There will never be another career like William Witney’s. Witney, who died on March 17th of last year, was the undisputed king of Republic serial directors. working with the studio’s notoriously tight budgets, Witney fashioned a break-neck directing style that infused serials like Zorro Rides Again and Adventures of Red Ryder with boundless energy. Witney usually co-directed his serials with veteran John English, but when he was assigned to the Roy Rogers feature unit, his solo efforts showed just as much skilled craftsmanship. He became Rogers’ favorite director and their films together have come to symbolize the great days of the Saturday matinee Western.
Witney was a physical man and brought his own sensibility, and sense of fun, to his work. He felt that if one kept the energy up on the set, it would translate itself to celluloid. He was right, and his skilled editing and camera placement married perfectly with the efforts of Republic’s ace stuntman Dave Sharpe and effects expert Ted Lydecker. Their collaboration resulted in one great action set piece after another in scores of serials and B-Westerns. A taskmaster, Witney always made his schedules and was proud of that fact; the amazing thing is that he did it with such consistently high quality from the director’s chair.
As second features began to fade, Witney moved into television and directed episodes of The Virginian, Hondo, The Wild, Wild West among countless others. Although typed as a Western director, Witney scored over the years with gangster flicks and melodramas (I Escaped from Devil’s Island), fantasy (Master of the World) and even comic strip adaptations (The Adventures of Captain Marvel). Witney was married to serial leading lady Maxine Doyle until her death, and is survived by his second wife, Beverly. In the poverty row world of black and white hacks, William Witney was a director who made consistently colorful choices.