Photo Essay: Lawmen, Actors, and Gunleather

When gunleather designer and maker–and ace “Holstorian”–Red Nichols  shared these images with RevolverGuy for our review of his magnificent book, we couldn’t use all of them in our story. They were too neat to scrap though, so we thought you’d enjoy seeing them in a standalone feature.

The personalities here run the gamut from holster designers, to real-world lawmen and the actors and actresses who portrayed them in the golden age of Hollywood. Throughout, you’ll see all of them sporting some great gunleather!

Enjoy the trip, and make sure to check out Red’s new blog for more fascinating holstory!

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In this image of legendary western lawman Tom Threepersons–a colorized page from “The Wide World,” in an issue published 1928–Tom is modeling the rodeo clothing brand known as “Booger Reds”. Booger was a noted rodeo celebrity who died 1924 and Tom took over the endorsements, because he needed the income. Unlike Tom, Booger was not photogenic and refused all pictures and film. He got his name after blowing up a tree stump–and his face–with black powder! (Note from Mike: Readers of the book Holstory will get the rest of the story about the real Tom Threepersons, and the one we know from western legend–they weren’t the same man, and it’s a fascinating tale!)
Tom Powers, who bought three of Tom Threeperson’s guns in 1929, but passed away shortly after in 1931. Powers was the owner of the Coney Island Saloon, in El Paso (so named, because Powers hailed from New York). His business had been destroyed by Prohibition, which is ironic, because Tom was a Prohibition Agent in 1922, where he served with the equally famous Doc White. Image circa 1900.
Marilyn Monroe, wearing a costume from the final scene of “River of No Return.” That’s gunleather maker and movie star coach Arvo Ojala with her. Hollywood holster expert Bob Arganbright notes that Arvo’s setup lacked the sophistication that Andy Anderson later brought to the company’s products. Anderson, who worked first for Ed Bohlin (“Silversmith to the stars”), eventually left Ojala’s employ and became his competitor. Image circa 1956.
Actor Jerry Lewis in “Pardners.” His revolver is in a museum somewhere, but the holster set is a prop–notice the lacing that holds the billets in place so that it can be adjusted to fit any ‘extra’ on the set. Image circa 1956.
Elvis Presley is shown with Rodd Redwing, who was Arvo Ojala’s predecessor as gunfighter coach to the stars. Reddwing died soon after this photo. Presley’s holster set also has laced billets in other pictures. Image circa 1969.
Actress Jane Russell in “The Paleface.” She’s likely wearing a pair of H.H. Heiser holsters. Image circa 1947.
Actress Jane Russell on the set of “The Paleface” again, wearing what is probably a set of H.H. Heiser holsters. (Mike’s note: Honestly, I didn’t even notice the holsters. Wow! They sure don’t make ’em like they used to in Hollywood.) Image circa 1947.
The holster set worn by actor Dale Robertson in this photo later sold to a single bidder for $30,000! Image circa 1960.
Sammy Davis Jr. was a highly accomplished shooter and often performed his spectacular gun spinning act on TV variety shows. He appeared in a host of movie westerns and starred in several on television. Johnny Cash claimed that Davis could draw and fire his Colt SAA in less than a quarter second.
How about a “Fitz” with a 4″ barrel?
Dallas PD detective and holster designer Jack Donihoo. He played “Johnny Appleseed” with his design, by taking it to every maker. It was made at various times by Bianchi, Wally Wolfram, Safariland, Seventrees, and Becknell. The Colt and S&W versions lacked the double sewing of the welt that characterizes a Donihoo — that second row adds substantial grip of the frame and slide, making a safety strap or other retaining device unnecessary. Donihoo was a 1911 man, in an era of revolver cops. Image circa 1960.
Jack Donihoo was born in 1912 and lived until 1983. Nichols’ records indicate he served in WWII in the Army, but some have said he was a Marine. He appears to have been furloughed into Dallas, where he walked across the street (metaphorically) and into Dallas P.D. in November 1945. Immediately, like Tom Threepersons, he made the newspapers for shooting down an escapee; the headline reads “Policeman Shoots Fleeing Youth”. Nichols’ records show that he used his .45 not only as a lasso, but as a range finder– he later paced off the distance from his ejected brass to the bodies. Donihoo was involved in many more shootings during his career, and later he lamented that by the time he was part of the JFK assassination investigation, he had become a pariah in the P.D. as an old-school killer.
Famed Oklahoma and FBI lawman Jacob Aldolphus “Jelly” Bryce, and his wife Shirley Bloodworth, in a photo that is likely from the time of their marriage in 1944. Shirley Bloodworth was his third wife and the love of his life.
Shown is Jerry Campbell, who was paired with the famous Jelly Bryce at Oklahoma City P.D. then later at the FBI, when they moved there circa-1934, just as it was changing from being the BOI. Hoover wanted gunmen, no questions asked, and in Jerry and Jelly he got that in spades. Jerry was known for writing his name using tracers in that Thompson, in the night sky and was ‘there’ when Dillinger was killed at the Biograph; but did not kill Dillinger.
FBI agent Walter Walsh receives a recognition from Hoover for his role in the killing of Public Enemy Number One, Al Brady, in 1937,
This is one of Walter Walsh’s two .357 Magnum (Pre-27) revolvers. He carried a pair of them in Berns-Martin Speed holsters and killed the notorious Al Brady with this gun in a Maine street gunfight in 1937. Note the grip adapter, bobbed hammer, and altered front sight.
Eccentric gun and holster designer Paris Theodore, proprietor of Seventrees Ltd., is credited for creating the first “advanced inside the waistband holster.” His designs reflect the influence of Chic Gaylord, dean of the “East Coast school” of leather holsters.
One of Seventrees’ famed shoulder holsters is fitted in their shop in Manhattan. Nichols believes the customer may be Jan Stevenson, a gun writer of the era.
A closeup of the holster shows it is made from sharkskin (formally called shagreen)
The inside of Paris’ Seventrees Ltd. shop. The chap on the rivet machine in the foreground is wearing Paris’ version of Jack Donihoo’s holster. The two men right of center are assembling shoulder holsters, and the man in the background is sorting horsehide.
Actor Jack Palance wearing H.H. Heiser holsters in the 1953 western movie, “Shane”
The Berns-Martin Speed holster is shown in this colorized photo from Elmer Keith’s 1932 American Rifleman article on the design. The Speed holster was originally designed as a hunting holster, but its spring-loaded, split front design elements were enthusiastically adopted for police duty holsters, later. Note the cutaway trigger guard on Keith’s SAA.
Dirty Harry’s iconic shoulder holster fiirst appeared in Bucheimer-Clark’s catalog in 1962, shortly after B-C was formed in 1959. Harry’s got a 6-1/2″ in a 6″ holster here, in Magnum Force. The earliest versions had the harness sewn to the ends of the holster’s ‘ears’ as here, while they are laced today, for easy replacement/update of the harness..

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Images and captions courtesy of Red Nichols.

 

Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a certified revolver nut, an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor, and a columnist at PoliceOne.com. He is also the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

23 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Lawmen, Actors, and Gunleather”

    1. Very nice, love to see the old school holsters, always loved the Lewis shoulder holster but you never see anything about them and If you can locate one they command a kings ransom

  1. “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooo” said the bovine as its epidermis was being converted into gunskins.

    Clint Eastwood’s Bucheimer should rig is reminiscent of a Bucheimer rig I had for a 4″ Ruger Security Six (not my duty revolver) as a baby-cop in the early ’70s – most uncomfortable and cantankerous thing ever.

  2. Spectacular pics, the level of skill that must have gone into all that leatherwork is unbelievable. I also noticed a couple of the wheelguns with the front of their trigger-guards cutaway like Fitz specials.
    Thanks for putting these up.

  3. Mike I don’t care what some say I love the history of firearms in movies. Check out http://www.imfdb.com if you haven’t already. I’m actually one of the moderators over there. It’s a hobby I suppose. My fellow officers find me a bit of a puzzle. Just today one of our motorcycle cops told me ” Jeff you’re wired differently from the rest of us”. But I’ve been here for twenty years so I guess they’ve learned to tolerate my eccentricities. A nerd who is a cop.

    1. I LOVE that site, Jeff! You guys do a great job! It’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole there, and lose all track of time.

    2. I’m Jcordell over there Mike. If you ever see a mistake just drop me a line and I’ll get it fixed. I’ve built more than a few pages over there and there is no mystery.

  4. By the way Mike I’ve been reading your articles over on PoliceOne. Good stuff. I liked the Norco article. Believe ir or not I didn’t know about that robbery until I was in the academy in 2000!

    1. Glad you like the P1 stuff, Jeff! I think there’s some important lessons to learn from historical events like Norco which are still relevant.

  5. One of Theodore’s other projects was the S&W ASP pistol, as I’m sure you’re aware. Good stuff.

  6. I’m willing to bet that the Colt SAA with the the cut away trigger guard is actually a Slip Gun. Keith and some of his friends liked this design in the 30’s. A slip gun is a SAA with a modified hammer spur and with a wired back trigger or no trigger at all. You would draw the revolver, cocking the hammer with the web of your hand at the same time. To fire you relaxed your grip until the hammer spur slipped out from under web of your hand, firing the gun.

    1. It’s possible. Keith didn’t discuss cutting the trigger guard on a slip gun in Sixguns, and the slip guns he pictured on pages 223 and 226 both retained their guards. It could still be a slip gun though. Hard to say what we’re looking at here. I’d like to see the full article from 1932. Maybe Red has a copy.

  7. Great article…how about Steve McQueen in Bullitt with his inverted holster…I carried a CA .44Spl w/3″bbl doing prisoner transportation back in the early to mid 80s in an inverted holster under a coat and it was unseen…

  8. Neat little tidbit, pointed out on Red Nichols‘s blog, is the holster worn by the actress with Jerry Lewis. The holster has a Hardy Safety-Strap; the strap enables a single-action revolver to have six cartridges and retain the firearm.

    1. Neat detail, Nate! Elmer Keith attributed that strap design to Capt A.H. Hardy, the famed Texas Ranger. See page 153 of Sixguns.

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  9. Man, as if we needed any further evidence that there is currently no other website that can touch this. There aren’t a whole lot of places a revolver guy can go anymore, and certainly none with the breadth of content one can find here. Thanks again, Mike, Justin, and whoever else may be involved in making this site happen.

  10. This article of yours is popping up all over social media Mike! It’s fun to see all the comments, most of which are simply, “WOW!” I agree!

  11. If you look closely at the picture of Paris Theodore holding a light or marker (?) in his hand, the revolver the person is aiming has no front sight and the normal rear sight channel appears larger and almost Guttersnipe like. Could this be a picture of the Guttersnipe sight on a revolver? I have seen other pictures of the Guttersnipe sight mounted on other handguns but only semi-autos. That hump looks a lot like the hump on the ASP only smaller. Just thinking out loud.

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