Western Stars of the Past: Sunset Carson

Sunset Carson 1920-1990

Sunset Carson was born Winifred Maurice Harrison on November 12, 1920 in Gracemont, Oklahoma. Having been stuck with a first and middle name that could only bring grief he couldn’t have been too heartbroken to have his name changed to Sunset Carson after being signed to a contract with Republic Pictures.

The date of his birth is questionable since no birth certificate has been found but the family Bible lists the Nov.12, 1920 as of above but when he applied for a Social Security card he listed his birthdate as Nov. 12, 1918 while his death certificate lists his birthdate as Nov. 12, 1926.

It is still a mystery as to his true birthdate since other publications and documents have also listed 1922, 1924 and 1927 as the year of his birth with 1927 on his driver’s license. So with a total of six different years being called his year of birth it is very questionable as to which is the correct year.

In 1940 he traveled to South America to ride in rodeos for two years after having earlier appeared in a western show owned by the first king of the cowboys Tom Mix.

Those who have seen the 1943 movie Stagedoor Canteen may remember Carson playing a soldier named “Dakota” in the part where soldiers spend some time at the local stagedoor canteen before shipping out for overseas duty.

His first western was Call of the Rockies which was released in 1944. He played the part of Sonny “Sunset” Carson. He appeared in five movies in 1944 and six more in 1945.

Republic executive Herbert G. Yates personally fired Carson when he showed up for a party of the studio’s western stars inebriated and with an underage girl.

Smiley Burnette appeared in some of the early Sunset Carson movies playing Frog Milhouse the name he used in many different movies. It is strange he used the same character’s name in movies with Gene Autry and Sunset Carson but used his own name for many of his other movies.

Carson last film for Republic was Red River Renegades released in 1946. Another cowboy star Bob Steele played Carson’s brother in the film.

His career was all but over after leaving Republic with his leading role coming in the 1950 movie Battling Marshal.

Carson wouldn’t appear on the big screen again till 1972 in the Marshal of Windy Hollow which also starred western stars Tex Ritter and Ken Maynard but Carson did appear on television in an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo portraying the legendary Kit Carson in 1957.


His last movie was Alien Outlaw released in 1985 which ended Sunset Carson’s 42 year movie career. Somehow aliens and Sunset Carson just don’t mix well.

The film is currently being sold new at Amazon by a dealer for $2.63 for those that would want to see the extra added feature of Sunset Carson interviewing western star Lash LaRue who was also in the film.

This reviewer at Amazon minced no words while stating their opinion of the movie:


This review is from: Alien Outlaw (DVD)



The reviews get worse but you get the idea.

Sunset Carson appeared in wild west shows and bwesterns.com relates how good of a shot Carson was:

Sunset was introduced by his driver (assistant/manager?), and he essentially talked to the audience about his movie experiences. His act consisted of placing a safety background in front of the screen and then moving back about 20 rows in the aisle (there was only the middle aisle in this theatre) and having someone hold a piece of chalk between his fingers whereupon Sunset would shoot the chalk out of the holder’s fingers with a .22 calibre rifle. I can assure the kind readers that this was not a trick shot of any kind. He actually shot a standard piece of chalk out of my hand — the only negative aspect was that as the chalk exploded, my front of my “black outfit” was covered with chalk dust. There is no question that he was a “crack shot”. The show was a success in that the people loved him and his act, and I still have all my fingers.

Carson died May 1, 1990 in his hotel room in Reno, Nevada at the age of 69 assuming the birth year of 1920 found in the Carson family Bible is correct.

For Sunset Carson fans who want to read several more pages of information and photos at bwesterns.com:

Click on next at bottom of front page of Sunset Carson page at bwesterns.com. It may not show up on some screens so pull scroll bar to bottom of page and it can be seen.