Al St. John
Al St. John (September 10, 1893 - January 21, 1963) in his persona of Fuzzy Q. Jones basically defined the role and concept of "comical sidekick" to cowboy heroes from 1930 to 1951. St. John also created a character, "Stoney," in the first of a continuing Western film series, The Three Mesquiteers, that was later played (at a low point in his own career) by John Wayne.
Born in Santa Ana, California, St. John entered silent films around 1912 and soon rose to co-starring and starring roles in short comic films from a variety of studios. His uncle, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, may have helped him in his early days at Mack Sennett Studios, but talent kept him working. He was slender, sandy-haired, handsome and a remarkable acrobat.
St. John frequently appeared as Arbuckle's mischievously villainous rival for the attentions of leading ladies like Mabel Normand, and worked with Arbuckle and Charles Chaplin in The Rounders (1914). The most critically praised film from St. John's period with Arbuckle remains Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916) with Normand.
When Arbuckle formed his own production company, he brought St. John with him and recruited stage star Buster Keaton into his films, creating a formidable roughhouse trio. After Arbuckle was victimized by a trumped-up scandal and prevented from appearing in movies, he pseudonymously directed his nephew Al as a comic leading man in silent and sound films such as The Iron Mule (1925) and Bridge Wives (1932). Dozens of St. John's early films were screened during the 56-film Arbuckle retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2006.
During the sound era St. John was mainly seen as an increasingly scruffy and bearded comic character. He played this rube role in Buster Keaton's 1937 comedy Love Nest on Wheels. That same year he began supporting cowboy stars Fred Scott and later Jack Randall, but most of his films were made for Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). For that studio, he played "Fuzzy Q. Jones" in the Billy the Kid series starring Bob Steele, the Lone Rider series (starring former opera singer George Houston and later Bob Livingston), and the Billy the Kid/Billy Carson series starring Buster Crabbe.
The name Fuzzy originally belonged to a different actor, John Forrest "Fuzzy" Knight, who took on the role of cowboy sidekick before St. John. As the studio first intended to hire Knight for the western series but then gave the role to St. John instead, he took on the nickname of his rival for his screen character.
Exhibitors loved Fuzzy, who could be counted on to attract moviegoers. The Fuzzy character was the main box-office draw in these films when shown in England and Europe. In fact, in Germany the film titles always featured Fuzzy, rather than whatever cowboy hero he was paired with. These ultra-low-budget Westerns took only a bit more than a week to film, so that Crabbe and St. John made 36 films together in a surprisingly short time.
In most of his films, screen time was set aside for St. John to do a sort of solo comedy act, emphasizing amazing pratfalls and acrobatics. He might "find" a bicycle on a fairground set, and do an astonishing sequence of acrobatic stunts on the cycle, or he might try to capture a rat, bat, skunk, gopher, or bug with hilarious and chaotic consequences. Another stunt which he used in nearly every Western was virtually his trademark: he would mount his horse in apparently the standard manner, but somehow wind up sitting facing backward, and often would ride off with the hero in this unusual orientation.
When Crabbe left PRC (according to interviews, in disgust at their increasingly low budgets), St. John was paired with new star Lash LaRue. Ultimately, St. John made more than 80 Westerns as Fuzzy. His last film was released in 1952. From that time on until his death in 1963 in Lyons, Georgia, he made personal appearances at fairs and rodeos, and travelled with the Tommy Scott Wild West Show. Altogether, Al St. John acted in 346 movies, spanning four decades from 1912 to 1952.