Fort Worth in the Footlights: Ready for Your Close-Up, Cowtown?

From stars to extras, from ballerinas to bandleaders, from writers to musicians, from Emmys to Oscars, for more than a century Fort Worth has brought its people, places, and stories to the stage and the big and small screens—on both sides of the footlights.

The compilation below is incomplete but, I hope, representative. With that caveat, let’s grab a bag of popcorn and drop some names:

Among the first Fort Worth residents to rub elbows and egos with international stars was Max Elser Jr. In 1911 Elser, whose father had managed the Fort Worth Opera House, became press agent for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and accompanied her around the world in an unlikely borscht-meets-barbecue pas de deux.

In 1921 future Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Anne Porter (Ship of Fools, 1965) was a member of Fort Worth’s Little Theater, which performed on Lipscomb Street in Fairmount.

Ruth (“Adrienne”) Ames was born in Fort Worth in 1907 to Samuel and Flora McClure. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

She appeared in thirty films in the 1930s. She died in 1947 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. In 1960 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The bottom photo shows her with Bela Lugosi in The Death Kiss in 1932. (Top photo from Wikipedia.)

You Know That Face

Two of the most familiar faces of movies and TV during the second half of the twentieth century had ties to Fort Worth:

Roy Roberts, ubiquitous in movies and TV from Bogart to Bewitched, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery beside his wife Lillian.

Norm Alden was as busy as Roy Roberts. Alden was born here, attended Paschal High School and TCU, worked at KXOL, later appeared in dozens of TV shows during the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, the website IMDb.com says Alden appeared or did voice work in about 2,500 movies, TV series, and commercials.

A Norm Alden sampler:

JAG, Patch Adams, Rugrats, Ed Wood, Valerie, Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force, Man Against the Mob: The Chinatown Murders, Lady Mobster, Cagney & Lacey, Man Against the Mob, Hooperman, 21 Jump Street, Capitol, Small Wonder, The Magical World of Disney, Sledge Hammer!, Dynasty, The Transformers: The Movie, Hunter, Silver Spoons, Hill Street Blues, Back to the Future (pictured), Heart of a Champion: The Ray Mancini Story, California Girls, Matt Houston, Hardcastle and McCormick, The A-Team, Webster, Falcon Crest, The Greatest American Hero, The Fall Guy, Trapper John, M.D., Desperate Lives, The Facts of Life, Fantasy Island, Code Red, Nero Wolfe, Charlie’s Angels, Dan August: The Trouble with Women, Flamingo Road, The Love Boat, The Dukes of Hazzard, Vega$, One Day at a Time, Barnaby Jones, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, Eight Is Enough, Dallas, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Jack Benny Program, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Yancy Derringer, The George Burns Show, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Circus Boy, Leave It to Beaver, The Bob Cummings Show. 

You get the idea.

Two Parkers and a Spanky

Mary “Punkins” Parker attended Poly High and TCU before going to Hollywood.

Fess Parker was born here. He returned to town to visit his parents during his Davy Crockett days.

Spanky McFarland lived in Keller.

Rod Roddy (The Price Is Right) was born here, attended Technical High School and TCU, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, where he keeps his sense of humor.

Biographies

The life story of Edna Gladney was filmed in 1941.

In 1939 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Vernon Castle had been killed at Camp Taliaferro in World War I.

The world premiere of the movie was held at the Worth Theater.

Silent film actress Dorothy Devore was born “Alma Inez Williams” in Fort Worth in 1899. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

As a child Ginger Rogers (Virginia McMath) had lived at 1510 Cooper Street, attended Stephen F. Austin Elementary School and Central High, and won a dance contest at the Majestic Theater in 1925. She won an Oscar in 1941.

The Big Story

News stories about local crime written by two Star-Telegram reporters were dramatized on the 1950s TV show The Big Story: Elston Brooks and Tony Slaughter.

Extras! Extras! Read All About It!

Two Fort Worth media personalities appeared as extras in Hollywood movies as part of publicity campaigns:

In 1957 Jack Gordon of the Fort Worth Press was one of dozens of entertainment writers who went to Hollywood to appear as extras in newsroom scenes in the Clark Gable-Doris Day movie Teacher’s Pet, released in 1958. I have not been able to identify Gordon among the extras in the movie, but I have seen publicity stills of Gordon with Gable and supporting actress Mamie Van Doren.

In 1965 Bill Camfield, of Slam Bang Theater fame, along with eight other kids show hosts from around the country, appeared with the Three Stooges in the feature film The Outlaws Is Coming. Camfield played Wyatt Earp.

Before It’s on the Screen, It’s on the Page

On the dim side of the footlights, these writers wrote novels or screenplays that were filmed for theaters or television:

Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove, The Loved One, Easy Rider, Magic Christian, Barbarella, Candy) was born in Alvarado.

Boyce House (technical adviser, Boom Town) lived here and wrote for the Star-Telegram after writing about the Santa Claus bank robbery in Cisco and Old Rip in Eastland.

Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train) was born here.

Dan Jenkins (Baja Oklahoma, Semi-Tough, Dead Solid Perfect) attended Paschal High School and TCU.

John Howard Griffin (Black Like Me) lived in Fort Worth and Mansfield.

Larry McMurtry (Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove) was a professor at TCU.

Tommy Thompson (Celebrity) was a son of Poly High principal Mr. T, attended Arlington Heights High School.

Jim Thompson (The Killing, Paths of Glory, The Getaway, Farewell, My Lovely, The Grifters) attended Poly High School.

“Places, Everyone”

Scenes of several movies and television shows have been shot in Fort Worth:

Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001): The exterior of the courthouse was used as an establishing shot for interior scenes.

Logan’s Run (1976): Fort Worth Water Gardens.

Strategic Air Command (Jimmy Stewart, 1955): Carswell Air Force Base. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Old Man and the Gun (Robert Redford, 2018): stockyards, Texas & Pacific depot, Thistle Hill, county jail, Leonard’s subway tunnel, etc.

Tough Enough (1983): North Side Coliseum.
Celebrity (1984): Thistle Hill, White Elephant Saloon.
Necessary Roughness (1991): Billy Bob’s Texas.
Pure Country (George Strait, 1992): North Side Coliseum.
Prison Break (2005-2009): Swift packing plant.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Cary Grant, 1948): No, the house at 3801 Arundel Avenue was not in the movies. But it was built because of the movies: As part of a publicity campaign to promote the movie before its release, RKO studio built more than sixty fully furnished replicas of the movie’s “dream house” in major cities, including Fort Worth.

Musicians of Note

Charlie Applewhite (“Ebb Tide”) performed at the Parkway Theater, later was a vocalist for Milton Berle’s TV show.

Bob Wills (also appeared in several western movies) lived here, died here.
Pat Boone (“April Love,” “Moody River,” “Love Letters in the Sand,” Journey to the Center of the Earth) appeared on WBAP-TV, ate at the Italian Inn while attending NTSU.
Kelly Clarkson was born in Fort Worth.
Gordon “Tex” Beneke (“Chattanooga Choo Choo”) lived here, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Euday Bowman (“12th Street Rag”) lived here, is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
Milton Brown lived in Fort Worth, performed at Crystal Springs, was killed here.
“T-Bone” Burnett attended Paschal High School, TCU.

Bruce Channel (“Hey, Baby”) recorded at KXOL.

Leon McAuliffe, Bob Wills’s steel guitar player, lived here.
William J. Marsh (“Texas, Our Texas”) lived here, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Roger Miller was born here.

Kenneth Copeland recorded pop songs on the Lin and Imperial labels after graduating from Poly High School. “Pledge of Love” reached no. 17 on the Billboard weekly chart in 1957.

Gary Morris lived in Fort Worth and North Richland Hills.
Ella Mae Morse (“Cow-Cow Boogie,” “Mister Five by Five”) was born in Mansfield.
Van Cliburn lived here, died here. A street in the cultural district is named for him.
B. J. Thomas (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”) lived in Arlington.
Hank Thompson (“The Wild Side of Life”) lived in Keller.
Ernest Tubb (“Walking the Floor Over You”) lived here.
Edgar and Johnny Winter performed at the Cellar.
Townes Van Zandt was born here, is buried in Dido.
“T-Bone” Walker lived here, performed at the Jim Hotel.
Lawton Williams lived in Poly when he wrote “Fraulein” and is buried here.
Chet Helms attended Poly High School before becoming a shaper of 1967’s Summer of Love.
Bandleader Smith Ballew (Rawhide with Lou Gehrig, other western movies) lived here, is buried here.
Willie Nelson (Grammy Award, movies such as Wag the Dog, Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Electric Horseman, etc.) lived here.
Roy Orbison lived here.

Yellow Jackets in the Spotlight

Some great shows must have been staged in this school’s auditorium. Attending Arlington Heights High School: Shawn Phillips, Harriet Sansom Harris (Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Emmy Award-winning Frazier), Betty Buckley (Tony Award, Eight Is Enough, Oz, 1776), Gunilla Hutton (Petticoat Junction, Hee Haw), Milton Brown, Martha Hyer (Sons of Katie Elder), Van Williams (Green Hornet), Stephen Bruton (“What It Is”), Bill Paxton (Tombstone, A Simple Plan), John Denver, Delbert McClinton.

Comedians

George Carlin and Jack Burns worked at radio station KXOL, performed as a comedy team at the Cellar before wending their separate ways to celebrity. Burns was head writer for the first season of the Muppet Show.

Actresses

Gayle Hunnicutt (Marlowe, “Irene Adler” in the “A Scandal in Bohemia” episode of Granada TV’s Sherlock Holmes adaptations) attended Alice Carlson Elementary, McLean Junior High, Paschal High School, and TCU.

Mary Martin (Peter Pan) lived in Fort Worth briefly.

Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) lived here while modeling in the early 1950s.

Kate Capshaw Spielberg (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) was born in Fort Worth.

Candy Clark (American Graffiti) attended Technical High School.

Joy Garrett (Days of Our Lives) was born here, attended Texas Wesleyan College.

Julie Newmar (Batman) lived here.

Janine Turner (Northern Exposure) attended Boswell High School.

Lisa Whelchel (The New Mickey Mouse Club) was born in Fort Worth.

Jackey Neyman Jones (Manos: The Hands of Fate) was born in Tarrant County.

Actors

John Hillerman (Magnum, P.I.) performed in local theater while stationed at Carswell.
Grover Lewis (Last Picture Show, The Candidate) was a Star-Telegram copy editor.
Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke, Doc Hooker’s Bunch) lives nearby.
Morgan Woodward (Cool Hand Luke, Gunsmoke) grew up in Arlington.
Gordon “Porky” Lee (Our Gang comedies) was born here.
Dennis Burkley (Dukes of Hazzard) attended Grand Prairie High School and TCU.
Mary Martin’s son Larry Hagman (Fail Safe, Dallas) was born here.
Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, Any Which Way You Can) lives here.
James Hampton (F Troop, The Longest Yard) attended NTSU, performed at Casa Manana.
Ethan Hawke (Training Day) occasionally lived here with relatives.
Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba) performed at Stage West.

Fort Worth, the Movie

Finally, a city knows it has “arrived” when a Hollywood movie bears its name. In 1951 Randolph Scott starred in Fort Worth: “When the Lone Star State was split wide open—he linked it together with lead!”
(Thanks to Bud Kennedy for the assist.)

Posts About Cinema in Cowtown

 

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