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Reno Browne.RENO BROWNE

by Boyd Magers

Monogram leading lady Reno Browne, born Josephine Ruth Clarke April 20, 1921, was nicknamed after her hometown in Nevada. Reno was a popular rodeo performer in the early 1940s, twice becoming Queen of the Reno Rodeo. As a child, Reno was interested in ballet, piano and riding but, “I liked horses best.” Over 25 trophies attest to her superb abilities.

Reno was educated at St. Thomas School in Reno and the Dominican Convent in San Rafael, California, for four years of high school. She then spent a year at the University of Nevada followed by two years at Actor’s Laboratory in Los Angeles and one year at the Pasadena Playhouse.

As to her entrance into show business, “I had an agent in Hollywood who was in a barbershop getting a haircut. Next to him was producer Scotty Dunlap who was looking for a girl for Johnny Mack Brown Westerns who could ride horseback. The girl he’d hired before had gotten on one side of the horse and fallen off the other. My agent told him about me and I went out for the interview and got the job.”

Johnny Mack Brown and his friends Reno Blair, Raymond Hatton and Riley Hill already have henchman Bob Woodward tied up and Johnny takes the gun away from Dennis Moore in "Frontier Agent" ('48 Monogram).

In the mid ‘40s Reno was a leading lady to Johnny Mack Brown and Whip Wilson in six B-westerns each. “I found those two the most gentlemanly people I have ever met. I loved Johnny Mack Brown when he played the spoons. He used to get hold of a couple of spoons and make rhythms against his leg. It was so much fun to sit around and listen to him. Johnny and Whip were entirely different people. Johnny was more eager and knew his craft very well since he had been active in westerns and motion pictures for years. Whip had a wonderful voice. He was fairly new to the business but was a quick learner. When he was hired, my boss asked me to take him out for a ride to see how he did. He rode pretty well except the horse ran away from him. After that though, he had no trouble whatsoever with the horse. He was on a strange horse when he was with me and I, of course, was on my own stallion. So I can’t say he was a bad rider; although that was a funny little bit.”

Title card for "Across the Rio Grande" featured pretty Reno Browne. ('49 Monogram)

Reno started off as Reno Browne but midway switched her last name to Blair. “When I first signed, I was working with Johnny Mack Brown and (Monogram) thought the public would think I was his daughter or something. So they made me use the name Blair. Funny though, his horse’s name was Reno, so when I changed my last name to Blair they had to change his horse’s name to Rebel.” Incidentally, Reno’s primary horse was named Major (Ora Plaza).

Although the 5' 4" Reno was an expert horsewoman, she laughingly told us, “Once I fell off a rocking chair and dislocated my jaw. They teased me about it because I couldn’t fall off a horse, but I could fall off a tipping rocking chair!”

Bearing in mind we all have good and bad days, I asked Reno what was the ‘worst’ and ‘best’ days of her life. “The worst was probably my first day on the set when I was wearing big rowel spurs and my spur got caught in another horse’s stirrups. I twisted my leg and sprained my ankle. They had to cut the boot off which made me mad because they ruined a very good pair of boots. The best would be the start of any new picture. That was always good because you learned more and met new people. You learned your script and the next day everything on the script would be changed. So you didn’t really memorize the lines because you knew the next day they would give you new words. But they gave you time and worked patiently with you. We made a film in five days, or two in 10 days. Sometimes you would go in a door with one outfit on and come back out and put another outfit on to go through the same door for a different picture. You didn’t know which one you were working on sometimes!”

Her other co-star, in one film, was Jimmy Wakely. “Jimmy was such a charming, quiet man with good humor and he had a beautiful voice. He was very warm-hearted to all he met, a grand human being. He looked larger than he was. One time we did a food show in San Jose with the Sons of the Pioneers and several others. I’d been on stage with a strange horse. Next day it came out in the newspaper, ‘Reno Browne came to town, using her own pony. The pony she brought, needed a pot, and that was no baloney!’ (Laughs) Following this horse, one of the Pioneers came on stage, stepped right in it and slid all the way across the stage. (Laughs) We cleaned it up before Jimmy came on stage.”

Reno Browne mistakes Whip Wilson for an outlaw in "Haunted Trails" ('49 Monogram).

“Another incident with Jimmy—the stuntmen were rehearsing a fight. Jimmy decided he wanted to do the shot. He did, and clipped the other guy right in the nose. Best leave it to the professionals.”

Reno chuckles over another memory involving Holly Bane who played heavies in many Monogram Westerns. “Holly was in a scene where someone had gotten shot. He and another man were supposed to pick this shot man up and take him out. Holly had the feet, with his back to the camera and he had to bend over. (Laughs) He didn’t have any shorts on!”

Reno seemed to love the action part of filmmaking best. “That was the most enjoyable. One action scene I did was to ride a horse, bend down and pick up a package from the ground. The film I like the best is ‘Fence Riders’ (1950) with Whip Wilson. I got to do some stunt things, and there was quite a bit of activity during the filming.”

As for her family, Reno tells us, “I had two husbands—one was Lash LaRue. I didn’t have any children. I have stepchildren—Lash LaRue’s children by a previous marriage—they still call me Mom. Lash was quite a character! I’d rather not say more, and there is a lot more to say.”

Besides her Monogram Westerns, Reno tells us, “I had my own radio show, ‘Reno Rides The Range’. Whenever I was going into a new town I would send 13 episodes of the radio show to be played before I got there. Also, I worked on several TV shows, like an episode of ‘Crossroads’ (1955-1957) with Darren McGavin as the leading man. It took a lot of time, going to horse shows every Sunday of the year, openings for Pacific Coast Theaters and appearing at orphanages.”

Pretty rancher Reno Browne attracts the attention of perennial Sheriff Ed Cassidy while Andy Clyde slips the jail cell keys to wrongly jailed Whip Wilson in Monogram's "Fence Riders" ('50).

Reno believed Westerns are no longer as popular as they once were “because there’s very little sex in them; and, although everyone loves to see them, they were made with an extremely low budget. That is no longer possible. A picture at that time could be made for around $50,000. Today, people go to see big set movies.”

Reno was only one of two B-Western leading ladies to have a comic book published in her honor. (Dale Evans was the other.) Three Marvel Comics, #50, 51 (shown here) and 52 were published in April, June and September of 1950.After leaving films, Reno traveled and…“I represented the United States government at the Peruvian World Fair for three weeks. And I was presented to the King and Queen of England. Also, on a trip to Paris, France, I adopted an eight year old boy. I sent money every month to the Catholic convent for food—a wonderful experience. A good wind at your back.” Additionally, Reno was a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol, directed summer stock theatrical performances and was a concert pianist. She was named an honorary deputy sheriff in Washoe County and Clark County, Nevada, and received a war bonnet from the Paiute tribe, Washoe County, Nevada. She holds the distinction of being the only leading lady, other than Dale Evans, to have a comic book published in her name. Marvel Comics produced three issues in 1950.

Reno died May 15, 1991, of cancer.

 

Reno’s Western Filmography


Movies: Under Arizona Skies (1946 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Gentlemen From Texas (1946 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Raiders of the South (1947 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Law Comes To Gunsight (1947 Monogram)— Johnny Mack Brown; Frontier Agent (1948 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Shadows of the West (1949 Monogram)—Whip Wilson; Across the Rio Grande (1949 Monogram)—Jimmy Wakely; West of El Dorado (1949 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Haunted Trails (1949 Monogram)—Whip Wilson; Riders of the Dusk (1949 Monogram)—Whip Wilson; Rangeland (1949 Monogram)—Whip Wilson; Fence Riders (1950 Monogram)—Whip Wilson; Gunslingers (1950 Monogram)—Whip Wilson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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