September 16, 2011
Western Profiles: Rocky Lane
ALLAN “ROCKY” LANE was a handsome leading man in the 1930’s. He had a great voice and made all types of films before switching to Westerns in the 1940’s. He became a serial star at Republic Pictures in KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED (1940) and followed that with KING OF THE MOUNTIES (1942), DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST (1943) and TIGER WOMAN (1944).
His first series of Westerns began in 1944 with SILVER CITY KID and continued thru 1945. In 1946 he took over the popular role of RED RYDER from WILD BILL ELLIOTT and became the 3rd actor at that studio to portray FRED HARMAN’s newspaper strip cowboy. Lane played Red Ryder in 7 films including SANTA FE UPRISING, RUSTLERS OF DEVIL’S CANYON and MARSHAL OF CRIPPLE CREEK.
In 1947 he started a new series as “ROCKY” LANE with WILD FRONTIER, an excellent entry in an outstanding series. There were 38 ROCKY LANE films and not a clinker in the batch. (And he never took a bad photo. His lobby cards were full of action.) Rocky always put extra effort into these films striving to make this series better than other B Westerns. At this he succeeded for the most part but at the cost of the respect of some of his co-workers. They claimed that he made his fight scenes too realistic and had the bruises to prove it. He was serious on the set and always concerned with getting everything just right. PEGGY STEWART and others who worked with him just didn’t like him. I dunno. I wasn’t there. But I was there watching him in darkened theaters throughout my childhood and knew he was one of my favorites, second only to The Durango Kid.
Studying the Rocky Lane films today I can certainly attest to the fact that they are better than most all the others. They did not have the budget of the Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Tim Holt films but Rocky worked hard to make them look as good. He put far more effort into the project than any of his co-stars.
Rocky had great opening to all his films that must have been a stipulation in his contract because no other Western star did this. The film would open with a scenic background over which the title appears with pastoral music in the background. Then the music would pick up into a thunderous beat as the screen dissolved into a scene of Rocky riding full tilt on BLACK JACK as his personal credit appeared. The screen would then dissolve back into the original scene and the music would calm down for the rest of the credits. Let me tell you, all us Saturday matinee kids would let out a cheer when that happened. It was most effective.
Also Rocky would do a stunt, almost a signature of his, that at some point during a gun battle or fight scene he would dive right at the camera, throwing himself to the ground with great force and slide across the dirt heading for the next vantage point. It must have hurt like hell but it looked terrific. He did this in film after film and became a trademark image.
Rocky was insistent that he and only he wore blue jeans in his pictures. A lot of stunt men and supporting actors griped about this when they had to change trousers. Each cowboy movie star had his own look. All of them had custom made shirts, tailor made to their specific body shape. Frankly, they were all too clean cut and neat to be realistic. Rocky had his signature grey striped shirt and black scarf… this was required. (In the colorized lobby cards, red was often used for his shirt to brighten up the posters.) Everything else had to have been put together by the actor himself because they could not have come from the Republic wardrobe department. He wore blue jeans, yes, but they were jeans that had been worn. You could see the wear and tear in the knees and seat…. a seat that looked like it had been sitting in the saddle for a long time. His leather gloves and boots looked like they had been in use for years. So did his gun belt. Did you ever notice the cartridge loops on the back of Rocky’s belt? My gosh, there are cartridges missing… just as though he had actually reloaded from it! Every other movie cowboy has a fully loaded holster that looks as though it was purchased earlier that day.
They say Rocky was cold and unfriendly but EDDIE WALLER, who I met at a film festival, told a different tale. “He was kind and helpful to me,” said the old timer who co-starred as his sidekick in 30 films with Rocky. “And generous. He took toys and gifts to the kids in hospitals at Christmas and it wam’t no publicity stunt. Nobody knew about it.”
They say the proof is in the pudding and I say that I still get a thrill watching Rocky’s films on PLEX. There are 3 Rocky Lane movie posters in my film room at home and lobby cards on the wall in my office. It is my goal to collect and enjoy all 38 films in the series. Thanks to TOMMY HILDRETH of COMET VIDEO (P.O. Box 721, Wadesboro, NC 28170), I’m almost there.
As much as I admired him when I was a kid, I couldn’t bring myself to buy ROCKY LANE WESTERN, the comic published by Fawcett. I just didn’t like the art style of RALPH CARLSON, the artist who drew him. Carlson was one of the most competent artists at Fawcett, however I just liked the work of others better. Today I have close to a complete collection of Rocky Lane comics. I don’t care for most of the comics of today, so I have gone back and bought some of the series I didn’t collect as a child. At least I really liked the photo covers!
After the last film in the Rocky Lane series, EL PASO STAMPEDE (1953), Rocky played support in theatrical films (HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (UI, 1960) and on television (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, MIKE HAMMER). His last acting gig was supplying the voice for MISTER ED, the humorous talking horse on the television series starring ALAN YOUNG (CBS, 1961-1966). Rocky passed away just before the start of the Western film festivals in the early 1970’s. Too bad… I would have loved to have met him.