Actors come and go in Hollywood. They always have. Some disappear to lead real lives in far away places. Others die at their own hand or take a little longer with the aid of alcohol or drugs. Very few actors have ever perished in prison. However, Jacob Benson Luden was such a man. Jack’s star shone brightly at the close of the silent era. While his career survived another 17 years, Jack’s life was over merely days after reaching his forty-ninth birthday.
Jack Luden made his silent screen debut in 1926 opposite film greats like Thelma Todd and Charles “Buddy” Rogers. By 1930 he had some 30 films to his credit and had been cast opposite fine actors like Emil Jannings, Jean Arthur, Ruth Chatterton, ZaSu Pitts, Anne Shirley, Paul Lukas, Clara Bow, Frederick March, Kay Francis and Maurice Chevalier.
Yet by 1930, his roles were already beginning to decline and after his five year contract with Paramount ended, he didn’t make another film until 1936. At this stage Jack began appearing in B grade westerns or occasionally played an extra in a superior film like Toast of New York.
My information about Jack Luden’s tragic life has been kindly provided by Chuck Anderson and Jack’s stepson Richard Kumler. Talking about Jack, Chuck succinctly notes that “Luden was deemed for star material…but he didn’t work out.” And one can only wonder what happened during those missing six years, 1930-36 and what drew him back to play minor leads in Columbia Pictures oaters. You can check out Chuck’s great Cowboy website at:
In four films during 1938 Jack played Breezy with his little pal, Tuffy. Rather sadly, with the advent of the Web it would seem that Tuffy is better remembered today for his many movie roles opposite men like Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray than poor old Jack. The IMDb reports that Sylvia Sidney once offered Tuffy’s owner $2500 for the canine. That dazzling amount was several times Jack’s own salary at the time.
After 1938 Jack’s film roles again declined and although he made 30 films in seven years, very few of them were important enough to gain him a screen credit. A second film career as a cowboy was soon over for Jack. He was now forty-four years old and would never make another movie.
In 1947 Jack Luden was married for a third time. The marriage had already failed by the time Jack was incarcerated at San Quentin in 1950 for handling bad checks and drug dealing. Chuck Anderson reports that Jack had been listed as a retail store manager at the time of his arrest in 1950. When Jack died in 1951 the cause of death was reported as a heart attack. No doubt his heart may have been broken way back in 1930 when Jack first saw his star waning though we will never know for sure.
Jack was survived by his ex-wife, the late Jay Kumler whom he met at Manhattan Beach in 1942. Her son, Richard was Jack’s stepson, but until the time of his birth, Jay had not been totally positive whether Richard was Jack’s son or that of her then husband, John Kumler who was then serving in the Navy. The date of birth confirmed John as Richard’s likely father. However, Richard has done as much as anyone to keep the memory of this actor alive and can relate various stories of going out with Jack on his old sailing ship, Conquest. And that Jack actually wrote a book about navigating around the Baja Coast and loved the Californian coast. This was in the heady days when great actors like Bogart, Flynn and Sterling Hayden were often seen sailing these waters.
Richard also remembers a few things about Jack’s mother Annie, and hearing a story from the 30s where Jack’s father tells her that she will “ruin her son if she doesn’t stop bailing him out.” It would seem that after the movie roles dried up in 1930 when Jack broke his contract with Paramount that he was already getting into trouble, but no one knows exactly what the “trouble” was although petty theft and larceny were the most likely possibilities. Jack’s father died in the mid-30s and this was when Annie and Jack moved to Hollywood. Richard was once told by Jay, that Jack had a fond saying that, “a crooked buck was sweeter than an honest dollar.” According to Betty Wilkinson, a family friend, Jack was also known “to go into a store with an overcoat full of pockets and soon clean the store out.”
There are too many “promising” actors who pass through the gilded gates of Hollywood, who are now remembered - not at all. Those that are remembered often owe their fame to one good role, a great career or some moment of infamy. So all I have is the signed photo of Jack from his glory days of 1929 as one of the few reminders of his existence; and I somehow doubt that there are many signed photos of Jack Luden in existence. This one came to light in an estate clearance some months ago. Jack signed the photo for a Buenos Aries radio station, “La Razon.” Such an exotic signing seems ironic given the nature and mystery of this man’s fleeting life. The other great photos you see have been provided by Chuck and Richard and give a little insight into a man who always loved the sea, but who never really settled to life on land.
All three of us would be thrilled to learn more from anyone who remembers Jack or has any photos or other details about his life. I for one would like any information, signings, memorabilia relating to any actor whose candle shone, however brightly, or momentarily on that boulevard of broken dreams.
ARTICLE COPYRIGHT DAVID PRIOL 2004
PHOTOS COPYRIGHTED TO THEIR VARIOUS OWNERS
MANY THANKS ARE EXTENDED TO BOTH:
RICHARD KUMLER (JACK'S STEPSON)
CHUCK ANDERSON (WRITER & INTERNET LEGEND)
Many of these photos were supplied (with many thanks) by Jack's stepson Richard Kumler.
The Paramount players advert is from the 1920s when Jack was making silent films.
The sepia-toned signed photo is from 1929. It is signed to a movie-house in Argentina, which displayed many signed photos of the stars during the 1920-40s period.
Richard told me that some of Jack's happiest times when he knew him as a child was aboard his ship, "M.V. Conquest"
The two family snaps show Jack with RIchard and his mom, Jay c1945-1948
Jack was related to William Luden (1859-1949) who made his name developing Luden's Cough Drops.
A company that still operates today although now owned by Pfizer.
The remaining photos show Jack in his prime, when he was regarded as a very fine athlete.
Which he put to good use in the 1938 film Rolling Caravans, also starring Tuffy the Wonder Dog.
Tuffy was actually paid more than Jack for his star-turn!!!!!
A sad fate for a man who once studied acting with Thelma Todd and who appeared in movies with such luminaries like Evelyn Brent, Gary Cooper, Sally Blane, WC Fields, Riachard Arlen, Wallace Beery, William Powell, Pola Negri, Ruth Chatterton, Jean Arthur, Paul Lukas, Clara Bow, Jack Oakie, Fredric March, Maurice Chevalier and Kay Francis. And all before the Great Crash of 1929 and his 28th Birthday.
A man who 16 years later would make his final two films playing bit parts as Naval Officers in films
starring actors like John Wayne, Robert Montgomery and Robert Walker.
(The Rolling Caravans Lobby Card comes from Chuck Anderson's great western website)