Western Profiles: Charles Starrett

Charles Starrett had been making Westerns for Columbia Pictures since 1935 and was consistently listed among Billboard‘s top ten Western stars. He was 6 ‘ 2″, 180 pounds, athletic, considered “the most handsome Western star,” and was a good actor to boot. In 1940, he was starred in what was assumed to be just another Columbia Western, a film entitled “THE DURANGO KID.”

This role, however, was destined to change the course of his career. Before the Westerns, he had a prolific film career, 30 some films, including “Jungle Bride” where he co-starred with Anita Page and “Fu Manchu” starring Boris Karloff. But, THE DURANGO KID turned out to be one of the most popular Western heroes of the silver screen. In this production, Starrett played a dual role: young Bill Lowry, a ranch owner who’s father had been murdered; and the masked Pecos gun sharp known as THE DURANGO KID. As the mysterious DURANGO KID, Lowry avenges the death of his father.

This concept drew tons of mail from the youngsters who attended Saturday matinee Westerns. Both fans and exhibitors alike wanted more of THE DURANGO KID! The studio tested the waters with SAGEBRUSH HEROES in 1943, a film in which Starrett portrays a radio actor who plays The Durango Kid on the air. Again fan mail climbed.

In 1945 the studio bowed to the wishes of the public and released “THE RETURN OF THE DURANGO KID.” It was decided that Charles Starrett would continue in this role much the same as William Boyd had become HOPALONG CASSIDY. The Durango series was a tremendous success. By the time the dust had settled in 1952, Starrett had made 65 Films as the mystery rider. That was an incredible accomplishment.

Even more amazing was that the films got better as they went along. “DURANGO” became even more athletic as Starrett grew older, thanks for the most part to JOCK MAHONEY doubling as the masked rider. Still however, even in his forties, Starrett could dish out the action as later entries will bear out.

The DURANGO films were rare as hen’s teeth due to the fact that the studio never released the series to television. Many of the pictures have never been seen after their initial theater run. Private film collectors have kept the legend alive and proudly exhibit the films at national film festivals. When a new DURANGO film turns up in the collector’s market, it’s a rare treat.

In the 1990′s The Movie Channel ran a Durango Kid marathon showing twelve films in a row! Some had never been seen since the theatrical showings. This was a big boon to collectors as these were all newly struck perfect prints. Currently, Durango films can be seen on Movie Plex’s Western Channel and occasionally on TNT.

In 1949, MAGAZINE ENTERPRISES approached Columbia Pictures about publishing a DURANGO KID comic book. A year earlier, the publisher had had success with a similar endeavor with Western star TIM HOLT. The company, headed by publisher VINCENT SULLIVAN, and editor RAYMOND KRANK, was to become, quality wise, one of the finest in the field.

The covers of the first 5 issues of THE DURANGO KID comic featured “colorized” photos of Starrett as the masked rider. Inside covers also featured photos of scenes from the DURANGO KID series. Later covers were artwork with small insert photos of Charles Starrett. Today, these comics are collector’s items.

In the films, the civilian identity of the DURANGO KID, “Steve“, would always have a different last name from feature to feature. It was established in “TEXAS PANHANDLE” (1945) that “Steve” was a Secret Service man working in the West. That would explain how he would be a Texas Ranger in one film and a marshal in the next. In the comics, Steve had a permanent last name… STEVE BRAND. Steve Brand has a sidekick named MULEY PIKE, a heavy set fellow that shares his adventures and confidence. Muley is based on the film character played by SMILEY BURNETTE. Magazine Enterprises only licensed CHARLES STARRETT and THE DURANGO KID. Smiley had his own license going with another comic book company so he could not appear in DURANGO‘s book.

The final entry in the film series was “THE KID FROM BROKEN GUN“, released in 1952. Seen here are Smiley Burnett, Edgar Dearing, Jock Mahoney and Charles Starrett. With that feature completed, Charles Starrett retired from the movie business. He was quite well off and during the 1950′s and 196O’s traveled across the globe with his lovely wife, MARY. In the early 198O’s he attended a few Western Film conventions, much to the delight of his many fans.

Early in 1986, he passed away. In December, 1989, JOCK MAHONEY died. He was the “other Durango Kid” since he doubled behind the black mask in many of the features.

It is the intent of AC Comics to keep the legend of Durango alive for future generations. To that end we will continue to publish DURANGO KID comic books and include his adventures in every issue of our BEST OF THE WEST title. We will continue to add photos and content on Durango to this web site.