Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wild Bill, 'Red Ryder' and the best of the Bs

During our recent interview (read it this week at www.ShopperNewsNow.com), B-western film historian Don Calhoun said that his favorite B-western cowboy is Wild Bill Elliott.

"I just like Bill Elliott," Calhoun says. "To me, he had it all -- the films had (plenty of) action, he was a good rider, had the voice, had the look."

Born Gordon A. Nance in Missouri, Elliott made his first western, "The Arizona Wildcat," in 1927. His big break came when Columbia tapped him to play the lead in "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" in 1938. (Columbia president Harry Cohn was the one who renamed him Bill Elliott, by the way.)

Elliott's popularity was such that he was one of the Motion Picture Herald's Top 10 Western Stars for the next 15 years. Beginning in 1943, he made a popular series of eight films as "Wild" Bill Elliott at Republic, co-starring George "Gabby" Hayes.

But his best known work came in the 16 movies he made as "Red Ryder," the popular comic strip cowboy. His trademark was two six-shooters worn butts-forward. His popularity hit such a peak with "Red Ryder" that Elliott continued making "B" westerns through the 1950s.

Tomorrow we'll look at Don Calhoun's thoughts on his other favorite genre, film noir. And don't forget that Marshal Andy Smalls is hosting a special live taping of "Riders of the Silver Screen" at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, at the ETP-TV, 1611 E. Magnolia Ave. in Knoxville. The public is welcome.

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