Bob Steele: The “Flying V” Stood for Vaudeville

I got a wonderful surprise when looking into the background of B movie western star Bob Steele (Robert Adrian Bradbury, 1907-1988); he too was in vaudeville. He grew up in a performing vaudeville family based out of Portland, Oregon, led by parents Robert North Bradbury and Nieta Quinn. Bob had a twin brother named Bill who was also in the act.

Circa 1915 the family moved to Hollywood, where Robert (the father) began to find work as an actor in westerns. In 1918 he began directing as well; soon he was concentrating entirely on that. The elder Bradbury was a prolific director of westerns over the next two decades. In 1920, he put his sons into films as well, the first being The Adventures of Bob and Bill. Bob was only 13 at the time. He continued to appear in silent westerns through the 1920s, normally billed as Robert Bradbury Jr. In 1927, FBO (soon to be part of RKO) groomed him for proper stardom. This is when he became “Bob Steele”. During the sound era he was bumped down to the minor studios like Monogram, Republic and PRC, but he was one of the best known and most popular stars of these outfits throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and continued to be a well-known presence in westerns at all levels and screens big and small through the 1960s).

Bob Steele also appeared in prestige “A” movie westerns and other sorts of films as well, although usually in smaller parts. Some of the better known mainstream stuff he appeared in included Of Mice and Men (1939), The Big Sleep (1946), Pardners (1956, with Martin and Lewis), Rio Bravo (1959), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Comancheros (1961), McLintock! (1963), Shenandoah (1965), Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965), F Troop (1965-67, in the regular role of Duffy), Hang ‘Em High (1968), and Rio Lobo (1970). His last appearance was in the 1974 horror film Nightmare Honeymoon. 

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, of which Bob Steele was a veteran, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.