and Lee Roberts in MONTANA DESPERADO (Monogram, 1951),



Back to prior page