Raymond Bernard “Crash” Corrigan

(1903 – 1976)

 

Corrigan, an actor, stuntman and cowboy, built the outdoor movie studio, Corriganville, which was renamed Hopetown in 1966 when comedian Bob Hope bought the property.  It was the location of the filming of 3,500 movies from the 1930s to 1960s, including the “Rin Tin Tin” television series, “Tarzan”, and “Fort Apache”.

Getting into movies was a twist of fate for Corrigan, who was born Raymond Bernard on February 14, 1903, a son of Bernhardt Bernard and Ida Von Horne, on the grounds of the Joseph Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In his teens, while he worked for a furniture company, he studied electricity and electronics. He later opened his own radio and electrical business. It is said that he invented and patented many devices, holding more than 21 patents, including one for an electrical blood circulator used in hospitals. However, searching from 1922 to 1962, I found no patents in his name.

While living in Denver, Colorado, he opened his own physical culture school, while also receiving many physique awards. It was in Denver that he first studied dramatics in school (his father had been a Grand Opera soloist). He joined the Benham Stock Company, and, later, a Los Angeles Company, which led him to California in 1920’s (a 1962 article stated it was 1927 while a booklet stated 1922; all that I have found for certain is that he was in Los Angeles by 1925 when he was residing at 5426 Sierra Vista and working as a salesman at C.N. Herod).

In 1927 he was running a radio equipment shop at 2541 Crenshaw Blvd., and in 1930, he had a reducing machine business at 2611 W. 7th, both located in Los Angeles.

He worked for Bernard Macfadden for four years as a physical culture instructor at the studios. In that capacity, he met Cedric Gibbons who convinced Ray to sign a five year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

He signed with Republic Studios in 1935, where he became a western star.  It was while working with John Carradine in the “Dr. X” series, when he went to Republic Studios, where he starred in a serial, “Undersea Kingdom”.  It was in the serial that he got the name by which he was to be remembered.  The leading character, whom he played, was called “Crash Corrigan”, and Bernard, who had decided his own name was not right for an action-adventure star, adopted it for his own.  Although a star athlete growing up, Corrigan suffered from curvature of the spine.  Educated and raised in Denver, Colorado, his parents moved to Hollywood, California, and Corrigan received physical therapy from Bernard McFadden.  Tall and described as a bit clumsy by his son, Tom Corrigan, Corrigan overcame his back problem.  While at at McFadden’s studio, a director of the silent “Tarzan” films spotted him and hired him to replace a stuntman who was killed during production.

The first use of Ray Corrigan as his stage name was in the serial Undersea Kingdom. Where did the name “Crash” come from? Chuck Anderson of The Old Corral lists all of the reported stories, but I need to include one that has not been reported. In the MGM Tarzan film The Capture of Tarzan (an unreleased feature that was reworked into Tarzan Escapes), he was a stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller and Clark Gable as well as doing bit parts in many films, for one of the aerial scenes, Ray Corrigan crashed into a tree, breaking his leg and losing all the toes on that leg. Could he have obtained the “Crash” moniker at this time as it was used in his next film, Undersea Kingdom, as his character’s nickname? Also, during filming of Darkest Africa, while dressed in his ape suit, Ray crashed to the ground while attempting a vine swing.  Corrigan soon found himself swinging on vines for Johnny Weismuller and earned the name “Crash” because he would do any stunt.

During the filming on Undersea Kingdom, Corrigan said he was hurt many times, but the most serious was when the director, “Breezy” Eason had a dynamite charge set between the camera and “Crash”. Ray should have been at least 25 feet away, but the director had him much closer. At the hospital, 225 rocks were taken out of his back.

In 1934, Corrigan made his film debut, taking all the parts he could.  The next year Republic Studieos cast him in the 12-episode chapter play, “The Leathnecks Have Landed”, which gained him recognition among fans and heads of studios.  Republic then cast him in “Undersea Kingdom”, the story of Atlantis, which made Corrigan a star.  Republic also cast him in the role of “Mesquiteers” along with Bob Livingston and Sid Saylor.  the first movie in the series was “The Three Mesquiteers”, which was followed by sequels, which later found Max Terhune replacing Saylor and John Wayne replacing Livingston.  Corrigan made 24 of the “Mesquiteers” series.

In 1936, Republic Pictures began their long running series, The Three Mesquiteers [please visit Chuck Anderson’s The Old Corral for a LOT more information on The Three Mesquiteers]. Ray appeared in the first 24 of them, from 1936 to 1939. Because of a hunting trip while filming one of these flicks, he discovered a ranch that he knew would make a great movie location ranch.

In 1937 he purchased that ranch in Simi Valley and immediately set about creating a motion picture location ranch. Named the Ray Corrigan Movie Ranch, filming appears to have commenced in late 1937 or early 1938.

It was around this time that he supposedly married for the first time, while on a cross country tour. The woman he married stated that she was pregnant with his child. He married her, but when she had no baby, the marriage was annulled. A little latter, he married Rita Jane Smeal and they had three children:  Tommy Ray (born July 7, 1944), Joyce Christine (born July 10, 1945), and Patricia Ann (born July 12,1946).

In 1940, he moved to Monogram Studios and co-produced another series of westerns, “The Range Busters”.  Playing in the westerns wasn’t Corrigan’s only interest in films; he also made 100 movies playing the part of a gorilla.

In 1949, he decided to open his movie ranch to the general public on weekends. So, renaming the property as Corriganville, the ranch became one of the nation’s busiest tourist attractions (this was pre-Disneyland time).

While on location in the Simi Valley, west of the San Fernando Valley, Corrigan spotted a picturesque ranch at the east end of town.  The rancher wanted $12,000 for the huge property.  After putting a deposit on the property, Corrigan went on the road with country western singer Eddie Dean.  Upon returning to Simi Valley a short time later, he found the rancher had upped the price of the ranch to $15,000 and gave Corrigan only three weeks to raise the money.  In 1949, he decided to open his movie ranch to the general public on weekends. So, renaming the property as Corriganville, the ranch became one of the nation’s busiest tourist attractions (this was pre-Disneyland time).

Corrigan traveled back East to raise the money, visited his future wife, Rita, and high-tailed it back to Simi Valley and bought the ranch.

After marrying, Corrigan moved his family to the ranch from Hollywood, and moved out much of Hollywood at the same time.  Movie studios started to film at Corriganville, bringing stars such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, and Errol Flynn.  When 20th Century Fox made “Fort Apache”, it constructed the fort at Corriganville.  Howard Hughes built “Vendetta Village” there, Warner Bros. Trimmed a few trees for “Robin Hood”, and Columbia built a lake for “Tarzan”.

In 1948, Corrigan decided to open Corriganville to the public on the weekend for tours.  The first weekend open, he found himself turning people away.  At Corriganville, the public was able to see where the films were made and mingle with the stars at the same time.  By 1953, it was the most popular attraction in the Southland.  About 22,000 persons a day went to Corriganville.

In 1954, he and his wife Rita divorced. She had been seeing Moses S. (Bud) Stiltz, the ranch foreman, while Ray had been seeing a young performer at the ranch, Elaine Zazueta (stage name, Elaine DuPont).  In January 1959, while Bud (no longer employed at Corriganville; now a welder) was visiting Rita at her home (with her three children there), Carl (Alfalfa) Switzer showed up demanding payment of $50 on a debt owed to him by Bud. In the ensuing fight, Bud shot Switzer dead. It was ruled justifiable homicide.

Ray married the young performer he had been seeing, Elaine Zazueta. They were later divorced. She remarried, but Ray did not. He simply lived with Irene Bacus, who survived him.

Most of his later years as an actor was inside a gorilla suit which he designed and owned, many times playing the part unbilled.  After his divorce, Corrigan sold the ranch to Bob Hope in 1965 for $3 million.  He stayed on there for a year, and Hope closed the ranch in 1967.

Corrigan died on August 10, 1976 in his home in Brookings Harbor, Oregon, at age 73,  of a heart attack.  In addition to his wife Irene, Corrigan leaves a son, Robert of Thousand Oaks, and a daughter, Patricia Ann of Canoga Park..

Corrigan’s film credits included:  Heart of the Rockies; Hit the Saddle; Range Defenders; Riders of the Whistling Skull; Roarin’ Lead; The Three Mesquiteers; West of Pinto Basin.

RAY CORRIGAN – WHAT IS HIS REAL NAME?

According to most published accounts from a variety of sources, Ray “Crash” Corrigan was born Raymond Bernard. Another source, at one time, stated it was Ray Bennetts (pronounced Benitz), but in a later account corrected it to Ray Benard. The prior sources state that Raymond Bernard legally changed his name to Ray Benard in honor of Bernarr MacFadden. Some sources then state that he legally changedhis name to Ray Corrigan after his character’s name in the serial Undersea Kingdom.

Here is what was given on his social security application:

Legal Name:                 RAYMOND BENARD
Father’s Name: BERNHARDT BERNARD
Mother’s Name:            IDA VON HORNE
Professional Name:       RAY CORRIGAN
Date of Application:      February 5, 1937
Signature:                     RAY BENARD (Corrigan is crossed out)

What does this information tell us? Evidently, his surname at birth was BERNARD and that sometime between 1902 and 1937 he legally changed his surname to BENARD. As of Feb. 5, 1937, that was his legal name, CORRIGAN being only his Professional Name (i.e. stage name).

 

(src:  Center for Motion Picture Study / Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)