Biography

Enjoying one of the longest screen careers on record, Irish-born, English-reared Al Ferguson became one of the silent era's busiest Western villains, his wolf-like features instantly recognizable to action fans everywhere. According to the actor himself, Ferguson had entered films with the American company as early as 1910, and by 1912, he was appearing in Selig Westerns under the name of "Smoke" Ferguson, often opposite action heroine Myrtle Steadman. In 1920, Ferguson played Hector Dion's henchman in the partially extant The Lost City, the first of more than 40 serials, silent and sound, in which he would appear. Still reasonably good-looking by the early '20s, Ferguson even attempted to become an action star in his own right, producing, directing, and starring in a handful of low-budget Westerns filmed in Oregon and released to the States' Rights market by Poverty Row mogul J. Charles Davis. None of these potboilers, which included The Fighting Romeo (1925), with Ferguson as a ranch foreman rescuing his employer's kidnapped daughter, made him a star, however, and he returned to ply his nefarious trade in low-budget oaters featuring the likes of Bob Steele and Tom Tyler. Today, Ferguson is perhaps best remembered as the main heavy in two Tarzan serials, Tarzan the Mighty (1928) and Tarzan the Tiger (1929), both starring Frank Merrill. The later survives intact and Ferguson emerges as a melodramatic screen villain at the top of his game. Like most of his contemporaries, including Bud Osborne and the silent era James Mason, Al Ferguson saw his roles decrease in stature after the advent of sound. Not because of his Irish accent, which had become all but undetectable, but mainly due to changing acting styles. Ferguson, however, hung in there and appeared in scores of sound Westerns and serials, not exclusively portraying villains but also playing lawmen, peaceful ranchers, townsmen, and even a Native American or two. By the 1950s, he had included television shows such as Sky King to his long resumé, but B-Westerns and serials remained Ferguson's bread and butter, the now veteran actor appearing in the cast of both Perils of the Wilderness (1956) and Blazing the Overland Trail (1956), the final chapter plays to be released in America. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi