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Lyden was born in a sod house on a ranch near Hildreth in rural Franklin County, Nebraska, on January 8, 1908. Son of a horse buyer for the U.S. Army cavalry, he acquired as a youngster riding skills that later made it possible for him to do his own stunts as an actor in Hollywood westerns.
He attended the Naponee, Nebraska, High School, and acted in several plays there; he graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Music and Fine Arts in 1927 and later studied at the Emerson College of Oratory in Boston. Lyden supported himself in these early years by playing romantic leads in stock company productions in Lincoln and on the road; he appeared in a few Chautauqua presentations.
When talking movies eclipsed live theater presentations in small towns, Pierce Lyden went on to Hollywood in 1932. There he played villains’ roles in B Western films, quickly becoming typecast as a “bad guy,” specializing in fight scenes. He appeared in Saturday serials called cliffhangers as well as in feature films and television series. The number of his movie roles has been estimated at between 300 and 400 (actors who did not have major parts were not listed in film credits); he also appeared in about 150 episodes of The Cisco Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, The Lone Ranger, and other television series. He worked with the most famous Western movie actors, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. He was Photo Press Fan Poll “Villain of the Year” in 1944.
In 1962, as the popularity of Westerns lessened, Lyden retired in Orange, California, where he had lived throughout his acting career. He wrote “Action Shots” about film personalities for the Orange County, California, Register, and the film industry magazine Classic Images; he published five books about his career and the making of films in his era. In his later years he was regularly invited to film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Honors awarded him included membership in the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Heritage Foundation (1979) and the Golden Boot Award (1992). In 1989 Naponee, Nebraska, named a street for him and held a Pierce Lyden film festival; in 1997 he received Nebraska’s Buffalo Bill Award. In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. He died on October 10, 1998, at his California home.
- Pierce Lyden papers at the Nebraska State Historical Society