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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.

Nelson McDowell

Full name:
James Nelson McDowell
Nelson James McDowell

187? - 1947

Missouri born Nelson McDowell was tall and lanky - and based on e-mails I've received over the years, some people confuse him with Tex Ritter's later sidekick Lloyd 'Arkansas Slim' Andrews. McDowell seemed to specialize in playing undertakers, preachers, lawyers, etc.

He also portrayed an occasional sidekick ... and he did saddle pal duties with Buffalo Bill Jr., Bob Custer, Tex Ritter, Jack Randall, Jack Perrin and Tom Tyler.

His movie career began circa 1917 and over an approximate thirty year period, he did about 180 sound and silents. Les Adams has McDowell identified in about 106 sound films, of which 68 are westerns and 6 are serials.

Suffering from cancer, McDowell committed suicide, shooting himself on November 3, 1947.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Nelson McDowell:

The Newspaper Archive had articles on McDowell's suicide which were published in the November 3, 1947 Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram and the November 4, 1947 Oakland (California) Tribune. Excerpts: "James Nelson McDowell, 72, one-time movie actor, was found dead today, clutching a frontier .45-caliber pistol he once used as a prop in his pictures."; "James Nelson McDowell, 77, movie bit player committed suicide yesterday, the coroner reported ... "

Rick Albright was able to locate various information on McDowell. Rick adds: although his age jumps around a bit, I think these listings are for the same person. There is no sign of his wife after the travel plans of 1910 and I did not find her in the voter rolls when he appeared there. They may have divorced and he may have been in constant motion looking for acting work/on location and thereby missed by the census takers.

The death certificate on McDowell provides more about the man and his tragic ending - James Nelson McDowell was born August 14, 1870 in Greenfield, Missouri to Nelson Vurdine McDowell and Anna Hampton. He lived at 5302 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; was not a military veteran; and was divorced from Sophia McDowell. He died on November 3, 1947 at his home from a gunshot wound to the head. There was a coroner's investigation and his death was ruled a suicide. Death certificate informant was "Harry S. Burger, Friend". Utter-McKinley was the funeral director and burial at Valhalla.

You may want to check the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then the California Death Index which mirrors the death certificate info: James Nelson McDowell, born 8/14/1870 in Missouri, Mother's maiden name of Hampton, and he passed away in the Los Angeles area on 11/3/1947.

Left is a screen capture of McDowell as "preacher David Gamut" from the 1920 silent THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1920) with Wallace Beery as "Magua, War Chief of the Hurons".

A dozen years later, McDowell reprised that same role in the serial THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932) which starred Harry Carey and featured Bob Kortman as "Magua".

McDowell also played the same role in the silent and sound versions of the Charles Dickens Oliver Twist novel. He was "Sowerberry" in OLIVER TWIST (Coogan Productions, 1922) starring Jackie Coogan and OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) with Dickie Moore.

(Image courtesy of Joe Tufano)

Above from left to right are William Desmond, Nelson McDowell (with moustache) and an unidentifed player in one of Desmond's silent starring westerns or serials for Universal (might be from the lost/missing cliffhanger THE VANISHING RIDER (Universal, 1928)). The unidentified actor reminds me of a youngish Budd Buster.

(Image courtesy of Jay Wilsey's granddaughter and
daughter, Tamera Mankini and Frances Eldene Wolski)

Above are Jay Wilsey (Buffalo Bill Jr.) and his saddle pal Nelson McDowell in a still from LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above top from L-to-R are Frank Yaconelli, Jack Randall and Nelson McDowell getting ready to surprise Bud Osborne (with the Winchester) and Robert Walker in a scene from PIONEER DAYS (Monogram, 1940).

(Image courtesy of Jay Wilsey's granddaughter and
daughter, Tamera Mankini and Frances Eldene Wolski)

Above is a cast and crew shot from LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934), and in the background is the National Recording Co. sound truck. Most of the crew members are unidentified, but the performers include Nelson McDowell, Eva McKenzie, William 'Bill' McCall, heroine Alma Rayford, Jay Wilsey (Buffalo Bill Jr.), Denver Dixon (Victor Adamson), Bud Osborne and Black Jack Ward, Below is a crop/blowup from that cast and crew shot with names added on some of the faces.

Tidbit about Eva McKenzie (upper left in the photo): her husband Bob McKenzie did a bunch of westerns, and their pretty daughter Fay McKenzie was a heroine to Bob Baker, Ken Maynard, others. To western film fans, Fay is probably best remembered as the female lead in five 1941 - 1942 Gene Autry Republic oaters.

Above and below - Bill McCall circa 1935

William "Bill" McCall

1870 - 1938

Illinois born William McCall worked in about 230 films during a twenty year film career that spanned from about 1918 through his passing in 1938. Some of his silent screen appearances were in Mack Sennett comedies. Note that 1918 start year - if correct, McCall would have been in his late forties when he began doing movies. His life and work prior to that is unknown.

Les Adams has McCall identified in about 80 sound films, of which 56 are westerns and 6 are serials. He did sound era westerns with Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill Jr. (Jay Wilsey), Reb Russell, Jack Hoxie, Bob Steele, others. In these, he was generally unbilled/uncredited as a townsman, saloon patron, lawman, etc. On a few occasions, he portrayed the kindly old father of the heroine. He also did a few 1930s Columbia shorts with Charley Chase, Andy Clyde and the Three Stooges.

The California Death Index for 1905-1939 has a record for William C. McCall who passed away on January 10, 1938.

Rick Albright was able to locate census information on McCall:

  • 1920 census for Los Angeles, CA: Wm. McCall, renting, age 48, married, born IL, father born Ireland, mother born IL, actor/picture studio. Wife Catherine McCall, 43, married, born WI, parents born IL and WI, no occupation. Sister-in-law Josephine Schomer, 39, single, born IL, parents born IL and WI. No occupation. They reside at 447 1/2 Flower St., Los Angeles.
  • 1930 census for Los Angeles (Beverly Hills), CA: William McCall, renting at $5,000, age 59, married at 29, born IL, parents born Northern Ireland and IL, occupation actor/motion pictures. Wife Catharine McCall, 54, married at 24, born WI, parents born IL and WI, no occupation. Sister-in-law Josephine Schomer, 50, single, born IL, parents IL and WI, no occupation. They reside at 9043 Lloyd Place, Beverly Hills.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on William McCall:

ProQuest obituaries had a (brief) funeral notice for McCall that was published in the January 11, 1938 Los Angeles Times newspaper. Excerpt: "William McCall, beloved husband of Catherine McCall. Services Wednesday ..."

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Jack Rockwell, H. B. Warner, Ken Maynard, Evalyn Knapp and Kenneth Thomson. The face between Maynard and H. B. Warner is William (Bill) McCall. Lobby card from IN OLD SANTA FE (Mascot, 1934).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above are Bill Cody, Bill Cody Jr. and Catherine Cotter looking over the prone William 'Bill' McCall in a scene from OUTLAWS OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936) which marked the end of Bill Cody's career as a western leading man. McCall played a kindly ol' rancher and Catherine Cotter was his daughter. Cotter made about a half-dozen mid 1930s oaters with Cody, Bob Steele and Fred Scott ... and then disappeared.

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