Gunsmoke Front Page
Correspondance from Milburn Stone's Brother, Joe Stone
Jan 23. (1998)
Dear Professor Marks
Our son Milburn has sent to us correspondance between you relative to my brother Milburn Stone.
I want to modify some of the things Milburn has written to you.
My brother met Art Names because Art was a character actor with the Helen B. Ross Players, a dramatic reportoire company which played in Burrton, Ks., in a tent. Milburn always hung around such shows including Chautauque.
Art had written six plays and was leaving the Ross Players to start his own show. He had hired a piano-player actress, a school teacher from Larned, Ks., Lorraine Smith. They were the three-people show. Milburn for 60 years looked for another actor who had performed with a three-people show. He never found one. The show opened in Garfield, Ks., a tiny town where our father was working in a grain elevator when he got pneumonia he died from.
I will disagree here to report that in those years in Burrton High School there were, each year, a junior play, a senior play and an operetta. Milburn was in all three all four years he was in high school. He was also the state oration champion. The same year our sister, Glennis, was state champion in declamation. Milburnís oration was "When a Manís a Man". Glennis wrote it for him. He was captain and quarterback of the football team and played basketball. He was active in Hi-Y.
I am enclosing some material having to do with his job as night operator for the Burrton telephone company. He was unable to keep it up and no wonder with schoolwork, at which he was good, and extra curricular activities. Of course he also had girlfriends.
The Art Names Players were successful. Milburn was making $100 a week when $15 or $20 wqas the going rate. They became the Allen-Names Players when Art married Maurine Allen, an actress. They played in tents summertimes and theaters winters. They played Burrton many times. HE met his first wife, Nellie Morrison, while playing Delphos, Kans., where she lived. Their daughter, Shirley Gleason, lives in Costa Mesa, Ca. Nellie died when onle 28 when Milburn was first getting started in pictures in Hollywood. He subsequently married Francis Jane Garrison, a native of Hutchinson, Ks., 10 miles from Burrton.
In Burrton, he sang in a barbershop quartet which sang in Fat Zimmermanís barbershop. It was composed of the Ortman brothers, who had a dry cleaning shop adjoining the barbershop, and a high school buddy, Byron Warner, bass. Another high school friend, Abe Heiderbrecht, tenor, sang with them.
The Names players grew to a large show with an orchestra in which Milburn played drums and sang.
His first singing partner was Forrest Markell of Sylvia, Ks., the first Happy Harmony Boys. He also persuaded Art to hire Abe Heiderbrecht and Bryon Warner so they could have a quartet with Markle singing lead and Milburn baritone.
The next singing partner was Jack Campbell, show comedian. J.O. Strain came along much later. All three of these partners played ukulele.
In 1929 Milburn, armed with letters from Fred Stone, cousin, the musical comedy star, left for New York to meet producers Fred had written letters to. The Depression began and he had no luck with Broadway. He returned to join the Harold Inglish Players in Missouri and Illinois, briefly, then returned to join the Harold Inglish Players, a stock company in Hutchinson, Ks.
I graduated from Halstead, Ks. High in 1931. Under the name of Wallace Bruce, Milburn took out a show and took me with it as a stage manager and a property boy. We opened in Stafford, Ks., for a week. The second week, we were in Great Bend, Ks. We set up the tent on a lot at the end of the main downtown block. In that block was an air conditioned theater. The show in the theater was Trader Horn starring Harry Carey. We did fairly well in Great Bend but I remember Milburn saying an air-conditioned theater in the summer in Kansas was tough competition.
We folded in Brush, Colo. In September, stored the tent and went home. Milburn and Byron Warner put together a show called Stoneís Comedians and rescued me from a job washing dishes in a restaurant in Halstad and took me with them and stage manager. I got to do a few small parts.
That show folded in Wilsonville, Neb., Thanksgiving time, 1931.
Mil directed home talent plays in Burrton, Halstead and elsewhere sharing receipts with organizations such as the American Legion.
He and Strain got together with a free act for a racetrack in Denver which was operated by Tom Holdn, who we had met while on the road and booked some county fairs he was playing. The Happy Harmony Sisters joined the act and it was offered vaudeville time but the girlsí parents wouldnít let them go.
Meanwhile I was in California attending the `32 Olympics in Los Angeles and on to Turlock with my sister and her family. Stone and Strain worked their way to LA but ran out of work. Strain hitch hiked back to Kansas. Milburn did some home talent directing and finally wound up with a Richfield service station in LA. While working for Richfield he learned Pasadena Playhouse was to do the Virginian with Victor Jory in the title role. He read for the part of the Virginianís pal and got the part. He attracted the attention of agents and of Sylvia Sydney but got a wire from Fred Stone saying he had a part for him in The Jayhawker, written for Fred by Sinclair Lewis. The show only lasted three weeks on Broadway but Milburn got good words from critics and when he returned to Hollywood he was a New York actor, a big help those days. This was 1934. I was in college in Wichita.
He made a good living in pictures and TV every year after that.
During the war I was in the Coast Guard and visited him in Hollywood while on leave. He took me to a set where I met, among others, Fuzzy Knight. Knight told me "Your brother will always find work. Heís a good actor, he always shows up sober and knows his lines. They like that."
The show my son mentions that was submitted in the bid for the Emmy was called The Triplets. (Editorís note: Mr. Joe Stone was the author of this episode of Gunsmoke.) Before it went into production Ken Curtis (Festus Hagin) suggested the name Bakerís Dozen and it was released with that title. I forgot the name of another I wrote which was produced. They brought one I wrote called The Plague. Most of it appeared in bits and pieces in other shows. I also wrote for Festless Gun. And I wrote one for Charlton Heston which he bought from me but they went off to play Moses and didnít do it. I must have been forgettable. It was called No Gun At Mulberry. Heston played a blacksmith.
Please excuse my typing. (Editorís note: Mr. Stoneís letter was transcribed for posting purposes.) I gave up trying to do it perfectly 70 years ago.
(P.S.) Our son Norman J. Stone is executive for the Boy Scouts of America in Seattle. He lives in Federal Way.
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