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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"Ace Drummond"; Universal, 1936

You never know where life will take you. Who would think that becoming a big band singer would lead to Western film stardom? Yet that is just what happened for Cincinnati, Ohio native John King. His first big break came when he was hired as an announcer on WCKY radio in Covington, Kentucky. After this stint he returned to Cincinnati as a featured vocalist on WKRC.

While there, he was discovered by Ben Bernie and hired to sing for his orchestra. King's first film appearances were in several musical shorts the band made in the early thirties. King left the band and signed with Universal as an actor in 1935. He had small roles in Stolen Harmony (1935) and Crash Donovan (1936).

His brief sojourn into serials started that same year. He first played Don Brigg's best friend in The Adventures of Frank Merriwell (1936), helping him locate his kidnapped father and a lost treasure. Producer Henry MacRae was impressed enough with King to star him in his own serial later that year. Ace Drummond (1936) was based on a popular comic strip by world famous aviator Captain Eddie Rickenbacker about the international exploits of a government agent in the Orient. In the serial King was tracking down a saboteur called The Dragon who was after a hidden mountain of jade. King was even allowed to show off his singing in the serial with a song written expressly for the production, "Give Me a Ship and a Song".

Unfortunately that was the end of stardom for King at Universal. It was back to small roles in films like Three Smart Girls (1937), State Police (1938), and being loaned out to appear in The Ritz Brothers' freewheeling version of The Three Musketeers (1939). After his contract was over at Universal, King signed with Monogram in 1940 and became a Western star.

Starting with The Range Busters (1940), King, now billed as John "Dusty" King, starred with ex-Three Mesquiteers Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Max Terhune as the title trio in the first of a popular series for the small studio. Over the course of four years King would make almost twenty films as the second lead in titles like Trail of the Silver Spurs (1941) and Trail Riders (1943). The series ended with Two Fisted Justice (1943).

After that King went into character work and had small roles in several low budget films before calling quits with Renegade Girl (1946). Retiring from acting, King bought a waffle house in southern California and became a successful restaurateur.

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