His most enduring image is that of the tall-in-the-saddle Western hero. Out of his more than 100 film appearances over 60 were in Westerns.
The Far Call
The Black Watch
Women Men Marry
A Successful Calamity
Heritage of the Desert
Wild Horse Mesa
The Thundering Herd
Murders in the Zoo
Man of the Forest
To the Last Man
The Last Round-Up
Home on the Range
Rocky Mountain Mystery
So Red the Rose
Follow the Fleet
And Sudden Death
The Last of the Mohicans
Go West, Young Man
High, Wide, and Handsome
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
The Road to Reno
Susannah of the Mounties
20,000 Men a Year
When the Daltons Rode
To the Shores of Tripoli
Follow the Boys
Belle of the Yukon
Home, Sweet Homicide
Return of the Bad Men
The Walking Hills
The Doolins of Oklahoma
Fighting Man of the Plains
The Cariboo Trail
Man in the Saddle
The Man Behind the Gun
The Stranger Wore a Gun
Thunder Over the Plains
The Bounty Hunter
Ten Wanted Men
Rage at Dawn
Tall Man Riding
A Lawless Street
Seven Men from Now
The Tall T
Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend
Decision at Sundown
Buchanan Rides Alone
Randolph Scott was never nominated for an Academy Award.
[about Westerns] They have been the mainstay of the industry ever since its beginning. And they have been good to me. Westerns are a type of picture which everybody can see and enjoy. Westerns always make money. And they always increase a star’s fan following. ~ Randolph Scott
George Randolph Scott was born on January 23, 1898 in Orange County, Virginia, but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, the second of six children. His father was George Grant Scott, born in Franklin, Virginia, an administrative engineer in a textile firm. His mother was Lucille Crane Scott, born in Luray, Virginia, a member of a wealthy North Carolina family.
Because of his family’s financial status, young Randolph was able to attend private schools. From an early age, Scott developed and displayed an athletic trait, excelling in football, baseball, horse racing, and swimming.
In April 1917, the United States entered World War I and shortly afterwards, Scott, then 19 years old, joined the United States Army. He served in France as an artillery observer with the 2nd Trench Mortar Battalion, 19th Field Artillery Regiment. His wartime experience gave him training that was put to use in his later film career, including horsemanship and the use of firearms
After the Armistice brought World War I to an end, Scott stayed in France and enrolled in an artillery officers’ school. Although he eventually received a commission, Scott decided to return to America in 1919.
With his military career over, Scott continued his education at Georgia Tech where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order and set his sights on becoming an all-American football player. However, a back injury prevented him from achieving this goal. Scott then transferred to the University of North Carolina, where he majored in textile engineering and manufacturing. As with his military career, however, he eventually dropped out of college and went to work as an accountant in the textile firm where his father was employed
In 1927, Scott developed an interest in acting and decided to make his way to Los Angeles and seek a career in the motion picture industry. Fortunately, Scott’s father had become acquainted with Howard Hughes and provided a letter of introduction for his son to present to the eccentric millionaire filmmaker. Hughes responded by getting Scott a small part in a George O’Brien film called Sharp Shooters (1928). Despite its title and the presence of O’Brien, Sharp Shooters is not a western, as some film historians claimed. Rather, it’s a romantic comedy. A print of the film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
For the next few years, Scott continued working as an extra and bit player in several films, including Weary River (1929) with Richard Barthelmess, The Far Call (1929), The Black Watch (1929) (directed by John Ford with John Wayne also uncredited) and The Virginian (1929) with Gary Cooper.
Scott was also uncredited on Dynamite (1929) directed by Cecil B. De Mille and Born Reckless (1930).
On the advice of director Cecil B. DeMille, Scott gained much-needed acting experience by performing in stage plays with the Pasadena Playhouse.
In 1931 Scott played his first leading role (with Sally Blane) in Women Men Marry (1931), a film, now apparently lost, that was made by a Poverty Row studio called Headline Pictures.
He followed that movie with a supporting part in a Warner Bros. production starring George Arliss, A Successful Calamity (1932).
In 1932 Scott appeared in a play at the Vine Street Theatre in Hollywood entitled Under a Virginia Moon. His performance in this play resulted in several offers for screen tests by the major movie studios. Scott eventually signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures at a salary of US$400 per week.
Scott’s first role under his new Paramount contract was a small supporting part in a comedy called Sky Bride (1932) starring Richard Arlen and Jack Oakie.
Following that, however, Paramount cast him as the lead in Heritage of the Desert (1932), his first significant starring role and also the one that established him as a Western hero. As with Women Men Marry, Sally Blane was his leading lady. The film was popular, and Scott would go on to make ten “B” Western films loosely based on the novels of Zane Grey.
The Zane Grey series were a boon for Scott, as they provided him with an excellent training ground for both action and acting.
In between his work in the Zane Grey Western series, Paramount cast Scott in several non-Western roles, such as “the other man” in Hot Saturday (1932), with Nancy Carroll and Cary Grant.
Scott returned to Zane Grey Westerns with Wild Horse Mesa (1932), then was the romantic male lead in Hello, Everybody! (1933), an odd one-shot attempt to make a film star out of the popular but heavy-set radio singer Kate Smith.
The Thundering Herd (1933) was another Zane Grey Western. Then he was in two horror movies, Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Lionel Atwill and Supernatural (1933) with Carole Lombard.
After the Western Sunset Pass (1933), Paramount loaned Scott to Columbia, to play Bebe Daniels’ love interest in a minor romantic comedy called Cocktail Hour (1933).
Back at Paramount Scott did the Westerns Man of the Forest (1933) and To the Last Man (1933), both with Hathaway from Grey novels. He was loaned to Monogram Pictures for Broken Dreams (1933) then was back with Hathaway for The Last Round-Up (1934).
Scott did three more Zane Grey Westerns, Wagon Wheels (1934) directed by Charles Barton, Home on the Range (1935) from Arthur Jacobson, and Rocky Mountain Mystery (1935) with Barton.
RKO liked Scott and kept him on for Village Tale (1935), directed by John Cromwell, and She (1935), an adaptation of the classic novel by H. Rider Haggard from the makers of King Kong.
Scott went back to Paramount for So Red the Rose (1935) with Margaret Sullavan, then was reunited with Astaire and Rogers at RKO in Follow the Fleet (1936). It was another big hit.
Scott was in a car drama at Paramount, And Sudden Death (1936), then was loaned to independent producer Edward Small, to play Hawkeye in another adventure classic, The Last of the Mohicans, adapted from the 1826 novel by James Fenimore Cooper. A big hit in its day, the film gave Scott his first unqualified ‘A’ picture success as a lead.
Paramount now only put Scott in “A” films. He was a love interest for Mae West in Go West, Young Man (1936) and was reunited with Irene Dunne in a musical, High, Wide, and Handsome (1937). This last film, a musical directed by Rouben Mamoulian, featured Scott in his most ambitious performance.
Scott went to 20th Century Fox to play the romantic male lead in a Shirley Temple film, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). At Paramount he made a well budgeted Western The Texans (1938) with Joan Bennett then he starred in The Road to Reno (1938) at Universal.
Scott’s contract with Paramount ended and he signed a deal with Fox. They put him in Jesse James (1939), a lavish highly romanticized account of the famous outlaw (Tyrone Power) and his brother Frank (Henry Fonda). Scott was billed fourth as a sympathetic Marshall after the James brothers; it was his first film in color.
Scott was reunited with Temple in Susannah of the Mounties (1939), Temple’s last profitable film for Fox. The studio gave him the lead in Frontier Marshal (1939), playing Wyatt Earp.
Scott went to Columbia to star in a medium budget action film, Coast Guard (1939). Back at Fox he was in a war movie, 20,000 Men a Year (1939).
Scott went over to Warner Bros to make Virginia City (1940), billed third after Errol Flynn and Miriam Hopkins, playing Flynn’s antagonist, a Confederate officer – but a sympathetic one, and not the actual villain (he was played by Humphrey Bogart). There were frequent disputes between director Michael Curtiz, actors and producer Hal Wallis about script changes. But Curtiz recalled that Scott tried to stay out of those arguments.
Scott went back to RKO to play the “other man” role in the Irene Dunne–Cary Grant romantic comedy My Favorite Wife (1940), a huge hit for RKO. For Universal, he starred with Kay Francis in When the Daltons Rode (1940).
Back at Fox, Scott returned to Zane Grey country by co-starring with Robert Young in the Technicolor production Western Union, directed by Fritz Lang. Scott played a “good bad man” in this film and gave one of his finest performances.
In 1941, Scott also co-starred with a young Gene Tierney in another western, Belle Starr. After a spy film with Elisabeth Berger, Paris Calling (1941), he was in a hugely popular war film at Fox with John Payne and Maureen O’Hara, To the Shores of Tripoli (1942).
Scott’s only role as a truly evil villain was in Universal’s The Spoilers (1942), a rip-roaring adaptation of Rex Beach’s 1905 tale of the Alaskan gold rush also starring Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. The movie’s climax featured Scott and Wayne (and their stunt doubles) in one of the most spectacular fistfights ever filmed.
The Dietrich-Scott-Wayne combination worked so well that Universal recast the trio that same year in Pittsburgh, a war-time action-melodrama which had Wayne and Scott slugging it out once more.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Scott attempted to obtain an officer’s commission in the Marines, but because of a back injury years earlier, he was rejected. However, he did his part for the war effort by touring in a comedy act with Joe DeRita (who later became a member of the Three Stooges) for the Victory Committee showcases, and he also raised food for the government on a ranch that he owned.
In 1942 and 1943, Scott appeared in several war films, notably To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) at Fox, Bombardier (1943) at RKO, the Canadian warship drama Corvette K-225 (1943) (produced by Howard Hawks), Gung Ho! at Universal and China Sky (1945) at RKO.
He also made The Desperadoes (1943), Columbia Pictures’ first feature in Technicolor. The film was produced by Harry Joe Brown, with whom Scott would form a business partnership several years later.
Scott was one of many Universal stars who made a cameo in Follow the Boys (1944). He was in a “northern” with Gypsy Rose Lee, Belle of the Yukon (1944), and made a swashbuckler for producer Benedict Bogeaus alongside Charles Laughton: the cheaply made production Captain Kidd (1945),
In 1946, after playing roles that had him wandering in and out of the saddle for many years, Scott appeared in Abilene Town, a UA release which cast him in what would become one of his classic images, the fearless lawman cleaning up a lawless town. The film “cemented Scott’s position as a cowboy hero” and from this point on all but two of his starring films would be Westerns. The Scott Westerns of the late 1940s would each be budgeted around US$1,000,000, equal to $12,500,000 today. Scott mostly made Westerns for producers Nat Holt or Harry Joe Brown or at Warner Bros, although he did make Albuquerque (1948) at Paramount.
Scott’s last non-Westerns were a mystery with Peggy Ann Garner at Fox, Home Sweet Homicide (1947), and a family drama for Bogeaus, Christmas Eve (1947). He also had a cameo in Warners’ Starlift (1951).
Scott renewed his acquaintance with producer Harry Joe Brown at Columbia with Gunfighters (1947). They began producing many of Scott’s Westerns, including several that were shot in the two-color Cinecolor process. Their collaboration produced the superior Coroner Creek (1948) with Scott as a vengeance-driven cowpoke who “predates the Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy heroes by nearly a decade,” and The Walking Hills (1949), a modern-day tale of gold hunters directed by John Sturges.
They followed it with The Doolins of Oklahoma (1949), The Nevadan (1950), Santa Fe (1951), Man in the Saddle (1951), Hangman’s Knot (1952), The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953) (shot in 3-D), Ten Wanted Men (1955), and A Lawless Street (1955) (with Angela Lansbury).
Scott did Colt .45 (1950) at Warner Bros. where his salary was US$100,000 per picture (equal to $1,000,000 today). He stayed at the studio to do Sugarfoot (1951), Fort Worth (1951), Carson City (1952), The Man Behind the Gun (1953), Thunder Over the Plains (1953), Riding Shotgun (1954), Tall Man Riding (1955) Most of these were directed by André de Toth.
Also of interest is Shootout at Medicine Bend shot in 1955, but released in 1957, which was Scott’s last movie in black and white. The movie co-stars James Garner and Angie Dickinson.
By 1956, Scott turned 58, an age where the careers of most leading men would be winding down. Scott, however, was about to enter his finest and most acclaimed period.
In 1955, screenwriter Burt Kennedy wrote a script entitled Seven Men from Now which was scheduled to be filmed by John Wayne’s Batjac Productions with Wayne as the film’s star and Budd Boetticher as its director. However, Wayne was already committed to John Ford’s The Searchers. Wayne therefore suggested Scott as his replacement. The resulting film, released in 1956, did not make a great impact at the time but is now regarded by many as one of Scott’s best, as well as the one that launched Scott and Boetticher into a successful collaboration that totaled seven films.
After 7th Cavalry (1956), Boetticher, Kennedy and Scott were reunited for their second film, The Tall T (1957) which co-starred Richard Boone.
The third in the series was Decision at Sundown (1957), although that script was not written by Kennedy. The unofficial series continued with Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).
Westbound (1959) is not considered part of the official cycle although Boetticher directed it. However the last two, both written by Kennedy, definitely were: Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960)
In 1962 Scott made his final film appearance in Ride the High Country. It was directed by Sam Peckinpah and co-starred Joel McCrea, an actor who had a screen image similar to Scott’s and who also from the mid-1940s on devoted his career almost exclusively to Westerns.
Scott married twice. In 1936, he became the second husband of heiress Marion duPont, daughter of William Du Pont, Sr., and great-granddaughter of Éleuthère Irénée Du Pont de Nemours, the founder of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. Marion had previously married George Somerville, with Scott serving as best man at the wedding. The Scotts’ marriage ended in divorce three years later, in 1939. The union produced no children. Though divorced, she kept his last name nearly five decades, until her death in 1983.
In 1944, Scott married the actress Patricia Stillman, who was 21 years his junior. In 1950, they adopted two children, Sandra and Christopher
Following Ride the High Country, Scott retired from film at the age of 64. A wealthy man, Scott had managed shrewd investments throughout his life, eventually accumulating a fortune worth a reputed $100 million, with holdings in real estate, gas, oil wells, and securities.
Scott died of heart and lung ailments in 1987 at the age of 89 in Beverly Hills, California. He was interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his wife Patricia had been married for 43 years. He was survived by his wife, son Christopher, daughter Sandra Scott Tyler, and three grandchildren. Patricia Stillman Scott died in 2004. The Scotts are buried together in the Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte NC.