(Courtesy of Bruce Hickey)
Above - half sheet for Gene Autry's THE OLD BARN DANCE (Republic, 1938) with Walt Shrum, his Colorado Hillbillies, and Walt's brother Cal Shrum. The group is billed as "Walter Shrum and his Colorado Hillbillies", and was their first film appearance. You'll find a crop / blowup further down this webpage with the names of the band members.
In the lower right photo are Sammy McKim, Gene Autry, and Helen Valkis. In the lower left photo are the three "Stafford Sisters", one of which was great pop singer Jo Stafford (1917 - 2008). She was a member of the Pied Pipers singing group with the Tommy Dorsey band and was married to orchestra leader Paul Weston.
(From Old Corral collection)
(From Old Corral collection)
Walt Shrum circa 1939
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above are Cal Shrum and his wife Alta Lee (Mary Francis Wise) at one of the 1970s film festivals.
Brothers Cal and Walt Shrum provided musical entertainment in a dozen or so B westerns. Calvin James Shrum was born in Arkansas in 1910 and Walter Franklin Shrum was born circa 1897 in Missouri.
The Shrum family moved often - they were in Missouri (1900 census), Colorado (1920 census), and Riverside, California in the 1930 census. That 1930 census had Cal as a "carpenter" and Walt a "bricklayer". But the brothers were aiming for careers in western music.
The family moved again - to the Denver area - and Walt's "Colorado Hillbillies" was formed in the early 1930s. And Cal was a member of the group. Newspaper reports from that period indicate they did lots of touring as well as radio broadcasts over KFKA (Greeley, Colorado), KFEL (Denver), and KOA (Denver). And during the late 1930s, they recorded some transcription discs for the Titan and C. P. MacGregor companies.
Their early film appearances were in Gene Autry's THE OLD BARN DANCE (Republic, 1938), Jack Randall's LAND OF FIGHTING MEN (Monogram, 1938), and back to Republic Pictures for Autry's BLUE MONTANA SKIES (Republic, 1939). The Hillbillies did a personal appearance tour of theaters to publicize THE OLD BARN DANCE which was released in late January, 1938. And they performed on Los Angeles' KFVD station and were guests on NBC's Rudy Vallee program in March, 1938.
In 1940, Cal went out on his own and formed his "Rhythm Rangers" contingent and provided musical support in westerns starring Tex Ritter, Charles Starrett, Johnny Mack Brown and PRC's Texas Rangers trio series.
After his discharge from the U.S. Army, Cal created a short-lived record and film production company named "Westernair". Trade publications carried news of his plans for eight musical westerns:
February 19, 1946 issue of Film Daily: "Cal Shrum has formed Westernair Pictures and will produce a program of eight western features for independent release."
April 16, 1946 issue of Film Daily: "Cal Shrum has changed the name of his producing company from Westernair Pictures to Constellation Pictures, Inc., incorporating a $500,000 firm at Sacramento. Shrum was named president ... Joseph Irwin is vice-president and Walt Shrum is secretary and treasurer."
The recording side of his Westernair/Constellation business did release some 78 rpm records in the post WW2 years and many featured Cal and Walt's groups. As to films, Cal created two ultra low budget, dreary B westerns:
SWING, COWBOY, SWING (Three Crown, 1946; alternate title: BAD MAN FROM BIG BEND) had Cal as the hero and assistance from former Three Mesquiteers and Range Busters member Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer.
TROUBLE AT MELODY MESA (Three Crown/Astor, 1948) had former Hopalong Cassidy sidekick Brad King as the lead with Cal doing helper duties.
There are newspaper ads of Cal and group doing 1946 and 1947 theater stage shows to publicize SWING, COWBOY, SWING. Couple years later, TROUBLE AT MELODY MESA was released and the October 9, 1948 issue of Boxoffice mentioned the film premiered at the Victory Theater in San Jose, California.
Both featured Shrum's wife Alta Lee (1924 - 2010; real name: Mary Francis Wise), and they tied the knot in 1941. Cal had a couple of earlier marriages. His first was Fern Lula Greenfield, and they wed in 1931 in Denver, Colorado and divorced in Denver in 1936. A few days after the divorce, Cal married a Naomi Lord in Denver.
Astor Pictures wound up acquiring the films - in the June 8, 1949 Variety: "Astor Pictures to distrib two westerns produced by Three Crown Productions, titled 'Trouble at Melody Mesa' and 'Bad Man from Big Bend'."
Cal retired his Rhythm Rangers and opted for a radio career, and in 1948, he became a deejay and emcee on station KEEN in San Jose, California. Circa 1950, he was broadcasting on stations KOB and KOAT in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
But Cal continued to dream of being a B western leading man, and in late 1950, he attempted to produce and star in a low budget oater titled "Gunmen Of The Pecos" with filming in the Albuquerque area and funding help from local investors. His timing was poor as the B western was on life support and our cowboy heroes were moving to television - NBC began showing Hopalong Cassidy films in 1949, Gene Autry's half hour TV show began in 1950, and Roy Rogers followed in 1951. And there were financial hiccups with Cal's plans and the Albuquerque Journal newspaper had coverage:
An Albuquerque newspaper article from late 1950 indicates that some filming was done on "Gunmen Of The Pecos". Appears that any surviving footage was probably lost or tossed.
Cal's next stop was Springfield, Illinois. In the early 1950s - mid 1960s, he played country and western tunes on his "Cal Shrum Show" over radio stations WMAY and WCVS. And while in Springfield, he even had a brief fling on TV - from the March 6, 1965 issue of Billboard: "Cal Shrum, country deejay at WCVS here, has inaugurated a live television show originating on Channel 20 here, Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock ...". And in the late 1960s - early 1970s, Alta and Cal were inTampa, Florida and he was a western/country deejay on WHBO (and his son Gary was also a deejay there).
After about three decades in radio, he retired and the couple returned to Springfield, Illinois. Cal and Alta remained active and occasionally visited nursing homes and senior centers and did a show about their Hollywood days and the old western movie. They brought memorabilia, a 16mm projector, and showed Cal's BAD MAN FROM BIG BEND. Cal also guested at a couple of western film festivals.
85 year old Cal Shrum passed away on March 12, 1996 at St. John's Hospital, Springfield, Illinois, and is interred at Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois. Survivors were his wife Mary (Alta) and sons, James and Gary. Alta passed on June 6, 2010 and is with Cal at Camp Butler National Cemetery.
Brother Walt remained busy with his Colorado Hillbillies. During World War II, he toured Army bases in the states and Europe with the USO, and in the 1940s and 1950s, played at many theaters, events, etc. He spent a considerable amount of time entertaining at the "Dog House", a dining, drinking, and gambling establishment in Reno, Nevada (check Walt's World War II draft registration further down this webpage).
In the 1950s, his Hillbillies did a name change and became "Walt Shrum and the Westernaires" and performed regularly over Lexington, Nebraska's KRVN radio station. Walt was also a sales rep for KRVN.
68 year old Walt Shrum passed away in Denver, Colorado on February 8, 1971 and is interred at Greenwood Cemetery, Lexington, Nebraska. Survivors were his wife Ellen and two sons.
There were many country/western musical groups that appeared in the old B western. Dominant was the Sons of the Pioneers, Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Cass County Boys. The various groups of Walt and Cal Shrum featured many prominent musicians and singers including Spade Cooley, Ace Spriggins, Deuce Spriggins, Tex Williams, accordionist Tony Fiore, and guitarist Cene Haas.
Special thanks to Shrum family member Janet Ariciu - she provided additional details on the Shrum brothers along with death / funeral notices on Walt and Cal. If anyone would like copies of those death / funeral notices (in jpg image format), send ye Old Corral webmeister an e-mail.
More on Cal Shrum (1910 - 1996):
The Family Search website, Ancestry.com, Find A Grave website, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and other sources have information on Cal Shrum and family:
Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
Cal Shrum: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0795453/
Alta Lee (Mary Francis Wise Shrum): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0496792/
You can download or stream the public domain TROUBLE AT MELODY MESA from YouTube or the Internet Archive website:
Internet Archive. The opening titles have a 1948 copyright date: http://www.archive.org/details/trouble_at_melody_mesa
You can download or stream Tex Ritter's ROLLIN' HOME TO TEXAS from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ws3MmZwtZUk
in 1950, Cal Shrum was in Albuquerque, New Mexico doing his radio show. He also continued to dream of being a B western leading man, and attempted to film "Gunmen Of The Pecos" in Albuquerque. That dream never came to fruition. Large article with several photos on the front page of the October 22, 1950 Albuquerque Journal newspaper: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/84961605/albuquerque-journal/
Video of Cal Shrum performing some comedy and a magic trick at a 1983 Western Film Festival (about 14 minutes long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AQnwcg_iuU
There's info on Cal Shrum's deejay time at WHBO in Tampa, Florida at the Radio Years website: http://www.radioyears.com/other/details.cfm?id=861
Large article in the September 15, 1971 Tampa, Florida Tribune about deejay Cal Shrum on Tampa's WHBO radio station: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/50068274/the-tampa-tribune/
University of Illinois digital collections has a booklet for the Land of Lincoln Capitennial in 1957. On page 8 is a full page ad for WMAY radio in Springfield, Illinois, and Cal Shrum is listed as their "Tops in Western" deejay. This link will download the entire booklet in pdf format: http://libsysdigi.library.uiuc.edu/OCA/Books2008-09/landoflincolncap00land/landoflincolncap00land.pdf
The Illinois Digital Archives has a "Radio Project Memoir" on Springfield, Illinois radio and personalities and it includes Cal Shrum. Cal had a lake home where he set up a broadcast studio and he'd do some shows remotely via a telephone connection to the station. When you get to this link, click the right side menu for "Radio Project Memoir - Part 1", and then click the "Download" button, and a pdf file will download to your PC where you can search for Cal Shrum: http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/uis/id/5005
More on Walt Shrum (1897? - 1971):
The Family Search website, Proquest Military Records, Find A Grave, and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) have information on Walt Shrum:
Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Walt Shrum. Caution - there is a significant error at the IMDb - whomever wrote Walt's bio has his birth date and location as July 4, 1912 in Cabaniss, Oklahoma: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0795458/
Walt and the Colorado Hillbillies were musical support in the Charles Starrett / Durango Kid oater, THE DESERT HORSEMAN (Columbia, 1946). YouTube has the film to view or download: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-371FzaMhrI
Music from the Colorado Hillbillies and Rhythm Rangers:
The Internet Archive has a dozen or so Walt Shrum tunes on the Coast and Westernair labels which you can listen to or download: https://archive.org/details/georgeblood?query=%22walt+shrum%22&sin=
The Internet Archive has recordings of Cal Shrum, Don Weston, and one-time Hoppy sidekick Britt Wood on Cal's Westernair label which you can listen to or download: https://archive.org/details/georgeblood?query=%22cal+shrum%22&sin=
For those interested in more music from Walt Shrum, Cal Shrum, the Colorado Hillbillies, and Rhythm Rangers, there are two CDs available from the British Archive of Country Music (B.A.C.M.). Western music author and researcher Kevin Coffey wrote the detailed liner notes. Venerable Music and B.A.C.M. have the CDs for sale at Amazon:
Above is a crop of Walt, Cal and the Colorado Hillbillies from THE OLD BARN DANCE (Republic, 1938) half sheet at the top of this webpage. Thanks to western music researcher and author Kevin Coffey for help in identifying the performers:
Standing left-to-right are Walt Shrum, Abner Wilder, Cal Shrum, Toby Stewart (?), and Rusty Cline. Seated on the left is Tony Fiore and on the right is Vic Spatafore (sometimes spelled Spattafore). Missing is fiddler Robert 'Pappy' Hoag who broke his leg during a fight scene in the film. Spatafore does a slap-bass solo during the barn dance sequence.
The publicity campaign for Autry's THE OLD BARN DANCE (Republic, 1938) included the Hillbillies appearing at theaters showing the film. Above is a 1938 Spokane, Washington theater ad touting their stage show. Note their billing as "America's Foremost Rural Entertainers".
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - Tex Ritter and trusty steed White Flash in the title lobby card for ROLLIN' HOME TO TEXAS (Monogram, 1940). And featuring Cal Shrum and his Rhythm Rangers.
The December 20, 1940 Film Daily carried an announcement of Cal and group doing a tour with this film: "Hollywood - Cal Shrum and his Rhythm Rangers ... in the Edward Finney-Monogram production, 'Rolling Home To Texas', will start a series of personal appearances with the picture. The initial engagement will be at Needles (California), today."
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above are Cal Shrum and his Rhythm Rangers with Tex Ritter in a still from ROLLING HOME TO TEXAS (Monogram, 1941). Thanks to Kevin Coffey for help in identifying the performers - from left to right are: Robert 'Pappy' Hoag, Hal Blair, Tex Williams, Tex Ritter, Cene Haas, Cal Shrum, Rusty Cline, and Tony Fiore. Closeup of the faces shown below:
Left to right are: Robert 'Pappy' Hoag, Hal Blair, Tex Williams, Tex Ritter.
Left to right are: Cene Haas, Cal Shrum, Rusty Cline, and Tony Fiore.
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Above are Cal Shrum on his paint hoss chattin' with Max Terhune and Alta Lee in a still from SWING, COWBOY, SWING (Three Crown, 1946; alternate title: BAD MAN FROM BIG BEND).
In 1946 - 1947, Cal and group did many personal appearances to publicize SWING, COWBOY, SWING, and the above theater ad is from September, 1946.
The September 7, 1946 Showmen's Trade Review had negative comments on the film:
"... innocuous dose of story and song that is calculated to please the small town patrons who do not demand big productions." ; "Purely for the lower half (of a double bill), with no box office names."
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Front row left to right are Don Weston, Max Terhune (and his alter ego "Elmer"), Alta Lee and Cal Shrum in a still from the 1949 Astor release of SWING, COWBOY, SWING which was re-titled as BAD MAN FROM BIG BEND (Astor, 1949).
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
This photo is from Cal's 1950 - 1951 attempt at resurrecting himself as a B western hero in "Gunmen Of The Pecos" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That uniform doesn't match what he wore in SWING, COWBOY, SWING (Three Crown, 1946; alternate title: BAD MAN FROM BIG BEND) and TROUBLE AT MELODY MESA (Three Crown/Astor, 1948).
More about "Gunmen Of The Pecos" on the front page of the October 22, 1950 Albuquerque Journal newspaper - and there's a photo of Cal with this uniform and riding this horse: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/84961605/albuquerque-journal/
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Left to right are Sunset Carson, Cal Shrum, and Bob Allen as guest stars at one of the 1970s western film / nostalgia conventions.