Curley Bradley

Not enough has been said about Curley Bradley, the last Tom Mix of Radio. His public career started as a teenager, doing movie stunts for such notables as Hoot Gibson and Buck Jones, and spanned until he retired in 1950 after playing the radio “Tom Mix” for several years.curley

Born in Coalgate, Oklahoma on September 18, 1910, George Raymond Courtney was just an Oklahoma farm boy. He worked on his folks’ ranch and did a little ‘cowboy’ work necessary to run a farm.  As a teenager we find him working the movie lots of Hollywood, doing stunts for Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, and Tom Mix. Curley remembered Buck Jones with particular fondness, for Tom Mix was an aloof and distant man, whereas Buck was was large-hearted, generous and personable fellow.

After a while, Curley gave up the life of a stuntman because “I enjoyed singing. I didn’t enjoy getting busted into bits. Just no accounting for taste.” [1]

He was a member of the Beverly Hill Billies, a hugely popular pioneering Western group in Southern California in the early 1930s. Pat Brady once remarked largely that he never missed a show by the Hill Billies, because it was blaring from every house as he walked down the street! Curley, performing under the name of “Joe”, worked with several different lineups of the Hill Billies, one of which was the 1933 group titled the “Tarzana Hill Billies”, which included a young Hubert Flatt (Ken Carson) and Shug Fisher.

The Tarzana Hill Billies- Ken, Shug, Chuck, (top) and Curley

Left to right: Ken Carson (“Caleb Winbush”), Shug Fisher (“Aaron Judd”), Chuck Cook (top), Squeek McKinney, Curley Bradley.

In 1934, Curley joined Hubert “Shorty” Carson and another man named Jack Ross– nine years Curley’s senior– to form a trio they called “The Ranch Boys”. Their sole instrumentation was the 19-year-old Shorty Carson’s guitar. The three aspiring young men moved to Chicago to try their luck on the radio there and quickly landed a job on NBC, their one year contract turning into five years. They became known as “Radio’s favorite stars“, and were very popular. Curley had a large part in the dialogue of the show Pinto Pete and his Ranch Boys (also cast were Wade Lane as Pinto Pete and Shug Fisher as himself). His distinct Oklahoma drawl and tenor singing were well fitted to the Jimmie Rodgers- style of blue yodeling and singing, which he did a good deal of. (hear a playlist of Curley Bradley’s Ranch Boys songs here)

In 1935, the Ranch Boys became cast members for the popular children’s Western radio show The Tom Mix Show, sponsored by Ralston (now Ralston Purina). Shorty and Jack had occasional bit parts, but Curley held the role of one of Mix’s sidekicks, Pecos, who was a loveable, big hearted cowboy who looked out for women and children and assisted Mix in doing good deeds and busting the bad guys.

The Ranch Boys split up in 1941, and in 1944 Curley became the lead actor in the Tom Mix show– playing the part of Mix himself! (Hear him as Tom Mix in these episodes from “Vanishing Herd” onward and as Pecos in the earlier episodes). He was “Tom Mix”, touring rodeos and making public appearances, acting on radio and caring for his horse, Tony (yes, he had a real horse named Tony!), and all the things that come with being a star. His show started with the announcer proclaiming “The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters are on the air!” and Curley shouting to his horse, “Up Tony, Up, Boy!” followed by the trademark and catchy Shredded Ralston jingle, one version of which went:

Shredded Ralston for your breakfast
Starts the day off shining bright
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
With a flavor that’s just right,
It’s delicious and nutritious,
Bite-size and ready to eat,
Take a tip from Tom, go and tell your mom,
Shredded Ralston can’t be beat!
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Curley Bradley (left) as Tom Mix on the Grand Ole Opry with Ernest Tubb (standing center), and Eddie Arnold (standing right). Sitting man unidentified. Picture courtesy of Randall Hornback.

Curley Bradley was ‘Tom Mix’, the idol of countless children across America, whom he held spellbound every week with his radio show, until, as he explained laughingly at the age of 72,  “And I decided that I was getting about ready to quit ‘cuz I was gettin’ too old, I thought. You know, I was gettin’ way up there, I was 40-somethin’….”[2] so he retired, and returned to a ‘layman’ lifestyle, resuming his proper name of George Courtney. He still recalled his acting years and expressed appreciation when anyone approached him to talk about it.   He lived in Orange County, California, until his death in 1985. He was 74 years old.

Curley and his wife, Margaret, are buried in the Rose Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Incidentally, this is the same cemetery that Ken Carson was buried in nine years later.

Curley Bradley still lives on in the hearts of the boys and girls, now grown, who held him in high esteem as Tom Mix, the unconquerable cowboy hero. Few others yet remember him as a singer whose lovely singing voice was never fully appreciated. Curley Bradley, we salute you.

Footnotes:
[1]: Radio Mystery and Adventure and its appearance in film, television, and other media  by Jim Harmon
[2] Interview with Curley Bradley by Randall Hornback, Norwalk, CA June 1983 —Read the transcript here
Also read this account of the Tom Mix Ralston show by Jack French and This Account by Mark Rich
Many thanks to Randall Hornback, who supplied a great deal of information and material to the Ken Carson Tribute collection.

Picture Gallery

Courtesy of Randall Hornback

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This box of Hot Ralston was released in November of 1948. The spurs were a box top premium from circa 1949, and the rowels glowed in the dark, a treasure for countless little boys.

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A photo of the Ranch Boys (l-r Shorty Carson, Curley Bradley, Jack Ross) with a woman named Ann Lester. It is unknown at this point who she was.

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A painting of Curley Bradley in his Tom Mix character by an artist named Hruska (no first name given).

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Curley Bradley as Tom Mix, on his horse Tony (Tony III)

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Curley Bradley’s saddle when he was playing Tom Mix.

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On the Grand Ole Opry: L-R Curley Bradley as Tom Mix, Ernest Tubb, an unknown man, and Eddie Arnold. Date unknown.

 

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A very rare album of songs sung by Curley Bradley. We do not have the audio or records of this album.

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