Scott's more than 30 years as a motion picture actor resulted in his working with many acclaimed screen directors, including Henry King, Rouben Mamoulian, Michael Curtiz, John Cromwell, King Vidor, Allan Dwan, Fritz Lang, and Sam Peckinpah. He also worked on multiple occasions with prominent directors: Henry Hathaway (eight times), Ray Enright (seven), Edwin L. Marin (seven), André de Toth (six), and most notably, his seven film collaborations with Budd Boetticher. Scott also worked with a diverse array of cinematic leading ladies, from Shirley Temple and Irene Dunne to Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.
Tall (6 ft 2½ in; 189 cm), lanky and handsome, Scott displayed an easygoing charm and courtly Southern drawl in his early films that helped offset his limitations as an actor, where he was frequently found to be stiff or "lumbering". As he matured, however, Scott's acting improved while his features became burnished and leathery, turning him into the ideal "strong, silent" type of stoic hero. The BFI Companion to the Western noted:
In his earlier Westerns ... the Scott persona is debonair, easy-going, graceful, though with the necessary hint of steel. As he matures into his fifties his roles change. Increasingly Scott becomes the man who has seen it all, who has suffered pain, loss, and hardship, and who has now achieved (but at what cost?) a stoic calm proof against vicissitude.
During the early 1950s, Scott was a consistent box-office draw. In the annual Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Polls, he ranked 10th in 1950, seventh in 1951, and 10th in both 1952 and 1953. Scott also appeared in the Quigley's Top Ten Money Makers Poll from 1950 to 1953.
Scott was born in Orange County, Virginia, but reared in Charlotte, North Carolina, the second of six children born to parents of Scottish-American descent. His father was George Grant Scott, born in Franklin, Virginia, an administrative engineer in a textile firm. His mother was Lucille Crane Scott, born in Luray, Virginia, a member of a wealthy North Carolina family. The Scott children in order of birth were: Margaret, Randolph, Katherine, Virginia, Joseph and Barbara, most born in North Carolina.
Because of his family's financial status, young Randolph was able to attend private schools such as Woodberry Forest School. From an early age, Scott developed and displayed an athletic trait, excelling in football, baseball, horse racing, and swimming.
In April 1917, the United States entered World War I and shortly afterwards, Scott, then 19 years old, joined the United States Army. He served in France as an artillery observer with the 2nd Trench Mortar Battalion, 19th Field Artillery Regiment. His wartime experience gave him training that was put to use in his later film career, including horsemanship and the use of firearms.
After the Armistice brought World War I to an end, Scott stayed in France and enrolled in an artillery officers' school. Although he eventually received a commission, Scott decided to return to America and thus journeyed home around 1919.
With his military career over, Scott continued his education at Georgia Tech where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order and set his sights on becoming an all-American football player. However a back injury prevented him from achieving this goal. Scott then transferred to the University of North Carolina, where he majored in textile engineering and manufacturing. As with his military career, however, he eventually dropped out of college and went to work as an accountant in the textile firm where his father was employed.
Around 1927, Scott developed an interest in acting and decided to make his way to Los Angeles and seek a career in the motion picture industry. Fortunately, Scott's father had become acquainted with Howard Hughes and provided a letter of introduction for his son to present to the eccentric millionaire filmmaker. Hughes responded by getting Scott a small part in a George O'Brien film called Sharp Shooters (1928). Despite its title and the presence of O'Brien, Sharp Shooters is not a western, as some film historians claimed. Rather, it's a romantic comedy. A print of the film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
In the next few years, Scott continued working as an extra and bit player in several films, including Weary River (1929) with Richard Barthelmess and The Virginian (1929) with Gary Cooper. Reputedly, Scott also served as Cooper's dialect coach in this latter film.
On the advice of director Cecil B. DeMille, Scott also gained much-needed acting experience by performing in stage plays with the Pasadena Playhouse. Scott's stage roles during this period include:A minister in Gentlemen Be Seated
A butler in Nellie, the Beautiful Model
Metellus Cimber in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
Hector Malone in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman
In 1931 Scott played his first leading role (with Sally Blane) in Women Men Marry, a film, now apparently lost, that was made by a Poverty Row studio called Headline Pictures. He followed that movie with a supporting part in a Warner Bros. production starring George Arliss, A Successful Calamity. In 1932 Scott appeared in a play at the Vine Street Theatre in Hollywood entitled Under a Virginia Moon. His performance in this play resulted in several offers for screen tests by the major movie studios. Scott eventually signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures at a salary of US$400 per week (adjusted for inflation, US$400 in 1932 is the equivalent of approximately US$7,000 in 2016).
Scott's first role under his new Paramount contract was a small supporting part in a comedy called Sky Bride (1932) starring Richard Arlen and Jack Oakie. Following that, however, Paramount cast him as the lead in Heritage of the Desert (1932), his first significant starring role and also the one that established him as a Western hero. As with Women Men Marry, Sally Blane was his leading lady. The film was the first of ten "B" Western films that Scott made for Paramount in a series loosely based on the novels of Zane Grey. Around the same time, Fox also remade some Zane Grey titles that they owned, with George O'Brien as their star. Henry Hathaway made his directorial debut with Heritage of the Desert; he would go on to direct a total of seven out of the 10 Zane Grey adaptations that Scott would appear in. Hathaway also directed one film in the Zane Grey series without Scott: Under the Tonto Rim (1933) starring Stuart Erwin.
Many of these Grey adaptations were remakes of earlier silent films. In an effort to save on production costs, Paramount utilized stock footage from the silent version and even hired some of the same actors, such as Raymond Hatton and Noah Beery, to repeat their roles. For the 1933 films The Thundering Herd and Man of the Forest, Scott's hair was darkened and he sported a trim moustache so that he could easily be matched to footage of Jack Holt, the star of the silent versions.
In his book, The Hollywood Western: Ninety Years of Cowboys and Indians, Train Robbers, Sheriffs and Gunslingers, film historian William K. Everson refers to the Zane Grey series as being "uniformly good". He also writes:
To the Last Man was almost a model of its kind, an exceptionally strong story of feuding families in the post-Civil War era, with a cast worthy of an "A" feature, excellent direction by Henry Hathaway, and an unusual climactic fight between the villain (Jack LaRue) and the heroine (Esther Ralston, in an exceptionally appealing performance). Sunset Pass... was not only one of the best but also one of the most surprising in presenting Randolph Scott and Harry Carey as heavies.
The Zane Grey series were a boon for Scott, as they provided him with "an excellent training ground for both action and acting".
In between his work in the Zane Grey Western series, Paramount cast Scott in several non-Western roles, such as "the other man" in Hot Saturday (1932), with Nancy Carroll and Cary Grant; Hello, Everybody! (1933), an odd one-shot attempt to make a film star out of the popular but heavy-set radio singer Kate Smith; and Go West, Young Man (1936).
Paramount cast Scott in two horror films: Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Lionel Atwill, and Supernatural (1933) with Carole Lombard. Paramount also loaned him to work at other studios, including Columbia, where he appeared with Bebe Daniels in a minor romantic comedy called Cocktail Hour (1933).
By 1935 Scott was firmly established as a popular movie star and, thus, following the release of Rocky Mountain Mystery (1935), Paramount moved him up from his "B" Western status to a star of "A" features, many on loan out.
Scott made four films for RKO Radio Pictures during 1935–36. Two of these were in the popular series of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: Roberta (1935), also starring Irene Dunne, and Follow the Fleet (1936). In both of these films Scott played Astaire's lunkheaded but likable pal. The other two were among the best in Scott's career: Village Tale (1935), "a touching, still-obscure melodrama about small-town gossip and hypocrisy" directed by John Cromwell, and She (1935), a superb adventure-fantasy adapted from H. Rider Haggard's 1886 novel.
In 1936, Scott, on loan to independent producer Edward Small, starred in another adventure classic, The Last of the Mohicans, adapted from the 1826 novel by James Fenimore Cooper. A big hit in its day, the film "gave Scott his first unqualified 'A' picture success as a lead."
Scott's films at Paramount include the aforementioned Go West, Young Man (1936), which reunited him with director Henry Hathaway and in Mae West's adaptation of Lawrence Riley's Broadway hit comedy Personal Appearance; So Red the Rose (1936), directed by King Vidor and starring Margaret Sullavan; and High, Wide, and Handsome. This last film, a musical directed by Rouben Mamoulian, featured Scott in his "most ambitious performance," The film is ...
... set in 1859 in Pennsylvania, and follows the exploits of oil prospector Scott as he struggles against various varmints and vested interests out to wreck his business, and tries to keep his marriage to Irene Dunne intact, despite the tempting presence of saloon singer Dorothy Lamour.
In 1938 Scott finished his contract with Paramount and began freelancing. Some of the roles that he took over the next few years were supporting ones, while his other roles during the same time frame had him occasionally lapse into villainy. One missed opportunity also came about around this time. Due to his Southern background, Scott was considered for the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, but it was Leslie Howard who eventually got the part.
For 20th Century Fox Scott supported child star Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and Susannah of the Mounties (1939). For the same studio he played a supporting role in his first Technicolor film, Jesse James (1939), a lavish highly romanticized account of the famous outlaw (Tyrone Power) and his brother Frank (Henry Fonda). Shortly after making this film, Scott portrayed Wyatt Earp in Frontier Marshal (1939) and, for Universal, starred with Kay Francis in When the Daltons Rode (1940).
Scott followed this by co-starring with Errol Flynn in Virginia City (1940), directed by Michael Curtiz. There were frequent disputes between Curtiz, actors and producer Hal Wallis about script changes. But Curtiz recalled that Scott tried to stay out of those arguments: "Randy Scott is a complete anachronism," said Curtiz. "He's a gentleman. And so far he's the only one I've met in this business..." According to Nott, Curtiz and Scott got along well both personally and creatively, with Scott giving one of the top performances in his career.
Scott played the "other man" role in the Irene Dunne–Cary Grant romantic comedy My Favorite Wife (1940). In 1941 Scott returned to Zane Grey country by co-starring with Robert Young in the Technicolor production Western Union, directed by Fritz Lang. Scott played a "good bad man" in this film and gave one of his finest performances. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:
Randolph Scott, who is getting to look and act more and more like William S. Hart, herein shapes one of the truest and most appreciable characters of his career as the party's scout.
In 1941, Scott also co-starred with a young Gene Tierney in another western, Belle Starr. Scott's only role as a truly evil villain was in Universal's The Spoilers, a rip-roaring adaptation of Rex Beach's 1905 tale of the Alaskan gold rush also starring Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. The movie's climax featured Scott and Wayne (and their stunt doubles) in one of the most spectacular fistfights ever filmed. The Dietrich-Scott-Wayne combination worked so well that Universal recast the trio that same year in Pittsburgh, a war-time action-melodrama which had Wayne and Scott slugging it out once more. Scott was billed above Wayne in both films but Wayne actually played the heroic leading man roles and enjoyed more screen time in each movie.
In 1943 Scott starred in The Desperadoes, Columbia Pictures' first feature in Technicolor. The film was produced by Harry Joe Brown, with whom Scott would form a business partnership several years later.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Scott attempted to obtain an officer's commission in the Marines, but because of a back injury years earlier, he was rejected. However, he did his part for the war effort by touring in a comedy act with Joe DeRita (who later became a member of the Three Stooges) for the Victory Committee showcases, and he also raised food for the government on a ranch that he owned.
In 1942 and 1943, Scott appeared in several war films, notably To the Shores of Tripoli, Bombardier, the Canadian warship drama Corvette K-225, Gung Ho! and China Sky.
In 1946, after playing roles that had him wandering in and out of the saddle for many years, including a role alongside Charles Laughton in the cheaply made production Captain Kidd (1945), Scott appeared in Abilene Town, a UA release which cast him in what would become one of his classic images, the fearless lawman cleaning up a lawless town. The film "cemented Scott's position as a cowboy hero" and from this point on all but two of his starring films would be Westerns. The Scott Westerns of the late 1940s would each be budgeted around US$1,000,000, equal to $12,300,000 today.
Scott renewed his acquaintance with producer Harry Joe Brown and together they began producing many of Scott's Westerns, including several that were shot in the two-color Cinecolor process. Their collaboration produced the superior Coroner Creek (1948) with Scott as a vengeance-driven cowpoke who "predates the Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy heroes by nearly a decade," Gunfighters (1947) based on the Zane Grey novel Two Sombreros, and The Walking Hills (1949), a modern-day tale of gold hunters.
Scott also made Westerns for Nat Holt. Some of these movies, Badman's Territory, Trail Street, and Rage at Dawn were released by RKO, while others, like Fighting Man of the Plains, Canadian Pacific, and The Cariboo Trail were released by Twentieth Century Fox. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Scott's films were made mainly for Columbia or Warner Bros. His salary for the latter studio was US$100,000 per picture (equal to $1,000,000 today).
Scott's pictures from this period include the 1950 Colt .45, the 1951 films Fort Worth, Man in the Saddle and Carson City, and the 1952 films Hangman's Knot (which Scott produced), The Man Behind the Gun, The Stranger Wore a Gun (filmed in 3-D), and Thunder Over the Plains. Also in 1953, Scott appeared in Riding Shotgun, an unusual Western that presents (probably unintentionally) some McCarthyistic overtones. In 1954, Scott played a laconic good guy in The Bounty Hunter. Most of these were directed by André de Toth.
Scott also made Rage at Dawn in 1955 for Nat Holt, which was released by RKO starring Scott and Forrest Tucker, and featuring Denver Pyle, Edgar Buchanan, and J. Carrol Naish. It purports to tell the true story of the Reno Brothers, an outlaw gang which terrorized the American Midwest, particularly Southern Indiana, soon after the American Civil War.
Also of interest is Shootout at Medicine Bend shot in 1955, but released in 1957, which was Scott's last movie in black and white. The movie co-stars James Garner and Angie Dickinson.
By 1956, Scott turned 58, an age where the careers of most leading men would be winding down. Scott, however, was about to enter his finest and most acclaimed period.
In 1955, screenwriter Burt Kennedy wrote a script entitled Seven Men from Now which was scheduled to be filmed by John Wayne's Batjac Productions with Wayne as the film's star and Budd Boetticher as its director. However, Wayne was already committed to John Ford's The Searchers. Wayne therefore suggested Scott as his replacement. The resulting film, released in 1956, did not make a great impact at the time but is now regarded by many as one of Scott's best, as well as the one that launched Scott and Boetticher into a successful collaboration that totaled seven films. While each film is independent and there are no shared characters or settings, this set of films is often called the Ranown Cycle, for the production company run by Scott and Harry Joe Brown, which was involved in their production. Kennedy scripted four of them. In these films ...
Boetticher achieved works of great beauty, formally precise in structure and visually elegant, notably for their use of the distinctive landscape of the California Sierras. As the hero of these "floating poker games" (as Andrew Sarris calls them), Scott tempers their innately pessimistic view with quiet, stoical humour, as he pits his wits against such charming villains as Richard Boone in The Tall T and Claude Akins in Comanche Station.Scott and Boetticher films
Seven Men from Now (1956)
The Tall T (1957)
Decision at Sundown (1957)
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)
Ride Lonesome (1959)
Comanche Station (1960)
In 1962 Scott made his final film appearance in Ride the High Country, a film now regarded as a classic. It was directed by Sam Peckinpah and co-starred Joel McCrea, an actor who had a screen image similar to Scott's and who also from the mid-1940s on devoted his career almost exclusively to Westerns.
Scott and McCrea's farewell Western is characterized by a nostalgic sense of the passing of the Old West; a preoccupation with the emotionality of male bonding and of the experiential 'gap' between the young and the old; and the fearful evocation, in the form of the Hammonds (the villains in the film), of these preoccupations transmuted into brutal and perverse forms.
McCrea, like Scott, retired from filmmaking after this picture, although he returned to the screen twice in later years.
Scott married twice. In 1936, he became the second husband of heiress Marion duPont, daughter of William Du Pont, Sr., and great-granddaughter of Éleuthère Irénée Du Pont de Nemours, the founder of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. Marion had previously married George Somerville, with Scott serving as best man at the wedding. The Scotts' marriage ended in divorce three years later, in 1939. The union produced no children. Though divorced, she kept his last name nearly five decades, until her death in 1983.
In 1944, Scott married the actress Patricia Stillman, who was 21 years his junior. In 1950, they adopted two children, Sandra and Christopher.
Although Scott achieved fame as a motion picture actor, he managed to keep a fairly low profile with his private life. Offscreen he was good friends with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. He met Grant on the set of Hot Saturday (1932), and shortly afterwards, to save on living expenses, they shared a beach house in Malibu that became known as "Bachelor Hall". In 1944, Scott and Grant stopped living together but remained close friends throughout their lives.
While there had been some rumors that they were a homosexual couple, Scott's adopted son, Christopher, said the rumors were untrue. Budd Boetticher, who directed Scott in seven films from 1956 to 1960, said the rumors were "Bullshit".
Following Ride the High Country, Scott retired from film at the age of 64. A wealthy man, Scott had managed shrewd investments throughout his life, eventually accumulating a fortune worth a reputed $100 million, with holdings in real estate, gas, oil wells, and securities.
He and his wife Patricia continued to live in his custom, mid-century modern, Burton A. Schutt-designed home at 156 Copley Place, Beverly Hills. During his retirement years he remained friends with Fred Astaire, with whom he attended Dodgers games. An avid golfer with a putting green in his yard, Scott was a member of the Bel Air Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club and Eldorado Country Clubs. Scott also became friends with the Reverend Billy Graham. Scott was described by his son Christopher as a deeply religious man. He was an Episcopalian and the Scott family were members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, and St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Scott died of heart and lung ailments in 1987 at the age of 89 in Beverly Hills, California. He was interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his wife Patricia had been married for 43 years. He was survived by his wife, son Christopher, daughter Sandra Scott Tyler, and three grandchildren Patricia Stillman Scott died in 2004. The Scotts are buried together in the Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte NC. Their mid-century modern home was torn down in 2008.
Scott is the putative subject of the 1974 Statler Brothers song "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?", lamenting the passing of Western films.
Scott's face supposedly was used as the model for the football helmet-wearing pirate on the American Football League's (now NFL) Oakland Raiders logo in 1960; the logo was redesigned in 1963.
He is caricatured in the Lucky Luke comic book album Le Vingtième de cavalerie (1965) as Colonel McStraggle.
He is mentioned in the film Blazing Saddles when Sheriff Bart tries to convince the reluctant citizens of Rock Ridge to support his plan to save the town. He says, "You'd do it for Randolph Scott", and they rise, putting their hands to their hearts and saying reverently, "Randolph Scott", echoed by an off-screen chorus, and agree to help the sheriff.
Scott and To the Shores of Tripoli are referred to in Tom Lehrer's song "Send the Marines".
Scott is the subject of guitarist Leo Kottke's song "Turning into Randolph Scott (Humid Child)" on his 1994 album Peculiaroso.
In Thomas Pynchon's book V., the character Profane watches an unspecified Randolph Scott film and compares himself unfavorably with his hero, whom he describes as "cool, imperturbable, keeping his trap shut and only talking when he had to – and then saying the right things and not running off haphazard and inefficient at the mouth".
In 1975, Scott was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States. He also received an In Memoriam Golden Boot Award for his work in Westerns.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Scott has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6243 Hollywood Blvd. In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Despite his southern background at a time when the region was solidly Democratic in political affiliation, Scott was an active Republican. In 1944, he attended the massive rally organized by David O. Selznick in the Los Angeles Coliseum in support of the Dewey-Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California, who would become Dewey's running mate in 1948 and later the Chief Justice of the United States. The gathering drew 93,000, with Cecil B. DeMille as the master of ceremonies and short speeches by Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. Among those in attendance were Ann Sothern, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, and Gary Cooper. Despite the good turnout at the rally, most Hollywood celebrities who took a public position sided with the Roosevelt-Truman ticket.