Red Ryder a popular American fictional cowboy from the 1940s, was created by Stephen Slesinger and drawn by artist Fred Harman. Harman was heralded as one of the finest Western pen and ink men in the industry and is known for his dramatic sense of perspective and authentic action. Harman also created the Western adventure comic strip Bronc Peeler in 1933. Beginning Sunday, November 6, 1938, Red Ryder was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association, expanding over the following decade to 750 newspapers with a readership of 14 million in the U.S. Globally the strip has been produced in more than 10 languages.
Harman was on a Colorado ranch when he decided to do a comic strip. He headed for Hollywood in the early 1930s, borrowed some money and began Bronc Peeler
, which he syndicated himself. The redheaded Bronc Peeler was a tough cowboy who fought bandits and rustlers with the help of his pal Coyote Pete. Bronc Peeler
introduced the Navajo
youth Little Beaver
, who continued as an important supporting character in Red Ryder
. For his Sunday half-page, Harman also drew Western lore into an extra panel, On the Range
. In 1937, Whitman published a Big Little Book
, Bronc Peeler, the Lone Cowboy
, and the strip was reprinted in Popular Comics
until the early 1940s.
In 1938, when Harman met publisher/comic syndicator Stephen Slesinger
, he rode off to follow happier trails. Slesinger brought Harman to New York and worked with him for a year before Red Ryder was ready to be syndicated. Slesinger then embarked on a successful campaign of merchandising and licensing with a seemingly endless parade of comic books, Big Little Books, novels, serial chapters, radio programs, events, rodeos, powwows, commercial tie-ins and licensed products such as the Daisy Red Ryder model air rifle, which remains the longest continuous license in the history of the global licensing industry and which has come to represent American Christmas in the Christmas classic film A Christmas Story
Astride his mighty steed Thunder, Red was a tough cowpoke who lived on Painted Valley Ranch in the Blanco Basin of the San Juan Mountain Range with his aunt, the Duchess, and his sidekick, Little Beaver, who rode his horse, Papoose, when they took off to deal with the bad guys. Other notable characters were ranch hand Buckskin Blodgett, Red's gal pal Beth, and bad guy Ace Hanlon.
Numerous ghost artists worked on the strip over the years, including Jim Gary, Edmund Good, John Wade Hampton and Robert MacLeod. Harman, who along with MacLeod was a founder of Cowboy Artists of America, left Red Ryder in 1963 to concentrate on his paintings, and MacLeod continued the strip.
Gaylord DuBois, a prolific comic book writer associated with Slesinger, scripted Red Ryder and Little Beaver for a short period in 1938 and again in the early 1940s.
The Red Ryder
radio series began February 3
, on the Blue Network, broadcast three times a week at 7:30pm Pacific time. When the Blue also acquired The Lone Ranger
from the Mutual Broadcasting System, Mutual decided to compete by airing Red Ryder
in the same time period. Thus, Red Ryder
aired on the East Coast that year from May 20 to September 9 on Mutual. The series actually beat The Lone Ranger
in the Hooper ratings, but the success was short-lived. When Red Ryder
was sold to a regional sponsor, Langendorf Bread, it was no longer heard in the East after four months.
Mutual and Langendorf continued the series on the West Coast Don Lee Network through the 1940s at 7:30pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, always with the familiar organ theme, "The Dying Cowboy" ("Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie"). Announcers on the show included Ben Alexander and Art Gilmore.
The continuing characters of the comic strip were also found in the radio series, produced by Brad Brown with writer-director Paul Franklin and writer Albert Van Antwerp. Reed Hadley portrayed Red Ryder on radio from 1942 to 1944, followed by Carlton KaDell (1945) and Brooke Temple (1946-51). Arthur Q. Bryan had the role of Roland "Rawhie" Rolinson, and Red's sidekick Buckskin was played by Horace Murphy. Jim Mather provided Indian voices.
Numerous actors played Little Beaver: One of the most notable was Robert Blake (on credits as Bobby Blake), Tommy Cook (1942 on), Franklin Bresee (1942-46, alternating with Cook), Henry Blair (1944-47), Johnny McGovern (1947-50) and Sammy Ogg (1950-51). During the same mid-1940s time frame, Henry Blair also portrayed Ricky Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Although billed as "America's famous fighting cowboy," Red Ryder was notable because he usually did not kill his enemies but instead aimed for the hand to disarm them. Such sound effects were handled by James Dick, Monty Fraser and Bob Turnbull.
Films and television
Red Ryder appeared in more than 35 movies and serials. The series began in 1940 with The Adventures of Red Ryder
, played by Don 'Red' Barry
, who got his nickname "Red" from the role. Subsequently "Wild Bill" Elliott and Allan Lane portrayed Red Ryder in a number of films, both working with Robert Blake
as Red Ryder's young sidekick, Little Beaver. Red Ryder
was also a 1956 Western TV
series starring Jim Bannon
. It was telecast for a single season only.
- The Adventures Of Red Ryder (Republic, 1940).
- Tucson Raiders (Republic, 1944)
- Marshal Of Reno (Republic, 1944)
- The San Antonio Kid (Republic, 1944)
- Cheyenne Wildcat (Republic, 1944)
- Vigilantes Of Dodge City (Republic, 1944)
- Sheriff Of Las Vegas (Republic, 1944)
- Great Stagecoach Robbery (Republic, 1945)
- Lone Texas Ranger (Republic, 1945)
- Phantom Of The Plains (Republic, 1945)
- Marshal Of Laredo (Republic, 1945)
- Colorado Pioneers (Republic, 1945)
- Wagon Wheels Westward (Republic, 1945)
- California Gold Rush (Republic, 1946)
- Sheriff Of Redwood Valley (Republic, 1946)
- Sun Valley Cyclone (Republic, 1946)
- Conquest Of Cheyenne (Republic, 1946)
- Santa Fe Uprising (Republic, 1946)
- Stagecoach To Denver (Republic, 1946)
- Vigilantes Of Boomtown (Republic, 1947)
- Homesteaders Of Paradise Valley (Republic, 1947)
- Oregon Trail Scouts (Republic, 1947)
- Rustlers Of Devil's Canyon (Republic, 1947)
- Marshal Of Cripple Creek (Republic, 1947)
- Ride, Ryder, Ride (Eagle-Lion, 1949)
- Roll, Thunder, Roll (Eagle-Lion, 1949)
- The Fighting Redhead (Eagle-Lion, 1950)
- The Cowboy and the Prizefighter (Eagle-Lion, 1950)
The first Red Ryder
comic book was published by Stephen Slesinger
's Hawley Publications, Inc.
in September 1940, followed by Hi-Spot
comics for one issue. Dell Comics launched its Red Ryder
in August 1941, for a run of 151 issues, ending in 1957. The Dell title changed to Red Ryder Ranch Magazine
with #145 and then to Red Ryder Ranch Comics
Red Ryder products
Stephen Slesinger's marketing synergy for Red Ryder and Little Beaver products was equally trail blazing. Red Ryder toys, novelties, gifts, accessories, sporting goods and rugged outdoor, work and play clothing were sold nationwide and were exported by leading North American manufactures to Europe, Latin America and as far as Egypt, India and Japan. At the J.C. Penny stores across the country, Slesinger created Red Ryder "outposts for dependable American quality and value." These stores within the store were called "Red Ryder Corrals." In addition to educational and sportsmanship contests, special events and personal appearances, they supplied Red Ryder Brand rugged clothing for men and boys, Red Ryder and Little Beaver outdoor products, school supplies, lunch kits and other Red Ryder character hardware and sporting goods including the legendary Daisy Red Ryder Carbine, which became a father to son Christmas gift tradition as memorialized by the movie A Christmas Story. In the movie A Christmas Story (1983 film)
, the plot revolves around the author's memory of his own childhood in America and the story of a boy trying to get a "Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB gun
with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time" for Christmas
Red Ryder Characters are the registered trademarks of Red Ryder Enterprises, Inc. Red Ryder artwork ©Red Ryder Enterprises, Inc.
Red Ryder appears in the Electronic Arts computer game Wasteland, when the player kills all inhabitants of a small settlement (Highpool). The Red Ryder air rifle is also available (as a weapon) from "Super-Loot" bags. A bug in game programming created this in the PC version only ... in other versions the super-loot bags are empty.