The Red Ryder newspaper comic strip by Fred Harman ran from 1938-1964 and was the basis for a popular series of silver screen adventures. Republic Pictures had entered into an agreement with Stephen Slesinger (who owned the rights to the comic strip), and the initial film from this collaboration was the twelve chapter cliffhanger ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER (Republic, 1940). Included in the agreement were several options and price escalators for continued use of the Red Ryder character, and Republic did exercise several of these options for their later Red Ryder series westerns with Bill Elliott and Allan Lane.
The first cinema ‘redhead’ was Don Barry in the 1940 Republic serial (and that’s where he picked up the moniker of ‘Red’ which would stay with him the rest of his life).
And from 1944-1947, Republic released twenty three Red Ryder B westerns, with the initial sixteen starring Bill Elliott and a final seven with Allan Lane. Robert ‘Bobby’ Blake played ‘Little Beaver’ in all twenty three films. Viewed as an entire series, these are a fine batch of sagebrush adventures, and represent Republic at the peak of their western film-making efforts.
Bobby Copeland adds: Republic intended to continue production on the Red Ryder westerns (with Allan Lane), but an option-renewal date with the copyright owner was overlooked in 1947 due to a clerical error. Contacted several days past the due date once the oversight was discovered, the owner agreed to a continuing relationship, but wanted higher royalty payments. The studio executives objected to the increase, thus ending the series at Republic. They immediately started the Allan ‘Rocky’ Lane series which consisted of 38 films.
The last cinema Red Ryder was Jim Bannon in a brief series for Eagle-Lion circa 1949-1950, and all four were done in Cinecolor, a two-strip color process (similar to Republic’s TruColor) that was much less expensive than the more traditonal three-strip Technicolor.
Both Lane and Bannon reprised their Red Ryder roles in failed (unsold) TV pilots during the 1950s (more details below on the proposed TV shows).
There was also a long-running Red Ryder radio program, which ran from 1942 until the early 1950s (more details below on the radio show).
In addition to films, TV, radio and the newspaper comic strip, Red Ryder was featured in comic books, Whitman books, the famous Daisy B-B gun (which I had and wore out), more.
Over the years, there have been a number of fictional characters that were brought to the screen. But as I look back over my sixty+ years of life, Red Ryder remains one of my most positive memories. I remember seeing the films on 1950s television – the RR features were sold to TV by Republic’s Hollywood Television Service releasing arm. And there were comic books … and the newspaper comic strip … and that great Daisy air rifle that I shot a gazillion B-Bs through while I was ‘defending the west’ in my Georgia back yard.