Biography

Western star "Wild Bill" Elliott was plain Gordon Elliott when he launched his stage career at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1928. Under his given name, he began appearing in dress-extra film roles around the same time. While he had learned to ride horses as a youth and had won several rodeo trophies, movie producers were more interested in utilizing Elliot's athletic skills in dancing sequences, in which the still-unbilled actor showed up in tux and tails. Beginning in 1934, Elliot's film roles increased in size; he also started getting work in westerns, albeit in secondary villain roles. In 1938, Elliot was selected to play the lead in the Columbia serial The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, in which he made so positive an impression that he would be billed as "Wild Bill" Elliott for the remainder of his cowboy career, even when his character name wasn't Bill. Elliott's western series for Columbia, which ran from 1938 through 1942, was among the studio's most profitable enterprises. Fans were primed to expect an all-out orgy of fisticuffs and gunplay whenever Elliott would face down the bad guy by muttering, "I'm a peaceable man, but..." Elliott moved to Republic in 1943, where he continued turning out first-rate westerns, including several in which he portrayed famed fictional do-gooder Red Ryder. In 1945, Elliott began producing his own films, developing a tougher, more jaded characterization than before. A longtime admirer of silent star William S. Hart, Elliott successfully emulated his idol in a string of "good badman" roles. The actor's final western series was a group of 11 above-average actioners for Monogram in the early 1950s, in which Elliott did his best to destroy the standard cowboy cliches and unrealistic Boy Scout behavior symptomatic of the Roy Rogers/Gene Autry school. During his last days at Monogram (which by the mid-1950s had metamorphosed into United Artists), Elliott appeared in modern dress, often cast as hard-bitten private eyes. In 1957, Bill Elliott retired to his huge ranch near Las Vegas, Nevada, where he spent his time collecting western souvenirs and indulging his ongoing hobby of geology. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi