This question was asked by the Statler Brothers in their 1973 country music hit of the same name, written by Don S. Reid and Harold Wilson Reid. The short answer is that you can watch Randolph Scott sometime during just about any day or night on the Grit television channel, and very often on the Western channel.
In fact, it’s not unusual to see several of his movies run consecutively as he played the strong, handsome “good guy.” Well, except for his last film, “Ride the High Country,” in which he played a critically acclaimed, less-heroic-than-usual role.
The Statler Brothers song is humorous, but at the same time it made a strong social statement about the culture of the times. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the country divided by the Vietnam War and other causes of unrest, and the movie industry reflected that. There was a period when it seemed like every movie had an unhappy ending, and you went home from the theater depressed. Also, there was a marked increase in sex, violence and bad language in films.
“Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” yearned for the good old days when there were heroes and villains, and you could always tell them apart. I think it also yearned for simple decency.
The song starts out:
“Everybody knows when you go to the show you can’t take the kids along;
You’ve gotta read the paper and know the code of G, PG and R and X;
And you gotta know what the movie’s about before you even go;
Tex Ritter’s gone and Disney’s dead and the screen is filled with sex.”
The song also seeks to recall the Saturday afternoon movies that were fun, but of little consequence, featuring stars such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Durango Kid.
My favorite was Lash LaRue, who used a bullwhip instead of a gun to bring outlaws to justice in movies during the 1940s and ’50s. He had a gun, but never shot anybody — he used it only to hit bad guys over the head. His real name was LaRue Alfred Wilson, and he had a remarkable resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. He later taught Harrison Ford how to use a bullwhip in the Indiana Jones movies.
He made 75 western movies and had a TV series for a while. Every cowboy had to have a funny sidekick in those days, and his was Fuzzy Q. Jones.
Then there was another of my favorites, Alan “Rocky” Lane. One thing I noticed about his movies was that they had the same outlaws — I can still visualize the four of them — and the same hideout. Come to think of it, maybe he only made one movie and I watched it over and over.
“Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” also satirized the movies in which you were supposed to analyze the story and figure out its true meaning — the story behind the story, so to speak.
For example, the song goes:
“Everybody’s tryin’ to make a comment about our doubts and fears;
True Grit’s the only movie I’ve understood in years;
You gotta take your analyst along to see if it’s fit to see
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott has happened to the industry”
I recall seeing “True Grit” in a theater in 1969. The house was packed, and after it was over people were saying to each other, “Why can’t they make more movies like that anymore?”
Frankly, I can’t recall ever seeing a Randolph Scott movie during the 1950s, although I knew who he was and have seen several on TV since then. For one thing, while his movies were not memorable, they were too long for the Saturday afternoon theater crowd and more polished than the low-budget flicks by Lash LaRue and the Cisco Kid.
Nevertheless, Scott was one of the top 10 box office stars from 1950-53. His image from his Westerns was so strong that it was paid homage in Mel Brooks’ classic 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.” When the African-American sheriff, played by Cleavon Little, asks the reluctant townspeople for their help in fighting the bad guys, they unanimously reject him. However, when he says, “You’d do it for Randolph Scott,” a heavenly chorus in the background sings “Randolph Scott,” and the townspeople change their minds.
I wax nostalgic as I listen to these final words of the song:
“Whatever happened to Johnny Mack Brown and Alan Rocky Lane;
Whatever happened to Lash LaRue I’d love to see them again;
Whatever happened to Smiley Burnette, Tim Holt and Gene Autry;
Whatever happened to all of these has happened to the best of me;
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott has happened to the industry.”