The first voice to be heard in Jed Buell's West was that of Fred Scott. In the mid-1930s, the popularity of the B Western was waning, until Nat Levine's Mascot studios produced a song-infUsed serial, The Phantom Empire (1935), starring former WLS Barn Dance radio performer Gene Autry. Autry's success as a cowboy crooner, first in Empire (1935), then, in rapid succession that same year, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Melody Trail, The Sagebrush Troubadour, and Singing Vagabond, sent rival studios rushing to find their own singing cowboys. Buell's Spectrum Pictures recruited Fred Scott as its new cowboy crooner, launching his film series with Romance Rides the Range (1936). Scott's billing, initially as the "Silvery-Voiced Baritone" and later as the "Silvery-Voiced Buckaroo," was an acknowledgment of his training as an opera singer. He had grown up captivated by the recordings of singers like Enrico Caruso and John McCormack and taught himself to sing by vocalizing along with their records. By the age of twelve, he was on stage, and throughout his teen years he acted and sang in local theatrical productions. Scott later enrolled in acting school, where he was formally trained in voice and opera. After a part in Rio Rita (1929) and a few comedies for Pathe and Keystone (where he met Jed Buell), Scott joined the San Francisco Opera Company in 1932. He returned to films in 1936 and after a small part as a singing cowboy in a Harry Carey-Hoot Gibson film, The Last Outlaw (1936), was quickly signed by Buell for a musical Western series (DeMarco 67).
Fred Scott would go on to star in more than a dozen Western musicals, nine of them for Buell—and each of the films in his series was well situated in the myth and tradition of the day. While the details of content might differ among musical Westerns—a dam here, a railroad there, ranch wars, the search for lost family—the more abstract relationships between heroes and society created in Westerns of the 1930s were fairly consistent (see Wright). Scott was an affable hero whose domestic, sentimental side was often accentuated— he befriended small children, gave care to the sick and injured, and in Knight of the Plains (1939) even sang "Home Sweet Home" accompanied by a little old lady on a pedal organ. In his 1939 release, In Old Montana, Scott topples off his horse, tangled in a clothesline. To make amends with the heroine, he helps her with her chores, crooning about the sentimental pleasures of being a "mother's helper."
Scott should have been a success as a sagebrush hero. He was older than many of the other cowboy crooners—taller and more mature looking, with the added attraction of "a toothy grin so luminous that it would be the last image remaining on the screen after it had faded to black" (Stanfield 110). He was also well supported by leading ladies such as Lois January and June Allison, talented sidekicks Cliff Nazzaro and Al St. John, and, for three of his films, the production talents of the famous Stan Laurel (Lahue 208-9). Yet, by 1942, Scott and the movie industry had parted company, after sixteen musical Westerns. While Spectrum's shoestring budget was certainly at issue in audiences' lukewarm reception of Scott's pictures, it was his formal vocal training and accentless voice that led to the cowboy crooner's lack of screen success; he lacked the down-home, regional quality of Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Eddie Dean, and others. Scott's first Buell film, Romance Rides the Range, attempted to bridge the divide between the star's operatic training and the audience's need for a cowboy crooner they could call their own, by setting up a city-country opposition. The film begins with Scott, a "city" opera singer,
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