Tuesday, March 19, 2013

He should have been bigger: Craig Reynolds

Craig Reynolds
(1907 - 1949)

I couldn't sleep and TCM was showing The Man from Colorado, a fairly interesting psychological western that I remembered as the movie where Glenn Ford killed Edgar Buchanan. I waited all night for the scene where Glenn Ford killed Edgar Buchanan and it didn't happen. Perhaps there is no such scene in any of the films they appeared in together. I'm pretty sure it wasn't an episode of Cade's County. While I waited for a scene that never came there was a scene with a masked James Millican robbing the crooked mine owner's safe. As the camera moved around three guards playing cards at a table I recognized Craig Reynold's left eye. Later I confirmed on the IMDb that Reynolds was indeed uncredited as "Parry" but it wasn't necessary. I would know Craig Reynold's left eye anywhere.

It was a rather sad sighting. This may be the fangirl talking, but there was any number of roles in the film that Reynolds could have handled masterfully without breaking a sweat - the Confederate officer, a disgruntled miner, Millican's gang leader or even Ford's psycho colonel. How had his career come to this state? Was he a difficult personality? Did he inadvertently or willfully rile someone in power? Bad timing? Bad choices? The luck of the draw?

Born in Anaheim, Hugh Enfield took his good looks and his acting chops to Hollywood in 1933 and began his career, under his real name, at Universal Studios working in serials such as Phantom of the Air starring Tom Tyler and Gordon of Ghost City starring Buck Jones. He was billed as Robert Allen in 1933s Perils of Pauline starring Evelyn Knapp, a serial that ran on TCM a few months ago. "Allen" is a charmer as the hero who must be attractive enough for the leading lady, brave enough to save everyone from the baddie and personable enough for us to forgive him for always being one step behind that baddie.

In 1935 Craig Reynolds signed with Warner Brothers Studios and showed his mettle in a variety of roles and pictures. He was versatile at a lot which had Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson. He was energetic and tough in a landscape dotted with Cagney and Raft. He could be dashing and charming where they had Errol Flynn.

In 1936 Reynolds was at home on the range as the villain opposite Dick Foran in Treachery on the Range. He seemed born to the tuxedo in the Warren William comedy Times Square PlayboyStage Struck in 1936 was a fine showcase for Reynolds as Gilmore Frost, a ham actor with a supposed way with the ladies. He had the opportunity to display his comedic talents along with his good looks.

You needed one of "those guys" for a mystery?  Check out the Torchy Blane flick Smart Blonde. My first vivid memory of Craig Reynolds is from 1937s Penrod and Sam, one of the films starring Billy Mauch as Booth Tarkington's young dreamer. Reynolds plays "Dude" Hanson, a gangster with a mean streak to equal any from that era. He is riveting.

Watch for the Perry Mason films from the 1930s when they are screened on TCM. You will find an extra helping of Craig Reynolds in those movies. Craig plays a variety of suspects, red herrings and victims in The Case of the Lucky Legs starring Warren William, The Case of the Black Cat starring Ricardo Cortez and The Case of the Stuttering Bishop starring Donald Woods (the first, but not the last Canadian to tackle "Perry"). It is obvious that the studio couldn't decide on the best way to present Erle Stanley Gardner's Mason or even who should play him. Did it not occur to anyone that Craig Reynolds had the spark and talent to play the courtroom orator and energetic go-getter who would let nothing stand his way to help a client?  

Perhaps the best opportunity that came Craig Reynold's way to show he had the goods for the big time was 1937s The Footloose Heiress, one of those improbable yet adorable comedy-romances that purports to show the lives of the rich. Ann Sheridan is our madcap heiress. She's about to marry not-good-enough-for-her William Hopper with his slick black hair and moustache. It would be 20 years before television's Perry Mason would make him a household name. This may be the fangirl talking again, but 1950s television would have been a good fit for Craig Reynolds. I can easily see him as a tough police captain or a powerful rancher.

At any rate, in The Footloose Heiress Reynolds is a hobo (or is he?) who tames and wins the fiery Miss Sheridan. His traveling costume of a leather jacket and fedora makes him the prototype of Indiana Jones, but if I may say so, 10 times more appealing. While Miss Sheridan moved on to more substantial fare such as Angels With Dirty Faces and They Drive by Night, Craig Reynolds continued in the round of sturdy westerns and B mysteries such as Wall Street Cowboy with Roy Rogers and The Mystery of Mr. Wong with Boris Karloff. Maybe if he'd been at another studio like 20th Century Fox there might have been more opportunity to mix the occasional Class A picture in with the programmers.

1940 brought about a major career change when Craig Reynolds enlisted in the Marine Corps. During WW2 he serves in Greenland and then in the Pacific. First Lieutenant Reynolds had a long road of recovery after a leg injury at Guadalcanal and during that time wrote an unpublished memoir of his experiences entitled "I Came Back". Reynolds receives the Purple Heart and two Presidential Citations before his release from the Service in 1944. 

Barbara Pepper
(1915 - 1969)

Craig Reynolds and actress Barbara Pepper married in 1943. During Barbara's movie career in the 1930s and 1940s she played the tough babe, the blonde cuties with an edge, in movies such as The Women and They Made Me a Criminal. The couple had two sons, Dennis born in 1944 and John in 1946. Film work for Craig was scarce with titles such as Queen of Burlesque starring Evelyn Ankers, Divorce with former Warner's queen Kay Francis, and as George Sanders's romantic rival in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.

In October of 1949, at the age of 42, Reynolds' scooter is sideswiped by a motorcyclist and within the week he passes away at a Los Angeles hospital. Depression and alcoholism, and the pressures of single parenthood derailed Barbara's career although her good friend Lucille Ball could always provide work. Eventually Barbara would gain fame with many of us as Doris Ziffel on Green Acres. She still had a way with a quip.

Meanwhile, back to The Man from Colorado. Ray Collins as the outraged mine owner is ranting about not getting the justice he is due. Minion "Parry" played by Craig Reynolds leans against the wall with his arms folded observing his boss with sardonic admiration, totally in the moment. He should have been bigger.


  1. Interesting bio about Craig REynolds. I didn't know much about him but enjoyed your look at his life and career. It's a shame when someone dies tragically at a young age. Who knows where his career would have taken him, especially with television rising in popularity during the 1950s.

  2. Loved your story on Craig Reynolds. I never knew much about him. As usual you inspire me!

  3. CFB, it's not often that I indulge in what might have beens, but I see so much potential in Reynolds that it's frustrating.

  4. Thanks, DL. A little extra motivation for taking a look at the "Perry Mason" movies in the next few weeks.

  5. Hey, I don't read your blog to make me sad! Best cheer me with your next one!

  6. Don't be sad, Miss McCrocodile. I'm sure Craig Reynolds had lots of laughs and fun moments in his life.

  7. I didn't know enough about Craig Reynolds, and now I want to learn more! HE seems like someone who could have handled anything. Thanks for sharing some of his story, and I'm quite impressed that you recognized him by his left eye!

  8. I'm pleased you are impressed by my "left eye recognition", others might think I watch way too many movies.

    It would certainly be interesting if Reynold's unpublished memoir of WW2 were to surface.

  9. CW,
    I want to believe that Mr. Reynolds is looking down upon you and saying "Thanks a million for giving me my due." I love that you're a fan girl for a star that I honestly wouldn't have recognized by name until now. (Don't give me the side eye for that Mr. Reynolds!)

    I got a kick out of your story about waiting up late at night for that memorable scene. No dice! I've thought of films I've seen over the years, then when I watch them again, they are not even close to how I remembered them.

    A thoroughly enjoyable post on Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Pepper.

    See ya soon!

  10. Thanks, Page. That's a lovely thought. I hope you have a chance to check out Craig Reynolds on the upcoming Perry Masons on TCM.

    So many darn movies! If we didn't write about them we wouldn't remember any of them accurately.

  11. Please add me to the list of people not knowing very much about Craig Reynolds. I will look for him in the "Perry Mason" movies.

  12. Watch out for his eyes, Dawn - especially the left one. Lots of power in those peepers.

  13. I recognized his photo, but didn't know much about him. Thanks for this tribute to someone who really should have been bigger.

  14. This is an excellent piece. Your writing is excellent. Love the journey through his life. It really is interesting how lucky breaks affect a career, and how many just didn't get them. He should have been bigger, I like that.

  15. SilverScreenings, thanks for reading and your comment. So many actors become a part of the fabric of our movie lives.

  16. JTL, I really appreciate your kind words.

  17. Ouch, was not expecting the premature death! I know the name and placed the face the second you started rattling off Warren William movies. Was happily surprised by Barbara Pepper popping in too, I'd been curious as to what happened to her. Excellent piece!

  18. It's not often one can surprise you, Cliff. A red letter day.

  19. Very interesting. He's probably one of those people I've seen many times but never put a face to the name. I'll be on the lookout for him.

  20. The way it goes is that now you'll see him everywhere you look.

  21. I have two personal letter from craig Reynolds both mention his movie 'Footloose Heiress" and working on "Angle Shooter" plus autograph photo of 1937 where can I find the value of these items

  22. Thanks for your blog, both of them were two of my favourites. Barbara Pepper never re-married. She drank heavily and became an alcoholic, I believe because she never got over his death.. losing someone so suddenly and tragically, with two small boys, and they were such a beautiful couple. Lucille Ball always stood by her, and tried to put her in I Love Lucy as Ethel, but, her reputation as an alcoholic nixed that so they hired Vivian Vance.

  23. Thank you for this information. Both are my grandparents but I never knew them. Both died before I was born.

    1. Karen, I just noticed your sweet note. It makes me very happy that you got something out of this article.



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