Robert J. Horner

Active - 1924 - 1935  |   Died - May 4, 1935   |   Genres - Western, Action

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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein

One of the great eccentrics of independent action fare in the 1920s and early 1930s, Robert J. Horner got around, according to stuntman Cliff Lyons, with only one eye and no legs, the victim of a traffic accident. These serious handicaps notwithstanding, Horner was one of the most prolific entrepreneurs on Poverty Row, the area near Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood where many independent producers congregated. As a producer/director, Horner spared every expense in churning out Western melodramas at an alarming rate. Responsible for some of the cheapest-looking professional films made during the late silent era, Horner later proved that sound was no barrier for incompetent filmmakers. In fact, some of Horner's talkies were so hilariously inept, the creator felt forced to release them under various aliases, including Robert Hoyt and the easily decipherable R.J. Renroh. History has dealt harshly with Horner. Describing three Bill Cody vehicles from the mid-'30s, film historian Don Miller argued that "the printed word can only fail to adequately impress upon the senses the depths to which bad filmmaking can plummet." The Edward D. Wood Jr. of his era, Horner was killed in yet another road accident when his car veered off a road near San Diego, CA, on May 4, 1935. The tragedy also cost the lives of Jack Coogan Sr., child actor Junior Durkin, and Coogan ranch foreman Charles Jones. Former child star Jackie Coogan's life was spared, Coogan later said, because he was riding in the jumble seat.