Wild Bill Elliott
October 16, 1904
Pattonsburg, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||November 26, 1965 (aged 61)|
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Other names||Gordon Elliott, William Elliott, Bill Elliott|
|Spouse(s)||Helen Josephine Meyer (1927–1961)|
Dolly Moore (1961–1965)
Wild Bill Elliott (born Gordon Nance, October 16, 1904 – November 26, 1965) was an American film actor. He specialized in playing the rugged heroes of B Westerns, particularly the Red Ryder series of films.
The young Nance grew up within 20 miles of his birthplace; he spent most of his youth on a ranch near King City, Missouri. His father was a cattle rancher and commissioner buyer for the Kansas City stockyards. Riding and roping were part of Nance's upbringing. He won first place in a rodeo event in the 1920 American Royal livestock show. He briefly attended Rockhurst College, a Jesuit school in Kansas City, but soon left for California with hopes of becoming an actor.
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By 1925, he was getting occasional extra work in films. He took classes at the Pasadena Playhouse and appeared in a few stage roles there. By 1927, he had made his first Western, The Arizona Wildcat, playing his first featured role. Several co-starring roles followed, and he renamed himself Gordon Elliott, but as the studios made the transition to sound films, he slipped back into roles as an extra and bit parts, as in Broadway Scandals, in 1929. For the next eight years, he appeared in over 100 films for various studios, but almost always in unbilled parts as an extra.
Elliott began to be noticed in some minor B Westerns, enough so that Columbia Pictures offered him the title role in a serial, The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1938). The serial was so successful, and Elliott so personable, that Columbia promoted him to starring in his own series of Western features, replacing Columbia's number-two cowboy star, Robert "Tex" Allen. Henceforth, Gordon Elliott was known as Bill Elliott. Within two years, he was among the Motion Picture Herald's top-10 Western stars, where he would remain for the next 15 years.
In 1943, Elliott signed with Republic Pictures, which cast him in a series of Westerns alongside George "Gabby" Hayes. The first of these, Calling Wild Bill Elliott, gave Elliott the name by which he would be best known and by which he would be billed almost exclusively for the rest of his career.
Following several films in which both actor and character shared the name Wild Bill Elliott, he took the role for which he would be best remembered, that of Red Ryder in a series of 16 movies about the famous comic-strip cowboy and his young Indian companion, Little Beaver (played in Elliott's films by Bobby Blake). Elliott played the role for only two years but would forever be associated with it. Elliott's trademark was a pair of six guns worn butt-forward in their holsters.
Elliott's career thrived during and after the Red Ryder films, and he continued making B Westerns into the early 1950s. He also had his own radio show during the late 1940s. His final contract as a Western star was with Monogram Pictures, where budgets declined as the B Western lost its audience to television. When Monogram became Allied Artists Pictures Corporation in 1953, it phased out its Western productions, and Elliott finished out his contract playing a homicide detective in a series of five modern police dramas, his first non-Westerns since 1938.
Elliott retired from films (except for a few TV Western pilots, which were not picked up). He worked for a time as a spokesman for Viceroy cigarettes and hosted a local TV program in Las Vegas, Nevada, which featured many of his Western films.
Elliott was a breeder of Appaloosa horses and showed them in breeder contests for best in breed. He showed his horses in the Western States contest in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Broadmoor resort's stadium in 1953.
Elliott married Helen Josephine Meyers in February 1927. Their daughter, Barbara Helen Nance, was born October 14, 1927. Elliott and his wife were divorced in 1961. He married Dolly Moore that same year. Following his retirement in 1957, he moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he bought a ranch. He died there from lung cancer on November 26, 1965, aged 61. He is interred at Palm Downtown Mortuary/Cemetery in Las Vegas.
(His 3 serials and 16 Red Ryder films are noted below)
Bill Elliott's presence, with a matching performance by Kenneth MacDonald, brings this western saga satisfactorily to the screen. [...] An interesting subplot has heroine Evelyn Young momentarily switching her affection from Stanley Brown to his brother, Eliott. Lambert Hillyer's direction is first rate.
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