George Houston (actor)
George F. Houston
George Fleming Houston
January 11, 1896
Hampton, New Jersey, USA
|Died||November 12, 1944 48) (aged|
|Other names||George Byron|
|Occupation||Film, stage actor|
|Spouse(s)||Leone Sousa (1909 - 2001)|
Virginia Card (?-1944) (his death)
Early life, World War I service
Born and raised in Hampton, New Jersey, his parents were Thomas and Margaret Fleming Houston. His father, Thomas, was from Scotland, and had been blinded as a child in an accident. His father became a successful Presbyterian minister, and was called, respectfully, "the blind evangelist". George Houston attended his fathers services and learned to sing through the church.
Although Hollywood would later advertise that George Houston attended Rutgers University, he did not. Instead, he attended Blair Academy, in New Jersey, where he ran track, then later he attended the "Institute of Musical Art", the original name for what would eventually become Juilliard School. Houston received two degrees, one in voice, and one for teaching music.
In 1923 he began studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Houston garnered leading bass roles in such operas as Boris Godunov and Faust under the direction of Vladimir Rosing. Members of Rosing's opera department soon spun off into the American Opera Company, touring the United States and Canada successfully for several years until the Depression grounded the promising venture in 1930. Highlights for Houston included a performance of Carmen with guest artist Mary Garden, a season at the Guild Theater on Broadway and a performance for President Coolidge in Washington, D.C. in December 1927.
After doing some stage acting on Broadway, Houston was enticed to try his acting skills in Hollywood by the early 1930s, hoping to win parts in singing films. He received small bit parts in six different films, but no roles that cast him in a starring role. After his sixth, he found himself unemployed.
In 1935, a small production company, Grand National Pictures, took notice of Houston and hired him to play the lead role in the 1936 film Captain Calamity, and then later to play the role of Wild Bill Hickok in Frontier Scout. The film, released in 1938, was successful and brought Houston to the notice of other production companies. That same year he would play a small role in Blockade with Henry Fonda and Madeleine Carroll, but in which he was billed as "George Byron", in MGM's movie The Great Waltz, also released in 1938, he played Fritz Schiller and sang Strauss' "I'm in Love with Vienna" in a rousing operatic tenor voice, which was referred to in the movie itself as "contralto."
By 1940, following several failed film endeavors, Grand National Pictures was in trouble, and they went out of business soon after. Houston had been billed prior to this time by a new company, Producers Releasing Corporation, as the future character of Billy the Kid in an eight film series for that company. However, when it came time to film the series, Bob Steele was cast in the role for six episodes, and was replaced by Buster Crabbe following Steele's departure to Republic Pictures.
Despite his not being cast in the "Billy the Kid" role, PRC gave Houston his own series of films. He would make eleven films as "The Lone Rider" in which he sang the theme song in an equally rousing tenor voice at the beginning and end. How he transformed a young bass voice to a mature tenor voice remains a mystery. Al "Fuzzy" St. John played his sidekick in all eleven films. However, by the end of 1942, Houston was replaced by veteran actor Bob Livingston as the "Lone Rider." St. John and actor Dennis Moore would remain with the series.
Houston planned to return to his singing interests, but died unexpectedly on November 12, 1944, of a heart attack. His wife, Virginia Card, was at the time starring in the Broadway hit Oklahoma!, which had just debuted in 1943. Houston was, at the time of his death, preparing to take his opera company on a nationwide tour.