Roscoe Ates (January 20, 1895 – March 1, 1962) was an American vaudeville performer, actor of stage and screen, comedian and musician who primarily featured in western films and television. He was best known as western character Soapy Jones. He was also billed as Rosco Ates.
Ates was born on January 20, 1895, in the rural hamlet of Grange, northwest of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Grange is no longer included on road maps. Ates spent much of his childhood learning how to manage a speech impediment, succeeding when he was 18.
Ates played his violin to accompany silent films at a theater in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Following that experience, he became an entertainer as a concert violinist but found economic opportunities greater as a vaudeville comedian, appearing as half of the team of Ates and Darling. For 15 years, he was a headliner on the Orpheum Circuit, and he revived his long-gone stutter for humorous effect
Ates served in World War II, training of the Air Force fighter squad program in Houston, Texas at Ellington Field Texas.
Theater and personal appearances
On Broadway, Ates appeared as James McCracken in the musical comedy Sea Legs (1937).
In the late 1930s, Ates made a personal appearance tour in Scotland and England. He also toured selected American cities with Hollywood Scandals, a stage revue with 35 people.
His first film role was a ship’s cook in South Sea Rose. The next year he was cast as “Old Stuff” in the widescreen film Billy the Kid starring Wallace Beery. In 1931, Ates appeared in fourteen films, with some roles uncredited. Here is a partial listing of his films:
Ates performed these songs in his films:
In 1950, Ates appeared in his first television role as Deputy Roscoe on ABC series The Marshal of Gunsight Pass.
Ates appeared on television in multiple roles. He was cast as Henry Wilson in the episode “The Census Taker” of the syndicated western series The Cisco Kid, and he also appeared that same year in the Gale Storm sitcom, My Little Margie and Boston Blackie. He appeared on Gail Davis’s Annie Oakley series as Curly Dawes, the telegraph operator.
In 1958, Ates was cast as “Old Timer” in the episode “The Sacramento Story” of NBC’s Wagon Train. In 1959, Ates appeared in western series The Restless Gun, State Trooper, and Buckskin. He had a nameless role as a barfly in the 1958 episode of “Maverick” called “Gun-Shy”, a spoof of the series Gunsmoke. In 1960, he was cast as Fenton in the episode “Hot Ice Cream” of Charles Bronson’s ABC series Man with a Camera, as Lou Nugget in “The Fabulous Fiddle” of Scott Brady’s syndicated Shotgun Slade, and as Deputy Boak in “The Missing Queen” of Andrew Duggan’s ABC crime drama Bourbon Street Beat, set in New Orleans.
From 1958–60, Ates appeared five times on CBS’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents mystery series.
In 1960, Ates appeared as a guest in the presentation of the life story of honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant on NBC’s This Is Your Life biography series with host Ralph Edwards.
Ates’s last credited roles were in 1961 as a drunk in Robert Stack’s ABC series The Untouchables and as sheriffs in The Red Skelton Show. His final screen appearance in Jerry Lewis’s 1961 film The Errand Boy was uncredited.
Family and death
Ates was married three times. After his divorce from the former Clara Callahan, he married Leonore Belle Jumps in 1949. She died in 1955. In 1960, he married Beatrice Angelina Naranjo who survived him.
Ates died of lung cancer at the age of 67 at the West Valley Community Hospital in Encino, California. He is entombed at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.