Charles with fistsjpg

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures


Sadly…More Smiley

September 27, 2009

I thought I’d discovered all evidence of Smiley at the Autry.  I was wrong.

More Smiley at the Autry

Beware potential visitors.

Every little bit of Smiley

September 19, 2009

I spend a lot of time at the Autry Museum, especially in the summer (as should be apparent from my last half-dozen posts).  It’s close to our home, the little one likes the place, it’s not the sort of museum where you have to be particularly quiet, the people are friendly, and it’s got, hands-down, the best air-conditioning in the L.A. area.

We often find ourselves in the Imagination Gallery, aka, the cowboy movie section.  There’s a blue screen there and a saddle with a button under the horn.  If a little finger pushes it, baby is part of a chase scene set to the William Tell overture.  Briar rides this about 800 times every visit.

I’ve had plenty of time to peruse the exhibits and I’m happy to report that there is very little Smiley Burnette  on display.  Fellow Smiley-phobes, you are free to roam these halls with little fear of running into images of the big unfunny man in the battered black hat.

I count two (2) images of Smiley.  The first is a brief appearance in the aforementioned tribute film to stunt men where he is barely recognizable, expect to the keen eye of those who have suffered through hours of his inane antics.

The second, and final, image is this, tucked in with a number of other stills running along the top of the displays.

Smiley Sucks at the Autry

It’s surprising really, seeing how long he was with Gene Autry.  I mean, pretty much from the beginning, and, after a break as Starrett side-kick, right up until the end.  He’s not even mentioned in the literature or the 20 minute film on Gene’s life.

But, look!  Don’t get me wrong!  I’m NOT complaining!

Ken Maynard, considered by many as one of the greats of the B-Western, made a little picture in 1932.  The credits list “Tombstone Canyon” as being the product of KBS Productions and World Wide Pictures.


Not quite Columbia’s proud Lady With The Torch.  Which brings me to my point:

Maynard jumped around from studio to studio throughout his career, careening from Poverty Row to major studios and back down to the dregs.  Not so Charley.  Sure, Starrett kicked around some in his youth, but by 1935 he had found a home at Columbia Pictures, and he would end it there 17 years later.

A sports metaphor comes to mind.  Charles played his last game in “The Bigs”  rather than toiling away in the Minor Leagues, keeping the career alive, perhaps hoping for a comeback.

How he was able to do this appears apparent: his family came from money.

The “why” is a little harder to answer.  Was it his pride?  Was it his advancing diabetes, which ultimately left him nearly blind?  Or was it, as he stated in a rare interview near the end of his life, a desire to enjoy the entirety of life, which included not only a career, but family and travel?

The other, perhaps more unkind, answer is that by the end of the “Durango Kid” series, the films were basically being made on a Poverty Row budget and schedule.

The final question that comes to my mind is this: would continuing to make films have meant that Starrett might be better remembered today.  Since he is pretty much entirely forgotten (and don’t get started on the nasty comments, you old timers — I’m on your side but I speak the truth), one can’t help but wonder if there was nowhere to go than up!

What if? Starrett, instead of retiring at 49, made the move to some dirt poor production house that needed to squeeze every last nickel out of every film, and thus exploited every possible form of distribution.  Charley might very well have ended up on late night TV reruns, something that was apparently beneath the folks at Columbia.

Hell, I might have even caught one of these as a kid, rather than discovering Starrett in a pile of old photos in 2003.  Or maybe Peter Bogdanovich would have, and he’d be writing about the man in the black mask, and I could be getting more sleep.