Though you've probably seen him twenty times, you don't know who Rand Brooks is. Besides being a successful rancher, husband, and ambulance company executive, Brooks was also one of the most popular television western character actors, as well as a leading man in his own day.
Rand Brooks was born September 21, 1918, in the heart of the motion picture industry, Los Angeles, California. He spent most of his younger years in theaters around town, and landed his first film gig as a band member in one of the popular Andy Hardy serials starring Mickey Rooney. He and Rooney hit it off, and he was given a part in the successful musical Babes In Arms. That appearance led him to perhaps his most famous role, that of the fated Charles Hamilton, Scarlett O'Hara's first husband in the epic Gone With The Wind.
Rather than propel him into the stardom, the role seemed to accentuate his versatility as a minor character actor, and he had bit parts in over 20 movies over the next 5 years. It wasn't until 1946 that he was given the role that would define his career: Lucky Jenkins, comic relief in the Hopalong Cassidy serials. Brooks played him like no other, bring a dashing but addled character to life in 13 episodes from 1946 to 1948. Brooks continued to make small appearances in films, but at 30, he no longer had leading man appeal, and instead decided to try a new venture: television.
Brooks began making regular appearances on "The Gene Autry Show", "The Roy Rogers Show", and "The Lone Ranger," while still starring in movies opposite such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Audie Murphy, Marilyn Monroe (Brooks gave her her first onscreen kiss), and Ingrid Bergman. Brooks settled in as the well-meaning but often inept gunslinger, and he never seemed to tire of the roles that fit his congenial nature. In 1954, he was given a leading role on the television series "The Adventures Of Rin Tin Tin", while also starring in the pioneering made-for-TV space drama Crash of Moons. Roles on "Gunsmoke", "Maverick", "Paladin", and "Perry Mason" kept him busy.
In 1955, he met and married Lois Laurel, daughter of the famous comedian Stan Laurel. Rand's marriage was not a wholly happy one, mostly due to his increasing lack of roles. Finally, in 1963, Brooks decided to pool his remaining funds and make a movie. He hired some top notch help to produce his sprawling Western about Indians in the Northwest Territory entitled Bearheart of the Great Northwest. Unfortunately, the money ran out before filming was completed, and without financial backing, production stalled, and then collapsed. Brooks was ruined. Lois filed for divorce in 1964, and Rand was devastated.
He continued to work with Hollywood sparingly: as a dialogue coach for several TV shows; as a bit actor in television and in movies; and as a technical advisor for two failed westerns. In 1966, Brooks started out on his most daring adventure yet. Using a credit card and a run-down ambulance, he started a private ambulance company, named Professional Ambulance Service. Within ten years, the service was the largest 911 provider in Los Angeles County, and Brooks was widely heralded as a major progressive in the realm of ambulance services. He also met and married his second wife, Hermione Brooks, an executive within the company, in 1978. Fittingly, his last television gig was in the premiere episode of the paramedic-based drama "Emergency!" In 1982 he sold the business and retired to his ranch in Santa Barbara. He and Hermione had two children together.
Rand Brooks, character actor, western star, and successful businessman, passed away September 1, 2003 of heart failure. He was 84.