For years, Caroline Frick -- founder and executive director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image in Austin -- has sought the answer to a seemingly simple question, "Who was Melton Barker?" She knew only the bare-bones story: He was a Texas filmmaker who shot films around the rural South using child actors, none of whom had previous acting experience; he essentially remade one movie, The Kidnapper's Foil, over and over again. She also knew, thanks to a 1936 marriage certificate, that Barker had lived in Dallas -- at least in 1936. Made sense: Barker claimed to have discovered George McFarland -- "Spanky" from the Our Gang films, and a Dallas native.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In the summer of 2006, thanks to an article about her quest for Barker that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Frick received myriad tips about Barker's filmography and biography -- from Barker's stepson, no less. Turned out, he was born in West Texas but moved to Dallas as a child. American Public Media picked up the story last December, and one year later, the Associated Press checks in with Frick to see how her search is going for some unaccounted-for 60 Barker films. In short, sounds like she's about to spend a lot of time in West Texas. --Robert Wilonsky