Dick Foran: Straddled More Than One Horse

We’ve had cause to mention Dick Foran (John Nicholas Foran, 1910-79) a few times on Travalanche. It’s hard to drop a lasso around this actor — he’s most commonly characterized as a B movie western singing cowboy, but in truth he figures in all genres: westerns, musicals, horror, comedies, noir, war films et al, and he managed to escape the B movie grind to appear in mainstream features on occasion as well as television.

Originally from New Jersey and billed as Nick Foran, our subject sang with big bands and on radio in his early years. His first picture was the all star Stand Up and Cheer (1934) with Warner Baxter, Madge Evans, James Dunn, Shirley Temple, Sylvia Froos, Mitchell and Durant, Tess Gardella, Nigel Bruce, John Boles and Arthur Byron.

Moonlight on the Prairie (1935) was the first of the many singing westerns in which he starred, but the following year he was in The Petrified Forest (1936) with Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart, a top of the bill feature. His horror films included The Mummy’s Hand (1940), Horror Island (1941), and The Mummy’s Tomb (1942). In comedies he was never the comedian of course, just the straight, forgettable male ingenue. These films included and Earthworm Tractors (1936) with Joe E. Brown; My Little Chickadee (1940) with W.C. Fields and Mae West; In the Navy (1941), Keep ‘Em Flying (1941), and Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942) all with Abbott and Costello. He also starred in Private Buckaroo (1942), with Joe E. Lewis, Shemp Howard, and Huntz Hall. In 1943 and 1944 Foran took a break from films to appear in the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee on Broadway. Other major films included  Black Legion (1937), The Fighting 69th (1940), and The House of the Seven Gables (1940). For John Ford he appeared in Fort Apache (1948) and Donovan’s Reef (1963).

In the early television years Foran appeared on the variety shows of Milton Berle, Ken Murray, Martha Raye, Red Skelton, and Bob Hope. His TV acting credits included Circus Boy (as Buffalo Bill!), The Magical World of Disney (in The Swamp Fox with Leslie Nielsen), Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Lassie, Death Valley Days, OK Crackerby!, Bonanza, The Virginian, Adam-12, and Daniel Boone. His final credit was on a family show called Run, Joe, Run (1975) about a German Shepherd who was on the lam. Respiratory ailments took him four years later.

To learn more about show business history, including TV and radio variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.