A publicity photo of Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott. [Find a Grave / William Bjornstad]
A poster for Wild Bill Elliott in one of his many movie roles. [Flickr / Jack Samuels]

Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott was one of the film industry’s top moneymakers in westerns during the 1940s and 1950s and was voted one of the ten best “Money Making Stars” in the Motion Picture Herald poll from 1942 to 1952. Elliott reversed the typical pattern by abandoning more general acting for the western field. His nickname was acquired in 1938 when he played in a Columbia serial called The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.

Elliott was born Gordon Nance on October 16, 1905, on a ranch near Pattonsburg in Daviess County, Missouri, where he learned the cowboy arts of riding, roping, and shooting. He moved to Kansas City with his parents when he was ten years old. As a boy he tamed horses in his father’s stockyard and was exposed briefly to the rodeo circuit.

He attended Kansas City’s Rockhurst College, but left it for Hollywood, where he gained acting experience at the Pasadena Playhouse and changed his name to Gordon Elliott. Most of his early films, including his debut in Wonder Bar in 1934, were not westerns. After his appearance in The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, however, Elliott made a series of westerns, including several in which he re-created his role as Wild Bill Hickok. He also starred in a fifteen-episode serial called Overland with Kit Carson.

Elliott next teamed up with Tex Ritter in several western films, and in 1942 he made his last serial, Valley of Vanishing Men, with Slim Summerville. He then starred in eight “Wild Bill Elliott” films for Republic Pictures, followed by the “Red Ryder” series of sixteen films beginning in 1943. After the Red Ryder series, Republic featured Elliott in several major westerns, the first of which was In Old Sacramento. He later appeared in several westerns for Allied Artists and was a television spokesman for a national cigarette manufacturer.

Elliott was married twice and had one daughter, Barbara. He retired to his Nevada ranch in 1957, and on November 26, 1965, he died of cancer at his Las Vegas home at the age of sixty.

Further Reading

Blottner, Gene. Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

Holland, Ted. B Western Actors Encyclopedia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989.

McClure, Arthur F., and Ken D. Jones. Heroes, Heavies and Sagebrush of the “B” Genre. Cranbury, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1972.

Parish, James Robert. Great Western Stars. New York: Ace Books, 1976.


Published October 26, 2023

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