Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"Federal Operator 99"; Republic, 1945.

George J. Lewis is an actor who has had a long and varied career; appearing in big budget films, low budget B pictures for major studios, Poverty Row westerns, and a successful TV show. The exotically handsome, due to his Spanish ancestry, actor got his Hollywood start in the twenties as the star of a long running series of short films for Universal with another soon to be star of serials Dorothy Gulliver, called The Collegiate series. So popular was this series that Lewis remained with it into the thirties where he obviously looked too old for the character.

After the series finally ended, Lewis moved into character parts. This was also the time where Lewis would make his first serial appearances. After a bit part in Mascot’s Bela Lugosi chiller chapter play “The Whispering Shadow” (1933), Lewis would play the adult lead in “The Wolf Dog” (1933) cast third after canine superstar Rin Tin Tin, Jr. and popular child actor Frankie Darro. Lewis played the inventor of a death ray coveted by the unscrupulous owner of a steam ship line (huh?).

During the thirties and forties Lewis would play supporting parts in a variety of films; such as ”The Merry Widow” (1934), one of Gene Autry’s few period westerns “Ride Ranger Ride” (1936), comedian Joe E. Brown’s “Beware Spooks!” (1939), “The Falcon’s Brother” (1942), “Charlie Chan in the Secret Service” (1944), “The Falcon in Mexico” (1944),singing sensation Deanna Durban’s “Lady On a Train” (1945), the Cisco Kid western “Beauty and the Bandit” (1946), “Gilda” (1946), “Tarzan and the Leopard Men” (1946), and “The Dalton Gang Rides Again” (1949).

It was during this prolific time that Lewis would become a familiar face in serials thanks to the most unlikely of coincidences that only happen in Hollywood. Lewis went in to an audition at Republic, where it turned out that Lewis used to take director William Witney’s older sisters dancing while the then youngster director would tag along as chaperone. After reminiscing about those old days Witney hired Lewis to play a minor henchman in “Peril of Nyoka” (1942), where the two men discovered they had a good working relationship. After appearing as a minor henchman in Universal’s “Gangbusters” (1942) and Columbia’s “Batman” (1943), Witney would hire Lewis in the first of what would be many roles as a major henchman to the villain. “G-Men vs. the Black Dragon” (1943) would be Witney’s final serial before heading overseas as a U.S. Marine. Lewis would play a Japanese spy who worked for Haruchi and fought American super spy Rex Bennett, played by soon to be action superstar Rod Cameron.

From this serial George J. Lewis would become a serial regular at Republic, playing minor heavies in “Daredevils of the West” (1943) and “Haunted Harbor” (1944). The same year he would move up in the ranks, playing the major henchman in “Captain America” (1944), and “The Tiger Woman” (1944), which starred Republic’s new Serial Queen Linda Stirling. That same year Lewis would play the hero with Stirling in “Zorro’s Black Whip” (1944), before becoming for the only time in his career the main villain in “Federal Operator 99” (1945), portraying a sophisticated and ruthless gangster who enjoyed playing “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano while issuing orders to kill or torture information out of different people.

After this high, Lewis would then take a slight detour in his serial career, playing a sympathetic Indian to the hero of “The Phantom Rider” (1945). After this Lewis mainly occupied his time with feature film work and it would be three years before he returned to serials, playing his final main henchman in “The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James” (1948) starring Clayton Moore. Ironically the next year Lewis would play the Indian sidekick to Clayton Moore in “Ghost of Zorro” (1949). Lewis’ last serial was another sidekick role, playing a Mexican government agent helping Kirk Alyn in “Radar Patrol vs. Spy King” (1950).

While his time in the serials was over Lewis still had a long career ahead of himself, appearing in Lash LaRue’s “King of the Bullwhip” (1950), “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951), “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “Viva Zapata!” (1952), Stewart Granger’s remake of the Ronald Coleman classic “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1952), “Shane” (1953), and Disney’s “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) a feature film edited together from episodes of Disney’s Davy Crockett sections of their popular anthology show “The Wide World of Disney”. It was this association with Disney that led to Lewis being cast in the long running series “Zorro” as the white haired father of the masked hero who doesn’t know his son’s secret identity in the early shows and then becomes a willing partner in later episodes. The program ran first as a half hour weekly program and then became a one hour semi-regular part of “The Wide World of Disney”.

After the end of “Zorro” Lewis returned to film, appearing in John Wayne’s “The Commancheros (1961) and Elvis Presley’s remake of “Kid Galahad” (1962) before finally retiring from acting and becoming a successful real estate agent in the mid-sixties.

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