Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gail Sheridan (early Hopalong Cassidy Westerns)

Paramount starlet Gail Sheridan gets to use her acting chops in her very first scene in The Return of Hopalong Cassidy (1936) when she is forced to witness nasty Morris Ankrum rope and then drag her defenseless wheelchair-bound father (John Beck) down the main street of Mesa Grande, an unusually vile treatment that culminates in the elderly newspaperman's death. It is as shocking and memorable an opening of any Western, let alone a series B-Western but, alas, for the remainder of Hopalong Cassidy Returns Sheridan is upstaged by silent screen star Evelyn Brent, whose haughty saloon keeper and town czarina comes complete with a wardrobe that is more Paramount than Kernville. While Evelyn, who has that certain age William Boyd liked in a leading lady, makes eyes and at Hoppy, Gail, in her small town gingham dress (albeit still with full Max Factor eyeliner and plucked brows) romances Hoppy's younger brother Buddy (William Janney) who is standing in for James Ellison's Johnny Nelson. (Ellison was elsewhere at Paramount co-starring in Cecil B. DeMille's over-produced The Plainsman.) But it is Evelyn Brent that you remember from The Return of Hopalong Cassidy, not Miss Sheridan.

Sheridan had to contend with another former silent screen diva in her second Hopalong Western, Hills of Old Wyoming (1937) but unlike the still smoldering Evelyn Brent, matronly Clara Kimball Young was well past her sell by date as a leading lady (and was she ever young in films?) Clara plays Gail's mother and together they run the Indian reservation Trading Post, Gail making eyes at Lucky (Russell Hayden) while Ma squabbles with ornery old Windy Halliday (George “Gabby” Hayes). Sheridan still wears gingham dresses but someone got to her makeup person and she looks much more to the prairie born than in the previous effort.

From Seattle, WA, Gail Sheridan (b. 1915) had been a dancer with former silent screen star Theodore Kosloff and Rita Hayworth's father, Eduardo Cansino, before becoming a member of Sam Goldwyn's 1935 “Troupe of Beauty” (i.e. Goldwyn Girls; future serial heroine Jinx Falkenberg was also among the group of beauties). She earned a Paramount contract in 1936 after, studio publicity claimed, “six months enrollment” in the studio acting school. Sheridan's two Hopalong Cassidy appearances marked the highlights of her brief 1937-1937 screen career and her show business past must have been a dim memory when she passed away from cancer in 2007.

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