Ted Wells was a second echelon western hero in a handful of really low budget oaters for producer Robert J. Horner and some better quality productions at Universal. Universal billed him as "Ted Wells, World's Champion Rider" and he was "Pawnee Bill, Jr." in the Horner oaters. Trade publications carried many articles on Pawnee Bill, Jr., Horner, Universal and Ted Wells.
Following are a couple tidibts and dates related to Wells becoming a cowboy hero:
August 5, 1926 Film Daily: "Horner Completes First. Hollywood - Robert J. Horner has completed the first picture of his new series starring Pawnee Bill, Jr., entitled 'The Mystery Rider.'" December 28, 1926 Film Daily: "'U' Has New Star. Universal City - Ted Wells is to be starred in a series of westerns for Universal ..."
Stardom was brief and Ted spent the early 1930s with traveling circuses and wild west shows.
Sadly, he re-connected with Horner in the mid 1930s. That collaboration resulted in Wells starring in a pair of bottom-of-the-barrel sagebrush yarns, THE PHANTOM COWBOY (Aywon, 1935) and the lost/missing DEFYING THE LAW (Aywon, 1935). Appears that Wells was to do eight (or more) westerns for Horner:
The August 21, 1934 Film Daily had an article that Horner was shooting "The Phantom Bandit" with Wells as the lead (and I assume that became THE PHANTOM COWBOY). The September 17, 1935 issue of Film Daily noted that Robert J. Horner (and his American Pictures Corporation) was planning an eight film series for Wells, and DEFYING THE LAW had just completed and was the first of the batch. The remaining seven never happened.
Too bad Wells attempted a return to stardom with Horner as THE PHANTOM COWBOY is a mess. Ted has a dual role and also plays the caped "phantom cowboy". Jimmy Aubrey is his overacting sidekick. This thing has rotten dialog, a stationary camera, and other issues. But the worse is when Wells and Aubrey decide to go swimming and strip down to their skivvies. The phantom steals their clothes, gunbelts and horses, and Ted and Jimmy spend about 10 minutes doing scenes in their underwear.
Wells continued doing films but found himself relegated to bit/support roles as well as doubling and stunt work in westerns and serials ... and he was a frequent double for William Boyd in the Hopalong Cassidy adventures (stuntman Cliff Lyons doubled Boyd in the early Hoppy films).
His last movie work occurred in 1945. (If you check the IMDb, you'll find Wells in SUNDOWN RIDERS (1948). That was lensed in 1944, but not released until 1948 by Astor.)
Ted Wells passed away on August 7, 1948, in Wickenburg, Maricopa County, Arizona and his death certificate notes that he was a "Laborer - construction" and died of "natural causes".
But why did Ted Wells exit the movie business circa 1945 ... and he and wife Josephine moved to Maricopa County, Arizona. Was he ill ... injured ... or just not enough film jobs to pay the bills. Inquiring minds want to know.
Pawnee Bill Jr.Edit
Western film series, starring Ted Wells.