|The Jungle (1952)||20,000|
The well-worn phrase "Tall in the saddle" is certainly one easy way of describing (and perhaps pigeon-holing) leathery, wiry-framed 1940s and early 1950s western film star Rod Cameron, although he proved quite capable in crime stories, horrors and even swing-era musicals.
The 6'4" Canadian-born actor was born Nathan Roderick Cox on December 7, 1910, and raised in Alberta. Once his aspirations of becoming a Royal Canadian Mountie passed, he decided to seek fame and fortune as an actor in New York and initially grabbed some work as a laborer on the Holland Tunnel project in Manhattan. When no progress was made acting-wise, he moved to California where he made his "debut" in an unbilled bit in one of Bette Davis' scenes in The Old Maid (1939). Upon release, however, he discovered his bit in the scene had been deleted.
Cameron found a slight "in" (as in "stand-in") with Paramount Pictures for such stars as Fred MacMurray while managing to find himself sparingly used in other Paramount films. To supplement his income he also played leading man in the studio's screen tests for starlet wanna-bes and his athleticism paid off playing stunt double for such established cowboy icons as Buck Jones. Cameron toiled as a bit player for quite some time and appeared insignificantly in such classics as Christmas in July (1940) and North West Mounted Police (1940) (where he fulfilled his early wish by playing a Mountie!). Occasionally he would find a noticeable secondary role, in such lesser films as The Monster and the Girl (1941), The Forest Rangers (1942) and as Jesse James in The Remarkable Andrew (1942).
Cameron's banner year was 1943, when he finally broke out of the minor leagues and into the major ranks. His breakout screen role was as clench-jawed Agent Rex Bennett, out to bring down the foreign enemy and save the world, in the Republic serial cliffhangers G-Men vs. The Black Dragon (1943) and Secret Service in Darkest Africa (1943). From there he was signed by Universal to appear in a flurry of low-budget westerns with Fuzzy Knight as his comic sidekick. Aside from the rough-hewn heroics he was paid to display, he would occasionally show a softer side for the ladies, such as with fellow Canadian Yvonne De Carlo in Salome Where She Danced (1945), Frontier Gal (1945) and River Lady (1948). Seldom would he venture outside the action genre, however, one of the few times being his role as a symphony conductor in Swing Out, Sister (1945). For the most part he remained rooted in westerns and the only variance within that realm was the occasional black-hatted bad guy.
Among Cameron's many dusty showcases (more often than not made at Republic or Universal), Brimstone (1949), Stampede (1949), Dakota Lil (1950) and San Antone (1953) are worth a good look. Cameron never found his Stagecoach (1939) or Shane (1953), a vehicle that might have held him even "taller" in the saddle, but between 1953 and 1955 he was still ranked "top 5" box-office.
In the 1950s Cameron found time to settle into a couple of syndicated TV series. Both City Detective (1953) and State Trooper (1956) lasted a couple of seasons. He also guested on the more popular western series, such as Bonanza (1959), Laramie (1959) and The Virginian (1962). When his movie career began to fade in the early 1960s, he went to Spaain for a few spaghetti westerns and appeared in a couple of low-budget westerns such as Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965) and The Bounty Killer (1965), which was noticed more for reuniting sagebrush stars from yesteryear than for its high quality. He also played an aging rodeo star who dies early in the story in the biopic Evel Knievel (1971).
The only serious tabloid scandal he ever found himself in was when he divorced wife Angela Alves-Lico (1950-1960) and then immediately married his ex-wife's mother, Dorothy, who was a few years older than him. An extended battle with cancer finally claimed the 72-year-old actor in 1983 at a Gainesville, Georgia, hospital.