October 24th, 1900 — December 7th, 1978
Above: A publicity portrait of I. Stanford Jolley in the serial Desperadoes of the West (Republic, 1950).
I. Stanford Jolley’s rich and well-controlled speaking voice and his equally well-controlled facial expressions (variously suave, wrathful, and crafty) invariably allowed him to stand out on the screen, whatever the size of his part; a consummate character actor, he could (and did) play virtually any type of supporting role–comic, villainous, or respectable–with polished expertise. However, in the movie serials of the 1940s and 1950s, he almost always portrayed heavies–albeit heavies of many different stripes; his thin face, high forehead, and pencil moustache made him particularly effective as urbane but shady businessmen, but he was just as believable (and just as entertaining) when playing bad-tempered thugs or megalomaniacal master criminals.
Isaac Stanford Jolley was born in Morristown, New Jersey; his father, Robert Jolley was a restaurant proprietor who later opened the town’s first electrical-supply store–and who also owned and operated a small traveling carnival on the side. Young Isaac made several trips with this carnival during his childhood, and resultantly developed an interest in show business at an early age. At the time of the 1920 federal census, he appears to have been employed in a branch of the family electrical company; however, he embarked on an acting career shortly thereafter–working in vaudeville, in traveling stock companies, and on the Broadway stage during much of the 1920s. Robert Jolley’s death at the end of the decade forced Isaac to return to Morristown, where he temporarily took charge of his father’s business (as evidenced by his 1930 census entry). In 1935, he moved (with his wife and two children in tow) to the West Coast, where he resumed his acting career; for the remainder of the 1930s, he worked predominantly on the stage–although he also took bit parts in several feature films and one serial during this time. The serial was the 1937 Republic outing Dick Tracy, which gave him four walk-on roles as a henchman, a G-man, a reporter, and a hospital intern; only as the reporter did he receive any dialogue (a single line).
In 1940, Jolley was listing himself as a “stage actor,” not a screen actor, on the federal census; he began carving out a Hollywood niche for himself before the year was out, however, taking his first credited movie role came in the 1940 B-film Chasing Trouble, released by Monogram Pictures. Jolley worked more and more frequently for Monogram over the ensuing years; his stage-trouper’s talent for memorizing and delivering lines with a minimum of rehearsals undoubtedly helped to recommend him to that severely under-budgeted company. Monogram, in fact, would serve as Jolley’s principal employer for most of the 1940s; over the course of the decade, he played heavies and other characters in several B-level Monogram crime and mystery films, and in innumerable Monogram B-westerns. He also appeared frequently in the B-films of the similarly low-budgeted outfit PRC.
Not all of Jolley’s 1940s screen appearances were at Monogram and PRC, however; he occasionally ventured into the B-movies of Universal, Republic, and Columbia–and also worked, more regularly, in the serials of the latter two studios. The first of Jolley’s many 1940s chapterplays was Perils of the Royal Mounted (Columbia, 1942); here, he was cast as a member of the henchman pack, a Canadian outlaw named Pierre. The last of a string of emphatically spoofy Columbia chapterplays helmed by former comedy director James W. Horne, Perils gave Jolley no chance to be sinister; instead, he spent most of his screen time rushing around in fumblingly frantic style, while grumbling or chortling with amusingly exaggerated boisterousness–as did all of his fellow-thugs; like most of the henching squads in Horne’s serials, Jolley and his associates in Perils came off as a Keystone-Kops-style comedy team, not a collection of genuine menaces.
Jolley’s next serial was The Valley of Vanishing Men (Columbia, 1942), a solid Western outing in which he had a small but noticeable role as a cautious gunrunner named Ed Torrence, who was hired to freight weapons to the serial’s principal villains and was talked about for several chapters before he actually appeared–long enough to be temporarily fooled by hero Bill Elliott, get into a fight with him, escape from a runaway weapons-wagon, and turn his remaining guns over to chief villain Kenneth MacDonald. 1943 found Jolley back at Columbia for two more serials, Batman and The Phantom; in the first, he figured as a regular henchman-pack member (Brett by name) until the beginning of Chapter Five, when he was killed in an armored-car crash; in the second, he had much more screen time as a recurring henchman named Watson, who lasted until Chapter Fourteen (when he was accidentally plugged by one of his colleagues). In both outings, Jolley used an irritable glare and a cagy manner to distinguish the standardized thugs he played; he conveyed an impatient nastiness in his dealings with the good guys, and came off as alertly careful when carrying out his bosses’ more dangerous orders.
Above: A startled I. Stanford Jolley tries to figure out whether his real enemy is the riders chasing his wagon or the man sitting beside him (Wild Bill Elliott) in The Valley of Vanishing Men (Columbia, 1942).
Jolley received his first really prominent serial role in The Desert Hawk (1944), one of Columbia’s best chapterplays. This Arabian Nights adventure starred Gilbert Roland as a noble caliph named Kasim–and as his evil twin brother Hassan, who overthrew and impersonated him, forcing the deposed ruler to fight his usurping sibling in the guise of a legendary outlaw known as the Desert Hawk. Jolley was cast as Saladin, the lieutenant of the group of royal guards who carried out Hassan’s commands and battled with the Hawk throughout the serial; when Akbar (Kenneth MacDonald), the captain of the guards, was demoted and jailed for repeated failures to capture the Hawk, Saladin took his place–and was subsequently promoted to Grand Vizier when Hassan killed the previous holder of the office. The disgraced Akbar eventually found out that the Hawk was really the rightful caliph, and tried to enlist his fellow guards to aid in the overthrow of Hassan; however, Saladin proved unwilling to relinquish his newfound rank and stayed on Hassan’s side–and, like his evil chief, received his just desserts during a climatic battle. Jolley did an excellent job of making the unscrupulous Saladin seem both viciously aggressive (when threatening Hassan’s opponents) and slimily cunning (when trying to curry favor with the false caliph); his polished, stage-trained voice also helped him to lend the proper ring of conviction to his sometimes flowery “Eastern” dialogue.
Above: Gilbert Roland tells I. Stanford Jolley that he’s herewith promoted to Grand Vizier in The Desert Hawk (Columbia, 1944), while Jolley casts a glance at the off-camera remains of his predecessor in office.
The well-done Western serial Black Arrow (Columbia, 1944) featured Jolley as Toby Becker, one of a trio of carpetbaggers who tried to start an Indian war in order to get their hands on the fabled lost treasure of Cibola. Though Jolley was introduced as one of chief villain Kenneth MacDonald’s principal co-conspirators in Arrow’s first chapter, he almost vanished from the serial during most of the ensuing episodes, only making sporadic token appearances until Chapter Thirteen, when he assumed second-in-command duties after the deaths of two other key heavies; however, he was killed off in the very next episode, when MacDonald talked him into going on the lam–and then used this flight to convince the good guys that Jolley was solely responsible for the serial’s villainy. This plan succeeded in eliminating Jolley, but wound up backfiring and exposing MacDonald as well. Jolley played his part with an appropriately slick demeanor during his rare moments in the spotlight, and also effectively registered furtive alarm when the prevaricating MacDonald convinced him to flee.
In 1945, Jolley made his only Universal serial appearance in Secret Agent X-9, taking a small two-chapter role as an expatriate American crook named Trent, who was commissioned by Axis agents to shoot an undercover Chinese operative (Keye Luke) doing a casino fistfight, but was instead shot himself by the casino manager (Samuel S. Hinds). Later in 1945, he appeared in Jungle Raiders–the first of many Columbia serials he’d make for producer Sam Katzman, who’d previously overseen some of Jolley’s Monogram features. Though uncredited, he figured prominently throughout Raiders as Brent, one of the leading henchmen of treasure-hunting crooks Jake Rayne (Charles King) and Cora Bell (Veda Ann Borg); he spent most of his screen time serving as an aide-de-camp to the latter, seconding her as she alternately double-crossed and allied with Jake, the serial’s other villains, and its heroes. He imbued his character with a distinctively greedy, selfish, and irritable personality–frequently seeming rather skeptical of the reckless Cora’s schemes, but always ultimately obeying her orders, in hopes of getting his share of the treasure that the villains were seeking.
Daughter of Don Q (1946), Jolley’s first Republic serial since Dick Tracy, gave him an colorful bit as a deaf and somewhat sarcastic criminal named Lippy Monroe, who was retained by the serial’s chief villain (LeRoy Mason) to spy on a police interrogation session and use his lip-reading skills to find out what the participants were saying. Jolley returned to Katzman’s Columbia unit for his next serial, Son of the Guardsman (also 1946), a flat and disappointing attempt at a medieval-swashbuckler chapterplay. He was cast as Sir William Pryor, an unprincipled knight who joined forces with robber baron Sir Edgar Bullard (Charles King) to seize the lands of Lord Markham (Wheeler Oakman); Pryor was also determined to force Markham’s daughter Louise (Daun Kennedy) to marry him. Despite this latter subplot, Jolley didn’t have much to do in Guardsman; he spent most of his time on the sidelines, occasionally offering an opinion on the schemes of Sir Edgar and several other robber barons, and periodically reminding them that he had dibs on Louise Markham. He did get a nice chance to display underhanded treachery in the final chapter, however–in which his character was captured by the heroes, obsequiously promised to help them infiltrate the villains’ stronghold, only to squeal on them midway through the infiltration; his sneaky facial expressions during this sequence were vivid indeed. As in The Desert Hawk, his voice also helped him to fit easily into a period setting (unlike many of his Guardsman co-stars).
The Crimson Ghost (Republic, 1946) gave Jolley his most memorable serial role, even though it gave him very little time on screen. He wore the eerie costume of the titular mystery villain, and (more importantly) provided his voice–delivering his lines with smooth self-assurance, but also injecting them with a constant undercurrent of gloating insanity; he handled evil laughs, angry threats, and power-crazed ravings with a strong and expert combination of theatricality and conviction that helped to make the Crimson Ghost one of the serial genre’s greatest masked villains. Though another actor was revealed as the Ghost’s alter ego in the final chapter, Jolley justly received featured billing for his terrific vocal performance–which might have proved puzzling to those who didn’t realize he was voicing the villain, since his only visible appearance in the serial came in Chapter Eleven; he played a brief second role in this episode as Dr. Blackton, one of the Ghost’s remotely-controlled henchmen–who glibly posed as an ally of the hero’s in order to get some information for the Ghost, was detected, made a wild-eyed attempt to kill the hero (Charles Quigley), and then killed himself when the Ghost ordered him to take off his “control collar” (which was designed to electrocute the wearer if anyone tried to remove it).
Above: I. Stanford Jolley (left-hand picture) as Dr. Blackton is about to commit electrical suicide on the orders of I. Stanford Jolley (right-hand picture) as The Crimson Ghost (Republic, 1946). Stanley Price is standing next to the ghostly Jolley.
The Black Widow (Republic, 1947) featured Jolley throughout as Dr. Z. V. Jaffa, the brainy scientific accomplice of the ruthless Sombra (Carol Forman); Jaffa never left the villains’ headquarters, but still provided his boss with substantial assistance in her pursuit of some priceless atomic rocket motors–supplying her with destructive gadgets, helping her adopt various disguises, and even taking temporary charge of her gang when she was incarcerated. In this role, Jolley maintained a reserved, quietly smug, and unflappably dignified manner that contrasted nicely with the sneering arrogance of Forman and with the chortling thuggishness of action heavy Anthony Warde; thanks to these three varying personalities, the villains’ scheme-hatching sessions were very enjoyable to watch.
The Katzman-Columbia serial Tex Granger (1948) cast Jolley as the kind of urbane, conniving Western brains-heavy character he’d been playing for years in Monogram’s B-westerns–one Rance Carson, a sly frontier businessman who owned most of the town of Three Buttes and also secretly controlled the local outlaw gangs. Carson had to deal not only with newspaperman hero Tex Granger (Robert Kellard) but with his own henchman Blaze Talbot (Smith Ballew), a gunfighter who Carson installed as sheriff but who began trying to take over his boss’s operation; Carson tried to eliminate the troublesome Talbot in Chapter Thirteen, but instead got gunned down himself, leaving Granger and Blaze to fight it out in the serial’s two remaining episodes. Before making this violent exit, Jolley received many excellent chances to engage in confident chicanery–coldly foreclosing on the property of unfortunate ranchers, affably assuring hero Kellard and feisty heroine Peggy Stewart that he was a friend to law and order, authoritatively planning robberies with his henchmen, and warily trying to impede the rise of the dangerous Blaze.
Above: “I guess I’m doomed to be misjudged, but all I want is to see Three Buttes become a law-abiding community; that’s where your newspaper can help.” I. Stanford Jolley hypocritically pledges his support to Robert Kellard in Tex Granger (Columbia, 1948).
Dangers of the Canadian Mounted (Republic, 1948) gave Jolley his only major sympathetic serial role; as distinguished archeologist Professor J. P. Belanco, he unwittingly agreed to help the murderous crook Mort Fowler (Anthony Warde) in a search for a lost Chinese treasure trove, was held prisoner by Mort and his gang after learning of their criminality, shrewdly but unsuccessfully tried to outwit his captors, and was finally rescued by Mountie hero Sgt. Royal (Jim Bannon). Jolley carried off this change-of-pace role with ease and flair; his displays of puzzlement and exasperation when reacting to the archeological ignorance of his shady colleagues were subtly amusing, while the quiet courage and dignity with which he stood up to the vicious Mort made him seem highly likable.
Jolley was again on the right side of the law in Superman (Columbia, 1948), in which he did an entertaining character turn as a laid-back, drawling sheriff who lazily brushed off the suggestions and queries of the wrongfully-arrested Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn)–and remained blissfully unaware that Kent, in his Superman guise, had managed to escape from jail, pull off a rescue, and unobtrusively return to his cell in time to be released.
Congo Bill (Columbia, 1948) returned Jolley to serial villainy; his character in this outing was Bernie MacGraw, the co-owner of a valuable circus and the co-manager of a lucrative trust fund. When MacGraw’s brother Tom (Steve Carr) tried to launch a search for a white jungle queen (Cleo Moore) who was suspected of being the long-lost heiress to both the circus and the trust fund, Bernie first murdered his sibling, then set out to stop explorer and animal-trainer Congo Bill (Don McGuire) from bringing the heiress back to civilization. Jolley’s despicable Bernie split villainous screen time with a ruthless gold smuggler (Leonard Penn) and an opportunistic barkeeper (Charles King), who both allied with MacGraw at times, but who also pursued their own agendas and received more screen time than the evil circus-owner did. However, it was Jolley’s character who drove the serial’s plot, and who figured as chief antagonist in both the opening and closing episodes–which made him come off as Bill’s keystone villain, despite his limited appearances. Jolley’s own performance also helped to prevent his character from being shoved to the background; he gave MacGraw a slimy, superficially polite manner which continually gave way to sharp-tongued irritation or arrogant anger whenever his schemes were hampered.
The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (Republic, 1948) featured Jolley in a small part as an unctuous and cowardly lawyer named Ward, who helped one of villain John Crawford’s accomplices press a bogus legal claim against the good guys’ mine; he took a similar but somewhat larger role in Ghost of Zorro (Republic, 1949) as a land-office official named Sam Green, whose hidden past (as bank robber and killer Paul Hobson) allowed villain Gene Roth to blackmail him into supporting a phony claim against the good guys’ telegraph-line right-of-way. This character was exposed and apprehended within a chapter’s-length of his first appearance, but Jolley was in good oily and hypocritical form during his short-lived time on screen.
King of the Rocket Men (Republic, 1949) was Jolley’s last 1940s serial; he was cast as metallurgist Professor Bryant, one of a group of high-level research scientists who were targeted by the mysterious master criminal Dr. Vulcan. One of the members of the group, however, was really Vulcan himself–a fact which required Jolley, along with fellow-suspects Marshall Bradford, Stanley Price, and Ted Adams, to act both dignified and sinister in regularly scheduled consultations with hero Jeff King (Tristram Coffin). Jolley’s role expanded drastically at the climax of the eleventh episode, however–when his character was unmasked as Dr. Vulcan. This unprecedented early exposure of the mystery villain allowed Jolley to enjoy an excellent villainous showcase in Rocket Men’s climactic chapter, in which Bryant cold-bloodedly attempted to destroy New York City with a powerful “Decimator,” after the city government refused to pay an exorbitant ransom. Jolley’s resonant, dramatic gloating when he revealed himself as Dr. Vulcan (“A bizarre name, but it’s what I stand for–power! The power of steel, forged into what I believe is right!”) recalled his masterful performance in The Crimson Ghost; his intently steely demeanor as he unleashed scientific destruction on New York was also very memorable.
Above: An exultant I. Stanford Jolley prepares to send the helmeted Tristram Coffin “into eternity” in King of the Rocket Men (Republic, 1949). House Peters Jr. is in the chair, Dale Van Sickel at the extreme right edge of the screen.
Jolley kept working in Monogram’s B-westerns during the early 1950s, but also began appearing more frequently in Westerns (both B and A titles) for Republic and Universal; he started dabbling in television as well, taking roles on series like The Lone Ranger and The Gene Autry Show. He also kept up his serial work during the earlier years of the decade, beginning with Desperadoes of the West (Republic, 1950)–in which he played villainous Eastern land speculator J. B. Dawson, who set his sights on valuable Western oil land leased by a group of ranchers, and hired a gang of outlaws to help him make sure the ranchers didn’t strike oil before their lease expired. Jolley was in his smooth-talking element as the sly and refined Dawson, and played beautifully off of his rough-hewn henchman Roy Barcroft in their many shared plotting scenes–and in the serial’s offbeat opening sequence, in which Jolley coolly hired Barcroft and his cohort Lee Roberts as his accomplices, right after the duo had robbed him. Jolley’s interactions with the victimized ranchers (led by hero Richard Powers) in Desperadoes were just as entertaining as his scenes with his henchmen; in almost every chapter, he sleekly offered to buy Powers and company out, maintaining a jovially businesslike façade even when he was met with gruff defiance or angry accusations.
Above: I. Stanford Jolley tries to make a deal with justly suspicious oil-drillers Richard Powers (far left, foreground) and John Cason (second from left, foreground) in Desperadoes of the West. Mauritz Hugo is next to Jolley.
Pirates of the High Seas (Columbia, 1950) gave Jolley a quick walk-on as a Pacific-island copra trader named Turner, who abruptly refused to do any more business with a beleaguered shipping-line owner (Tommy Farrell), while displaying a furtive nervousness that made it clear he’d been threatened by the villains targeting said shipping line. Don Daredevil Rides Again (Republic, 1951) gave him a little more to do as a Western sheriff who wasn’t officially crooked, but was unwilling to challenge the corrupt, land-grabbing political boss (Roy Barcroft) that he owed his job to–and who focused on the safer job of chasing heroic “outlaw” Don Daredevil (Ken Curtis), interfering with the masked avenger’s actions at several points in the serial. Jolley played this ethically compromised lawman in a surly, bullying fashion that made it seem as if the Sheriff was trying to hide his cowardice beneath blustering aggressiveness; his best (or worst) moment came when he grouchily rejected the concept of due process as so much “legal palaver,” and made a narrowly-thwarted attempt to summarily execute lawyer Lee Hadley, whom he (correctly) suspected of being Don Daredevil, but didn’t have enough evidence to actually arrest.
Captain Video (Columbia, 1951), Jolley’s final serial for Sam Katzman, featured him in a one-chapter role as Zarol, a villainous agent from the planet Atoma, who assisted the treacherous Dr. Tobor (George Eldredge) in a warehouse robbery but was captured by interplanetary crimefighter Captain Video (Judd Holdren). Questioned by Video, who used “diathermic impulses” to relax the prisoner’s mental resistance, Jolley was rescued by an invisible Tobor before he could reveal anything, and subsequently escaped via a “space platform.” Minor though this part was, it did let Jolley do some lively facial acting when he reacted to the diathermic impulses (initially with bug-eyed alarm, then with spaced-out calm) and when he delightedly grinned before shoving an unconscious Video off of the airborne space platform.
Though Monogram changed its name to Allied Artists early in 1953 and stopped making B-westerns around the same time, its producers still provided Jolley with frequent work in their A-westerns throughout the remaining years of the 1950s; he also worked in features for other studios, and noticeably increased his television appearances, as the decade continued–although he found time to appear in one last serial, Man with the Steel Whip (Republic, 1954). He played one extended scene in this outing as a genially shifty assayer named Sloane, who passed on important information about some gold samples to villain Mauritz Hugo, after first half-heartedly insisting that his professional ethics wouldn’t permit him to talk.
The 1960s found Jolley doing extensive television work and making scattered feature-film appearances; though he still played heavies on occasion, he’d begun to transition into less villainous character parts–sheriffs, bartenders, crusty old codgers–during the late 1950s, and continued this trend during the 1960s. Although he never officially retired, he only played a handful of film and TV roles after 1970; he also made contact with the fans of his film work during the 1970s, and appeared at several serial and Western conventions. He passed away in Los Angeles’ Motion Picture Hospital in 1978.
I. Stanford Jolley’s mobile face could have helped him command audience attention, even had his voice been less arresting–while the aforesaid voice, as The Crimson Ghost proved, was quite capable of dominating a film even without facial assistance. Together, face and voice (aided by all-round acting skill) made Jolley a memorable, colorful, and entertaining screen presence, an actor who could steal scenes as easily as his serial characters stole scientific gadgets or valuable frontier land.
Acknowledgements: The information in this article was variously derived from Gary Brumburgh’s Internet Movie Database biography of I. Stanford Jolley, the Old Corral’s excellent Jolley page (which contains many interesting images as well as useful text info), Jim Shoenberger’s 1973 interview with Jolley (reprinted in 2000, in issue #27 of Cliffhanger magazine), and a Jolley-related post by Ed Hulse on the In the Balcony message board.