Guinn “Big Boy” Williams: Started with Will Rogers

Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (1899-1962) was a protege of Will Rogers, who bestowed upon him his first movie roles as well as his nickname, which was often employed as his sole billing, and sometimes even his character’s name in the movies.

Williams was the son of a wealthy Texas rancher, Guinn Williams, Sr. At 6’2″, Big Boy wasn’t all THAT big (John Wayne, with whom he appeared in numerous pictures, for example, was two inches taller), but he was muscular and solid, wrought by years of hard work on the ranch in his youth. After World War One service, his father secured an appointment for him at West Point, but Big Boy turned it down, opting instead to play professional and sem-pro baseball for a few seasons. Will Rogers gave him work in his silent pictures Almost a Husband (1919), Jubilo (1919), Cupid the Cowpuncher (1920), and The Ropin’ Fool (1922). These were interesting years for the Williams family. At the same time Big Boy was making a name for himself in pictures, his father went into politics and became a U.S. Congressman!

Big Boy garnered over 200 screen credits over a 40 year career, most of them westerns. In main features, he was usually a supporting player; in B movies, he was often the star, in pictures with titles like Cowboy Holiday (1934) and Big Boy Rides Again (1935). Occasionally he played Nat Pendleton type roles as when was cast as a motorcycle cop in Harold Lloyd’s Professor Beware (1938). Some of his best known pictures inclde the Errol Flynn westerns Dodge City (1939), Virginia City (1939) and Santa Fe Trail (1940); the all-star The Fighting 69th (1940); the 1941 version of Billy the Kid (1941) with Robert Taylor, several Randolph Scott westerns including The Desperadoes (1943) Belle of the Yukon (1944, with Gypsy Rose Lee!), Man in the Saddle (1951) and Hangman’s Knot (1952), and John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) and The Comancheros (1961), his last. In his final years he also guest starred frequently on TV shows like Wagon Train and Gunsmoke, and was a regular on Circus Boy (1956-57). He married actress Dorothy Peterson in 1943.

For more on silent and early film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.