Smith Ballew

Active - 1936 - 1951  |   Born - Jan 21, 1902 in Palestine, TX  |   Died - May 2, 1984 in Fort Worth, TX  |   Genres - Western

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A popular bandleader and vocalist, lanky Smith Ballew resembled Gary Cooper somewhat but his bid for Western stardom proved none too successful in the long run. Ballew, who did not supply John Wayne's singing voice in Riders of Destiny (1933) as has often been claimed, made instead an auspicious screen debut in Palm Springs (1936) opposite another band singer, Frances Langford. Independent producer Sol Lesser, who supplied B-Westerns for Fox, liked what he saw and starred Ballew in five music-Westerns (1937-1938). Displaying a strong voice in such popular numbers as "The Hills of Old Wyoming" and the lilting "Drifting,", Ballew made it to number eight in Motion Picture Herald's B-Western popularity poll in 1937. Unfortunately, despite his voice and unusual co-stars such as baseball legend Lou Gehrig (Rawhide [1938]), Ballew did not click with a mostly juvenile audience and the series was discontinued after Panamint's Bad Man (1938). There were a couple of comeback attempts but such fare as the barely released Gun Cargo (1939), in which he sang "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," did not resurrect a decidedly waning career. Ballew reportedly worked in an aircraft factory during the war but was back in front of the cameras, playing himself and singing "Drifting" once again, in Johnny Mack Brown's Drifting Along (1945). Ballew retired from the screen in the early '50s to work for General Dynamics in Forth Worth, TX.

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