Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

The Westerns of Harry Lauter


Familiar face


One of the most reliable Western character actors, on the big screen and small, was Harry Lauter – especially when you needed a heavy. He appeared in 52 feature films in the genre and 251 episodes of 61 different TV shows, between 1949 and 1979. Not bad!



Harry only once came close to Western stardom, as one of the leads in Tales of the Texas Rangers on TV in 1955, co-starring with Willard Parker, and he only led the cast in one big-screen oater. But he was a mainstay of the genre in character parts, especially as bad guy.


Texas Ranger Clay Morgan


“I like to play the heavy,” Harry once said, “because they pretty well leave you alone, unless you go overboard. I love the heavies, and I love the reaction I get from people. ‘Why are you so mean on screen? You’re not a mean guy at all’. Most of the people I know that played really nasty heavies, Bob Wilke, Mickey Simpson, they are the nicest guys in the world.”


Best as heavy


Harry was once Jesse James, in the 1955 Z-Western Outlaw Treasure, so that’s good. Mind, in Westerns Jesse James wasn’t really a villain, at the worst a good badman, so maybe that doesn’t count.


He had a good line in soldiers and lawmen too, but for me was always better as a villain.






But best as bad guy


He started in Allan Lane oaters in the late 40s, when he was already 35. His last big-screen Western was Barquero, in 1970 and last TV show was a 1979 episode of How the West Was Won.


Harry’s grandparents were circus people, trapeze artists The Flying Lauters, as was his father– he was also a graphic artist. Harry too had artistic talent and often spent time between takes on the set painting the Tetons or Lone Pine or wherever they were. He did a lot of two-man shows with another Western regular and friend, Boyd Magers. Harry’s mother was a writer but died when Harry was four. Harry was a champion swimmer at school.


He worked in radio and on the stage, was drafted in World War 2 and then got a contract at Fox, but they never used him, and he got a release.


He was always a good rider. He said on one interview, “I can ride anything that moves on four legs.” He never minded “one teeny bit that I didn’t get to wear the white hat or win the girl at the end. When I was a kid I always remembered the varmint better than the hero anyway.”


In 1952 Harry got parts in two big Westerns, Bugles in the Afternoon and Rancho Notorious. In the first he was only a corporal, uncredited, and in the other a deputy, equally uncredited, but he started to get noticed by some decent producers and directors.


He worked a lot for Gene Autry in the 1950s but other biggish 50s Westerns he got parts in were They Rode West with Robert Francis, At Gunpoint and Good Day for a Hanging with Fred MacMurray, The Oklahoman and The Gunfight at Dodge City with Joel McCrea and Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend with Randolph Scott.



In the 60s it was mostly TV but he got a few parts in some big-screen pictures too, such as Posse from Hell and Showdown with Audie Murphy and Lonely Are the Brave with Kirk Douglas. Finally, in the mid-60s he got almost leading roles in a number of 50s-style Westerns that were being made by AC Lyles at Paramount and by Hal Klein at Fox, Fort Courageous (he was the best actor on the set in that one) and Fort Utah, both directed by Lesley Selander, and, wonder of wonders, in one of them, Selander’s Convict Stage, he got the lead!


The tough old scout in Fort Courageous


Harry Lauter was one of those familiar faces, one of those characters you see in Westerns and say, “Oh, good.”


2 Responses

    1. Very interesting. It sounds as if the rest of this year will bring us a goodly number of Westerns. Excellent!

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