Rod Cameron (born Nathan Roderick Cox, December 7, 1910 – December 21, 1983) was a Canadian-born film and television actor whose career extended from the 1930s to the 1970s. He appeared in horror, war, action and science fiction movies, but is best remembered for his many westerns.
Cameron was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and grew up in New Jersey. He played on his high school basketball team and on a semi-professional football team. Despite those activities and others such as swimming and playing ice hockey, he couldn’t join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because he failed the physical examination.
Cameron moved to Hollywood as a young man and started out as a stuntman and bit player for Paramount Pictures as well as a stand-in for Fred MacMurray. His early films include Heritage of the Desert with Donald Woods and Russell Hayden, Rangers of Fortune with Fred MacMurray, North West Mounted Police and Henry Aldrich for President with Jimmy Lydon. He also played bit roles at Universal Pictures, including in If I Had My Way, starring Bing Crosby and Gloria Jean. He appeared in a horror film The Monster and the Girl and played Jesse James in The Remarkable Andrew for Paramount.
In 1943, Cameron gained star status in action serials for Republic Pictures. As crime-busting federal agent Rex Bennett, Cameron battled enemy terrorists in 15 weekly episodes of G-Men vs. the Black Dragon. He was already working in another serial when audience reaction to Black Dragon made him a hit. Cameron was sufficiently popular for the studio to turn the new production into another Rex Bennett adventure, Secret Service in Darkest Africa, with Cameron again battling against Axis agents.
When cowboy star Johnny Mack Brown left Universal Pictures for Monogram Pictures, Cameron replaced him as Universal’s western series star. Tall, (6’5″), and rugged, Cameron looked good in the saddle and was very popular. Universal soon gave him straight character roles in feature films, including Salome, Where She Danced and River Lady both co-starring fellow Canadian Yvonne De Carlo.
During World War II Cameron played in Commandos Strike at Dawn and played a US Marine in Wake Island (1942) and Gung Ho! (1943).
Universal reorganized as Universal-International and downsized its activities in 1947, leaving Cameron and other contract players unemployed. He was hired by Monogram Pictures for a long string of outdoor action pictures. In 1948, he starred in Panhandle (a movie with a script co-written by Blake Edwards) for Allied Artists.
In 1949, Cameron appeared with Bonita Granville in the comedy film Strike It Rich. He then appeared in many westerns and other films for Republic Pictures including Santa Fe Passage (1955), and later The Gun Hawk (1963), Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965) and The Bounty Killer (1965).
Cameron traveled to Europe in 1964 to play the lead in Spaghetti Westerns such as Bullets Don’t Argue (1964) and Bullet in the Flesh (1965). He later appeared in such films as The Last Movie (1971), Evel Knievel (1971) and Psychic Killer (1975).
Cameron starred in three syndicated television series: City Detective (1953–1955), State Trooper (1956–1959), and the Coronado 9 (1960–1961). In City Detective, Cameron appeared as the tough New York City police Lieutenant Bart Grant. In State Trooper, a 1950s-style western-themed crime drama, Cameron starred as Lieutenant Rod Blake of the Nevada State Police. In Coronado 9, set in the San Diego area, Cameron appeared as Dan Adams, a private detective.
Hal Erickson, in his book, Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947–1987, cited Cameron’s business sense in confining his work in TV series to syndication: “A canny businessman, Cameron knew that his City Detective residuals wouldn’t have been as fat had a major television network been claiming a percentage of the action, and as a result the actor vowed to remain in syndication for the rest of his TV career. By 1960, Cameron was drawing over $200,000 per annum in residuals [from his three syndicated programs]…”
Cameron himself guest starred in many westerns, including six appearances on NBC’s Laramie, with John Smith and Robert Fuller. In “Drifter’s Gold” (November 29, 1960), Cameron plays Tom Bedloe, an outlaw who has started the rumor of a nearby gold strike. When series lead Slim Sherman, played by John Smith, comes to Laramie to buy supplies, he finds the town nearly deserted and must pretend to be an outlaw to survive. Meanwhile, Bedloe is looking for Marcie Benson, the daughter he has never seen, played by Judi Meredith. Gregory Walcott plays Duke, Bedloe’s partner in crime.
In another Laramie episode, “Broken Honor” (April 9, 1963), Cameron and Peggy McCay portray Roy and Martha Halloran, a farm couple who stumbles upon $30,000 in money found inside a strong box on their property. The loot had been seized in a stagecoach heist and hidden away for later retrieval. Roy, who is bound to a wheelchair, insists on keeping the money until Jess Harper arrives amid grave danger to all of their lives from the bandits searching about for the missing money. One of the bandits is played by Don “Red” Barry, best remembered from the 1940 film Adventures of Red Ryder. Cameron also guest starred in the NBC’s western Bonanza in 1966: he portrayed Curtis Wade in the two-part episode “Ride The Wind”.
Cameron guest starred in such dramatic series as Crossroads, in which he portrayed Dr. Ervin Seale in the 1956 episode “Deadly Fear.” He guest starred too on CBS’s Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr, as defendant Grover Johnson in the 1963 episode, “The Case of the Bouncing Boomerang.” He continued to work in motion pictures and television into the 1970s. He appeared in season 2 of James Garner’s NBC detective series, The Rockford Files.
In 1960, he divorced his wife and later married her mother. Hence his former director, William Witney, publicly acclaimed Cameron the bravest man that he had ever seen.
In his later years, Cameron lived on Lake Lanier in northern Georgia. After an extended battle with cancer, Cameron died in a hospital in the nearby city of Gainesville in Hall County, fourteen days after his 73rd birthday. The location of his ashes is unknown. He was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I got on a horse and that was my big mistake. I didn’t even know how to ride a horse when I came to Los Angeles. Even after I did 400 episodes on three different detective series, “Coronado Nine”, “City Detective” and “State Trooper”, casting directors would say “Oh yes, Rod Cameron, the cowboy”.