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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.

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above from left to right are John Wayne, William Farnum, Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune in a scene from SANTA FE STAMPEDE (Republic, 1938). In this film, Farnum strikes gold and sends for his Three Mesquiteers' friends to help him against crooked mayor Leroy Mason and gang. Farnum and his young daughter are killed in a wagon wreck.

William Farnum

1876 - 1953

There were three Farnum brothers that did stage and films: actor Dustin Farnum (1874-1929), director Marshall Farnum (?-1917), and the subject of this profile, William Farnum. Note that William and his brothers are not related to another familiar western movie player, Franklyn Farnum.

Bill Farnum was born July 4, 1876 in Boston. His acting career began on the stage and included a multi-year run as the star of the play Ben Hur circa 1900. Farnum portrayed "Ben Hur" and future silent screen cowboy William S. Hart played protaganist "Messala".

One of Farnum's earliest films was THE SPOILERS (Selig Polyscope, 1914) which was based on the Rex Beach novel, and the ending featured a memorable barroom brawl between Farnum and Tom Santschi.

Circa 1915 - and at about forty years of age - Farnum signed with the William Fox movie company. At Fox, he became a matinee idol and one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, earning a reported $10,000.00/weekly. His Fox starring work includes several westerns based on the writings of Zane Grey: THE RAINBOW TRAIL (Fox, 1918), THE LONE STAR RANGER (Fox, 1919), and THE LAST OF THE DUANES (Fox, 1919). But times were changing - Tom Mix signed a Fox contract in 1917 and Buck Jones came on board a few years later. By the mid 1920s, Farnum was about fifty years old and his days as a hero and romantic lead were over.

(Image courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above is a cast and crew shot, probably from THE ORPHAN (Fox, 1920) which was based on the novel by Hopalong Cassidy author Clarence E. Mulford. Star William Farnum is right center on horseback with the dark shirt and dark hat, and heroine Louise Lovely is on horseback next to him. Hans Wollstein provides some further info on the musicians: they were there to provide mood. All the major studios and most of the minor ones supplied orchestras of various sizes to put the actors into the desired frame of mind.

Newspaper reports indicate that Farnum had accumulated several millions in cash and investments, but lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash and had to file for bankruptcy.

He continued working in Hollywood, doing assorted support roles and bit parts, until shortly before his death in 1953 from uremia and a year long battle with bladder cancer.

William Farnum's death certificate has him born July 4, 1876 in Massachusetts. He passed away on June 5, 1963 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Los Angeles, and cause of death was uremia and bladder cancer. Pierce Bros. Hollywood was the funeral director and cremation at Chapel of the Pines. Wife Isabelle was the death certificate informant. There is a corresponding record in the California Death Index for William Farnum, born 7/4/1876 in Massachusetts, Mother's maiden name of Lagros, and he passed away in the Los Angeles area on 6/5/1953.

In sound films, Les Adams has Farnum identified in about 90 films and that includes 34 westerns and 8 serials. Below are a few of the Farnum western roles that I recall:

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

The Internet Broadway Database has Farnum in a dozen or so plays during the period from 1900-1929, including the 1900 "Ben Hur":

There's a cast photo of Betty Hutton, Kit Guard, Ernie Adams, William Farnum, and some other familiar faces from THE PERILS OF PAULINE (Paramount, 1947) at:

J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website lists several radio programs featuring William Farnum. When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select F, and then scroll down for the Farnum radio credits:

Find A Grave website has a photo of the grave marker for William Farnum who is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale), Glendale, California:

The Silent Hollywood website had some info and photos on Farnum. But that website is no longer working. A copy is available from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine:

Farnum has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

The Yale University Beinecke Library has various silent western lobby cards on Flickr. Included are the following three cards with William Farnum as the star of THE GUNFIGHTER (Fox, 1923) which is based on a Max Brand story:

(From Old Corral collection)

Above, from left to right are Lucile Browne, William Farnum, Bob Steele, Archie Ricks, James Flavin, and George Hayes (in his days prior to becoming 'Windy' or 'Gabby') in a duotone lobby card from Steele's THE BRAND OF HATE (Hackel/Supreme, 1934). James Flavin and Lucile Browne were husband and wife in real life and were married in 1932.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card for MILLION DOLLAR HAUL (Superior/Stage & Screen, 1935), a crime yarn which was one of Reed Howes' last starring roles. On the left is Howes and "Tarzan the Police Dog", and on the right is Janet Chandler and William Farnum.

(From Old Corral collection)

George W. Merrick and Louis Weiss had Rex Lease as the star of the 15 chapter serial CUSTER'S LAST STAND (Stage & Screen, 1936) which was directed by Elmer Clifton. The players in the insets are: bottom left - Dorothy Gulliver (as 'Red Fawn') and Rex Lease; and on the right are Nancy Caswell and William Farnum. Farnum played an Indian agent in this cliffhanger.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

L-to-R are Allen Greer, Budd Buster, William Farnum, Bobby Nelson, Nancy Caswell, Josef Swickard, and Milburn Morante in a Chapter 9 lobby card from CUSTER'S LAST STAND (Stage & Screen, 1936).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Bob Steele, Bob Livingston, William Farnum, Budd Buster, Hal Price and Wally West in a crop from a lobby card from the Three Mesquiteers' GANGS OF SONORA (Republic, 1941). Newspaper man Farnum is short-lived in this film.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above is a shot of most of the guest stars/heroes in the Roy Rogers Cinecolor TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (Republic, 1950).

Kneeling from L-to-R: Tom Keene, Roy Rogers, William Farnum.
Back Row L-to-R: Tom Tyler, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Allan 'Rocky' Lane, Monte Hale, George Chesebro, Kermit Maynard.
(Not pictured are Jack Holt and Rex Allen.)

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