December 31st, 1892 — July 13th, 1955
Curly-haired and dark-complexioned, with a smooth and carefully-modulated voice, Stanley Price generally found himself playing one of three varieties of supporting villains in his many B-films and serials: the slimy and insincere slicker, the eccentric or sinister foreigner, and the cringing and terrified underworld rat. Price was a scene-stealer in all three slots, but is best-remembered by cliffhanger fans for his turns in the third one. In serial after serial, it was Price’s lot to either be killed off by the lead villain or interrogated by the hero; either scenario was sure to be accompanied by plenty of eye-rolling, hand-wringing, semi-hysterical raving, and other fear-crazed antics on the part of the memorably hammy Price.
Stanley Price was born in Atchison, Kansas; he was working as a Midwestern stage actor by 1917 (the year he filled out his draft-registration form). After an unknown term of World War 1 service, he returned to acting; by the 1920s, he had made it to Broadway, where he both worked as both a playwright and an actor. During the 1920s, he also appeared in a few New-York-made silent films; he didn’t make his first Hollywood screen appearance until 1932, when he took a bit part as a gangster’s henchman in the Warner Brothers melodrama Three on a Match. Judging from the 1940 census (on which Price lists his occupation as “stage and screen” actor), he did regular theater work on the West coast during the 1930s–which would account for the relative sparseness of his film credits during that period.
Price’s aforementioned 1932 screen debut set the tone for most of his 1930s roles; for the next seven years, he would typically play uncredited bits—usually as gangsters or natives—in both A and B films. One exception to this rule was his major part as a mob boss in the low-budget 1934 comedy Hollywood Hoodlum, from Fanchon Royer Pictures. Hoodlum’s director was B. Reeves Eason, already a veteran helmer of action films; it was Eason who would give Price his first serial role the following year, in Mascot Pictures’ The Miracle Rider. Price played an outlaw named Chapman in this modern-day Western, one of several members of a pack of henchmen assigned by boss villain Charles Middleton to drive the Ravenhead Indians from their mineral-rich reservation. Price, though new to both Westerns and chapterplays, fit in smoothly with veteran badmen like Charles King, Tom London, and Edmund Cobb, and received plenty of opportunities to tangle with hero Tom Mix throughout the serial; his character here was smugly confident and tougher than many of Price’s later henchmen, but showed touches of his soon-to-be-familiar nervousness when worrying about being arrested for a murder, and when being grilled by Mix; he also flashed a characteristically crazed-looking grin when he joined with fellow-henchman King to double-cross Middleton (a maneuver that wound up putting Price and King in jail and taking them out of the serial).
Price returned to bit roles after Miracle Rider, chiefly in B-crime films from various studios, and didn’t appear in another serial until 1938, when he worked in three chapterplays. The first, Universal’s Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (Universal, 1938), gave him a brief but memorable part in the first chapter as a Martian lab worker turned into a grotesque “Clay Man” by the Martian Queen Azura (Beatrice Roberts) for opposing her war plans, in the serial’s first and most startling demonstration of her magical powers. Price was only onscreen for a minute or so, but reacted with suitably bug-eyed horror to his terrible sentence.
The Fighting Devil Dogs (a Republic serial), gave Price a quick voice-over assignment in the first chapter; he dubbed the voice of the masked villain the Lightning in a scene added in post-production (ironically, Price’s sonorous voice was better-suited to the role than that of the more nasal-sounding Edwin Stanley, who dubbed the Lightning for the balance of the serial). Universal’s Red Barry cast Price as Petrov, one of a trio of Russian exiles battling Chinese agents, gangsters, and police detective Buster Crabbe for possession of some valuable bonds. The Russians in Barry had less screen time than their two rival gangs did, but were still persistent pests throughout; Price’s performance here was firmly in “eccentric foreigner” mold, with “eccentric” shading over into “crazed” in some scenes, particularly when his panicked Petrov failed to outrace Crabbe and instead decided to ram the hero off the road.
The serial Buck Rogers (Universal, 1939), had Price popping up midway through as the slave of the 25th-Century dictator of Earth, Killer Kane—robotized, like other of Kane’s minions, by a mind-control helmet. Price accidentally became revered by a primitive people of Saturn called “Zuggs;” Kane’s henchmen then programmed Price to lead the Zuggs in revolt against the Saturnian rulers, to stop them from allying with Kane’s Earthling enemies in the “Hidden City.” However, hero Buster Crabbe freed Price from the robot helmet and found him to be Captain Martin, a Hidden City officer captured by Kane; once restored to his right mind, Price successfully dispersed the rebellious Zuggs. Price, whose role overall spanned about three chapters, staggered around with a properly vacant expression when robotized, and got a rare chance to be likable as the restored Captain Martin, particularly when overcoming his natural reluctance to put the decommissioned robot helmet on again to impress the Zuggs.
Above: Stanley Price orders the Zuggs to cease their revolt in Buck Rogers (Universal, 1939). Buster Crabbe and Constance Moore are behind him; Henry Brandon, standing at far left, is being covered by the partially-hidden Philson Ahn; Cyril Delevanti is seated on the far left, Guy Usher on the far right.
Daredevils of the Red Circle (Republic, 1939), gave Price a one-chapter role as a mad scientist named Professor Selden, with a withered hand and club foot, who was working for “39-0-13’s” gang; he was investigated by the three titular heroes, and gunned down by the heavies when his attempt to electrocute the Daredevils failed, after first threatening his ex-colleagues with a bomb he had planted in his laboratory. Price made the most of his small but colorful part, playing the twisted Selden to the hilt in memorably maniacal fashion. Price’s last 1930s serial gave him another small scientist role, albeit a non-threatening one: as the apparently Oriental chemist Dr. Shang in Dick Tracy’s G-Men (Republic, 1939), he analyzed an Asiatic suspended-animation drug for Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) in the first chapter.
As the 1940s began, Price was still chiefly working as a bit-player in dramas or crime pictures; however, he would wind up spending a good deal of the decade as a B-western heavy, chiefly in the cowboy films of Republic, Monogram and PRC–while still playing bits in other films and working as a dialogue director. His serial appearances also multiplied in the 1940s; Universal’s Sky Raiders (1941) featured him in a couple of chapters as Curtis, a good-natured veteran mechanic at hero Donald Woods’ private air base. Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic, 1941), cast Price in a more standard double-dealing squealer part; he appeared in two chapters as a henchman named Owens, who was quite smooth and self-assured when plotting a fatal “accident” for heroine Louise Currie, but who went completely to pieces when confronted by the super-powered Captain Marvel (Tom Tyler). Marvel’s alter ego Billy Batson (Frank Coghlan Jr.) then tried to get the shaken Price to identify his mysterious boss, the Scorpion, from a roomful of suspects, but the guilty suspect slipped a note to Price ordering him to lead Coghlan into a trap. The trap (a spiked pit) failed to get Batson/Marvel, but disposed of Price in terminal fashion.
Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (Republic 1941) featured Price in a single episode as an unnamed but authoritative henchman commanding a squad of thugs that tangled with Ralph Byrd and his G-men at a barn hideout. Holt of the Secret Service (also 1941), Price’s first Columbia serial, gave him a larger role in its final five chapters as Dent, a smooth and capable henchman of corrupt tropical-island official Stanley Blystone; his best moment here came when he convinced a befuddled native chief that hero Jack Holt—who the natives had just been chasing through the jungle—could also be bombing the natives from the air. Price was back to playing a craven type in his next serial, Gang Busters (Universal, 1942); he appeared in Chapter Five as a hoodlum named Corky Watts, assisting the sinister “League of Murdered Men.” After being identified during an attempt to kill hero Kent Taylor, Corky went into hiding, in terror of his ex-associates, but the police and the League caught up with him at the same time; an agent of the latter group drilled him in the ensuing confusion.
Perils of the Royal Mounted (Columbia, 1942) featured Price as Hood, one of the henchman pack serving slick frontier scoundrel Kenneth MacDonald in his attempts to start an Indian war. Price’s role here was ostensibly that of a typical background thug, but he and the other henchmen in the serial often found themselves engaging in incongruously comical behavior at the behest of director James W. Horne; Price, ever-hammy, handled the cartoonish aspects of his part easily. King of the Mounties (Republic, 1942), a much more straightforward RCMP outing, gave him a one-chapter bit as a henchman named McGee, while Valley of Vanishing Men (Columbia, 1942) featured him in its first chapter as an outlaw named Carter who was gunned down, despite frenzied pleadings, as punishment for failing boss villain Kenneth MacDonald.
G-Men vs. the Black Dragon (Republic, 1943), cast Price as a sinister, glowering mute storekeeper named Gabby Gibbs, whose store served as a rendezvous point for a gang of Japanese spies in one chapter. Hero Rod Cameron discovered his treason–thanks to the notes Price used to communicate with his associates–and killed him in a fight. In Batman (Columbia, 1943) Price was again an American crook (unnamed this time) working for the Japanese; he helped action heavy Robert Fiske rob a safe towards the end of Chapter One, was captured by Batman and Robin in Chapter Two, and cringingly divulged some vital information after being imprisoned in the creepy Bat Cave and spooked by the resident bats; he was then turned over to the police and disappeared from the serial.
The Masked Marvel (Republic, 1943) featured Price in Chapter Two as a suave, crooked gasoline-company owner named Barnes, who spun a convincing lie for the benefit of the good guys but was vanquished in a big fistfight when his deception failed to work. Price then figured prominently in the first three chapters of The Phantom (Columbia, 1943) as a native chieftain named Chota, who resented the authority of the titular jungle ruler (Tom Tyler) and plotted against him with a group of foreign spies. The Phantom discovered Chota’s treachery and, using some “magical” tricks, terrorized the chief into revealing his connection with the villains. Chota then dropped out of sight, only to reappear in the last chapter, vowing to make “big trouble” for the Phantom in revenge for his humiliation; he only succeeded in killing a phony Phantom in the spies’ pay before getting shot by the real Phantom’s pal Ernie Adams. Price wildly “chewed the scenery” to entertaining effect in Phantom, gloating ghoulishly when the Phantom apparently died in quicksand, only to break down in groveling panic when the Phantom began performing his frightening sleights of hand.
In the first chapter of Captain America (Republic, 1944) Price played a crooked chemist helping to manufacture a deadly gas called the Purple Death; cornered by hero Dick Purcell, he crazily threatened to unleash the deadly stuff, but Purcell merely plugged Price and beat a hasty retreat before the gas filled the room. The Great Alaskan Mystery (Universal, 1944), gave him another one-chapter bit as a nervous henchman who joined fellow-thug George Chesebro (another expert portrayer of jittery crooks) in cowering before from the power of the death-ray he had been trying to steal.
In The Tiger Woman (Republic, 1944), he lasted the entire serial, but strictly as a background figure, serving as the shifty clerk for crooked jungle oil magnates Crane Whitley and LeRoy Mason. In The Desert Hawk he was a more active henchman, a nasty guardsman named Sardi who served a usurping Caliph (Gilbert Roland). Price’s Sardi figured as a major henchman pack member throughout Desert Hawk–eagerly trying to hunt down the fugitive Caliph (also Gilbert Roland), gloating creepily whenever he thought he had a chance of killing him, but finally dying in a swordfight with him in the final chapter.
Black Arrow (Columbia, 1944) featured Price as a sneering and self-confident badman named Wade, one of the chief henchmen of secret outlaw leader Kenneth MacDonald; he dropped out of sight after being wounded halfway through the serial, but briefly went back into action in two of the chapterplay’s later episodes–killing a colleague who was about to incriminate his boss, and shortly afterwards receiving a second wound that proved fatal. Zorro’s Black Whip (Republic, 1944), like Tiger Woman, featured him as a crooked clerk but gave him a bit more screen time than his previous Republic outing; as Hedges, the sneaky aide of villainous frontier stage-line owner Francis McDonald, his main function was to periodically participate in office plotting sessions with his boss and his outlaw cohorts.
The Monster and the Ape (Columbia, 1945), a very slow-moving chapterplay with a weak plot, nevertheless gave Price one of his better non-cowardly henchman roles as Mead, a very sly and intelligent member of mad scientist George Macready’s band who figured prominently in the serial’s later chapters. Federal Operator 99 (Republic, 1945), featured him in a single chapter as a reformed counterfeiter named Monte Mason who allowed federal agent Marten Lamont to impersonate him in an attempt to capture gangster George J. Lewis. In Secret Agent X-9 (Universal, 1945), Price appeared periodically throughout the serial as Duke, one of several small-time criminals being trained to imitate a prominent American scientist by Japanese spies. However, when plastic surgery failed to make Price look enough like the scientist, he was gunned down by the spies in the final chapter.
Price’s next serial was The Crimson Ghost (Republic, 1946), in which he appeared in the last two chapters as Count Fator, an impatient and fiery agent of an unspecified country interested in buying a counter-atomic weapon called the Cyclotrode from the sinister Crimson Ghost. Son of Zorro (Republic, 1947), gave Price the biggest sympathetic role of his serial career as Pancho, the loyal Mexican servant of Western lawyer Jeff Stewart (George Turner); Stewart returned home from the Civil War to find crooked politicians controlling his county, and at the urging of Pancho took up the guise of his ancestor Zorro to battle the politicos and their outlaw followers. Price, despite his naturally sinister appearance, was very likable as the zealous Pancho–enthusiastically helping his master don the Zorro costume, helpfully plugging villains, and dressing in the Zorro costume himself at one point to save the hero’s life.
Chapter Eleven of The Black Widow (Republic, 1947), featured Price as an urbane bookstore owner named Fillmore Hagen, former cell-mate of a villainous scientist (I. Stanford Jolley) sought by hero Bruce Edwards; he denied all knowledge of his former acquaintance to Edwards, but was then caught communicating with Jolley by radio and apprehended after a fight.
Republic’s very next serial, the well-done G-Men Never Forget (also 1948), cast Price in his best subordinate villain role–a talented but crooked doctor named Robert Benson. “Doc” Benson performed plastic surgery on gang boss Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft) to make him resemble the police commissioner, then held the commissioner (also Barcroft) prisoner in his sanitarium so Murkland could take his place. Price’s character never left the sanitarium, but nevertheless participated in all the villains’ plotting sessions, frequently ordered chief henchman Drew Allen around, sleekly deceived sanitarium visitors, and generally conducted himself like a near-equal of lead villain Barcroft.
Price next appeared in three chapters of Brick Bradford (Columbia, 1947), as a hostile island native chief of the 1700s; he tried to burn time-traveling heroes Kane Richmond and Rick Vallin at the stake, was temporarily distracted and pleased by the cigars Vallin presented him with, but later turned hostile again and led his men in further attacks on the heroes until the latter escaped to their own time. Superman (Columbia, 1948) gave Price a single scene as Crandall, a henchman of the villainous Spider Lady (Carol Forman); he supervised the attempted sabotage of a government ray machine, but he was killed when his counter-ray machine malfunctioned after being blocked by Superman (Kirk Alyn).
Congo Bill (Columbia, 1948) featured Price in several episodes as the unnamed native henchman of a sinister witch-doctor (Frank Lackteen); the part gave him a couple of good chances to dramatically exhort his fellow-natives to attack safaris, as well as a few opportunities to grimace gleefully while leading these attacks. King of the Rocket Men (Republic, 1949), cast Price as Gunther Von Strum, an apparently respectable scientist who was one of several men suspected of being the criminal Dr. Vulcan. Price spent the first two-thirds of the serial acting both upright and shifty, until he proved his innocence by being kidnapped and drugged into helping Vulcan while in a zombie-like state; he was killed off shortly afterwards.
Price’s final Republic serial, The Invisible Monster (1950), gave him his first and only brains heavy role as the “Phantom Ruler,” an evil scientist using his invisibility ray to commit robberies, with the ultimate goal of hiring and equipping an invisible army. Though decidedly miscast in a role that didn’t allow him to be either slickly duplicitous or maniacally insane, Price did his best to make the Ruler menacing, nastily browbeating his unwilling scientific associates and calmly and confidently outlining his improbable scheme in chapter after chapter.
Price’s last big serial role was in Pirates of the High Seas (Columbia, 1950); as Lamar, the toady and secretary of crooked tropical-island governor Gene Roth, he alternately complimented his boss on his genius and worried about whether his plans would work. In the later chapters of the serial, Price started sneakily trying to doublecross Roth, and was gunned down by his chief in the final chapter after his treachery was made known—not before Price had a chance to revert to a slightly more subdued version of his trademark cringing manner.
Above: Stanley Price watches interestedly as the seated Gene Roth discusses a curious cigarette case–a clue to a fortune in diamonds–with Tommy Farrell (far left), Buster Crabbe (hand on the case), and Tristram Coffin (striped shirt) in Pirates of the High Seas (Columbia, 1950). The unidentified player on the far right is playing one of Roth’s “constables.”
Price continued to play B-western heavies into the 1950s, now chiefly at Monogram and Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, while taking an occasional bit in big features like Kim or Alan Ladd’s Desert Legion; when B-westerns died out around 1953, he kept working frequently in Monogram’s A-westerns, as both actor and “dialogue director,” as well as making a few TV appearances. He made played two more serial parts in the fifties, both for Columbia—the first being 1953’s The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd, in which he appeared very briefly as an Arab sea captain whose vessel was captured by English privateers. His final chapterplay, Perils of the Wilderness, featured the now sixty-plus Price in a couple of scenes as a henchman pack member called Cragg, largely so producer Sam Katzman could use a stock-footage sequence from Perils of the Royal Mounted that had also featured Price. Sadly, Wilderness would prove a posthumous release for Stanley Price; about six months before the serial hit theaters in early 1956, he died of a heart attack in Los Angeles.
Stanley Price always tackled even the smallest roles with pop-eyed intensity, extracting all the melodramatic vigor he could from characters ranging from menacing to pusillanimous. Although he hit the serial scene a bit later than other colorful henchman players like George Chesebro or Charles King, he deserves to rank alongside them; like them, he brought a distinctive and attention-getting screen persona to every part he played, bits and featured roles alike.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to the Old Corral’s page on Stanley Price, and to William C. Cline’s book In the Nick of Time (MacFarland, 1984) for biographical information.