George F. Houston
George Fleming Houston
January 11, 1896
Hampton, New Jersey, USA
|Died||November 12, 1944 (aged 48)|
|Other names||George Byron|
|Occupation||Film, stage actor|
(m. 1933; div. 1940)
Early life, World War I service
Born and raised in Hampton, New Jersey, his parents were Reverend Thomas Houston, a blind evangelist, and Mrs. Charles Houston. He attended Blair Academy, in New Jersey, where he ran track, then later he attended the Institute of Musical Arts, 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.
Houston's Broadway credits included The O'Flynn (1934), Caviar (1934), Shooting Star (1933), Melody (1933), A Modern Virgin (1931), The Venetian Glass Nephew (1931), Fioretta (1929), and Chee-Chee (1928).
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.
On September 8, 1933 in New York City, Houston married Leone Sousa, a model and Ziegfeld girl. They later moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1936, Houston and Sousa performed together in the play Everyman, produced by the California Festival Association at the Hollywood Bowl and directed by Max Reinhardt. Houston was cast as Mephisto in another lavish Max Reinhardt production of Faust at the Pilgrimage Theatre in Hollywood in 1938.
In 1935, Houston was noticed by small production company Grand National Pictures, who hired him to play the lead role in a series of musical westerns including the 1936 film Captain Calamity and the 1938 film Frontier Scout. The 1938 film 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, in which he was billed as "George Byron". In MGM's movie The Great Waltz, also released in 1938, he played the opera singer Fritz Schiller.
On February 21, 1940, Houston and Sousa divorced, after having parted on November 1, 1939. Sousa spoke about Houston in court: "He paid practically no attention to me. He'd go out socially without me and he wouldn't return until some time between 2 and 5 o'clock in the morning. [...] He was always having bills for champagne sent to our home. But I never saw the champagne." Sousa was awarded the divorce decree and Houston was made to pay her $200 a month in alimony until one of them died or Sousa remarried. Houston later married opera singer Virginia Card, who he stayed with until his death.
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", beginning with the 1941 film The Lone Rider Rides On, in which he sang the theme song in an equally rousing tenor voice at the beginning and end. 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. After a rehearsal of a film, Houston had a few drinks and collapsed from a heart attack. The police, thinking he was drunk, deposited him in the drunk tank. He then died either in the drunk tank or on the way to hospital. 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.
George Houston was beloved as a voice teacher and coach by Howard Keel and John Raitt. Keel wrote in his autobiography Only Make Believe that Houston was "...like a father to me.", and described his death.
- The Melody Lingers On (1935)
- Captain Calamity (1936)
- Let's Sing Again (1936)
- Wallaby Jim of the Islands (1937)
- Conquest (1937) as Grand Marshal George Duroc
- Frontier Scout (1938) as Wild Bill Hickok
- The Great Waltz (1938) as Fritz Schiller
- The Howards of Virginia (1940) as George Washington
- Laughing at Danger (1940)
The "Lone Rider" films:
- The Lone Rider Rides On (1941)
- The Lone Rider Crosses the Rio (1941)
- The Lone Rider in Ghost Town (1941)
- The Lone Rider in Frontier Fury (1941)
- The Lone Rider Ambushed (1941)
- The Lone Rider Fights Back (1941)
- The Lone Rider and the Bandit (1942)
- The Lone Rider in Cheyenne (1942)
- Texas Justice (1942)
- Border Roundup (1942)
- Outlaws of Boulder Pass (1942)
- "About George Houston". Charleston Daily Mail. October 25, 1935. p. 17. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Parish, James Robert; Pitts, Michael R. (2003). Hollywood Songsters: Garland to O'Connor. Taylor & Francis. pp. 391–393. ISBN 978-0-415-94333-8. Retrieved June 7, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "George Houston". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 7, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "George Houston Divorced". Charleston Gazette. February 22, 1940. p. 13. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Husband Right---I Was Wrong, Says Actress Granted Divorce". Los Angeles Times. February 22, 1940. p. 21. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020 – via Newspapers.com. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Leone Sousa; Model and Ziegfeld Follies Girl". Los Angeles Times. January 19, 2001. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Cowboy Ballads Led Houston to Hollywood". The Cumberland News. December 15, 1942. p. 13. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020 – via NewspaperArchive.
George consented to sing a few prairie ballads for the man, and before he realized what was happening, he found himself under contract to Grand National Pictures to do a series of musical westerns.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "GEORGE F. HOUSTON, OPERA SINGER, 47; Head of Pasadena, Calif., Unit Dies on Eve of Guild Tour -- Began Here in 1927". The New York Times. November 14, 1944. Retrieved July 9, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Tankenson, Bertha (April 4, 1985). "George London". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
The American Opera Company was in existence only about two years and was mildly successful. It broke up when George Houston collapsed with a heart attack on a city street, was thought to be drunk and tossed into the drunk cell, where he died.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Keel, Howard (2005). Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business. Barricade Books. p. 61. ISBN 1-56980-292-0.