Friday, June 3, 2011

Tex Fletcher, The Lonesome Cowboy

WOR Publicity Photo
While he may not have received the honor of gracing a U.S. postage stamp like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, William S. Hart and Tom Mix, Tex Fletcher deserves recognition for his efforts to entertain theater and radio audiences. There are hundreds of screen cowboy stars that never became iconic simply because the movie studios never gave them the opportunity. For Fletcher, that opportunity came in late 1938 when the Arcadia Pictures Corporation approached the singing cowboy about the potential of doing his own series of cowboy movies -- six, to be exact. Released through Grand National Pictures, the advertisements hailed “Radio’s Number One Singer of Western Songs is Now The Screen’s Latest Gun-Throwin’, Fist-Slingin’ Star!” The movie was Six-Gun Rhythm and was designed to capitalize on the growing popularity of the WOR radio personality.

Six-Gun Rhythm was released theatrically in the summer of 1939 (some theaters offered the movie as early as May) and was often paired up with Republic Pictures’ cliffhanger serial chapter plays such as Dick Tracy Returns, which is a bit of a rarity at that time because it wasn’t often that studios were offering two films in one showing, from separate studios. In the movie, Fletcher plays the role of a professional football player who deserts his post and returns to his Texas home, after learning that his father was murdered. After a few encounters with outlaws whom the law cannot seem to control, Fletcher temporarily substitutes his guitar for a six-shooter and rounds the baddies up. 

Fletcher’s opportunity was short-lived. Weeks after the movie’s release, Grand National filed bankruptcy and Fletcher’s screen career was pre-maturely cut. The singing cowboy did what any enterprising young man would do: he snatched up a couple prints of the movie and went on a personal tour across the country in his car. Screening the movie, performing on stage and signing autographs for fans, he made a nice living during his brief tour, before making a comeback to radio. 

I guess this is a great time to point out that there are generally two kinds of cowboy westerns. Those like Six-Gun Rhythm feature contemporary American settings, utilizing Old West themes and motifs. For the most part, they still take place in the American West and reveal the progression of the Old West into the 20th Century. The other type of western is that which takes place during the latter half of the 19th century, often revealing ranchers and farmers trying to settle down in a desolate and hard life, also set in American Old West.

Depending on what press releases you read (and many of them were pure hokum), Fletcher was born Geremino “Jerry” Bisceglia in Harrison, New York, who worked as a ranch hand and devoted much of his time playing the guitar. Known as a left-handed cowboy, his singing career did not go unnoticed. Fletcher made the transition from stage to radio in the summer of 1930, as a member of the Rex Cole Mountaineers. Thanks to the assistance of Jack French, an undisclosed source places Tex in the hillbilly band of the Rex Cole Mountaineers who performed over WMCA in New York City in 1932. After checking this venue for a brief spell, it was discovered that Fletcher was not only in the band, but additional (and exact) dates for other radio broadcasts, pin-pointing his possible appearance as early as 1930. The following are confirmed radio broadcasts of the Rex Cole Mountaineers:

July 29, 1930 to December 4, 1931, NBC, Monday through Friday, 5:45 to 6:05 p.m.
(occasionally broadcast on Saturday)

December 7, 1931 to June 17, 1932, NBC, Monday through Friday, 6:30 to 6:45 p.m.
(occasionally broadcast on Saturday)

It should also be noted, according to Tex Fletcher's son, George, that Tex Fletcher may have been a member of Tom Emerson's Mountaineers, based on photos in his private collection. So if the above is incorrect, referring to the Rex Cole Mountaineers, then the info above is subject to correction.

Sometime around 1932, hired by station WFAS in White Plains, New York, singing cowboy songs before the microphone. This comes as no surprise when you consider that young children flocked to the screen every weekend to watch Bob Steele, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson and others wrestle cattle rustlers, and radio stations across the country knew that cowboy songs were popular. Often used as fillers for time slots that could not be sold to local advertisers, Fletcher’s time slot bounced back and forth throughout the months he worked at WFAS.

One of a few Tex Fletcher Song Books
The B Western Actors Encyclopedia by Ted Holland claims Fletcher’s singing landed him his own radio program in Yankton, South Dakota, but no date is cited and nothing has been found to verify this statement. This is not to say that Holland is incorrect, just that at present we’re still digging into more information about this at present.

In late 1932 or early 1933, Fletcher went solo and made the move to New Jersey and became the “Cowboy Answer Man” over WWOR for a short period. Executives at the Mutual Broadcasting Company, offered Fletcher better prospects, and shortly before the Christmas holiday in 1933, the cowboy began what would become a lucrative and profitable career at WOR, the New York City flagship station for Mutual. In the same manner as White Plains, Fletcher’s time slot jumped around and recent findings have unearthed a number of weekly time slots for which Fletcher performed behind the microphone. 

For the convenience and ease of documentation, his appearances over WOR have been listed below under each respective day of the week. 

Monday 
June 11, 1934 to July 30, 1934, 9:30 to 9:45 p.m.
April 27, 1936 to June 8, 1936, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
June 15, 1936 to July 13, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 7, 1936 and September 14, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
August 23, 1937 to September 27, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
November 22, 1937 to December 27, 1937, 8:20 to 8:30 a.m.
January 3, 1938 to February 7, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
February 14, 1938 to June 6, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
June 13, 1938, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
June 20, 1938 and June 27, 1938, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
July 4, 1938 to September 5, 1938, 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.
September 19, 1938 to December 5, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
December 26, 1938 to January 2, 1939, 11:00 to 11:15 a.m.

Tuesday 
February 27, 1934 to March 27, 1934, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 3, 1934 to July 24, 1934, 5:45 to 6:00 p.m.
April 9, 1935 to May 21, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
June 4, 1935 and June 11, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
June 18, 1935 to September 3, 1935, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
September 10, 1935 to October 15, 1935, 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.
July 14, 1936 to September 1, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 15, 1936 and September 22, 1936, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
March 2, 1937 to March 9, 1937, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
March 16, 1937 to July 20, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
July 27, 1937 to August 10, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
September 21, 1937 to October 5, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
October 26, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
November 2, 1937, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
November 9, 1937 to December 28, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
January 4, 1938 to November 29, 1938, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.

Wednesday 
March 20, 1935 and March 27, 1935, 12:15 to 12:30 p.m.
December 4, 1935 to December 18, 1935, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
January 8, 1936 to March 11, 1936, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
April 29, 1936 to June 3, 1936, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
June 17, 1936 to July 15, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
January 5, 1938 to February 2, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
February 9, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
March 2, 1938 to July 27, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
August 3, 1837 to September 7, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
September 21, 1938 to November 2, 1938, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.

Thursday 
November 23, 1933 to January 18, 1934, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 11, 1935 to August 1, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
November 7, 1935 to March 5, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
June 4, 1936, 12:45 to 1:00 p.m.
July 23, 1936 to December 24, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
May 6, 1937 and May 13, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
May 20, 1937 to July 22, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
July 29, 1937 to August 12, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
November 11, 1937 to December 30, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
January 6, 1938 to September 28, 1939, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.
October 5, 1939, 8:05 to 8:15 a.m.

Friday 
December 1, 1933, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
September 13, 1935 to October 18, 1935, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
October 2, 1936 to December 25, 1936, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
July 17, 1936 to September 4, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 25, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
March 19, 1937 to April 23, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
December 3, 1937 to January 7, 1938, 8:20 to 8:30 a.m.
January 14, 1938 to February 4, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 11, 1938 to March 4, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
March 11, 1938 to March 25, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
April 1, 1938 to May 20, 1938, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
May 27, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
June 3, 1938 and June 10, 1938, 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.
October 14, 1938 to December 9, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.

Saturday 
January 13, 1934 to April 20, 1935, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 27, 1935, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. (originally scheduled for 9:45, but changed days before broadcast)
June 29, 1935 to August 31, 1935, 12:30 to 12:45 p.m.
September 7, 1935 and September 14, 1935, 12:15 to 12:30 p.m.
September 21, 1935 to September 28, 1935, 12 noon to 12:15 p.m.
December 7, 1935 to December 21, 1935, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 4, 1936 to January 18, 1936, 1:00 to 1:15 p.m.
January 25, 1936, 1:05 to 1:30 p.m.
February 1, 1936 to March 7, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
March 14, 1936 to March 21, 1936, 1:00 to 1:15 p.m.
March 28, 1936 to April 4, 1936, 1:45 to 2:00 p.m.
April 18, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
May 9, 1936 to May 16, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
May 30, 1936, 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.
June 13, 1936, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
June 20, 1936 and June 27, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
September 12, 1936 to July 10, 1937, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
July 24, 1937 to December 25, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 8, 1938 to January 21, 1939, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.
December 22, 1945 to March 30, 1946, 11:15 to 11:30 a.m.

Sunday 
June 1, 1941, 8:15 to 8:30 a.m.
May 5, 1946 to February 23, 1947, 8:15 to 8:30 a.m.

Tex Fletcher’s radio career was abruptly put on hold during WWII, as evidenced with the Sunday entry above. He was drafted in the U.S. Army and served a number of years before he returned to the radio microphone. It should also be mentioned, courtesy of my good friend (and baseball aficionado) Ken Stockinger, that there is a strong “possibility” that Tex Fletcher also supplied unscheduled filler for WOR when Brooklyn Dodgers games were temporarily pre-empted due to rain and other factors.

Newspaper clipping of Private Tex Fletcher.

Other Radio Broadcasts 
All radio appearances listed below were broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System, except for the “Air-Brakes” special, which aired on the National Broadcasting Company.

October 20, 1945, 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.
Air-Breaks: Welcome Home Auditions Anniversary
December 22, 1947, 3:45 to 4:05 p.m.
Special Christmas Fund Party 
For the benefit of hospitalized children. Broadcast via pre-recorded transcription, this special featured such guests as New York Mayor William O’Dwyer, Robin Morgan, Don Carney, Commissioner Edward Bernecker (Commissioner of Hospitals of New York City) and Tex Fletcher.

September 3, 1951 to December 28, 1951, 5:55 to 6:00 p.m.
Songs of the B-Bar-B 
A series of five-minute musical entertainment was broadcast three or four times a week (varied week by week), Monday through Friday, as fillers between programming. Sponsored by Cliclets Gum. The format is Tex of Bobby Benson singing a song, then actor Don Knotts (as Windy Wales) tells a funny tale, followed by Tex or Bobby singing the last song and then “fade to commercial.”

November 11, 1951 to August 3, 1952, 4:55 to 5:00 p.m.
Songs of the B-Bar-B 
Same as the above, this five-minute musical entertainment was broadcast once-a-week on Sunday afternoon, as fillers between scheduled programming. Five episodes dated February 3, March 23, May 25, June 1 and June 22, 1952 exist in recorded form.

Note about the two entries above: Herb Rice (owner of the Bobby Benson character and V.P. of Operations at Mutual at that time) sent Tex Fletcher on the road several times for personal appearances with actors Clive Rice and Don Knotts. Knotts mentioned these personal appearance tours in his autobiography, and it was apparent that he hated them. This included the 1953 and 1954 national championship rodeos in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Possible date: December 14, 1951
Bands for Bonds 
Tex Fletcher made an appearance on more than one episode of this radio program, syndicated by the Treasury Department. The series was heard as late as 1956 over specific stations.

September 22, 1951
Heroes of the West 
Documentary series produced by Mutual. This particular episode, the fourth and final episode of the series, was titled “Old Timer” and Jim Boles was featured in the title role. Bobby Benson and Tex Fletcher were heard on the program. This series was also syndicated across the country on various stations affiliated with Mutual, so the broadcast dates vary depending on what part of the country you lived in.

Tex Fletcher serenades actress Joan Barclay.
Six-Gun Rhythm, like hundreds of obscure motion pictures during that decade, has the distinction of a strong radio connection. During the opening credits, Fletcher sings “Lonesome Cowboy,” the trademarked song featured prominently on his radio broadcasts. I’d also like to take the time to point out something that could later become a small mis-conception. There was another singer who billed himself as “The Lonesome Cowboy,” John I. White, on the NBC series, Death Valley Days, from 1929 to 1936. White underwent a number of pseudonyms including “The Lone Star Cowboy,” “The Old Sexton,” “Whitey Johns,” “Jimmie Price” and “Frank Ranger.” If you come across information about “The Lonesome Cowboy,” please make sure you clarify which singer is specifically being referenced.

No comments:

Post a Comment