The Law of Contact

Bill Elliott

by Frank M. Roberts


Once again, its time for another close-up at another star of grade-B western movie folk from the '30s to the '50s and, this go-'round a look at Bill Elliott. Bill was oft billed as Wild Bill Elliott. His real name however had nuttin' to do with 'nuttin. He was born Gordon Nance, which could have worked well enough in cowboy flicks.

His birthplace was Pattonsburg, Mo., and his birth date was Oct. 16, 1903. Wanna be a cowboy movie star? It helps if you were raised around horses, as was he and, it helps even more if you are an excellent rider, as was he. He grew up ridin' and ropin' under the tutelageof his dad, Leroy, who was a cattle broker and a rancher. (A double whammy). Eventually, our hero decided give showbusiness a try, after attending the prestigious, somewhat hoity Pasadena Playhouse. It was then he changed his name to Elliott. Bye-bye, Nance.

Whatever - it worked. In a short time he was getting good-sized roles in all types of films, with or without horses. He got 'hoarse' when sound came in but the problem was only temporary - say, a few years. Throughout the early 1930s he stepped back in, working for two of the most prestigious studios - Paramount and Warner Brothers, signing with the latter in 1933 and appearing on more than 20 of their films in 1935 alone.

Two years later, he signed with another major studio - Fox - for a pair of Smith Ballew westerns and, it was those movies that led to acontract and a career at another major studio - Columbia.

There seemed to be no uphill struggle. As the saying goes, 'talent will out' and in 1938 out he went to that studio to star in the serial, "The Great Adventures Of Wild Bill Elliott." After that he remained 'Wild'. That stuck with him for the rest of his hot career which included an 'A' series at Republic.

At Columbia he made 24 features; at Columbia he made three serials. Hardly a Saturday went by in those years that you couldn't catch up with him at a Saturday matinee.

Like all good cowboy heroes he had a sidekick. For the most part, Dub Taylor was de man; Colts was de gun. He used a pair of 5 1/4 stag handled Colts. Unlike most of his compatriots, Elliott wore his in reverse fashion (gnab-gnab). Anyway, that little pecularity became his trademark.

The good cowpoke was a straight shooter with crooked name handles. His second set of four films had him billed as Wild Bill Saunders - decidedly un-cowboy sounding. Anyway, with that set he picked up a new 'funster'. It was "Cannonball" Taylor. The next set of films had him again as Wild Bill Elliott and, his garb of the day was a buckskin shirt to match his stag-handled Colt's. What the well-dressed cowboy will wear.

He was far from finished. In 1941 and 1942 he went to Republic for the first of eight films before picking up another new handle to go with his pearl-handled weapons. That's when he became 'Red Ryder'. He made 16 films with that name, before going to Republic where he became William Elliott (no, I'm not gonna ask questions later). There, he made 10 big budget films, two in color.

He finished his busy-busy-busy career at Allied Artists, then galloped onto the small screen. Before that happened he remained, for 15 years, one of the top-10 western stars.

His private life was relatively tame. He was married twice, and had one daughter. He died in 1965 where he switched from wagon wheels to roulette wheels. No, he had a range in that tinselly town and was a western movie host there. At one point, he was a spokesman for Viceroy Cigarettes and, definitely by no mere coincidence, he died of lung cancer. Lessons 1-10, kiddies.

Here us a quickie look at just a few of his titles and co-stars. As Wild Bill, the man from Tennessee portrayed, "The Man From Tumbleweeds." Remember the classic western song about the "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds?" The Sons Of the Pioneers sang about 'em. He moved from Tumbleweeds to Sun Valley for "Sun Valley Cyclone." Swing fans will remember, "Sun Valley Serenade" with Glenn Miller." Co-stars in 'Cyclone' included Alice Fleming, Monte Hale and future mixed-up star, Bobby Blake.

He traveled 'round from town to town'. He was once, "The Man From Thunder River" and, working with him was the Roy Rogers eventual sidekick, George 'Gabby' Hayes. Another future name-above-title also appeared in that thunderous town, Anne Jeffreys. Well, still another town - this one in Arizona - "The Wildcat Of Tucson," which also featured Evelyn Young and Stanley Brown. It was described as "a hair-raising cyclone of action." (Weren't they all?). He co-starred with another star, and a fine singer, Tex Ritter in "Vengeance Of the West," where, according to the promotional material he uncorked, "a double dose of hot lead for outlaws." (Attention Brooklynites: 'dose' is not another way of saying 'dem').

He hied his tail to the badlands for "Pioneers Of the Frontier," where he led, 'twas said, 'a flaming life'. He spread himself in another movie, "Hands Across the Rockies." With a career he enjoyed those films were, of course, just a small sample of his Sat-mat offerings.

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As per usual, I take a look at the folks who were so important as aides to the stars. This time, a genuine native American - Chief Thundercloud. His real name was Victor Daniels - but - he was a full-blooded Cherokee from Oklahoma, the oldest of nine children. He worked at a variety of jobs until starting in movies as a double for the stars and, as a stunt man.

He was usually cast as a heavy, but is best known as Tonto in the original "Lone Ranger" series (before Silverheels). Other films include "Geronimo," "Typhoon," "Northwest Mounted Police," "Hudson's Bay," "Western Union," "Colt 45," (There's that gun again), and "A Ticket To Tomahawk."

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