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(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)

Publicity still of Penniman/Cody. Unknown date.
"Wild Bill" Cody

AKA
Albert William Cody

Real name:
Frederick Garfield Penniman

1913 - 1988


Special thanks to Jerry Whittington for all the info and photos on his friend, Wild Bill Cody.

Thanks also to Scott Eckstein for his recollections of visits and chats with Cody. And to fellow Indiana Hoosier Mark Kratzner for some additional "detective work".


For some time, there has been confusion concerning a "Bill Cody" or a "Wild Bill Cody" in an Evansville, Indiana nursing home vs. movie youngster Bill Cody, Jr., the son of silent and early sound cowboy movie hero Bill Cody. Bill, Jr. appeared in westerns with his father as well as a few other films before he joined the Navy during World War II.

Hopefully, this webpage will resolve this issue.

What's the confusion? Bobby Copeland provided information on the "Bill Cody, Jr. in Evansville, Indiana person". Bobby writes: "I offer the following comments from expert researcher, Luther Hathcock: On Jan. 2, 1986, the AP ran a story nationwide on a former radio performer born Frederick Garfield Penniman who changed his name to "Wild Bill" Cody and became a star of over 40 Westerns at Columbia. This man whose claim was far over exaggerated as star was now living in an Evansville nursing home at age 72. If he was in 40 Westerns, O. K. then where are his credits? We couldn't find them. Many people mistook this man to be the long lost B-Western kid star. Mentions appeared in publications that Bill Cody, Jr., was still around, now in an Indiana nursing home. When later informed of the mistaken identity, and the protest over it, Cody, Jr. found the matter amusing."

The confusion was still occurring as of March, 2006. If you had checked the Bill Cody, Jr. filmography on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), there were two credits listed incorrectly for him - for MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW (1972) and ALIEN OUTLAW (1985). The IMDb has been corrected as both of those roles were done by the subject of this Old Corral webpage - "Wild Bill" Cody, AKA Albert William Cody, AKA Frederick Garfield Penniman.

But before getting into Penniman/Cody, let's profile Bill Cody, Jr.


About Bill Cody, Jr.
Full name: William Joseph Cody, Jr.
1925 - 1989


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above are Bill Cody, his son Bill Cody Jr., and pretty Catharine Cotter looking over the prone William 'Bill' McCall in a scene from OUTLAWS OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936).

Bill Cody, Jr. (full name: William J. Cody, Jr.) was the real life son of silent and early 1930s range hero Bill Cody. He did some kid roles in four of his father's Spectrum westerns in the mid 1930s. You can also spot him playing the part of singer Nelson Eddy as a child in the Jeanette MacDonald THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (MGM, 1938). Some of his other film work includes the cliffhangers SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE (Universal, 1939), THE OREGON TRAIL (Universal, 1939) and SKY RAIDERS (Universal, 1941), as well as B westerns with Tom Keene, Johnny Mack Brown, Charles Starrett, and the Frontier Marshals trio series at PRC.

Cody, Jr. enlisted in the Navy during World War II and never went back to the film business upon returning home from military duty.

Researcher Luther Hathcock provided info about Cody, Jr.'s passing in a December, 1989 writeup in "Classic Images" (italics added to identify quotes): "Bill Cody, Jr., the long lost western kid star of the 1930s is dead at age 64. He died in his Studio City, California apartment on August 11, 1989, a suicide. In a note left for his family, he stated how hard the past sixteen months had been without his beloved wife, Liz, and that he missed her so much that he no longer cared to go on living without her. Mrs. Cody died in 1988 of cancer."

You may want to check the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral ... and then go to the California Death Records database. There you will find a record for: William Joseph Cody, born 4/18/1925, Mother's maiden name of Kanah, passed away on 8/11/1989, and last resided in the Los Angeles area. I could not find a record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Bill Cody, Jr.: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0168559/

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a photo of the marker for Bill Cody, Jr. at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=19761



Frederick Garfield Penniman
AKA "Bill Cody", "Wild Bill Cody", Albert William Cody
Born August 6, 1913 (in New York)
Died October 25, 1988 (in Evansville, Indiana)


(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)

Above are Ken Maynard and Wild Bill Cody, and both worked in the unreleased MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW (1972) film. Below is a lobby card showing Cody. In MARSHALL, Cody played an Indian Scout - he showed star Sunset Carson where the wagons were dumped in the canyon river. He also showed Sunset the outlaws cave and helped the Rangers track down the outlaws.

There is a section on the Old Corral about the making of that film- on the Old Corral homepage, click on the menu item "Sunset, Ken & Tex in the MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW". Or click HERE.



(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)


Jerry Whittington, who worked in front and behind the camera on the Sunset Carson MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW (1972) film, knew the other Cody. I asked Jerry how Wild Bill Cody wound up in the MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW film: Sunset Carson knew him, and at the time, Cody lived in Madison, Tennessee and Sunset resided in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1975, Jerry used Cody (portraying a gold prospector) in a Panasonic 8-track tape player network television commercial that aired nationally. Jerry also shared some letters he received from Penniman/Cody. There were mentions of appearances on various early TV shows including YOU ASKED FOR IT, WHAT'S MY LINE, SUPER CIRCUS, STRIKE IT RICH, more. And there were thanks for Jerry's friendship as well as that of Sunset Carson and Lash LaRue. As one would expect, he was not happy living in the nursing home.

Who was this man? Best guess is that Wild Bill Cody's real name was Frederick Garfield Penniman. In his later years, Penniman/Cody lived in Evansville, Indiana, initially at the McCurdy Residential Center nursing home, and later, at the Brentwood Convalescent Center. He passed away on October 25, 1988 at the Welborn Baptist Hospital, Evansville, Indiana.

There is a record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for: Albert W. Cody, born August 6, 1913, and he passed away on October 25, 1988.



(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)

Above is a 1950s publicity flyer handed out by Penniman/Cody. When ye Old Corral webmaster first saw this flyer, I thought it was a photo of B-western bad guy Terry Frost or Pierce Lyden. Perhaps someone will be able to identify the background location used in this photo.



(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)

Above - letterhead from several letters from Cody to Jerry Whittington.


Jerry Whittington had several newspaper interviews and articles along with obituary information.

1. An interview dated December 26, 1985 which was authored by Associated Press writer Joyce A. Venezia. This writeup is the probable cause of the confusion. Excerpts from that article follows (italics added to identify quotes):

Article Headline: Rodeo legend is still dressing the part at 72 years

Fading, cracking scrapbooks are pulled from a nearby drawer, and Cody begins his story.

... rodeo hero and star of more than 40 movie Westerns, lives in a nursing home at the age of 72.

He says he's three-quarters Indian, something he's immensely proud of now, although he quit school in upstate New York after the fourth grade ...

Walk-on parts in the movies led to bigger roles and finally stardom.

Cody stayed with Columbia Pictures until 1952 and made more than 40 westerns. He then set off on a worldwide tour with other western actors as part of the "All-American Wild West Rodeo".

Cody's third wife, Alice Collins Penniman, was accidently [sic] shot with her own gun by a curious 9-year old boy during a rodeo tour.

After my wife got killed ... I married again.

2. An interview by Joe Aaron of the Evansville Courier newspaper. The date is missing from the article, but Cody had sent it to Jerry in an envelope postmarked June 5, 1986. Excerpts from that article follows (italics added to identify quotes):

Article Headline: From jail cell to Cowboy Hall of Fame spot, Wild Bill has been there

Wild Bill Cody was sitting on his bed at the McCurdy Residential Center ...

Cody, who was born Frederick Garfield Penniman but later changed his name to honor his favorite character out of the Old West, appeared in his first western movie sometime back in the late '30s, although he has forgotten just when it was, and he estimates that he appeared in 40 of them over the years, with such old-time western stars as Sunset Carson, Bob Steele, Don Red Barry and Ken Maynard ...

... he joined the circus as a wrangler, and occasionally got a chance to crack a whip or throw a knife, things he was really good at. He had perfected both skills as a kid back on the Onondaga Indian Reservation where he had lived, since he was three-quarters Indian. He used to throw tomahawks too, and could split an infinitive at 50 paces.

... he finally reached Hollywood and began appearing, after awhile, in walk-on parts in westerns. After awhile the parts got bigger and he was in great demand.

Sometimes he played the part of an Indian.

Cody said he would like to show me his skill with a whip ...    But somebody stole his three whips when he sold his mobile home in Owensboro, Ky., so he said I'd just have to take his word for it. And I do. I read enough of his scrapbooks to know he speaks the truth.

He smiled at me as I reached the door and gave me a loose wave of his arm. The pile of scrapbooks still littered the bed.

3. Death announcement and article from the Owensboro, Kentucky Messenger-Inquirer newspaper. Date not shown, but has to be from October 26-27, 1988. Excerpts from both follow and italics added to identify quotes:

In Memory article reads in part:

Albert William "Wild Bill" Cody, 75, of Brentwood Convalescent Center, Evansville, Ind., formerly of Maceo, died Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1988, at Welborn Baptist Hospital, Evansville. He was born in New York and was a retired actor, showman and performer. His wife, Mamie Alice Collins Cody, died in 1959 ...

Article Headline: Western Movie Actor, Cody, dies in Evansville

Cody, whose real name was Frederick Garfield Penniman, ran away from the Onondaga Indian reservation in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was born in 1913, to live with an uncle in Springfield, Mass. The 15-year-old, who was three-quarters Indian, ran away from his uncle's home a year later to join the circus."

... he began announcing and working in a rodeo. The stunt work he learned being thrown off bucking broncos landed him a job as a stunt man in a movie ...

He portrayed both cowboys and Indians in movies filmed during the 1930s and '40s.

Cody then took his act on the road, developing a sharp-shooting, knife-throwing, whip-cracking show for vaudeville, burlesque and Wild West tent shows."

Cody had a dream of becoming a colonel like his idol, Buffalo Bill, but was turned down when he tried to enlist in the military during World War II. However, his wish was partially fulfilled when then-Gov. Wendell Ford made Cody a Kentucky Colonel in 1972.

During his years in Daviess County, Cody served as honorary "Ambassador of Good Will" while he was living near Diamond Lake in West Louisville.

4. The funeral/memorial service was held on Saturday, October 29, 1988 and the memorial card from the Glenn Funeral Home, Evansville, Indiana, has the following info:

Albert William Cody
"Wild Bill"
August 6, 1913
October 25, 1988

5. All of the articles include Cody talking about run-ins with law and serving time in jail: picked up for vagrancy; arrested in New York for illegal possession of a handgun; "cops hassled him"; wound up in a Mexican jail; etc.

As mentioned earlier, Jerry Whittington had several letters from Cody, including one that includes mention of him working for several circuses. I jotted off an e-mail to circus expert Fred Pfening, Jr. who quickly responded: "A Bill Cody did appear with the Walter L. Main Circus in the 1930s." (I'm guessing this was B-western hero Bill Cody who did work for several circuses during the 1930s.)

Scott Eckstein had e-mailed with information on the Cody person in the Evansville, Indiana nursing home. Scott wrote that when he was 10-12 years old, he would sit with Wild Bill in the Windy Hollow museum on Saturdays and listen to his stories - "He would roll a cigarette, light it up, and tell me things about his life in that deep gravely voice. He was a side show person most of his life. He would drive a nail with a bullet, hit two targets with a single shot by shooting a knife, and would end the show by cracking a whip".

Mark Kratzner made contact with the Evansville funeral home and they replied: "... cremated ... cremains were suppose [sic] to be buried in Bluff City, TN. His mother's name is Mary Clemens and his father's name is Pearly Russell Tenninan."

In April, 2006, a Penniman family member e-mailed ye Old Corral webmaster. Excerpts follow:

"... the Penniman family has been thoroughly researched and documented by George Dobbin Penniman, Jr. in his book, "The Penniman Family" by Gateway Press. Bill Cody, AKA Frederick Garfield Penniman is the first child of Perley Russell Penniman and Irene J. Lynch. Apparently, this name changing runs in the family as Perley chose to be called Edward Raymond Penniman. I have often heard that Bill was 3/4 Indian, but cannot find documentation. His grandparents are Frank Oscar Penniman and Mattie Wyman. Interestingly enough, Bill Cody's uncle (Perley's brother) was name Frederick Garfield. This book was published many years ago, so the entries are dated. It lists Frederick Garfield Penniman as being born on Aug 6, 1913 at Bridgeport, NY and married to Mamie Alice Collins. A child, Mary Alice Penniman Cody was born on Jan 10, 1951 in Williamsport, PA. She married Michael Deicken, and has a daughter. No other info, but I hope that helps."

The book referenced above:
THE PENNIMAN FAMILY, 1631-1900 by The Rev George Wallace Penniman, D.D., Universalist Minister, Stoughton, Mass. With ADDITIONS By Paul Bigelow, Edited By George Dobbin Penniman, Jr. Published 1981 by Gateway Press, Baltimore, Maryland. There is a Book II: The PENNIMAN FAMILY to 1980, by George Dobbin Penniman, Jr. and published 1987 by Gateway Press, Baltimore, Maryland.



(Courtesy of Jerry Whittington)

Above, Cody at the Windy Hollow Museum.

In Summary ...

Who was this man? And what to make out of all this? Based on the extensive collection of photos shown on this webpage and the next, it appears that Penniman/Cody (and his wife and daughter) did shows/public appearances in rodeos, wild west shows, and circuses (and he may have even worked in 1930s vaudeville and burlesque). His act consisted of fast draw, knife throwing and bull-whip crackin'.

The photos cover a period of about thirty-five years - approximately 1940 through the mid 1970s.

In most (all) of the newspaper interviews, the writers mention that Cody would take out a large scrapbook(s) and share with them a variety of writeups and momentos that chronicled his life. Too bad that scrapbook(s) isn't available for us to view.

As to his movie work circa 1930s - early 1950s - that's suspect. However, he did have roles in MARSHAL OF WINDY HOLLOW (1972) and ALIEN OUTLAW (1985).

  The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Wild Bill Cody: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm1623515/

Perhaps someone will recognize his face doing a bit or support role in a western for Columbia Pictures or some other production company. Perhaps someone will remember seeing Penniman/Cody and his wife or daughter doing their act at some circus.

Have to wait and see.


February, 2010 Updates from Jerry Whittington


Jerry has put up a couple of videos on YouTube with Wild Bill Cody:

30 second long video of Wild Bill Cody starring in a 1970s commercial for the Panasonic Dynamite 8 track tape player: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGb8KXQGgOQ

Approximate 3 1/2 minute video of Wild Bill Cody's 1950s knife throwing, whip cracking western show with wife Alice and daughter Mary ... and special guest star George Reeves as Superman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tyZ2CsSw_Y




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