From a Childress production of The Kidnapper's Foil, with Melton Barker at right
From a Childress production of The Kidnapper's Foil, with Melton Barker at right
From a Childress production of The Kidnapper's Foil, with Melton Barker at right

Searching for Melton Barker

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.

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

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