Wild Bill Elliott
|Wild Bill Elliott|
|Born||Gordon A. Nance
October 16, 1904
Pattonsburg, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||November 26, 1965
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Other names||Gordon Elliott, William Elliott, Bill Elliott|
|Spouse(s)||Helen Josephine Meyer (1927–1961)
Dolly Moore (1961–1965)
|Parents||Leroy W. Nance
Maude M. Auldridge
The young Nance grew up within twenty miles of his birthplace, most of his youth spent 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 Gordon 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.
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, and in it, played 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 extra roles and bit parts, as in 1929's Broadway Scandals. For the next eight years, he appeared in over a hundred films for various studios, but almost always in unbilled extra parts.
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), which was successful enough that Columbia offered him a contract as a leading man. The popularity of the serial made Columbia president Harry Cohn rename him as "Wild Bill" instead of Gordon. Within two years, Elliott was among the Motion Picture Herald's Top Ten Western Stars, where he would remain for the next fifteen 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 best be 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," the actor took over the role for which he would be best remembered, that of Red Ryder in a series of sixteen 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 with a series of modern police dramas, his first non-Westerns since 1938.
Elliott retired from films (except for a couple of 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 and spotted horses and showed them in breeder contests for best in breed. He showed his horses in the Western States contest in Colorado Springs, CO, at the Broadmoor Hotel'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, and Elliott remarried that same year, to Dolly Moore.
Following his retirement in 1957, Elliott moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he bought a ranch. He died there, from lung cancer, on November 26, 1965, at 61. He is interred at Palm Downtown Mortuary & Cemetery in Las Vegas.
- Daviess County (Missouri) Historical Society journal, "More About 'Wild Bill Elliott'", March 15, 2004
- (While there has been debate about the exact year of his birth, his parents' marriage license in Daviess County, Missouri Marriage Records for 1901 and U.S. Census records [and the ages listed for his siblings] make clear that he was born in 1904 and no other year.) 1910 U.S. Census, Gentry County, Missouri
- Wild Bill Elliott