Milestone does an enormous amount of research for most of the films we distribute. Sometimes there's years and years of gathering of materials (books, letters, newspapers, magazines, photographs, etc.) and extensive interviews to write each one of our press kits. And many times, we're still revising them 20 years after the fact! Yet there remains several mysteries in Milestone's distribution career and now one of them can be answered! Out of the blue, Clifton Cardin, the "Official Bossier Parish Historian" wrote to us with his research. He took it on himself to discover what happened to the star of ON THE BOWERY, Ray Salyer. All we knew was that he disappeared. Now, with Mr. Cardin's permission, here's the rest of the story...
"Ray Salyer Life
Ray Salyer was born Dec 3, 1916 in Ashland KY to Shankland Salyer and Florence Hill. Shankland had been a soldier in the 26th US Infantry shortly before Ray and his twin brother were born. Military records show Shankland had been both a musician and barber. Ray and Roy were the middle children in a rather large family.
Shortly after Ray and Roy were born, the Salyer family moved 446 miles to Lumberton, NC.
During most of his childhood, Ray witnessed America’s experiment with legislated morality, Prohibition, while the resulting gang warfare ravaged the country. There is very little doubt Ray had relatives back in Kentucky involved with white lightning. The Ashland area they came from has been documented by none other than singer Billy Ray Cyrus as big in the moonshine manufacturing and distribution.
Between the ages of 7 and 12, Ray undoubtedly followed along while his father preached on the Methodist Circuit in North Carolina. His father then got a job as assistant manager of the Met Life Insurance office to support the large family. Ray’s oldest brother Lester joined the Navy and moved out of the family home.
Soon after, something happened that may have affected Ray. His oldest brother, Lester, who had joined the Navy came “home” on furlough. While in Lumberton, he stole an automobile, drove it to Fayetteville, and returned. He soon ran out of gas and left the car. Witnesses provided police with enough clues they soon tracked it to Lester, who pleaded guilty of the larceny.
Ray was an active Boy Scout earning merit’s, accommodations and such when he was a young man.
Ray’s first foray into infamy occurred when he was just 14 years old. He and bunch of other Lumberton boys went skinny dipping in the Lumberton River. Two boys started across the river, but one panicked and drug the other under with him. Roy and Ray came to the rescue, retrieved the youngest boy from the bottom of the River. Brought him to the bank and performed CPR. The boy coughed up water, and soon began breathing. The boys were declared heroes and were nominated for the National Life Saving Award from the Boy Scouts.
During this time, the Salyer family moved 75 miles away to Wilmington NC, so Shankland could become manager of the Met Life office there.
When Ray was 18, in 1934, Prohibition was repealed.
By 1940, Ray had married his true love Gaynelle Swister. They had several children….
Ray joined the US Army, August 11, 1941. Sources suggest he was in the first waves of D-Day and went all the way to Berling at the end of the war. Today we would recognize Ray as having PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or shell shock as they called it then.
It has been said that Ray did not return to his wife and left them to fend for themselves.
The movie, “On The Bowery” brought more problems for Ray. He was offered $40,000 to become an actor. Ray turned them down. Soon after he was found, beaten, nine ribs broken and his left hand smashed. He had learned the dark side of the Bowery. His comrades did not like the attention he brought their hideout.
Where Ray went after that, is unknown.
In 1963, after his children had grown, his wife Gaynelle Swister Salyer filed for divorce in Florida. As soon as the divorced was granted, she married another man.
It is known that Ray returned to New York, possibly the Bowery area. For on Oct 6, 1963, he died from the affects of his life. He apparently drowned in his own vomit. His youngest sister, Frances paid to have his body returned to North Carolina, where Ray was buried next to his family.
It is an irony that his son, Ray Allen Salyer died at 38 years of age.
His wife, Gaynelle lived until 2003, and is buried in Florida. Her obituary lists four children, but it is not know if the were Salyer’s or Rollings."
I appreciate your extensive research. I saw this haunting film on TCM.
Thanks for this informative piece. I’d not been aware of the film, or indeed, Ray’s tragic story, just one of thousands the Bowery must have witnessed, great work, and RIP Ray….
I always wondered what happened to Ray. It’s bad that his life took such a bad turn. I got the impression at least from the film On the Bowery that he was a decent fellow despite his problems.
This is a great story, I saw the movie on TCM and was just amazed at the movie and Ray! It was great to get more info on Ray, all they said is that they did not have any trace of where he went. This could make a great movie!