Sunset Carson

Active - 1938 - 1985  |   Born - Nov 12, 1920   |   Died - May 1, 1990   |   Genres - Western, Action

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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein

At the height of his screen career (1945-1946) American Western star Sunset Carson ranked an impressive eighth in a national B-Western popularity poll, beating out most of the old-timers who had been around since the silent days. Handsome and boasting quite a following among female audience members -- a rarity in the field of action adventures -- Carson, alas, was also perhaps the era's least impressive thespian and his time in the sun proved brief. Born Winifred Maurice Harrison, the future star claimed to have been named "All Around Champion Cowboy of South America" in 1942, but like the earlier Tom Mix, Carson was no stranger to exaggerations. He was billed plain Michael Harrison in his first two films, the all-star Stage Door Canteen (1943) -- in which he figured prominently in the wrap-around story -- and Janie (1944). Signed by genre specialist Republic Pictures, the youngster was given a new moniker, Sunset Carson, and co-starred with former Gene Autry protégé Smiley Burnette in four well-received low-budget Westerns. Despite his lack of acting prowess, Carson looked great on a horse and was awarded his own series, beginning with Sheriff of Cimarron (1945), directed by stunt expert Yakima Canutt. The Sunset Carson vehicles benefited from generally good production values, pretty leading ladies who could also act (Linda Stirling and Peggy Stewart), and such solid character villains as Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan. Carson's uneasiness with dialogue, however, did not bode well for longevity and he was summarily fired by company boss Herbert I. Yates after reportedly showing up at a studio function inebriated and with an underage girl on his arm. There would be a very low-budget series released by a company known as Yucca Productions ("Yucca is right!" as Western film historian Don Miller once put it), but Carson was basically a finished man in Hollywood after leaving Republic. He would turn up in a couple of barely released low-budget films -- including the wretched sci-fi opus Alien Outlaw (1985) which also featured his successor at Republic, Lash LaRue -- and was a frequent guest at B-Western fairs. But Carson is today perhaps best remembered as the host of Six Gun Heroes, a series of B-Western revivals broadcast in the early '80s by a South Carolina public television station. A great deal heavier and still having trouble delivering lines, Carson was nevertheless the real McCoy and the show remained successful for years.

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