January 26th, 1908 — March 1st, 1964
Above: Dennis Moore in an interesting publicity still from The Mysterious Mr. M (Universal, 1946).
Dennis Moore starred or co-starred in six different serials, but unlike most leading men with multiple serial credits, he has never had a fan following; he remains the most overlooked of cliffhanger leads. Moore had all the standard attributes of a serial hero–good looks, athletic ability, and a commanding voice–but he simply lacked the charisma of Clayton Moore, Buster Crabbe, Allan Lane, and other, more popular serial heroes. He was a sturdy but unexciting actor, and rarely managed to give his performances the extra spark of personality which can make a simply-written part seem more interesting. However, he was a reliable presence in the world of serials and B- westerns, and could always be depended on for a solid, if uninspired, performance.
Moore was born Dennis Meadows in Fort Worth, Texas. As a young man, he developed a strong interest in both acting and aviation; he worked his way towards a pilot’s license while simultaneously working with local theatrical companies. Upon earning his license, he set out to pursue flying as a full-time career, but was injured in a crash and forced to return to acting. He wound up in Hollywood around 1932, and broke into films as a stuntman and bit player in various B-movies and serials; among the latter were Gordon of Ghost City (Universal, 1933) and Burn ’em up Barnes (Mascot, 1934), which featured him in uncredited bits as a cowboy and a film crewman, respectively. He had somewhat larger but still uncredited parts in The Red Rider (as a cowhand named Slim) and Tailspin Tommy (as a pilot named Herb Slack; he probably handled some of the aerial stuntwork in this serial as well); both cliffhangers were released by Universal in 1934. Following these early entries in his serial filmography, Moore landed his first credited part, the role of heavy in the 1935 John Wayne B-western The Dawn Rider. Throughout the rest of the 1930s and into the early 1940s, Moore played villains and other supporting characters in western and non-Western B-films, and occasional supporting parts in A-films like Warner Brothers’ China Clipper; he supplemented his movie earnings with a regular job as a flight instructor at the Whitman Airport in the San Fernando Valley.
Above, left to right: Horace Murphy, an unidentified player (in far background), Walter Miller, Bud Osborne, Charles A. Browne, another unidentified player, and Dennis Moore in Tailspin Tommy (Universal, 1934).
In the early 1940s, Moore graduated from playing villains and heroine’s brothers in his B-westerns, and landed co-starring roles in three different B-western series. In 1942, he played secondary hero to George Houston in PRC’s Lone Rider films, while in 1943 he served as co-hero with Ray Corrigan in the Range Busters series at Monogram. Finally, in 1944, he played secondary hero to Jimmy Wakely in Song of the Range (also at Monogram); he would continue as a regular Wakely co-star for the rest of the 1940s. Following these leads in Western features, Universal Pictures cast him in a Western serial, 1944’s Raiders of Ghost City. This cliffhanger took place near the end of the Civil War, and pitted Moore, as Union Secret Service agent Steve Clark, against a band of Confederate raiders who were being used as unwitting catspaws by Prussian agents. The serial was a talky but interesting period spy thriller; Moore was overshadowed by the livelier performances of most of his co-stars (particularly Joe Sawyer as his roguish and wisecracking investigative partner), but handled his dialogue (and the action scenes) capably and authoritatively.
Above: Joe Sawyer and Dennis Moore in Raiders of Ghost City (Universal, 1944).
Above: Dennis Moore in Raiders of Ghost City.
The year after Raiders of Ghost City, Moore appeared in a second Universal serial, The Master Key; like Raiders, Key was an espionage serial, but was set in the modern era. Milburn Stone starred as a federal agent battling a Nazi spy ring; the Nazis (headed by Addison Richards), were after a gold-producing machine invented by scientist Byron Foulger. Stone was the serial’s principal hero, but Moore’s character, police detective Jack Ryan, was a prominent and likable co-hero, and shared in most of the cliffhanger’s action. Moore also got to exchange some amusing banter with Stone and with heroine Jan Wiley, and delivered the liveliest performance of his serial career, leavening his typically businesslike performance with a touch of deadpan humor.
Above: Dennis Moore pummels a bad guy (Clifton Young) in the foreground while a policeman (Dale Van Sickel) slugs another villain (Bud Wolfe) in the background in The Master Key (Universal, 1945).
Above, from left to right: Dick Rich and George Lynn are unaware that Dennis Moore, Lash LaRue, and Milburn Stone are watching them in The Master Key.
1945 also saw the release of Moore’s only cliffhanger for Republic Pictures, The Purple Monster Strikes. This chapterplay remains the best-remembered of Moore’s serials, due to its combination of a memorably weird science-fiction plot with Republic’s typically excellent action sequences. Moore played Craig Foster, an attorney for a scientific foundation and a former Secret Service agent, who found himself opposing a Martian invader known as as the Purple Monster (Roy Barcroft). The Purple Monster was out to steal the plans for a rocket designed by Professor Cyrus Layton (James Craven), with the ultimate intention of using the rockets in an invasion of Earth. To further his ends, the Monster killed Layton and assumed his body as a disguise, which made Foster’s task of thwarting him doubly difficult. While Roy Barcroft’s colorful villainous characterization was definitely the main attraction in The Purple Monster Strikes, Moore delivered another workmanlike performance, delivering scientifically implausible dialogue in the most matter-of-fact manner and not even rolling his eyes when called on to utter the rather bizarre name of his antagonist.
Above: Dennis Moore makes a phone call as Roy Barcroft sneaks up on him in The Purple Monster Strikes (Republic, 1945).
Above: Dennis Moore battles Bud Geary in The Purple Monster Strikes.
Moore returned to Universal in 1946, to appear in The Mysterious Mr. M. As in Master Key, he was paired with another lead, but this time Moore was the federal agent and the leading hero, while co-star Richard Martin was the supporting police detective hero; the two sleuths went up against a mysterious master criminal out to steal the plans for a new submarine. Mr. M, Universal’s final serial, featured some exciting action in its cliffhanger sequences, but was excessively talky overall. Like many of the studio’s later outings, it was burdened with an over-large cast that spent most of their time recapitulating the plot in each chapter to mark time till the chapter-ending cliffhanger. Moore, Martin, and leading lady Pamela Blake worked well together, however, and made their share of the dialogue scenes engaging enough. Moore also got to do a bit of genuine dramatic acting when registering grief over the death of his character’s brother early in the serial–briefly breaking his usual unflappable calm with a display of convincing anger and grief.
Above: Dennis Moore has just saved Pamela Blake from a fire in The Mysterious Mr. M (Universal, 1946).
Moore continued his prolific B-western career through the rest of the 1940s and into the early 1950s; in 1952, he was nearly killed when the transport plane he was flying crashed, and took some time to recuperate; he wasn’t able to return to the screen until 1954. By that time, the B-western genre was all but defunct, and Moore began working steadily on TV Western shows instead, appearing as heavies and supporting good guys on shows like Buffalo Bill Jr., The Adventures of Kit Carson, and The Roy Rogers Show. In 1956, ten years after The Mysterious Mr. M, he also returned to the serial arena, appearing in Columbia Pictures’ two final cliffhangers–which also happened to be the two last serials made by any Hollywood studio.
The first of these was Perils of the Wilderness, in which Moore played an undercover marshal named Dan Mason, who posed as an outlaw named Laramie in order to smash the plans of outlaw boss Kenneth MacDonald. The cliffhanger was more or less a rehash of a 1942 Columbia serial, Perils of the Royal Mounted, relying heavily on stock footage from that outing and (rather incongruously) from another Columbia effort called The Mysterious Pilot. Moore was typically down-to-earth and soberly energetic; his performance seemed almost dynamic in comparison to those of co-stars like Richard Emory and Kenneth MacDonald, who came off as drearily aware that their scenes were nothing more than perfunctory threads required to hold the patchwork effort together.
Above: Dennis Moore and Evelyn Finley in Perils of the Wilderness (Columbia, 1956).
Blazing the Overland Trail, Moore’s, Columbia’s, and Hollywood’s final serial, was another patchwork effort, largely cobbled together from the Columbia Western serials Overland with Kit Carson and White Eagle. Moore was second billed in the role of Pony Express rider Ed Marr, but his character (dressed to match shots of Carson’s star Bill Elliott) performed just as many acts of heroism as scout Tom Bridger (played by top-billed Lee Roberts) did; Moore also got to handle most of the dialogue in the final confrontation with the villain (Don Harvey) and shared a romantic moment with the heroine just before a last fadeout brought down the curtain on the serial genre. As in Perils of the Wilderness, Moore played his role with commendable professionalism and conviction, despite the fact that his scenes were, for the most part, short and perfunctory dialogue scenes too obviously intended to set up stock sequences.
Above: Norma Brooks, Dennis Moore, and Lee Roberts in Blazing the Overland Trail (Columbia, 1956).
Above: Norma Brooks and Dennis Moore seem to be looking towards the end of the serial trail in Blazing the Overland Trail (Columbia, 1956).
Moore resumed his television work after concluding his serial career–as before, working chiefly as a character player on Western series, among them Sky King, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and Tombstone Territory; he also landed a recurring role as a ranch hand named Hank in Walt Disney’s 1957 Mickey Mouse Club series, “The New Adventures of Spin and Marty.” Moore retired from the screen around 1960, though his last few TV episodes continued to air into 1961. He and his wife moved to the Big Bear Lake area (where Perils of the Wilderness had been filmed); they ran a gift shop there until Moore’s death from heart disease in 1964.
Dennis Moore might not have had the kind of talent that could add a special spark to a serial, but he never took anything away from his serials, either. He was the kind of actor that rarely commands the audience’s attention but can be depended on to fill almost any role smoothly and professionally. To use a baseball analogy, the competent utility player is as important a component of a team’s success as a home-run hitter, albeit a much less interesting component. Moore was a reliable utility actor, and as such deserves notice from serial historians, even though he’ll probably never be a favorite with serial fans.
Above: Dennis Moore protects Wanda McKay in Raiders of Ghost City (Universal, 1944).
Acknowledgements: For the biographical information in this article, I’m greatly indebted to the page on Dennis Moore at Western Clippings, and to a Classic Images article about Moore (by Don Creacy) linked from the Old Corral’s Moore page. Creacy’s article provides a multiplicity of Moore-related quotes from a memoir by B-western screenwriter C. Jack Lewis (White Horse, Black Hat: A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row; Scarecrow Press, 2002).
I always liked Moore, with hIs deep voice, and striking looks. One book on sci-fi films in it’s coverage of THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES, said the serial was “cursed with it’s five foot hero.” What???
Just saw Moore in “Sunset Murder Case” and as a sort of romantic lead — he didn’t get the main girl but another lady instead — he was charming and funny and proved to be a good actor who could easily have had a sterling career in comedies and romances. I find him to be more charismatic than others do as a serial hero. I thought he was fine in “Purple Monster” and “Mysterious Mr. M” — he just didn’t appear in that many “classic” serials. Anyway, thanks for an interesting write-up on Moore.
Wasn’t Moore in one the Mummy movies? I haven’t found much on his personal life such as wives, children, towns of residence, where he retired. I believe I saw him some Rin Tin Tin movies. I agree, he had a great voice. I wonder if he was in radio?
I believe Moore was indeed in one of the Universal Mummy films–the last one, I think (I can’t keep the individual titles within that series straight). A check of the Radio Gold Index site does list him with two radio appearances–but, since that site’s by no means comprehensive, he could easily have done more radio work.
Thanks, by the way, for spurring me to doing an overdue update of my Moore page. Since I wrote the above article, Boyd Magers’ Western Clippings site has put up a page on Moore that contains plenty of new-to-me details on Moore, including his place of retirement; the Old Corral has also linked to an even more informative Classic Images article on Moore. Info from both has now been incorporated into the revised article and cited; thanks again.
I love his 2 gun holster rig. What ever happened to it ???
I would also like to know what happened to Dennis Moore’s gun/holster rig as it was very unique. He had I know at least 2, one as a bad guy & one as a good guy. The good guy one was not used as much & had shinery metal on the belk & holster.
Actually I believe it was the same rig, but designed to be versitle. For good guy roles, he had two nickel revolvers and the leather football style buckle covering. For bad guy roles, he’d use a single holster and a blued revolver without the leather buckle covering. No clue what happened to it. Probably no one recognized it and sold at a garage sale. Who knows.
Whenever I saw his name in the credits (whether it be in serial roles or otherwise), I always knew that he would deliver a dependable and solid performance. Given the opportunity, he could even transcend his usual solemn demeanor and inject some humor into his characterizations, as he did in “Master Key. I’ve always felt that he was underrated as an actor, and deserved more credit for making the productions he appeared in entertaining and fun to watch.
I tried the link to the “Classic Images” article but it seems to be down, at least at present. Too bad – it sounded like a very interesting read.
Dennis Moore apparently also had a dark side. Jimmy Wakely’s daughter Linda recounted that Moore once attacked her father in a drunken rage and injured him with a knife.