R …is for

Ruth of the Rockies


A fifteen-part Western serial, Ruth of the Rockies (1920) was produced by and starred Ruth Roland, one of the original early serial actresses, considered by many to be the strongest successor to “serial queen” Pearl White. Directed by George Marshall, written by Frances Guihan, based on the novel Broadway Bab by Johnston McCulley, with an uncredited scenario by expert scenarist Gilson Willets, Ruth of the Rockies was designed largely to showcase the daring and athleticism of Roland, a true audience favorite.


A magazine ad for Ruth of the Rockies, a serial produced by and starring Ruth Roland.


By the time she appeared in Ruth of the Rockies, Roland had already established her reputation as a female action star. Soon after her first film role in A Chance Shot (1911), she attracted attention and gained fame and following as “The Kalem Girl.” After a few years at the Kalem studio, she moved to Balboa Films, where, between 1914 and 1917, she starred in a variety of well-received productions, including her first serial role, in The Red Circle. After forming her own production company, Ruth Roland Serials, she signed a contract with Pathé to distribute her successful multi-part films. One of those serials was Ruth of the Rockies, produced at Astra Films Studios in Glendale, California.

Ruth and Detective Garret fight off criminals who want to reclaim their lost gems.


The daring Ruth Roland was a popular serial heroine.

The plot of the serial begins in New York City, where a waitress named “Broadway Bab” Murphy comes into possession of an unclaimed trunk that contains valuable diamonds. That trunk bears the insignia of the “Inner Circle,” a group of criminals who operate in New York but whose headquarters are in Dusty Bend, along the Mexican border, and who, of course, want to reclaim their property. After detective Justin Garret, who works for the American Jewelers Association, convinces Bab to catch the smugglers, she travels to Dusty Bend, where she opens a restaurant, embarks on exciting adventures, and, in the episodes that follow, survives numerous hazards. The cliffhanger structure of the film ensures that Bab faces almost constant danger, especially at the end of each episode.

The serial incorporated many familiar devices and situations, as the heroine is imprisoned on the narrow balcony of a high tower, forced to choose between a fiery or watery demise in a harrowing “death-trap,” obliged to fight for her life on top of a speeding train and the edge of a cliff, compelled to leap across a yawning chasm, and required to escape from a forced marriage to one of the criminal gang members. It also featured some unusual scenes that employed a hydroplane and a small dirigible (a Pony Blimp D-57, filmed at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, that was used for several long shots and bird’s eye views).


In this cliffhanger, Roland—like her serial sisters—reveals her excellent athletic skills.

Such outdoor adventure scenes and daredevil stunts, in fact, became Roland’s cinematic trademark and earned her a wide following.

Promotional advertisements for Ruth of the Rockies praised Roland’s “remarkable aeroplane stunts, her great fights in the open country, and her dominant girlhood,” all of which were said to set a new mark in serial acting and production. Proclaiming the serial to be “The Greatest Story of the West,” those ads emphasized Ruth’s heroism as she is “Plucked from the roof of a speeding train. Carried thousands of feet into the air on a rope. Dropped by her aeroplane into a lake. Surrounded by enemies in the wilderness. Saved by sliding down the walls of a canyon. Pursued in her daring leap for life.” And indeed, like many serial heroines, Roland—who, according to the posters, “fights like a bearcat and rides like a cyclone”—performed most of her own stunts, which endeared her even more to her fans.

A poster for one of the serial episodes.


Between 1908 and 1927, Roland performed in more than two hundred silent films and serials. Unable to make a successful transition to talking pictures, however, she appeared in only two—Reno (1930) and From Nine to Nine (1936)—before her death, at age forty-five, in 1937. Nonetheless, she is remembered today for her significant contribution to the early film industry; and she is memorialized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.



Survival Status: According to Progressive Silent Film List, two episodes of the serial—fourteen and fifteen—survive, likely in fragmentary form, in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. A minute-long clip of the “death-trap” scene can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx7rrdnXfiE.

Director: George Marshall

Release Date: August 29, 1920

Release Company: Ruth Roland Serial Productions, distributed by Pathé Exchange

Cast: Ruth Roland (Bab Murphy), Herbert Heyes (Justin Garret), Thomas G. Lingham (Edward Dugan), Jack Rollens (Sam Wilkes), Fred Burns (Burton), William Gillis (Pendleton Pete), Gilbert “Pee Wee” Holmes (Shorty), Norma Bichole, Harry Maynard, S. J. Bingham, Al Hoxie (stunts).

Episodes: (two reels each) 1. The Mysterious Trunk. 2. The Inner Circle. 3. The Tower of Danger. 4. Between Two Fires. 5. Double Crossed. 6. The Eagle’s Nest. 7. Troubled Waters. 8. Danger Trails. 9. The Perilous Path. 10. Outlawed. 11. The Fatal Diamond. 12. The Secret Order. 13. The Surprise Attack. 14. The Secret of Regina Island. 15. The Hidden Treasure.