Vintage Hunk: James Brown
When I was growing up and finally accepted watching the television that my parents had so proudly purchased, I found Flash Gordon with Buster Crabbe. Then I hit the hunk jackpot with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. This fabulous show ran for 5 years (1954-1959) on ABC and I never missed an episode. But I didn't watch for the four foot wonder Rinty, or child actor Lee Aaker as Rusty. No, I watched for James Brown who played Lieutenant Ripley "Rip" Masters in all 166 episodes.
James Brown was so incredibly handsome that I could not get enough of him. I started watching old movies for him as there was no internet then to check his credits. By chance I saw Going My Way with Bing Crosy when who should have a really large role but the dreamy James Brown, at age 24 and drop dead gorgeous. Brown also played beautiful Gail Russell's love interest in the Paramount hit Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (below, right) and its sequel Our Hearts Were Growing Up. He was a Marine in the stirring John Wayne war movie Sands of Iwo Jima and even had a part in the Judy Garland movie A Star Is Born playing Glen Williams the band leader. But to the kids of America he would always be Rip Masters, the young officer at the remote cavalry outpost Forte Apach who even sang in several episodes with a great baritone voice. By the time the show ended I was a teenager with a romantic crush on Rip.
Brown was born in 1920 in the town of Desdemona, Eastland County, Texas— a petroleum boom town east of Abilene. In school he sang in the glee club and played tennis, then after a stint at Baylor College he headed west to California, landing some good roles in the war time classics Wake Island and Air Force. In the hugely popular Academy Award winner Going My Way, Brown played a handsome playboy who Father Chuck O'Malley (Bing Crosby) thinks is shacking up with a young girl. Brown was totally sexy in this great supporting role, and his two films with Russell were big hits, so it's difficult to figure out why he did not become a famous leading man.
TV and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin were what really brought Brown his fame. When the show ended in 1959 he did numerous other TV shows, including Route 66, Honey West and even Dallas where he played detective Harry McSween in 27 episodes from 1980-88. Brown's final screen role was in the popular Angela Lansbury series Murder, She Wrote in 1988. He died from lung cancer at age 72 in 1992, leaving behind one wife, 3 daughters and a niece who he raised as his 4th child.
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin is one of the seminal TV shows of the 1950s. Every kid wanted to be Rusty so they could play with Rinty and ride horses and be near Rip Masters. I did not want to play with Rinty. I wanted to play with Rip! If you want to see James Brown at his sexy best watch Going My Way and Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. This tall Texan with the dark hair and gorgeous smile is truly a hunk that should be better known today.
MORE READING: If you're interested in finding out more about Brown, there is a fun book called Forward Ho! The Life of "Rin Tin Tin" Actor James Brown that is available on Amazon.com.