John Boles

I’ve become quite attached to John Boles after seeing him in Craig’s Wife (1936), which is really Rosalind  Russell’s picture, but John is fine in support.

Tall,dark and attractive ,  John Boles (1895-1969) had a fine singing voice too.

Wounded twice in World War One, John dropped his medical studies and studied music in New York . Universal signed him and he initially appeared in musicals like the first sound version of The Desert Song, King of Jazz  and Rio Rita.
His singing style was very much of the period, with a clipped pronunciation. But his speaking voice was very natural, soft and with a slight southern drawl. ( He was Texan.)


With Bebe Daniels. RIO RITA


King of Jazz

I love King Of Jazz and in particular John’s numbers, ‘It Happened in Monterey’ and ‘Song of the Dawn.’


He was kept busy in the  30s in films like Back Street, Music in the Air, A Message to Garcia , Stella Dallas, Craig’s Wife.

I counted 9 films alone in 1934, yet by the end of the 1930s John had deserted Hollywood . In 1943 he was on Broadway, costarring with Mary Martin in the musical, One Touch  Of Venus.

He  eventually returned to Texas and founded a very successful oil service company. He had been married to his college sweetheart since 1917.

In 1961 John helped  promote the third version of Back Street with John Gavin.The two Johns were in a way similar types, both quiet spoken and never overshadowing their female costars.

John Boles, John Gavin.

I found myself seeking out John’s films and in the process, seeing films (thanks to You Tube) I might not have watched otherwise.


John’s role in Six Hours  To Live (1932) is minor. The star is Warner Baxter as the government representative of a European country attending an international trade conference and is the only hold-out on a treaty.

As a result his life is threatened and he is murdered before a final vote is due to be taken on the treaty. A scientist revives him with a special ray but doesn’t know how long Baxter will live.

John Boles plays Baxter’s lawyer and English actress Miriam Jordan made her Hollywood debut as the baroness in love with Baxter.

Baxter finds that he has clairvoyant powers and the film develops nicely as he confronts his murderer!

And if you’re wondering how long Mr. Baxter survives, the clue’s in the title!



Child of Manhattan (1933) starred Nancy Carroll as Nancy McGonigle ,a dance hall girl who meets John Boles as  Paul Vanderkill,whose excuse for visiting the dance hall is because his family company owns the property .
Buck Jones was very likeable  as a westerner who wants to marry Nancy but she only has eyes for John who plays a widower with a daughter we never see.

Nancy’s mother is played by Jane Darwell with an Irish accent. Betty Grable has a tiny part as Nancy’s sister.

It’s a typical pre-code melodrama. Nancy and John marry secretly (in view of his position in society and his never seen daughter!);she has a baby that dies and she leaves for a quickie divorce in Mexico accompanied by Jessie Ralph (her first film at the age of 68.) But there is a happy ending!

The print on  You Tube is poor.


Sinners in Paradise(1938) was a 65 minute programmer made on a small budget with no location shooting. Rather sad to see it was directed by James Whale who couldn’t do much with the story of a seaplane crash In which the small group of passengers survive (with not a scratch on them) while the plane’s crew , other than the steward, are killed.

The crash is conveniently near  a desert island whose only inhabitants are John Boles and his servant.

The survivors include Bruce Cabot as  a gangster on the run ; Don Barry as the crew member; Gene Lockhart as a pompous  politician; heiress Charlotte Wynters;  Madge Evans as a nurse running away from a loveless marriage;  Milburn Stone and Morgan Conway as two arms dealers; and best of all ,Marion Martin as a brassy gal who hooks up with Cabot.
How they will all get off the island and the mystery of why Boles is there is the substance of the plot and it just isn’t as well done as, for example, Five Came Back. 

And whatever happened to  James Whale’s career.


John Boles, Bruce  Cabot. SINNERS IN PARADISE.


Marion Martin, Bruce Cabot.


Despite it’s title, Bottoms Up was an enjoyable Fox movie mainly because Spencer Tracy, Herbert Mundin and Sid Silvers make up a funny and likeable trio of con men.
Led by Tracy, a fast talking promoter, they take Hollywood by storm and make young ingenue, Pat Paterson a star. To get in the door, Tracy passes Pat and Herbert off as a wealthy English  nobleman and his daughter.

John  Boles plays a screen idol who is fed up with the roles he is getting, especially the ones opposite Thelma Todd (think Lina Lamont).



This was English actress and singer Pat Paterson’s first Hollywood film. She sings ‘I’m Throwing my Love Away’ well, while John  Boles gets possibly one of the poorest production numbers I’ve ever seen, ‘Waiting at the gate for Katy.’


John Boles, Thelma Todd.

More Thelma Todd would have been welcome. She brightens up all the scenes she is in.

I wish this film was on dvd .



Pat Paterson, Charles Boyer.

Pat Paterson (1910-1978) married  Charles Boyer and retired from the screen.


Only Yesterday is worth seeing for Margaret Sullavan’s first screen appearance. John Boles is absent for much of the film!
The plot can be summed up quickly. Margaret is a young girl  who has a one night stand with a soldier  John Boles who  is about to leave for duty in the First World War In 1917.
When the war ends a year later, the girl has had a baby and eagerly awaits his return, except that he doesn’t recognise her!
She doesn’t tell him and he goes on to marry (Benita Hume).

Margaret’s parents send her to stay with an aunt in New York. The aunt is Billie Burke, getting away from her usual fluttery roles and playing an independent business woman who is pursued  by Reginald Denny.

There are some lovely scenes between Burke and Denny as he visits her apartment and often plays her piano, with Billie joining him in singing ‘Shine On Harvest Moon’.

The film fast forwards to 1929, Billie and Reginald are married and blissfully happy. Poor Margaret is running a shop and devoting herself to her young son ( played very well by Jimmy Butler).

Margaret and John  meet up again but don’t look for a happy ending.

The script is based on the novel which Letter From An Unknown Woman’ also used.  (“Only Yesterday “ opens in 1929 and the Wall Street  Crash – John  Boles’ character has been wiped out and is contemplating suicide when a letter is delivered to him . This starts the flash back to 1917.)

Director John Stahl  had four hits in a row, starting with Back Street in 1932, then Only Yesterday, Imitation of Life in 1934 and Magnificent Obsession in 1935. (With quite a change in 1945 when he made Leave Her to Heaven.)


Billie Burke.


Reginald Denny


Margaret Sullivan, Jimmy Butler.


Some of John’s films I’d like to see: Some are on You Tube.




A MESSAGE TO GARCIA, with Barbara Stanwyck.



Most impressive so far of John Boles’s films has been CRAIG’S WIFE which I hope to review once I’ve watched it again. It was interesting to hear a radio version with Orson Welles and Ann Harding .






6 responses »

  1. Vienna please don’t ever give up two hours of your life to watch The Desert Song. Leonard Maltin wrote ‘seems like it will never end’ and he was right. Leading lady Carlotta King is really awful, one of the worst screen performances ever. Myrna Loy is the only good thing as Azuri the native girl.

  2. Having seen Frankenstein too often, left me on the fence regarding Mr. Boles then I saw Craig’s Wife and The Age of Innocence in quick succession and started edging in his direction. When I heard him sing, well – we’re as tight as any fan and long ago star can be.

    The above is by way of saying that I really enjoyed your article and the titles to look for, and the titles to avoid.

  3. I too caught up with The Age of Innocence recently and quite enjoyed it – a good cast including Lionel Atwill in a surprisingly upbeat role.
    Thanks, Patricia for your comments. It turned out to be so worthwhile catching films John Boles was in . By the way, I wouldn’t avoid any of them. But the one to see is definitely Bottoms Up.
    I’ve got Rio Rita coming in the post .

  4. I found John a few years ago,and have been a big fan ever since.. I have a lot of his movies and love them all..Romance in the Dark is great and you get a good chance to hear his singing.. I wish they would restore Desert Song.. Maybe they could tone Carlotta down a bit.. my favourite is Back Street..also Craigs Wife, He gives a good performance in both..

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