On The Three Mesquiteers

Never in the history of mankind has a bad pun flown so high or so far.

We’ve had numerous occasions to mention this ill-titled western series and many or most of its stars , so we thought it high time to give it its own post. The phenomenon lasted for around a decade (1933-43) and involved over 50 films, most of them produced by the greatest of the B factories Republic Pictures. The genesis was the 1933 western novel The Law of the 45s, by William Colt MacDonald (1891-1968). This was made into an eponymous 1935 film with Big Boy Williams and Al St. John, followed by Powersmoke Range, also 1935, with Williams, Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson.

Republic launched their punning series based on the book (which has little in common with the Dumas story beyond showcasing a trio of dashing heroes on horseback) in 1936. The series lasted so long that many actors played the three main characters of Stoney, Tucson, and Lullaby, including (in descending order of frequency): Bob Livingston, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, ventriloquist Max Terhune, Bob Steele, Rufe Davis, Tom Tyler, John Wayne, Jimmie Dodd (later of The Mickey Mouse Club), and Syd Saylor. At certain points other characters were admitted to the trio and these were played by Raymond Hatton, Duncan “Cisco” Renaldo, Ralph Byrd, and Kirby Grant. Other actors who played roles in the series at various times included Noah Beery, Henry Brandon, Louise Brooks, Yakima Canutt, Rita Cansino (later known as Rita Hayworth), Chief Thundercloud, Jennifer Jones, Carole Landis, George Montgomery, Roy Rogers (when still billed as Dick Weston), Robert Warwick, and Hank Worden (later known for being one of the Ford stock company). Lois Collier of The Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca (1946) is in no fewer than seven of the Three Mesquiteers pictures.

The series was wildly successful, hence its ten year run, spawning some copycat series. In 1940, following a salary dispute Mesquiteers Crash Corrigan and Max Terhune defected and went over to Monogram, hiring western singer Dusty King to make up a third. This new series, called Range Busters, lasted until 1943. Many of these were filmed at Corrigan’s movie ranch. There were two dozen in that series. Other such series included The Rough Riders (with former Mesquiteer Raymond Hatton, as well as the Texas Rangers,, The Frontier Marshalls, and The Trail Blazers. By 1944, the phenomenon had pretty much burned itself out — as mesquite will do, when exposed to high temperatures in a dry environment.