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Republic Pictures churned out a steady stream of serviceable, and often better than average, B-Westerns during the 1930s and the 1940s, many of them starring the former cowboy singer born as Leonard Slye, later to be known throughout the world to millions of fans as Roy Rogers. It took less than five years from his movie debut as a member of the singing group Sons of the Pioneers for Roy to become the star of his own series of westerns, often playing himself or various fictional and semi-fictional roles. Among the latter were appearances as Young Bill Hickok, as Jesse James, and a double role as Billy the Kid, but mostly Rogers just played a guy named Roy, a likeable, modest, smiling, and singing variation of himself who loved his horse and was a gentleman with the ladies.
Young Buffalo Bill (1940) was one of Roy's based-on-a-real-character roles, where he played William Cody, one of the real West's best-known heroes and legends. Born in the mid-nineteenth century, the real Bill Cody was many things: the son of an abolitionist who was nearly martyred for his beliefs, a decorated Civil War combatant, a daring Cavalry Scout during the Plains Wars between settlers and Native Americans, and at various other times a trapper, a wagonmaster, a Pony Express rider, and later the impresario of a famous Wild West traveling show. Since the real Buffalo Bill's resume was crowded with both the truth and colorful exaggerations, it's not such a stretch that Rogers' title character in Young Buffalo Bill is presented as a New Mexico land surveyor involved with settling a disputed Spanish land claim in 1860 for the upstanding nobleman Don Regas, whose original land grant was written on a purloined bandana.
Roy Rogers shared above-the-title credits with his frequent sidekick co-star George "Gabby" Hayes, whose own movie career had begun in 1929; Hayes would make well over 200 movie and TV appearances over his long acting career, almost always in B-Westerns. Roy's love interest in the movie, as chaste as their relationship was, was played by former model Pauline Moore, who had segued into a series of B-Westerns opposite Rogers after small roles in a variety of movies including The Three Musketeers and Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (both 1939). Young Buffalo Bill also featured Native American actor Chief Thundercloud, whose real name was Victor Daniels, who had started in movies in the early 1930s and finished his career in 1956 with a role in The Searchers.
Young Buffalo Bill was directed by Republic Studios veteran Joseph Kane, who had started his movie career as an editor but soon moved into directing serials and features, and later began to act as producer for many of his films. Kane and Roy Rogers made over 40 films together, and certainly Kane's steady hand combined with Roy's easy-going screen charisma, musical talent and equestrian skills helped place Roy right alongside fellow singing cowboy superstar Gene Autry as one of America's favorite screen entertainers from the B-movie universe.
Young Buffalo Bill was filmed in several locations familiar to B-Western fans, including the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California, which had first appeared in movies in 1912. It enjoyed a steady stream of movie production companies until the mid-1960s when the Ranch property was divided in two by an inheritance settlement, and later by the construction of a freeway through its middle. It is now a real estate development, part exclusive gated community, part condominiums, and the rest apartments, though eagle-eyed fans might still be able to spot some of the famous and familiar locations and trademark rock formations. The famous Vasquez Rocks in northern Los Angeles County were also used as a location in Young Buffalo Bill.
As with all Roy Rogers movies, Roy's guitar and his songs were a major factor in his broad appeal. Republic Studios Musical Director Cy Feuer, who would later become a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer of such hits as Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, gave Roy two songs to sing in Young Buffalo Bill - "Rollin' Down to Santa Fe" & "Blow, Breeze, Blow." And we can't forget to mention the contributions of Trigger, Roy's beloved and equally talented companion. As much a part of the movie as any of the human stars, Trigger (he was replaced by another look-a-like horse with that name after many years in film) was a palomino with that little something extra, a spark of personality that matched Roy's own charm and bravado on-screen.
While it may have been short on history, Young Buffalo Bill was filled with the kind of details that thrilled B-Westerns fans of the time and continues to delight new converts to the genre. A handsome hero, a grizzled and cantankerous sidekick, a senorita with flashing eyes, a dastardly villain, a couple of serenades, and plenty of saddle time with Roy and Trigger well, there's not much more you could ask for, is there, pardner?
Producer: Joseph Kane
Director: Joseph Kane
Screenplay: Gerald Geraghty, Norman Houston, Harrison Jacobs, Robert Yost
Cinematography: William Nobles
Film Editing: Tony Martinelli
Music: Cy Feuer, Raoul Kraushaar, William Lava, Joseph Nussbaum, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Roy Rogers (Bill Cody), George 'Gabby' Hayes (Gabby Whittaker), Pauline Moore (Tonia Regas), Hugh Sothern (Don Regas), Chief Thundercloud (Akuna), Julian Rivero (Pancho).
by Lisa Mateas