Even in these days of multimillion dollar motion picture productions, it’s still fun watching B-westerns. Dozens of them are available on YouTube and plenty of websites exist where you can purchase various Western movies collections.
This week, my StoryTeller’s 7 interview features Darryle Purcell who created the Hollywood Cowboy Detective series aimed at honoring early B-Western film stars. A former newspaper editor and political cartoonist, Darryle creates his stories through a combination of words and images.
After I posted the interview, I thought back to when I was a kid plucking down a quarter to watch Saturday matinees in my hometown of Marion, Ohio.
The afternoon included a one or two B-westerns, a serial whetting my imagination and desire to return the following week, and finally a cartoon. The stars that paraded across screen included Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, The Durango Kid (Charles Starrett), Sunset Carson, William “Wild Bill” Elliott, and Alan “Rocky” Lane among them.
Despite all the wonderful stars and stories available, my favorite happened to be Tim Holt, and his sidekick Ray Martin.
Martin played Chito—or, more correctly, Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamente Rafferty.
Charles John Holt III got his start as a child actor in silent film starring his father, Jack Holt, soon after graduating from Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana in 1936.
His sister, Jennifer, also played roles in B-movies. Holt, a workhorse for RKO Radio Pictures, played the hero in forty-six B-westerns for the studio.
On occasion, he departed from the western and proved his capability as an actor with roles in Orson Welle’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) in which Holt played an arrogant aristocrat, and Hitler’s Children (1943) playing Karl Bruner, a rapid young Nazi. In 1948, he took on the role of Bob Curtin, playing opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, by John Huston.
Holt’s bread-and-butter roles, however, were played out as the boyish Western hero in the low-budget RKO productions.
From 1941-1943 and 1948-1952, he ranked as a top ten box office star, highly popular among teen-age girls. Most film-goers were attracted by the actor’s on-screen charm, captivating grin and the ability to turn deadly serious when needed.
The films included, Sagebrush Law, The Avenging Rider, Law of the Badlands, Cyclone on Horseback, Two-Gun Justice, Dynamite Pass, Desert Passage, The Stagecoach Kid, Thunder Mountain, Under the Tonto Rim, and Wagon Train. In 1939, he played the role of a military officer in John Ford’s Stagecoach, starring John Wayne.
According to B-western historians, Tim Holt made it a point to dress like a real cowboy during filming—even wearing gloves like actual cowboys.
If you watch any of Holt’s westerns, you’ll see him often slipping gloves off and on or tugging them tighter on his hands. Like other Western film stars, Holt carried a Single Action Army revolver, grips made from Franzite, a plastic material that carried the design of deer antlers.
He put his career on hold to serve in World War II and returned a decorated combat veteran as a bombardier in a B-29. On the last day of the war, he was wounded over Tokyo and awarded a Purple Heart.
After the war, he climbed back in the saddle as Virgil Earp in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp.
Early in his career, Holt had several different but typical sidekicks. After the war, however, he was paired with Ray Martin.
Martin—as Chito—lent a freshness and serious to a role usually played with some level of buffoonery. He did not play the role of a cliched Mexican-American.
Handsome and well-dressed, he brought a certain elegance to the role.
At times, he misspoke the English language but not in offensive or obvious ways.
Chito’s linguistic mistakes were subtle. He comedic moments revolved mostly around his eager attempts at romance.
As an aside, Martin played Chito in the 1944 western, Nevada, produced while Holt was in the service.
Author David Rothel, in the book Tim Holt said the studio paired Martin with a new star—one who had played several bad-guy roles. He and Martin never clicked on screen. The studio decided the new actor would be better suited in films with a darker story line. His name: Robert Mitchum.
When television began pushing the B-western market into the background, Holt left the business in 1952 and stayed away for about five years. He made his returned in a horror film, The Monster That Challenged the World, which didn’t do well.
Over the next sixteen years, he appeared in only two other films, none of them B-westerns.
Holt spent his time making personal appearances, producing rodeos and Western music jamborees. He also worked as an advertising manager for a radio station.
Holt died on Feb. 5, 1973, of bone cancer in Shawnee, Oklahoma, at the age of 54. Married three times, Holt had four children—three sons and a daughter. He was interred in the Memory Lane Cemetery in Harrah, Oklahoma, where a street—Tim Holt Drive—was named in his honor.
# # #