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Roscoe Ates
(January 20, 1895–March 1, 1962)

Roscoe Ates was a prolific actor and musician in primarily western films and television.

Early years

Ates was born in the rural hamlet of Grange, Mississippi, northwest of Hattiesburg. Grange is no longer included on road maps.  Ates spent much of his childhood overcoming a severe stutter. He entered the entertainment medium as a concert violinist but found economic opportunities greater a vaudeville comedian.  He revived his long-gone stutter for humorous effect. Besides his early films, Ates starred in his own short subject series with RKO and Vitaphone.

His first film role was at the age of thirty-four in 1929 as a ship's cook in South Sea Rose. The next year he was cast as "Old Stuff" in the film Billy the Kid with Johnny Mack Brown (1904–1974) as Billy the Kid and Wallace Beery (1885–1949) as Deputy Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Film career

In 1931, Ates appeared in a total of fourteen films, some roles uncredited.  He appeared in the following:

  • Cimarron (1931) as Jesse Rickey, based on the Edna Ferber novel about Oklahoma
  • The Champ (1931), with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper
  • Renegades of the West (1932), as Dr. Henry Fawcett
  • Freaks (1932)
  • Alice in Wonderland (1933) as Fish
  • Fair Exchange (1936), as Elmer Goodge
  • God's Country and the Woman (1937) as Gander Hopkins
  • The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1938) as Oscar "Snake-Eyes" Smith. Bill Elliott played Hickok.
  • Gone With the Wind (1939) as a convalescing Confederate soldier. While scratching his back on a tent pole, he utters the line "These animules is driving me crazy!"
  • Three Texas Steers (1939), a John Wayne film, features Ates as Sheriff Brown
  • Cowboy from Sundown (1940), a Tex Ritter film, with Ates as Deputy Gloomy Day
  • Bad Men from Missouri (1941) as Lafe.

Soapy Jones

From 1946-48, Ates appeared as the western character Soapy Jones in fifteen films, including Colorado Serenade, Driftin' River (with Shirley Patterson), Stars Over Texas, and Tumbleweed Trail (all 1946), West to Glory, Shadow Valley, and Wild Country (all 1947), and Check Your Guns, Black Hills, Tornado Range, The Westward Trail, and The Tioga Kid (all 1948). His Soapy Jones character is the sidekick to the "Singing Cowboy" portrayed by native Texan, Eddie Dean (1907–1999). Thereafter, George "Gabby" Hayes employed archival footage from many Soapy Jones films in his 1950s children's television series, The Gabby Hayes Show.

In 1950, Ates was cast in his first television role as Deputy Roscoe in the short-lived ABC series The Marshal of Gunsight Pass, which was broadcast live from a primitive studio lot in Los Angeles, California.  Eddie Dean also appeared in this program, as did Jan Sterling (1921–2004) in the role of Roscoe's much younger girlfriend.

Musical performances

Ates performed these songs in his films:

Billy the Kid: "Turkey in the Straw" (1930)
Remote Control: "The Wedding March" (1930)
Renegades of the West: "Farmer in the Dell" (1932)
Rancho Grande: "Dude Ranch Cow Hands" (uncredited, 1938)
Cowboy from Sundown: "The Craw-dad Song" (1940)
Captain Caution: "Hilda" (1940)
Colorado Serenade: "Home on the Range" (1946)
Driftin' River: "Way Back in Oklahoma" (1946)
Wild West, also known as Prairie Outlaw: Song, "Elmer, The Knock-Kneed Cowboy" (1946)

Television career

Ates soon appeared on television in multiple roles. He was cast as Henry Wilson in the episode "The Census Taker" of the syndicated western series The Cisco Kid, starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo. He appeared that same year in the Gale Storm sitcom, My Little Margie and on the detective series Boston Blackie. He appeared on Gail Davis's Annie Oakley series as Curly Dawes, the telegraph operator, in "Showdown at Diablo" (1956) and as Walsh in "Annie and the Miser" (1957). Ates played The Ranger in the 1957 episode "Sorrowful Joe Returns" of ABC's The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

In 1958, the 63-year-old Ates was cast as "Old Timer" in the episode "The Sacramento Story" of NBC's Wagon Train starring Ward Bond.  That same year he was Edwin Winkler in the episode "Force of Habit" of Lee Marvin's NBC crime drama, M Squad.

In 1959, Ates appeared as Juniper Dunlap in "The Painted Beauty" episode of John Payne's NBC western, The Restless Gun, as Dusty Peabody in "The Man from Solitary" of Rod Cameron's syndicated western crime drama State Trooper, and as Harrison in "A Well of Gold" on Tom Nolan's NBC Buckskin series.

In 1960, he was cast as Fenton in the episode "Hot Ice Cream" of Charles Bronson's ABC series Man with a Camera, as Lou Nugget in "The Fabulous Fiddle" of Scott Brady's syndicated Shotgun Slade, and as Deputy Boak in "The Missing Queen" of Andrew Duggan's ABC crime drama Bourbon Street Beat, set in New Orleans.

Recurring role on Lawman

From 1959-1960, Ates appeared once as "Old Timer" and in seven episodes as Ike Jenkins in the John Russell and Peter Brown ABC western series Lawman, set in Laramie, Wyoming.  The episodes are entitled "The Visitor", "The Gang", "The Ring", "The Friend", "The Exchange", "The Breakup", "The Stranger", and "Man on the Mountain".

During this same time frame as he appeared on Lawman, Ates guest starred as Renton in two episodes entitled "Long Odds" of Dale Robertson's Tales of Wells Fargo and four times on ABC's Maverick in episodes entitled "Gun-Shy", "Two Beggars on Horseback", "Two Tickets to Ten Strike" (with Connie Stevens and Adam West, with Ates cast as Joe the Barber), and "Hadley's Hunters". In 1960, he appeared as a bartender in the episode "The Rape of Red Sky" of NBC's The Outlaws. He appeared in Will Hutchins's ABC western, Sugarfoot, in the 1960 episode "The Man from Eudora".

Later roles

From 1958-60, Ates appeared five times on CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents mystery series. In the 1958 episode "And the Desert Shall Blossom", Ates and William Demarest, later of My Three Sons, appear as two old timers Tom and Ben, respectively, who are living in the Nevada desert. The local sheriff, played by Ben Johnson, appears with an eviction notice, but he agrees to let the men stay on their property if they can make a dead rosebush to bloom within the next month. Ates also appeared in the Hitchcock episode "The Jokester" in the role of Pop Henderson.

In 1960, Ates appeared as a guest in the presentation of the life story of honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant on NBC's This Is Your Life biography series starring the host Ralph Edwards.

Ates's last credited roles were in 1961 as a drunk in Robert Stack's ABC series The Untouchables and as sheriffs in The Red Skelton Show in episode entitled "Candid Clem" and in "Three for One" of NBC's Whispering Smith starring Audie Murphy. His final screen appearance in Jerry Lewis's 1961 film The Errand Boy was uncredited.

Family and death

Ates was married three times.  After his divorce from the former Clara Callahan, he married in 1949 Leonore Belle Jumps.  She died in 1955.  In 1960, he married the Beatrice Heisser, who survived him.

Ates died of lung cancer at the age of sixty-seven in Hollywood. He is entombed at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.  Plot: Great Mausoleum, Columbarium of Consecration, Niche #1882.


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