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Charles Starrett, Actor and SAG Founder, Dead at 82

Times Staff Writer

Charles Starrett, known in the motion picture industry as a founder of the Screen Actors Guild and to moviegoers as the virile athlete who became the Durango Kid in scores of low-budget Westerns in the 1930s and ‘40s, is dead.

He was 82 and died in Borrego Springs on Saturday. He had retired from films in 1952.

Starrett, an heir to a giant tool and die company, was a football star at Dartmouth University in the early 1920s and became interested in acting after appearing as an extra in “The Quarterback,” a Richard Dix film about, appropriately, college football.

Played Romantic Leads

He worked in vaudeville and on the old Chautauqua circuit before moving to Hollywood in 1930. Here he signed a contract with Paramount playing young romantic leads before moving to Columbia where he quickly became that studio’s answer to Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.

With his faithful sidekicks--portrayed by such comedians as Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) and Smiley Burnette--he became the formula cowboy, disdaining women and whiskey as he brought the Bad Guys to justice. Wearing a white hat, of course.

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At 6 feet, 2 inches and 180 pounds he was the most physically appealing of the Hollywood cowboys, if not the best known.

Helped Found Actors Guild

But his interests extended beyond catching rustlers and the other lawbreakers of the screen. With 17 other actors, said his longtime friend and actor-comedian Pat Buttram, he met secretly in Boris Karloff’s garage one day in 1933 and helped shape the charter of the Screen Actors Guild.

It was an era when actors, writers and directors were trying to wrest some of the creative control over their pictures from a small group of studio bosses who had vowed to fire or blacklist union organizers.

Starrett carried Card No. 10 in a guild whose membership now numbers 60,000 in 20 cities nationwide.

He made the first of his films, “Fast and Loose,” in 1930 and the last, “Rough Tough West” in 1952, rounding out a career he once described as “The West That Wasn’t.”

He is survived by his wife of six decades, Mary, and two sons. Services will be private.


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