|The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.|
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - vending machine card of Kenneth Harlan as the star of THE VIRGINIAN (Preferred Pictures, 1923).
(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Kenneth Harlan - circa 1940.
|Special thanks to guest commentator Bill Russell for authoring this mini biography on Kenneth Harlan. Additional research and details from ye Old Corral webmeister.|
Author Owen Wister's great novel of the West, THE VIRGINIAN, has been portrayed on screen four times starring in order of appearance Dustin Farnum ('14), Kenneth Harlan ('23), Gary Cooper ('29), and Joel McCrea ('46). The novel also spawned the long-running TV series starring James Drury ('62-'70) and a pretty good TV movie version starring Bill Pullman.
While Cooper is perhaps the best remembered of Wister's main character, for Kenneth Harlan, it was probably the biggest role of his career, and one of the few starring roles of a career that spanned over 25 years and nearly 200 features and serials.
Born in Boston on July 26, 1895 (although some sources list 1897), he made his first screen appearance around 1917 and was seen as a supporting actor in a Northwest mining yarn by Triangle Pictures entitled FLAME OF THE YUKON. During the silent era he made only a few Westerns, and starred in only two, the 1922 Affiliated Pictures' I AM THE LAW, in which he played a Mountie, and the following year his big starrer for Preferred Pictures' version of Wister's classic.
During this period he worked at many studios, playing a matinee idol role to such leading ladies as Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Clara Bow, and Bebe Daniels.
In 1930 Harlan landed his first and only starring role in a sound picture, UNDER MONTANA SKIES, a Tiffany production that co-starred Dorothy Gulliver. His first sound appearance, however, may have been in the 1930 PARADISE ISLAND, a musical/romance/comedy starring Paul Hurst and recorded by the new RCA Photophone System.
UNDER MONTANA SKIES received good reviews from the leading trade papers Variety and Harrison's Reports. But somehow he didn't quite catch on as a leading Western hero type and for the next 14 years parlayed a good career in character and support roles in both features and serials ranging from a lawman to leading heavy. Generally, he received high billing as he did in the 1938 Columbia film, LAW OF THE TEXAN starring Buck Jones. He supported just about every Western hero during the 30's and 40's including such notables as William Boyd (appearing in several including PRIDE OF THE WEST and SUNSET TRAIL, both '38 releases, and SANTA FE MARSHAL, released in '40). Harlan also worked with Tim McCoy, Johnny Mack Brown, and William Elliott to mention a few others, and was cast in Roy Rogers' first starring picture, UNDER WESTERN STARS. In addition, Harlan appeared in a number of non-Western adventure dramas during his career. But it was serials where he was most active and they included such cliffhangers as THE OREGON TRAIL, DICK TRACY'S G-MEN, DICK TRACY VS. CRIME, INC., THE GREEN HORNET, DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY, and THE MASKED MARVEL. One of the best was probably the Allan Lane action-packed serial, DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST in 1943.
Kenneth Harlan ended his film career in 1943 in two Monogram Trailblazers, WILD HORSE STAMPEDE and DEATH VALLEY RANGERS. Also that same year he appeared in several musicals and dramas before actually retiring from the screen.
The former silent star of THE VIRGINIAN, Harlan, who was married seven times, died in Sacramento, California on March 6, 1967 of an aneurysm. He was also the nephew of long-time character actor Otis Harlan, whose chief claim to fame was probably as the voice of the dwarf 'Happy' in the 1937 SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.
Les Adams has Harlan identified in about 120 sound era films. Of these, 27 are westerns and 21 are serials.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
|Left - Kenneth Harlan and pretty Dorothy Gulliver in the early sound oater, UNDER MONTANA SKIES (Tiffany, 1930).|
Harlan was about 35 years old when he starred in this.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:|
Kenneth Harlan: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0363218/
Actress Forence / Flo Hart (1893-1960) - Harlan was married to her from 1920-1922: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366280/
Actress Marie Prevost (1898-1937) - Harlan was married to her from 1924-1928: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0696679/
The Internet Broadway database has a couple of New York stage credits for Harlan: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/kenneth-harlan-44155
The Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections has a color photo postcard of the Beverly Hills home of Kenneth Harlan and Marie Prevost: https://digitalcollections.oscars.org/digital/collection/p15759coll8/id/651
The story is true about actors Kenneth Harlan and Rex Lease compiling and publishing a cookbook in 1939 titled What Actors Eat When They Eat: http://persimmonandpeach.blogspot.com/2012/01/what-actors-eat-when-they-eat.html
You can view/stream/download Harlan's UNDER MONTANA SKIES (Tiffany, 1930) from the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/NderMontanaSkies1930KennethHarlanSlimSummervilleDorothyGulliverNitaMartan
The Internet Archive has several other Harlan films which you can view/stream/download. Included are series westerns with the Trail Blazers, Mesquiteers and Renfrew, as well as an East Side Kids, a Lugosi, and a Mary Pickford silent: https://archive.org/search.php?query=%28kenneth%20harlan%29%20AND%20mediatype%3A%28movies%29
On the trail of Kenneth Harlan
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), ProQuest obituaries, newspapers and trade publications provide more information on Kenneth Harlan.|
There is confusion with the name of Harlan's mother - it appears to be Sarah Rita Wolff.
And biographies on Harlan note his many marriages and divorces. In the info below, we've found references to seven wives, and I've highlighted their names in this color.
In the early 1930s, Harlan and Al St. John were no longer big names in Tinseltown ... and to put groceries on the table, they signed for a vaudeville tour which was announced in the June 21, 1932 Variety: "Hollywood, June 20 (1932). Owen Moore and Kenneth Harlan with Al St. John have been given vaude routes by RKO. Moore opens in Trenton, N. J., June 25 (1932). Harlan - St. John team starts at Yonkers (New Jersey) on the same date."
(From Old Corral collection)
Above from L-to-R are Kenneth Harlan, Bob Livingston and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in this lobby card from GUNSMOKE RANCH (Republic, 1937), an entry in the Republic Three Mesquiteers series.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above from L-to-R are Forrest Taylor, Hoot Gibson, Bob Baker (wearing the badge), Betty Miles, Kenneth Harlan (at the desk), Ken Maynard and I. Stanford Jolley in WILD HORSE STAMPEDE (Monogram, 1943), the initial entry in the Trail Blazers series.
This was one of Harlan's last film appearances. He then concentrated on a new career as a theatrical agent.