Edmund Cobb

June 23rd, 1892 — August 15th, 1974

Edmund Cobb--first
Above: Edmund Cobb in a publicity still for the serial The Miracle Rider (Mascot, 1935).

The stern and somber-looking Edmund Cobb was one of the serial genre’s most prolific supporting players, appearing in more than one-fourth of the sound era’s chapterplays over the course of his lengthy acting career. Far more low-key in his acting style than buoyantly hammy contemporaries like George Chesebro, he still possessed a distinctive screen personality; he was also quite versatile–using his gruff voice and ready scowl to good advantage in many villainous parts, but easily dropping this grouchiness in favor of quiet seriousness or cheerfulness when he was called on to play sympathetic roles. His chapterplay parts were often small but were always noticeable, and included turns as virtually every type of serial supporting character–the serious co-hero, the comic sidekick, the henchman, the master villain, and the respected pillar of society.

Edmund Fessenden Cobb was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his parents ran a photography studio; he seems to have begun his before-the-camera career by posing in photos intended to advertise his family’s business. In 1912, he started appearing in moving pictures as well as still ones–making his screen debut with a bit in D. W. Griffith’s Biograph short A Pueblo Legend, which starred Mary Pickford and was filmed on location in New Mexico. Cobb then moved on to starring and co-starring parts in other New-Mexico-produced Western shorts, before relocating to Colorado–a popular filming location for producers of Westerns in the early days of movie-making. From 1913 to 1920 Cobb starred or co-starred in an innumerable amount of Colorado-filmed Western shorts (and a few features), most of them produced by the Chicago-based Essanay Studios. Around 1921 he moved to California, where he continued to star in Western shorts and features for Ashton Dearholt Productions, Arrow Films, and other studios; one of his Arrow assignments was the male lead in the silent chapterplay Days of ’49 (1924). Cobb became firmly ensconced at Universal Pictures during the second half of the 1920s–starring in a long series of Western shorts for the studio, and playing supporting roles in Universal serials such as 1926’s Fighting with Buffalo Bill (in which he was cast as the title character) or 1928’s A Final Reckoning (which featured him as the villain).

Cobb was still working at Universal when the sound era dawned; one of his first talking roles was in the studio’s very first all-talking serial, 1930’s The Indians Are Coming. Tim McCoy and Allene Ray were Indians’ top-billed stars, but the third-billed Cobb was only slightly less prominent; as Bill Williams, the trusty and unfailingly chipper pal of McCoy’s character, he participated in as many battles with Indians and outlaws as McCoy himself did. Though creaky in spots and floridly overacted in others (understandably so, given cast and crew’s unfamiliarity with talking pictures), Indians Are Coming was a big hit for Universal, and did much to ensure the survival of the serial form in the sound era. Cobb’s entertaining performance–though more boisterous than most of his subsequent serial turns–was one of the chapterplay’s more natural ones, while his rugged-sounding voice with its slight Southwestern accent proved well-suited to the cowpoke image he had built up during the silent era.

Edmund Cobb--the Indians are Coming
Above: Edmund Cobb (left) mischievously tries to snatch a pocket photograph of heroine Allene Ray from Tim McCoy (right) in The Indians Are Coming (Universal, 1930). That’s Francis Ford holding the two rough-housing friends apart.

However, despite the smoothness of his transition to sound films, Indians Are Coming would prove one of Cobb’s last heroic parts; perhaps studio bosses felt that his voice, authentically Western though it was, didn’t sound polished enough for hero roles in talkies. Whatever the reason, he soon found himself relegated to villainous and non-villainous supporting roles as the sound era continued. His second talking-serial appearance, in the 1930 Universal detective serial Finger Prints, was apparently a case in point; although the chapterplay is one of several early-1930s Universal outings that have unfortunately become lost over the years, existing stills (like the one reproduced below) seem to indicate that Cobb played one of its heavies.

Edmund Cobb--Finger Prints
Above: Edmund Cobb (far right) prepares to clobber hero Kenneth Harlan (hatless, white shirt) in Finger Prints (Universal, 1930). Harlan is grappling with Gayne Whitman; the lady is Gertrude Astor, while Monte Montague is standing behind her.

Cobb would spend the 1930s playing roles of varying size in features (chiefly Westerns) and serials; at first, most of his work was at Universal, but he would begin to appear more frequently in other studios’ productions as the decade wore on. One of his earliest non-Universal forays took him over to independent producer Harry Webb’s “Metropolitan Pictures,” where he played a major supporting part in the chapterplay The Sign of the Wolf. This low-budgeted outing rather oddly cast Cobb as a Hindu prince named Kuva, who was sent from India to the modern American West to retrieve some “radioactive” jewel-making chains stolen from a sacred temple. His character spent most of his time lurking ominously on the periphery of the action, using the serial’s canine protagonist (a German Shepherd named King) as his emissary; although Cobb’s Kuva frequently seemed to be threatening the serial’s human heroes (who had innocently come into possession of the stolen chains), he actually assisted them against the chapterplay’s real villains (a gang of gold-greedy outlaws). Cobb handled this offbeat part rather well, making the Prince seem both grimly imperturbable and likably gentlemanly; he also talked in a slow, precise, and slightly-accented voice that made his character sound suitably alien without making him sound silly.

Edmund Cobb--Sign of the Wolf
Above: Edmund Cobb is about to send a blowgun message in The Sign of the Wolf (Metropolitan, 1931).

Cobb played what was apparently a villainous role in the firefighting adventure Heroes of the Flames (Universal, 1931), another of Universal’s lost early-talkie chapterplays. Battling with Buffalo Bill (also Universal, 1931, but happily still extant) returned him to the more familiar Old West milieu of his silent days, but relegated him to the minor part of a helpful frontiersman named Andy; his best moments in this serial came when his character gruffly and stubbornly challenged the authority of the serial’s villain, would-be town boss Francis Ford. His next serial outing, Universal’s 1932 chapterplay Heroes of the West, gave him a much meatier role; as Bart Eaton, the tough boss of a beleaguered frontier rail crew, he formed in effect one-third of a trio of heroes (the other members being Onslow Stevens as the railroad surveyor and Noah Beery Jr. as the railroad owner’s son). Cobb’s Eaton steadfastly fought against the railroad’s enemies (the outlaw and Indian agents of a scheming rival contractor), but continually looked forward to the day when the railroad’s completion would allow him settle his personal grudge against Stevens’ character Crosby; Crosby for his part was equally hostile to Eaton, their mutual grudge arising from an unknown incident in their respective pasts. Cobb handled both the sympathetic and the antagonistic aspects of this part well, interacting jovially with Beery and the serial’s other supporting good guys, but invariably becoming harsh and sarcastic whenever he addressed Stevens; he also did a good job in the moving last-chapter reconciliation scene between the two characters, making Eaton sound not only sincerely apologetic but also slightly embarrassed by his past crankiness.

Edmund Cobb--Heroes of the Flames
Above: Edmund Cobb and Joe Bonomo give Tim McCoy a hard time in Heroes of the Flames (Universal, 1931).

Edmund Cobb--new Heroes of the West
Above: Edmund Cobb confronts Onslow Stevens in Heroes of the West (Universal, 1932).

The Lost Special (Universal, 1932) put Cobb back in the villains’ ranks as Spike, a member of a robber gang that successfully plundered the titular train of its gold shipment, only to be tracked down by amateur detective Tom Hood (Frank Albertson), the son of the gold’s owner. Though his character was subordinate to other heavies played by Frank Glendon, Tom London, and Al Ferguson, Cobb still made himself very noticeable throughout–scowling and grumbling emphatically, and engaging in some uncharacteristically comic but exceedingly hilarious business with a liquor bottle in one chapter. He was more honest and more sober in his next chapterplay, Clancy of the Mounted (Universal, 1933)–playing a dependable RCMP constable named Kelcy, who provided hero Tom Tyler with periodic backup.

Edmund Cobb--Clancy of the Mounted
Above: Edmund Cobb and Tom Tyler in Clancy of the Mounties (Universal, 1933).

The Phantom of the Air (Universal, 1933) featured Cobb as another villain, the radio operator (Bart by name) in a gang of aerial smugglers headed by LeRoy Mason. Gordon of Ghost City (Universal, 1933) returned him to the hero’s side, casting him as an affable cowpuncher named Scotty who helped hero Buck Jones track down some rustlers. Pirate Treasure (Universal, 1934) also featured him as a sympathetic character, a stalwart sailor named Bert who took part in a dangerous Caribbean treasure hunt–while The Vanishing Shadow (Universal, 1934) gave him the part of a tough-talking and slightly thick-witted thug named Kent, one of the henchmen of corrupt tycoon Walter Miller.

Edmund Cobb--Vanishing Shadow
Above: Edmund Cobb tries to wrestle an “infernal machine” away from slightly mad inventor James Durkin in The Vanishing Shadow (Universal, 1934).

The Red Rider (Universal, 1934) gave Cobb his biggest serial role since Heroes of the West–and one of the best chapterplay parts of his sound-era career. This excellent Western outing starred Buck Jones as an ex-sheriff seeking to clear his best friend of a murder charge by running down a smuggling and rustling boss (Walter Miller); Cobb was Johnny Snow, a cowboy who assisted Jones for much of the serial–when he wasn’t trying (rather discordantly) to serenade heroine Marion Shilling, who was actually in love with Jones’ character. Cobb’s characterization here combined phlegmatic toughness (when he was assisting Jones in fights and chases), a touch of pathos (when he finally realized that his courtship of the heroine was in vain) and plenty of deadpan humor (as in his off-key serenade scenes or his solemnly befuddled reactions to unexpected turns of events); never again would he receive such a memorably multifaceted role.

Edmund Cobb--the Red Rider

Above: Edmund Cobb and Buck Jones examine a clue (a marijuana cigarette) in The Red Rider (Universal, 1934).

Edmund Cobb--Red Rider
Above: Edmund Cobb demonstrates his alleged guitar-playing prowess to an unimpressed Buck Jones in The Red Rider.

In 1934, the year of Red Rider’s release, Cobb seems to have made a brief attempt to return to starring roles, toplining a low-budget B-western for “Black King Productions” called Racketeer Round-up and taking one of the leading parts in producer Victor Adamson’s The Rawhide Terror–a production that began as a serial, but was turned into an (incoherent) feature when money ran out, and was not released till 1935. Cobb’s career as a leading man thus remained moribund, leaving him to continue on his character-acting path. Also in 1934, he ventured away from Universal’s serial department to play a role in one of Mascot’s chapterplays, The Law of the Wild. This outing gave Cobb one of his most memorable heavy roles; he played a vicious and rebellious thug named Luger, who knifed his crooked boss (Richard Alexander) in a salary dispute and subsequently joined forces with a racetrack gambling kingpin (Richard Cramer) bent on exploiting the stolen steed Rex, repeatedly battling the horse’s real owner, hero Bob Custer. Cobb doggedly sneered and snarled his way through this role, making his character seem so realistically and murderously bad-tempered that the more boisterously hammy Cramer came off as pleasant by comparison.

Edmund Cobb--Law of the Wild
Above: Edmund Cobb threatens Richard Alexander a few seconds before knifing him in The Law of the Wild (Mascot, 1934).

Cobb returned to Universal for Tailspin Tommy (1934), playing a cheery veteran pilot named Speed Walton, one of the several flyers who helped to mentor aspiring aviator Tommy Tompkins (Maurice Murphy); his best moment in this outing came when he calmly refused to tell some hijackers where he’d hidden a diamond shipment, despite the threat of branding-iron torture. Mystery Mountain (also 1934), his second Mascot outing, gave him a meaty but uncredited part as the mysterious outlaw The Rattler; Cobb delivered all the villain’s lines and also wore his costume in most of his scenes, but did not otherwise appear in the serial (the Rattler being eventually unmasked as a completely different actor). Cobb this sinister figure with considerable gusto and gave him a genuinely menacing presence, despite a rather silly-looking costume–lowering his voice to a forbidding growl that made him sound quite intimidating when rebuking bungling henchmen or pronouncing the doom of hero Ken Maynard.

Edmund Cobb--Tailspin Tommy
Above: Edmund Cobb ignores the threats of Al Ferguson (left) and Ethan Laidlaw in Tailspin Tommy (Universal, 1934).

Edmund Cobb--Mystery Mountain
Above: Edmund Cobb–wearing the false nose, dark glasses, and fake moustache of the Rattler–sneaks up on Syd Saylor in Mystery Mountain (Mascot, 1934).

The Rustlers of Red Dog (Universal, 1935) gave Cobb a meaty henchman role as a mutinous outlaw named Buck, one of the followers of strong-willed rustler leader Harry Woods. Cobb spent most of the serial second-guessing Woods and rather sullenly challenging his leadership, finally assuming command of the gang when Woods was mistakenly thought to have been killed in a shootout with the hero (John Mack Brown). Woods returned to depose the surprised Cobb, and soon afterwards kicked him out of the gang–but Cobb’s character got the last laugh by informing Brown of Woods’ plan to rob the town bank, and surprisingly escaped with mere banishment from the territory, instead of capture or death.

Edmund Cobb--Rustlers of Red Dog
Above: Edmund Cobb urges The Rustlers of Red Dog (Universal, 1935) to accept him as their leader.

The 1935 Mascot serials The Miracle Rider (Tom Mix’s last starring film) and The Adventures of Rex and Rinty (a vehicle for the canine star Rin Tin Tin Jr. and the equine celebrity Rex, King of the Wild Horses) featured Cobb as heavies named Vining and Jones, respectively. In the former he was the field commander of the henchman pack, bluntly growling orders at lower-ranking heavies and grimly reporting to chief villain Charles Middleton; in the latter he was merely one of the henchman pack’s rank-and-file members, but used his distinctive and now well-established crankily villainous demeanor to avoid being completely overshadowed by more prominent villains like Harry Woods or Al Bridge. Adventures of Frank Merriwell (Universal, 1936) gave him a similar pack-member part as a grumpy henchman named Pete, one of many thugs who bedeviled star college athlete Merriwell (Don Briggs) during a treasure hunt.

Edmund Cobb--the Miracle Rider
Above, from left to right: Tom London, Edmund Cobb, Forrest Taylor, and Charles King ask questions of a groggy and disguised Stanley Price (kneeling) in The Miracle Rider (Mascot, 1935).

Edmund Cobb--Merriwell
Above: Dick Wessell and Edmund Cobb in Adventures of Frank Merriwell (Universal, 1936).

1936’s Darkest Africa, the first serial released by the new studio Republic (formed by a merger of Mascot and several other small outfits) cast Cobb as one of its principal heavies, an unscrupulous ivory trader named Craddock. He and his fellow-trader Durkin (Wheeler Oakman) trailed the serial’s star Clyde Beatty (playing himself) to the lost city of Joba, and joined forces with the city’s evil high priest (Lucien Prival) in hopes of getting their hands on Joba’s diamonds; the two profiteers finally were buried beneath the city’s ruins when they tried to salvage the diamonds in the face of a volcanic eruption. Cobb delivered a frequently amusing portrayal of a greedy grumbler in Africa; his character spent most of his time either complaining about danger or impatiently demanding the coveted diamonds, and contrasted nicely with the slicker and more confident villain played by Oakman. Together, they made an entertaining pair of secondary villains, and stole much of the serial from the non-professional actor Beatty and the rather un-menacing Prival.

Edmund Cobb--Darkest Africa
Above: Clyde Beatty slugs Edmund Cobb during a fight in the caverns of Joba in Darkest Africa (Universal, 1936).

Ace Drummond (Universal, 1936) featured Cobb as Nicolai, one of the Russian henchman of the Mongolian master criminal the Dragon; he (probably wisely) made no attempt to affect a Slavic accent, but otherwise handled the part with aplomb–although the serial’s extremely large cast left him with relatively little screen time. After completing Drummond, Cobb would take an extended hiatus from Universal’s serials and features, spending the remainder of the 193os working primarily in the B-western units at Columbia, Republic, and Warner Brothers, and in Republic’s serial division. Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (Republic, 1936), featured him throughout as Harris, one of the staff officers of the master spy “H. K”–but he spent all his screen time merely sitting at a table and occasionally responding verbally to his boss’s remarks. Zorro Rides Again (Republic, 1937) gave him a briefer but much showier role as a henchman named Larkin, who planted a bomb inside a warehouse but was then captured and interrogated in the doomed warehouse by Zorro (John Carroll); this sequence gave Cobb a good (and atypical) opportunity to display slowly mounting panic.

Edmund Cobb--Zorro Rides Again
Above: John Carroll (back to camera) and Edmund Cobb in Zorro Rides Again (Universal, 1931).

The Lone Ranger (Republic, 1938) gave Cobb his first sympathetic serial role since Tailspin Tommy; he appeared in the first chapter in the small but important part of Captain Rance, a Texas Rangers officer who attempted to challenge the power of a tyrannical state administrator (Stanley Andrews). Rance and his contingent of Rangers were decoyed into an ambush and gunned down by the tyrant’s followers, but one of Rance’s outfit survived the massacre and lived to become the Lone Ranger. Cobb was a villain again in The Fighting Devil Dogs (also Republic, 1938); as Ellis, one of the leading henchmen of the power-crazed master villain called the Lightning, he participated prominently in the serial’s villainy until he was caught and questioned by Marine heroes Lee Powell and Herman Brix in Chapter Seven; he was on the verge of revealing his boss’s identity when he was fatally zapped by the Lightning’s electrical pistol.

Edmund Cobb--Fighting Devil Dogs
Above: Lee Powell (left) and Herman Brix (right) interrogate a calm Edmund Cobb in The Fighting Devil Dogs (Republic, 1938).

Cobb met a similarly memorable demise in his first Columbia serial, 1938’s The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. As one of the outlaws known as the Phantom Raiders, he stormed vengefully into the town of Abilene in the first chapter to take revenge on a courageous citizen who had shot one of his colleagues during an earlier raid–only to be unexpectedly confronted by a suave, well-dressed “dude” who baited him into a gunfight that ended fatally for the belligerent Cobb; the dude then turned out to be new town marshal Bill Hickok (Bill Elliott), making a belated but dramatic entrance into the serial. Columbia’s next chapterplay, The Spider’s Web (also 1938) also featured Cobb in a small recurring role as a police dispatcher.

Edmund Cobb--Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok
Above: Edmund Cobb sneers at the fancily-dressed stranger before him (Bill Elliott, back to camera), not knowing he’s facing the dangerous title character of The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (Columbia, 1938).

After non-villainous bits as an oil-field foreman in Daredevils of the Red Circle (Republic, 1939) and a soldier in Dick Tracy’s G-Men (also Republic, 1939), Cobb took another prominent–and unsympathetic–part in Zorro’s Fighting Legion (Republic, 1939). Here, he was cast as Gonzalez, one of four crooked councilmen plotting against the Mexican government (the other three were John Merton, C. Montague Shaw, and Leander De Cordova). One of the members of the quartet was also masquerading as Don Del Oro, a Yaqui Indian god, and inciting the Indians to attack government gold shipments in order to further the quartet’s plans. Zorro, played by Reed Hadley, formed a legion of caballeros to battle the Indians, and set out to expose the villainous councilmen. Cobb didn’t turn out to be Don Del Oro (instead, he was murdered by the Don in the final chapter), but his role did allow him to engage in some meaty villainy–veering between self-important bluster and hypocritical joviality during council meetings, and plotting in complacently crafty fashion with his three co-conspirators.

Edmund Cobb--Zorro's Fighting Legion
Above, left to right: C. Montague Shaw, John Merton, and Edmund Cobb in Zorro’s Fighting Legion (Republic, 1939).

Cobb entered the 1940s firmly typed as a B-western supporting player; he would spend most of the decade playing bit parts and big roles, good guys and bad, in cowboy films for Republic, Universal, Columbia, and Monogram–periodically taking time out to appear in serials and non-Western features. His first 1940s chapterplay was Universal’s 1940 effort Winners of the West; he played a noticeable part in the serial’s first nine chapter as Maddox, one of outlaw boss King Carter’s (Harry Woods) accomplices in a war with an incoming railroad. Cobb’s character made a permanent exit in Chapter Nine, when he was told off by Woods to steal the rail crew’s gunpowder supply; instead of turning the powder over to his boss, Cobb hid the powder supply and smugly attempted to force Woods to pay him for it–a foolhardy action that got him shot down shortly afterwards by fellow-henchman Charles Stevens.

Deadwood Dick (Columbia, 1940), featured Cobb as a mine owner named Dan Steele, one of a committee of solid citizens trying to stamp out outlawry in the town of Deadwood by winning statehood for the Dakota Territory. Cobb’s character, whose brother was killed by badmen in the first chapter, was one of the most pugnacious and outspoken of the committee members–but was still suspected of being the masked outlaw leader the Skull at several points in the serial; he ultimately proved to be entirely trustworthy. The Green Archer (also Columbia, 1940), gave Cobb a small role as a crooked pilot, while White Eagle (Columbia, 1941) handed him a much larger role as Dave Rand, brother of heroine Dorothy Fay and the proprietor of a Pony Express company that the villainous Dandy Darnell (James Craven) was trying to take over; Buck Jones, as a Pony Express rider brought up by Indians (the “White Eagle” of the title) helped Cobb save his business. Eagle was largely played for laughs by its director James W. Horne, with villain Craven and several other cast members overacting outrageously, but Cobb handled his doggedly determined pioneer character in his customarily straightforward style.

Edmund Cobb--Deadwood Dick
Above: Edmund Cobb demands “action” as Ed Cassidy (center) and Lee Shumway (right) watch in Deadwood Dick (Columbia, 1940).

Edmund Cobb--White Eagle
Above, left to right: James Craven, Roy Barcroft, Buck Jones, and Edmund Cobb in White Eagle (Columbia, 1941).

Riders of Death Valley (Universal, 1941) gave Cobb several scenes in its later chapters as Salty, a good-natured mine foreman, while Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. featured him in a brief bit as a policeman who (understandably) failed to stop the invisible villain known as the Ghost from pulling off a murder. He didn’t make his next serial appearances until 1943, when he took one-chapter roles in the Republic serials G-Men vs. The Black Dragon and Daredevils of the West–as, respectively, a civilian defense official (Stewart by name) in charge of a threatened dam and a telegrapher named Ed. The Phantom (Columbia, 1943) featured him more prominently in its first six episodes as Grogan, one of the many henchmen of spy Kenneth MacDonald; his character exited in rather heroic fashion for a villain, meeting his death while resolutely and selflessly trying to stop one of his boss’s valuable munitions wagons from exploding.

Edmund Cobb--Riders of Death Valley
Above: Edmund Cobb listens warily to captive outlaw Lon Chaney Jr. (far right) in Riders of Death Valley (Universal, 1941). Jack Rockwell is between Cobb and Chaney.

Cobb played a small part as a miner in The Great Alaskan Mystery (Universal, 1944), but won a much bigger role in Universal’s very next serial, Raiders of Ghost City (also 1944). As a mean and somewhat dull-witted outlaw named Rawhide, he teamed with Jack Ingram and Jack Rockwell in executing most of this Western serial’s active villainy, until being accidentally shot by female heavy Virginia Christine in Chapter Eleven. Cobb’s part here allowed him a brief comic moment as well as plenty of nasty ones; his confused and panicked reaction when a resourceful doctor (Eddy Waller) pretended to “poison” him–and then offered him an antidote in exchange for information on his villainous cohorts–was quite funny.

Edmund Cobb--Raiders of Ghost City
Above: Edmund Cobb and Robert Barron lug groggy hero Dennis Moore into the villains’ cave hideout as Jack Ingram (partially hidden in shadow) watches in Raiders of Ghost City (Universal, 1944).

Jungle Queen (Universal, 1945), featured Cobb briefly as an undercover Nazi agent named Johann, who sabotaged the good guys’ plane and then watched them take off with smug satisfaction. The Master Key (Universal, 1945) cast him in a bit as a railroad switchman, while Federal Operator 99 (Republic, 1945) gave him another one-chapter bit as a policeman who assisted the G-man hero (Marten Lamont) in arranging a faked jailbreak (and indulged in a little grumbling when a colleague hit him too hard during the pretended escape). Cobb appeared throughout Secret Agent X-9 (Universal, 1945) in the minor but noticeable role of the bartender of the House of Shadows–a casino that served as a crossroads for China Seas intrigue.

Edmund Cobb--Secret Agent X-9
Above, left to right (foreground): Edmund Cobb, Jack Overman, and Samuel S. Hinds in Secret Agent X-9 (Universal, 1945).

The Scarlet Horseman (1946) was Universal Pictures’ final Western serial, and it fittingly featured Cobb–a mainstay of the studio’s Westerns during the 1920s and 1930s–as one of its key players. Playing a tough outlaw named Kyle, one of the two principal emissaries of badman Zero Quick (Edward Howard), he spent most of the serial either battling the heroes (Paul Guliofyle and Peter Cookson) or interfering in the schemes of rival villains Virginia Christine and Danny Morton; his principal partner in crime, as in Raiders of Ghost City, was Jack Ingram. This part largely relegated Cobb to the background, though it did give him a few good opportunities to be amusingly sarcastic–particularly when expressing puzzled irritation over all the (excessive) plotting and counter-plotting in the serial. This part would also prove to be his last really active henchman role. Cobb’s age and his increasing weight would relegate him largely to playing sheriffs, fathers, and other more sedentary types in most of his remaining chapterplays.

Edmund Cobb--the Scarlet Horseman
Above, left to right: Edward Howard, Peter Cookson, Edmund Cobb, and Jack Ingram in The Scarlet Horseman (Universal, 1946).

Son of Zorro (Republic, 1947) gave Cobb an enjoyably colorful part as an exceedingly cranky rancher named Stockton, who continually groused about the political corruption and outlaw raids in his home county, but also destructively criticized hero George Turner’s plans for stopping the lawlessness. His antagonistic attitude was meant to make the viewer suspect him of being the villains’ secret leader–but, in standard mystery tradition, the culprit turned out to be Cobb’s cheerful and helpful storekeeper crony, Tom London; in the last chapter, Cobb finally dropped his crabby manner to help the hero capture London, subsequently congratulating him on his success.

Edmund Cobb--Son of Zorro
Above: Peggy Stewart watches as George Turner outlines a plan for a skeptical Edmund Cobb and an interested Tom London in Son of Zorro (Republic, 1947).

The Vigilante (Columbia, 1947) featured Cobb in a small part as a henchman named Miller, who was tricked into a fatal ambush by fellow-henchman Jack Ingram as part of an elaborate double-cross on Ingram’s part. Jesse James Rides Again (Republic, 1947) cast him as a friendly and dependable farmer named Wilkie, one of several Tennessee landowners threatened by a gang of masked raiders but assisted in the defense of their property by the notorious Jesse James (Clayton Moore).

Edmund Cobb--the Vigilante
Above: Edmund Cobb with one of the coveted “Arabanian” horses that served as the MacGuffin in The Vigilante (Columbia, 1947).

G-Men Never Forget (Republic, 1948) assigned Cobb the role of R. J. Cook, a industrialist whose properties were targeted by racketeer Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft), but who stubbornly refused to knuckle under and pay the protection money Murkland requested. Cook was killed off by Murkland’s triggermen in Chapter Five, after accidentally discovering that the rackets boss (transformed by plastic surgery) was impersonating the police commissioner. Cobb’s choleric dismissals of protection demands, and his combination of apprehension and resolution in the scenes leading up to his character’s murder, were both very effective.

Edmund Cobb--G-Men Never Forget
Above: Edmund Cobb, knowing that a pair of hit men are closing in on him, starts to leave an important dictograph message for the G-men in G-Men Never Forget (Republic, 1948).

Cobb appeared throughout Tex Granger (Columbia, 1948) in the mostly non-speaking background part of a bartender named Eddie, and played a small but amusing role in Superman (Columbia, 1948) as a gas-station attendant puzzled by Jimmy Olsen’s (Tommy Bond) elaborate efforts to spy on some villains. The James Brothers of Missouri (Republic, 1949) featured Cobb as a self-important and rather inept sheriff, who was outfoxed when he (unjustly) tried to arrest the James brothers, and later exited the scene with an unconvincing excuse when the heroine called upon him to rescue one of the James boys from a lynch mob.

Edmund Cobb--Tex Granger
Above: Edmund Cobb is surprised by tough gunslinger Smith Ballew’s request for buttermilk in Tex Granger (Columbia, 1948).

Edmund Cobb--Superman
Above: Tommy Bond returns the perplexed Edmund Cobb’s cap (after borrowing it in order to get close to the villain’s car) in Superman (Columbia, 1948).

Edmund Cobb--James Brothers of Missouri
Above, left to right: Robert Bice, Edmund Cobb, and Keith Richards in The James Brothers of Missouri (Republic, 1949).

The early years of the 1950s found Cobb still working in B-westerns and serials, but also making many appearances on the Western TV shows that were gradually replacing both entertainment forms. The Range Rider, The Lone Ranger, and other early cowboy programs cast him almost exclusively as sheriffs, but he still made a few film and television appearances on the wrong side of the law during the decade’s earlier years. One of these was in the 1950 Republic serial Desperadoes of the West, which gave Cobb a nice extended bit in its first chapter as an outlaw named Bowers, who impersonated an oil-well driller and attempted to sabotage the good guys’ oil rig. The role allowed him to react belligerently when the hero and heroine asked him some awkward questions, and adopt an amusing air of phony knowledgeability when inspecting the oil well; his character was killed by a falling derrick at the end of the chapter.

Edmund Cobb--Desperadoes of the West
Above: Richard Powers and Judy Clark have the upper hand on Edmund Cobb in Desperadoes of the West (Republic, 1950).

Cobb played his final villainous serial role in Government Agents vs. Phantom Legion (Republic, 1951), receiving billing but almost no dialogue as a thug named Turner, who planted some explosives in the path of a train; his three final serial roles–like most of his concurrent television parts–were all sympathetic ones. Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders (Republic, 1953) featured him in its first five chapters as one of a band of sturdy settlers trying to make a home in the frozen north, while The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd (Columbia, 1953) gave him a nicely dramatic and colorful one-chapter cameo as a Colonial-era American trapper whose straight shooting saved the heroes from being killed by Indians. He made his final serial appearance in Republic’s last Western chapterplay, Man with the Steel Whip (1954); as a kindly rancher named Mr. Lee, he briefly aided the hero and heroine in delivering food supplies to some friendly Indians–and helped them fight off an attack on the supply wagons by Indian renegades. After congratulating the leads on their survival of a wagon crash, he disappeared from the chapterplay, and from the serial screen.

Edmund Cobb--Captain Kidd
 Above: Edmund Cobb and Stanley Andrews prepare to effect a rescue in The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd (Columbia, 1953).

Edmund Cobb--Man with the Steel Whip
Above: Richard Simmons, Barbara Bestar, and Edmund Cobb in Man with the Steel Whip (Republic, 1954).

The B-western and serial genres passed into oblivion in 1954 and 1956 (respectively), but Cobb continued to work steadily throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s–playing sheriffs, stage drivers, bartenders, and townsmen on innumerable television shows, and a variety of bit parts in Western and non-Western features. He retired in 1962, after a bit as a coachman in the opening sequence of the Roger Corman horror movie Tales of Terror, but made a return to the big screen in 1965 to play credited character parts in Requiem for a Gunfighter and The Bounty Killer, a pair of deliberately old-fashioned Westerns produced by Alex Gordon and filled with familiar players from Cobb’s earlier acting days–Tim McCoy, John Mack Brown, even Cobb’s one-time boss at Essanay Studios, G. M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson. Cobb followed the two Gordon pictures with a turn in the A. C. Lyles Western Johnny Reno, which was similarly nostalgic in its scripting and casting. Cobb returned to retirement after his appearance in Reno, living in Los Angeles and paying a few visits to gatherings of old serial players; he passed away at the Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills at the age of 82.

Edmund Cobb helped to ring up the curtain on the sound-serial era, and remained a very familiar face throughout said era’s quarter-of-a-century span–delivering consistently solid and believable performances in whatever role that the production chiefs of Mascot, Universal, Republic, or Columbia chose to assign him to. Though lacking the larger-than-life qualities of some of his chapterplay peers, he nevertheless managed to make his characters memorable in his own grave, sincere, and down-to-earth fashion.

Edmund Cobb--last

Above: Edmund Cobb points the way for the masked Don Douglas in Deadwood Dick (Columbia, 1940).


Acknowledgements: I am indebted to the Old Corral’s page on Edmund Cobb for much of the above biographical information on Cobb–and for the information about the uncompleted serial The Rawhide Terror.

One thought on “Edmund Cobb

  1. Great research. Thanks for leaving a history of these character actors who truly were actors who added so much to our enjoyment. Cobb was one of the best. I wonder how much these guys made in those days?

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