Al Jennings

Active - 1917 - 1944  |   Born - Jan 1, 1863   |   Died - Dec 26, 1961   |   Genres - Western, Action

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American character actor Al Jennings had functioned as a lawyer and county attorney in El Reno, Oklahoma when falsely implicated in a train robbery actually committed by a former client. With a price on his head and on the lam, Jennings joined the notorious Norman gang and actually did assist in several train heists. He was caught attempting to blow up a Wells Fargo safe and was dispatched to Ohio's State Penitentiary. Arguing that Jennings' career as a criminal had begun with a false accusation, apologists managed to persuade President McKinley to commute his sentence to five years. The outlaw was increasingly portrayed as a modern day Robin Hood, and in 1907 he received a full pardon from McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt. A free man, Jennings ran for the gubernatorial office of Oklahoma, albeit unsuccessfully, and in 1908 re-enacted his story of crime and redemption for the moving-picture cameras in The Bank Robbery. Jennings' adversary in the primitive 1-reeler was none other than Sheriff Bill Tilghman, the man who more than anyone had caused his downfall and apprehension. Bitten by the movie bug, Jennings signed with the Thanhouser Company in 1914 to once again film his colorful story, this time entitled Beating Back and filmed in the wilds of Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Four years later, Jennings founded his own production company -- in rather more appropriate Arizona -- and he stayed in the film industry through the mid-1930s, usually playing villains but also offering sage advise on all things Western. In 1945, he sued the producers of radio's The Lone Ranger program for defamation of character. He lost. A highly fictionalized film-biography, Al Jennings of Oklahoma, was released in 1951 starring Dan Duryea. Jennings reacted negatively to Duryea's scenery-chewing characterization, dismissing the programmer as a "disgrace to the Old West." Out of the headlines for good, Al Jennings spent the remainder of his life quietly raising chickens in Tarzana, California.