(From Old Corral image collection)
Above from L-to-R are Bob Steele, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Hoot Gibson, Harry Carey and a dying Tom Tyler in a scene from POWDERSMOKE RANGE (RKO, 1935). This early Three Mesquiteers film had Carey as Tucson Smith, Gibson as Stony Brooke, and Williams as Lullaby Joslin. Steely eyed Tom Tyler portrayed the good/bad gunman 'Sundown Saunders', and Steele played the 'Guadalupe Kid'.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above, a tender moment between 'Big Boy' Williams and Marjorie Gordon from DANGER TRAILS (Beacon, 1935).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are Marion Shilling, Frank Yaconelli, 'Big Boy' Williams, Roger Williams, Wally Wales (Hal Taliaferro) and George Morrell in a still from GUN PLAY (alternate title: LUCKY BOOTS) (Beacon, 1935).
LAW OF THE 45'S was released to the theaters around December 1, 1935. A few months earlier, RKO and director Wallace Fox put MacDonald's POWDERSMOKE RANGE on the screen, this time relegating Williams to the role of Lullaby Joslin and giving his Tucson Smith character to Harry Carey with Hoot Gibson cast as Stony Brooke. But Williams obviously took it all in stride as he played the role with his usual happy-go-lucky flair. Conversely, one of his most memorable performances came that same year in the mystery/drama, THE GLASS KEY, starring George Raft and Ray Milland, in which Williams plays a sadistic gangster, much in the style of Bob Steele in the Humphrey Bogart THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Bros., '46).
But Westerns would be his real forte and in 1936 Williams was back in the saddle with a good supporting role with Robert Livingston in what is considered as Republic's first serial and the first of that studio's introduction of a Zorro-like character in THE VIGILANTES ARE COMING. He would also be one of the many actors that made up the cast of Universal's 15-chapter serial, RIDERS OF DEATH VALLEY ('41). In between he could be seen in strong roles in two of Warner Brothers historical A Westerns, DODGE CITY ('39) and VIRGINIA CITY ('40), starring Errol Flynn. Also in 1939, Big Boy appeared in another strong supporting role in an intriguing Western entitled BAD LANDS. It starred Robert Barrat in one of his few starring roles as a sheriff who leads a posse into the badlands after a killer only to see each of the members of the posse killed by Apaches. That same plot (originally taken from the 1934 John Ford THE LOST PATROL) would be used again in 1972 in United Artists CHATO'S LAND, starring Charles Bronson and Jack Palance.
Another fine performance by Williams during this period in which he played it straight and with great sincerity was the Columbia 1936 END OF THE TRAIL (not to be confused with the Tim McCoy picture by the same title). It starred Jack Holt and Williams as two old friends on opposite sides of the law and gave Big Boy a chance to show a more serious aspect of his acting.
But his lovable and apparent 'baffled dumbness' would bode better for him in most of his pictures and in a couple of Roy Rogers' saddle and song opuses, Big Boy was given the probably descriptive but somewhat demeaning name of 'Teddy Bear'.
Throughout it all he kept busy, going from one sidekick role to another and supporting such stars as Robert Mitchum, a picture in which he and Richard Martin formed a sort of trio in NEVADA ('44). Throughout the 40's he would be somebody's sidekick, including a stint as Ken Curtis' saddle pal in a short series of weak musical westerns Curtis made for Columbia in the mid to late 40's.
The B's would not be his only venue, however. In the 50's he could be seen supporting such A Westerners as Randolph Scott in MAN IN THE SADDLE ('51) and HANGMAN'S KNOT ('52); Gary Cooper, with Williams in a good role as 'Sergeant Snow', in SPRINGFIELD RIFLE ('52); and Rory Calhoun in THE HIRED GUN ('57).
He played a heavy - a role in which he was becoming more adept at as he advanced in age - as one of John Larch's thugs in an interesting and offbeat but fairly obscure Western with racial overtones by United Artists entitled MAN FROM DEL RIO ('56). It starred Anthony Quinn as a tormented Mexican gunfighter turned lawman attempting to drown his past in alcohol but is saved by the ever-charming and talented Katy Jurado (another solid performance by the Mexican actress). The showdown between Quinn and Peter Whitney, the ex-gunfighter and wannabe town boss, is an unusual face off between two antagonists.
Williams, like many other Hollywood actors, gravitated to the small screen in the 50's and he could be seen in various episodes of WAGON TRAIN, ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN, SUGARFOOT, CHEYENNE, GUNSMOKE, and ADVENTURES OF WILD BILL HICKOK. In 1956, he was a regular on the TV series, CIRCUS BOY, starring Noah Berry, Jr. And in 1958 he appeared on THE NINE LIVES OF ELFEGO BACA, a TV series shown as part of the WALT DISNEY PRESENTS series.
Back to the big screen, Williams would be cast by John Wayne in his classic THE ALAMO ('60) playing the role of army Lieutenant Finn, and the following year, he had a brilliant cameo appearance as a gunrunner named Ed McBain, who is trying to repent and lets Wayne take his place in getting into the camp of THE COMANCHEROS. It would be Big Boy's last appearance. Less than a year later, on June 6, 1962, the former silent and sound star, sidekick to numerous heroes of the Western screen, who could adjust from lovable sidekick, to serious hero, to ugly villain with the same degree of flair and enthusiasm, died of uremic poisoning. He was 63. At the time, Big Boy was scheduled to star in his own TV series, BUTTONS AND BOWS, but shortly after the pilot was made, he passed away from uremic poisoning at Van Nuys, California.
Big Boy Williams was married to actresses Kathleen Collins (who played in two of his silent pictures) and Barbara Weeks, who had a noted screen career (and there's a photo and profile on Weeks in The Heroines section on the Old Corral). There was a later marriage to Dorothy Peterson (family photos of "Big" and Dorothy on next page).
Williams was an avid polo player, and captained the Hollywood team that consisted of old friend, Will Rogers. Big Boy is said to have owned 100 polo ponies at one time.
(Courtesy of Martha Crawford Cantarini)
Above photo taken January, 1937 at the Will Rogers Memorial polo field at the Uplifter's Club, Santa Monica, California. The winners of the 1st annual polo tournament for the Will Rogers Memorial Trophy are, from L-to-R: film executive Walter Wanger, Tim Holt, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, and sportsman Carl Crawford. In the center is Mrs. Will Rogers. Tim Holt would have been around 19 years old at the time of this photo.
All told, Big Boy's screen career spanned over 40 years and more than 200 pictures, playing all kinds of characters. But he will best be remembered as the befuddled, somewhat country bumpkin, with an infectious grin and a kind heart.
For a better insight into the Williams film character, the following are suggested viewing: ROUNDING UP THE LAW ('22), LAW OF THE 45' ('35), and any of the Beacon pictures of '34-'35, POWDERSMOKE RANGE ('35), THE GLASS KEY ('35), NEVADA ('44), SPRINGFIELD RIFLE ('52), MAN FROM DEL RIO ('56), and THE COMANCHEROS ('61).