Tuesday, September 22, 2009

R.I.P, John Hart and Frank Coghlan, Jr.

No sooner did I drift back into the spacious one-bedroom office that houses my computer here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear when I discovered (again, a doff of the TDOY chapeau to Bill Crider) that another screen great—actor John Hart—has left us at the age of 91.

If the name sounds familiar but you can’t quite place the face, Hart’s bid for television immortality resides in the fact that for fifty-two episodes between 1952 and 1954, he replaced the better-known Clayton Moore in the role of “that daring and resourceful Masked Rider of the Plains,” a.k.a. The Lone Ranger. Hart had already guested in a couple of previously episodes before he was hired by the series’ producers when star Moore reportedly left over a pay dispute.

But John Hart shouldn’t be remembered just as Moore’s placeholder; he was also the star of two cliffhanger movie serials beloved by fans today. His first was the 1947 silver screen adaptation of the radio series Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy (shortened to Jack Armstrong for the movies). This goofy and demented chapter-play—memorably summarized in April 2005 on TDOY back in the Salon Blog days—did itself no favors by casting Hart in the lead, for the actor was clearly too old for the part. But it doesn’t distract too much from the serial’s overall enjoyment—it’s a delightful (if delirious) flight-of-fancy. Hart’s second starring role was as the titular character of Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955), a serial which makes Armstrong look like Citizen Kane. Hart had small roles in other Columbia serials, notably Brick Bradford (1947), Tex Granger, Midnight Rider of the Plains (1948) and The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd (1953).

After his stint on Ranger, John continued working in television, with guest appearances on series like Highway Patrol, Fury, Shotgun Slade, Bat Masterson and a semi-regular role on the tube version of National Velvet as the local veterinarian, Dr. Loomis and as Nardo on the classic TV oater Rawhide. Public domain television fans have probably seen him in the titular role of the syndicated TV western Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957-58), available on a Mill Creek Entertainment box set near you.

I neglected to note the passing of Frank Coghlan, Jr. a few weeks back; Coghlan passed away on September 7th at the age of 93. A child actor whose resume stretched back to the days of silent films, Coghlan remains remembered by film buffs as the actor who played “Billy Batson” in the Republic serial Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)—a chapter play often considered by serial fans to be the best.

I’m always running into Coghlan—which makes sense, since I watch a lot of old movies—in the darndest places; just recently I saw him in Out of the Fog (1941, as a newsboy), Dust Be My Destiny (1939) and Off the Record (1939). His movie resume also includes recognizable titles like A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923), The Road to Yesterday (1925), The Public Enemy (1931), Alibi Ike (1935), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Gone with the Wind (1939), Knute Rockne All American (1940), Henry Aldrich for President (1941), The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942) and Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942). What I did not previously know about “Junior” is that he served as the head of the U.S. Navy’s motion picture cooperation program, acting as liaison between the studios and the Navy on motion pictures like The Caine Mutiny (1954) and Mister Roberts (1955)—and TV series like the forgotten Jackie Cooper service comedy Hennessey (1959-62).

R.I.P to Messrs. Hart and Coghlan—two of serialdom’s best-remembered heroes. You will be sorely missed.

1 comment:

Philip Schweier said...

When I first saw The Adventures of Captain Marvel and His Form-fitting Underwear, after renting it from the local Ballbuster, it took me about three seconds to realize this was a younger version of the old guy from the Curtis-Mathes commercials. "The most expensive television in America, and darn well worth it."