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Obituaries

Jack Mathis, 73; Ad Executive Wrote Authoritatively on Republic Pictures

October 24, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Jack Mathis, an Illinois advertising executive and author who was the foremost authority on Republic Pictures, the Hollywood studio best known for its B westerns and cliffhanger serials, has died. He was 73.

Mathis died Oct. 13 of natural causes at his home in South Barrington, Ill., said his family.

Jack Mathis Advertising, which Mathis founded in Chicago in 1956, specialized in industrial advertising. The agency later designed the logo for the Chicago Bulls, for whom Mathis spent two seasons assisting Coach John "Red" Kerr in the late 1960s.

Mathis had played basketball as an advertising major at Florida State University in the 1950s, and beginning in the 1957-58 season, he organized, played with and coached the Jamaco Saints in Chicago, one of the nation's leading amateur basketball teams. He also directed the 1959 Pan American Games, which were held in Chicago, and was named to the 1968 U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee.

By then, he was pursuing his other passion: the Republic serials and westerns he had watched at a local movie house every Saturday afternoon as a boy growing up in La Porte, Ind., in the 1930s and '40s.

Reacquainted with the studio's old cliffhangers via 16-millimeter prints for home viewing, Mathis originally planned to write and publish brochures about the Republic serials, owned by National Telefilm Associates.

But after gaining access to the Republic film library and studio files and interviewing actors, directors and others connected with the defunct studio, he found the brochure had grown into a 456-page book that weighed nearly 10 pounds.

"Valley of the Cliffhangers," a complete history of Republic's 66 serials, came out in 1975.

As with all of Mathis' Republic Pictures-related books that followed, he published "Valley of the Cliffhangers" himself. But this was no ordinary self-published effort. It was a leather-bound, oversized, artfully designed, lavishly illustrated anthology on high-gloss paper.

"Everybody couldn't wait to get a copy," said Boyd Magers, editor and publisher of Western Clippings, a western film publication. "It was just the ultimate treatise on Republic serials; nothing could ever top it."

Magers recalled being amazed at the then-hefty $66 price for "Valley of the Cliffhangers." In recent years, he has seen ads for copies of the out-of-print book selling for $1,500. One copy sold at auction for $3,500.

"Jack was the best friend Republic Pictures ever had," Magers said. "He elevated Republic to a place in history that I feel it earned."

Although Republic occasionally turned out high-profile films such as "The Quiet Man" and "Sands of Iwo Jima," Magers said, it was better known as the action studio and serial factory. "And the serials they turned out were 10 times better than what Columbia or Universal were turning out. Jack captured all that," he said.

Mathis went on to write and publish "Valley of the Cliffhangers Supplement" (1995) and the first two volumes of his planned trilogy: "Republic Confidential: The Players" (1992) and "Republic Confidential: The Studio" (1999).

"Jack made so many people aware of what Republic Pictures gave us," said Magers. "They had Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Sunset Carson, the Three Mesquiteers, Don Barry, Wild Bill Elliott, Rex Allen -- all the biggest and the best of the B-western stars worked at Republic.

"The other thing about Jack is he did it all with love. This was not something he did to make money."

Mathis had relatively small printings for his books -- 5,000 copies in the case of "Valley of the Cliffhangers," which was sold out by 1981.

"I don't even know if he broke even when you consider all the trips to California," Mathis' wife, Dene, said. "It was a labor of love for him. He just loved those movies."

Despite her willingness to sit through repeated viewings of serials such as "Captain Marvel" and "King of the Royal Mounted" with her husband, she drew the line when he wanted to name their daughter Nyoka, after the title character in the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka."

After "Valley of the Cliffhangers" was published, Mathis received letters of thanks from fans of the old serials -- and from many of the actors who worked in them, including Richard Webb, Clayton Moore, Duncan Reynaldo and Kirk Alyn.

"It's of no great consequence," Mathis told the Chicago Tribune in 1989, "but what a delight it is to pick up one's morning mail and find a personal letter from Captain Midnight, the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid or Superman."

Several years ago, Mathis donated his Republic files, films, videotapes and audiotape interviews to the library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Mathis was at his desk working on the layout of his final book, Volume 3 in the "Republic Confidential" trilogy, "The Films," when he died.

"He was on Page 453 and almost finished," said his daughter, Jana.

Mathis, who had been helped in writing synopses of the Republic films by Sherman Oaks writer Woody Langley, had planned to publish next spring. His wife said she hopes to see the book completed.

"That's the one that everybody's been waiting for," said Magers.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mathis is survived by a son, Kane; and a granddaughter.

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