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About Jay Wilsey - Buffalo Bill, Jr.
by Chuck Anderson



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is an exhibitor/vending card showing Wilsey during his silent westerns, and the card mentions THE OBLIGIN' BUCKAROO (Action Pictures/Pathe, 1927). The Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago was a firm that manufactured vending machine novelties from around 1901 to the mid-1960s. It went out of business around 1979.



Above - the LIGHTNING spelling boo-boo in the opening title for LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934).
Long before Dick Jones portrayed Buffalo Bill Jr. on TV, there was another who used the name.

Jay Wilsey was born in Missouri and his birth date is probably February 6, 1896. Genealogy records indicate his full name was Wilbert Jay Wilsey and he was born in/around St. Francisville, Clark County, Missouri. Other sources indicate his birthplace and/or childhood residence was Hillsdale, St. Louis County, Missouri.

He looked good on a hoss and apparently had a lot of time in the saddle before beginning his Hollywood film career. Purportedly, he worked the rodeo circuit and/or wild west shows, and wound up in Tinseltown around 1924. There, he connected with Lester F. Scott, Jr., the boss of Action Pictures, and Wilsey soon was ridin' the cinema trails for that company (along with Buddy Roosevelt and Wally Wales). His screen name became "Buffalo Bill, Jr.", probably to capitalize on the fame of Buffalo Bill Cody of the real west and wild west shows.

For the remainder of the silent era, Wilsey worked steadily for Lester F. Scott, Jr, and he did about thirty westerns which came out under the logos of Artclass and Pathe. He also starred in a couple of non-western silent serials at Universal, FINAL RECKONING (Universal, 1928) and THE PIRATE OF PANAMA (Universal, 1929), both of which are lost/missing.

He made the transition to sound along with cinema range riders Bill Cody, Buddy Roosevelt, Wally Wales, Bob Custer, Bob Steele, Tom Tyler and others. But Wilsey was never able to headline at the better production companies, and therefore, I've always classified him as one of the "B-minus cowboys".

He rode the dusty trails in fifteen ultra low budget talkies, most of which are considered as "bottom-of-the-barrel". For fans and historians, Wilsey had the lead - or did support roles - in several of the earliest sound westerns: BEYOND THE RIO GRANDE (Biltmore/Big 4, 1930) with Jack Perrin; BAR L RANCH (Big 4, 1930) with Wally Wales; THE CHEYENNE KID (West Coast Pictures, 1930); WESTWARD BOUND (Syndicate, 1931) with Buddy Roosevelt; TRAILS OF THE GOLDEN WEST and PUEBLO TERROR (both West Coast/Cosmos, 1931).

It was Wilsey's work with shoestring producer Victor Adamson (AKA Denver Dixon) that is most often remembered ... sadly, for negative reasons. Adamson/Dixon was a jack-of-all-trades, and did his own script writing, directing and producing on the cheap. And his films during the 1930s are often denoted among the worst examples of the really low budget oater. During 1933 - 1934, Wilsey did THE FIGHTING COWBOY, LIGHTNING BILL, RAWHIDE ROMANCE and RIDING SPEED for Adamson/Dixon.

And yes, the story is true - the title credit for LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934) is misspelled as LIGHTING BILL (shown on the left).

He also had time to appear in shorts such as PALS OF THE PRAIRIE (Imperial, 1934), in which he had the lead, and THE ADVENTURES OF TEXAS JACK (Security, 1934), where he played the villain to hero Wally Wales.

In addition to the Superior and Imperial films, Wilsey also did TRAILS OF ADVENTURE (American, 1933). THE WHIRLWIND RIDER (American, 1934), and several others for producer/director/writer Robert J. Horner, whose reputation for churning out poor cinema far exceeded that of Victor Adamson/Denver Dixon.

Alas, about a half dozen of Wilsey's starring sound oaters are among the lost and missing (and those are listed in the filmography on a later webpage). In viewing the movies that are available - especially his work with Adamson/Dixon - the film locations and scenery always pique my interest. The backgrounds tend to look gaunt, dusty, hot ... cactus and other desert growth seems to be everywhere ... and quite often the roads are marked with fences. These were not the scenic locales utilized in westerns from Columbia, Universal and Republic. A long time ago, Larry Imber sent an e-mail noting that "Denver Dixon filmed most of his films in and around Pearblossom, California, north of Victorville. There were several small ranches in the area, and he made use of the buildings, horses, cowboys, and whatever else he could hustle."

Note that Wilsey wasn't the only "B-minus cowboy" to conclude their starring career in the early to mid 1930s. It happened to many, including Wally Wales (who became supporting player Hal Taliaferro), Bob Custer, Bill Cody and Buddy Roosevelt. The time of the really cheap, independent sagebrush film was nearing its end because of changes in the states rights distribution exchanges and rising costs associated with film production. Plus, Republic Pictures was formed in 1935 ... and they were initiating a new series featuring a singin' cowboy named Gene Autry.

Wilsey's salary from Adamson/Dixon and assorted other Poverty Row outfits probably wasn't enough to make ends meet (and that's the reason so many movie cowboys had to do public appearances, circus tours, etc.). If starring work was unavailable, then migrating into supporting roles and stunts/doubling was a way to keep food on the table ... and if you were good and reliable, you could work steady and make a decent living. This was the situation with Wilsey.




Above - a 1927 tradepaper ad for silent oaters starring Buddy Roosevelt, Wally Wales (Hal Taliaferro) and Buffalo Bill, Jr. (Jay Wilsey). These were from Lester F. Scott Jr.'s Action Pictures and released through Pathe.



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


Above - Wilsey keeps an eye on the trail in a still from an unidentified silent.




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

Above is a production still from THE INTERFERIN' GENT (Action Pictures/Pathe, 1927). The man on the left appears to be prolific director Richard Thorpe (1896 - 1991). That may be Action Pictures producer Lester F. Scott, Jr. on the right. Thorpe directed many of the Wilsey silents and he spent most of his later years at MGM where he directed many Tarzan films, spectacles such as IVANHOE (MGM, 1952) with Robert Taylor, Mario Lanza in THE GREAT CARUSO (MGM, 1951), and Elvis Presley in JAILHOUSE ROCK (MGM, 1957) and FUN IN ACAPULCO (MGM, 1963). Thorpe was the director on the Judy Garland THE WIZARD OF OZ, but he was replaced by George Cukor ... who was replaced by Victor Fleming. In addition to the Wilsey/Buffalo Bill, Jr. oaters, Wally Wales was also starring in a series for Scott and Action Pictures, many of which were helmed by Thorpe.



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

Above is an amusing shot of Wilsey's trusty steed attempting to hitch a ride with his boss in the ol' convertible. The car has a 1925 California plate (see blowup).



(Courtesy of Leota Whitaker Gandrau and Debbie and Tom Bahn)

Above is a silent era photo of Wilsey that was given to prolific B-western support player/villain Charles 'Slim' Whitaker. The notation on the photo reads:
"To ----
Charley Whitaker
In appreciation of the many times you slamed [sic] me in the jaw.
Sincerely,
Buffalo Bill Jr."



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