February 15th, 1898 — February 22nd, 1946
Craggy-faced and muscular, with a tough-sounding voice to match his appearance, Bud Geary easily found a screen niche as a roughneck, and delivered some exceptionally convincing thug portrayals in many B-westerns and serials. Geary was never just a standard-issue goon in his roles, however; he played even minor characters with a memorable combination of swagger and wry humor that made them stand out from the ranks.
Bud Geary was born Sigsbee Maine Geary in Salt Lake City. There seems to be no information available on his pre-acting years; he first turned up in Hollywood in 1920. Then a handsome and athletic type, Geary seems to have stepped right into featured roles, playing clean-cut juveniles and secondary leads for Fox and other studios in dramas, Westerns, and other films throughout the first half of the decade, among them Douglas Fairbanks’ epic-scale Robin Hood (as Will Scarlet). Geary’s career seems to have abruptly halted in 1925, not long after he worked with Buck Jones in the Western The Arizona Romeo; one wonders if he sustained some injury during filming. In any case, Geary apparently disappeared from movies until 1928, when he played a featured role in the silent comedy Easy Living; after this film, he began falling into bit parts as the sound era began. This fall from stardom could have been caused by Geary’s gruff voice, which was unsuited to his 1920s screen image, but that still does not explain his extended Hollywood absence earlier in the decade. Whatever the reason, Geary spent the early 1930s playing small uncredited roles—as cops, thugs, chauffeurs, sailors, cowboys, and the like– in films of every genre and from every studio; by 1933, he was supplementing his acting income with a second career as a stunt man. His first serial work came in 1935, in Mascot’s The Miracle Rider; here, he played one of his last sound-era good guys, appearing as an appropriately cheerful and confident Davy Crockett in a brief scene during the chapterplay’s lengthy historical prologue.
Geary remained principally a bit player and stuntman during the rest of the 1930s. In 1938, he performed several stunts in Columbia’s chapterplay The Spider’s Web, as well as taking an onscreen bit as a henchman. Red Barry (Universal, 1938), had Geary doing double duty again, serving as a stunt-team member and one of the acrobatic performers in a vaudeville theater that provided the backdrop for much of the serial’s action. He also supplied stuntwork and played one-chapter thug bits in the 1939 chapterplays Mandrake the Magician and Daredevils of the Red Circle, Dick Tracy’s G-Men, and Zorro’s Fighting Legion (all Republic); in Flying G-Men (Columbia, 1939), he appeared throughout the serial as the villains’ radio operator, but still functioned primarily as a stuntman.
Geary continued as a stuntman in the 1940s, but also began getting some villainous roles meatier than his 1930s parts. An early example was the serial Adventures of Red Ryder (Republic, 1940), which gave him a notable part in the first two chapters as an outlaw named Pecos Bates. Geary’s role allowed him to hold forth to a mob of townspeople and get decked by hero Don Barry, then coolly bump off captive colleague Ray Teal before dying himself under the hooves of a posse’s horses.
The early 1940s would find Geary working chiefly at Republic, playing heavies and performing stunts in dozens of the studio’s B-pictures and chapterplays. The serials King of the Royal Mounted and Mysterious Doctor Satan (both Republic, 1940), cast him as thugs named Klondike and Hallett, respectively; both characters appeared continually throughout the cliffhangers and frequently tangled with the heroes, staying noticeable despite their background henchman status. He was featured much more briefly in Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic, 1941), appearing in a single chapter as a beleaguered scientist’s rifle-toting (and treacherous) watchman.
Jungle Girl (Republic, 1941) featured Geary as Brock, one of the three henchmen of diamond-seeking gangster Gerald Mohr. Though Geary was again relegated principally to backup-henchman duties here, he received more dialogue and screen time in Jungle Girl than in his preceding Republics, and made the most of one extended scene in which he tried to persuade a fellow-thug (Joe McGuinn) not to double-cross Mohr; he managed to convey an unspoken wish that his former crony would see reason and not make it necessary to kill him–together with a grim, hard-boiled readiness to take such a step should it indeed prove necessary.
King of the Texas Rangers (Republic, 1941) cast Geary as another henchman “pack member,” an outlaw named Kramer. Together with Roy Barcroft, Kenne Duncan, and other formidable heavies, Geary participated in plenty of on-screen villainy throughout this wartime Western. His role as an unnamed villainous factory worker in Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (Republic, 1941) was much smaller, only comprising one extended action sequence.
Though the preponderance of his work was at Republic, Geary occasionally popped up in other studios’ matinee fare during the early 1940s–including Columbia’s cliffhanger Captain Midnight (1942), in which he had a small bit as an unnamed henchman. Geary’s appearances at other studios were curtailed in mid-1943, when he signed a two-year exclusive Term Player contract with Republic; the already prolific performer would almost double the amount of his Western and serial appearances over the life of the contract. He appeared in all four serials Republic produced in 1943, although none of his roles were large: G-Men vs. the Black Dragon featured him as a saboteur working for the Japanese in Chapter One, while in Chapter Eleven of Secret Service in Darkest Africa he played an Arab blacksmith in the pay of the Nazis; in both outings he departed the scene after taking part in spectacular fight sequences. The Masked Marvel, another wartime serial, cast Geary as an Axis victim instead of an Axis agent; he was a jovial trucker drugged by Japanese agents at a café while his truck was hijacked. Captain America returned Geary to villainous roles, with a one-chapter part as a henchman who got shot while retrieving a tape recorder from the District Attorney’s office.
The Tiger Woman (Republic, 1944) featured Geary in another one-chapter bit as a brutal thug who presided over the torture of a riverboat captain and got his comeuppance from the heroes after a fistfight; however, Republic’s next serial release, Haunted Harbor, gave him one of his biggest cliffhanger roles. As Snell, the Number Two follower of crooked South Seas mine owner Roy Barcroft, Geary took a major part in Harbor’s action, splitting dirty deeds with Number One henchman Kenne Duncan. The brawny and confident Geary played well off the smaller, more nervously aggressive Duncan, and the two served as a perfect “action heavy” duo until Geary was blown up in a booby-trap set for the heroes in Chapter Fourteen.
Sizable as Geary’s Haunted Harbor part was, it was The Purple Monster Strikes (Republic, 1945) that gave him his best serial showcase. Roy Barcroft played the title role in this serial, a Martian who came to Earth to facilitate his planet’s invasion of ours; Geary played Hodge Garrett, a two-bit gangster who accidentally crossed the Martian’s path and was recruited to serve as the invader’s right-hand man. Geary played his part for all it was worth, making Garrett appropriately tough and mean but extracting a good deal of humor from the character, particularly in his first meeting with the Purple Monster and his subsequent interactions with the Martian. Throughout the serial, he affected a casual and oafishly self-satisfied manner that contrasted beautifully with Barcroft’s precise, coldly obsessive attitude, and managed to steal several scenes from Barcroft and the serial’s other stars.
Geary’s Republic contract expired in 1945, but he continued to do most of his work for the studio; his final Republic serial was 1946’s King of the Forest Rangers. He played a small but memorable one-chapter character part in this outing, the venal nephew of an old lady whose land the villains were seeking to buy. Geary’s character, Rance Barton, abetted the heavies’ scheme to frighten his aunt out of her home with a phony ghost, but his complicity was exposed by forest ranger Larry Thompson and he was arrested after a fight. Geary was hilarious as the loafing slob Rance, whether he was sprawling on his aunt’s couch, growling at Thompson, or verbally stumbling over the word “hallucination.”
Two days after the release of King of the Forest Rangers, Bud Geary died in a car crash in the San Fernando Valley. The films he had been working in before his untimely end—among them Republic, Columbia, and Monogram B-westerns—continued to be released into 1947. Among these was Geary’s last serial, Hop Harrigan (Columbia, 1946), in which he appeared briefly in three chapters as a largely silent background henchman called Heard; his most noticeable moment here came when he was tricked into touching an electrified bed by mad scientist Dr. Tobor (John Merton), and reacted with appropriate shakes and grimaces.
Bud Geary’s stuntman work, his busy B-western schedule, and (sadly) his untimely passing kept him from taking many leading chapterplay-villain roles. However, he nevertheless established himself as one of the most convincing and colorful serial heavies of the 1940–thanks to the inimitably cool and laid-back swagger that he used to make his characters both menacing and humorous.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Western Clippings’ page on Bud Geary for biographical information, and to the Republic’s Stable of Bad Guys page at the Old Corral for the dates of Geary’s Republic contract.