Ken Curtis

b. Curtis Wain Gates, 2 July 1916, on a farm near Lamar, Colorado, USA, d. 28 April 1991, Fresco, California, USA. In 1935, he left home and for a time studied medicine in college, at Colorado Springs,…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography

b. Curtis Wain Gates, 2 July 1916, on a farm near Lamar, Colorado, USA, d. 28 April 1991, Fresco, California, USA. In 1935, he left home and for a time studied medicine in college, at Colorado Springs, until his desire for a musical career saw him move to Hollywood. He played saxophone at college, but wanting to be a singer, he found a post as a staff vocalist on NBC radio. In 1941, after various radio work, he was signed as a temporary replacement for Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with whom he recorded. On Sinatra’s return, he made further recordings with the Shep Fields Band. In June 1942, he volunteered for military service but resumed his musical career in 1945. A radio appearance singing ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ led him to a contract with Columbia Pictures where, as Ken Curtis, he made a series of musical westerns until the company also acquired Gene Autry. In 1949, Curtis and Shug Fisher toured with the Sons Of The Pioneers and others, and during this period was asked to deputize for Lloyd Perryman for a time. When Perryman returned, Curtis remained with the Pioneers as replacement for Tim Spencer who, owing to a voice problem, was becoming more the manager of the group than a singer. Curtis, Perryman and Bob Nolan provided the trio harmony on their noted 1949 recording of ‘Riders In The Sky’ and ‘Room Full Of Roses’ and he appeared with them inWagon Master, which starred Ben Johnson in 1950. He left the Pioneers in 1953 but still recorded with them until September 1957. He hosted theLucky U Ranch Show before, in the mid-50s, he returned to film acting. He appeared in several westerns, some directed by his father-in-law John Ford, including the John Wayne classicThe Searchers. He later moved to television where he appeared in Ripcord and Rawhide before becoming a regular (as Monk) in Have Gun Will Travel. He first appeared in Gunsmoke (aka Gunlaw in the UK) in December 1962 and played various roles until, in January 1964, he played the part his father had done for real, when he replaced Denis Weaver (Chester Goode) as Marshal Matt, in which role he occasionally sang numbers that he had sung with the Pioneers. When that series ended, he continued to play character parts.