Bill Cody (actor)

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Bill Cody
Frontier Days lobby card.jpg
Cody and Ada Ince in Frontier Days (1934)
William Joseph Cody, Sr.

(1891-01-05)January 5, 1891
DiedJanuary 24, 1948(1948-01-24) (aged 57)
Occupation Film actor

William Joseph "Bill" Cody Sr. (January 5, 1891 January 24, 1948) was a Hollywood B-western actor of the 1920s, 1930s and into the 1940s, and father to Bill Cody, Jr..


Cody, often called "the reel Bill Cody", began his acting career in the early days of film, and just happened to have the same name as "Buffalo" Bill Cody, although he was not a relation. Cody's name was what initially drew producers to him; however he soon proved to be a charismatic performer in his own right.


Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of Páll Valtýr Eiríksson from Víðvíkurströnd and Björg Jónsdóttir from Reykjarströnd [1] , Cody was said to have attended Saint Thomas Military Academy, and later St. Johns University. [2] Immediately out of college, he joined the Metropolitan Stock Company, touring the U.S. and Canada. This eventually led him to Hollywood. In 1922 he began working as a stuntman.

College of Saint Benedict and Saint Johns University

The College of Saint Benedict (CSB), a women's college, and Saint John's University (SJU), a men's college, are private liberal arts colleges respectively located in St. Joseph and Collegeville, Minnesota, United States, near St. Cloud. Under CSB's and SJU's coordinate relationship, students at the two colleges have a shared curriculum, and access to the resources of both campuses.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with 70% of citizens residing within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

Stunt performer person who performs stunts

A stunt performer, often referred to as a stuntman, stuntwoman or daredevil, is a trained professional who performs stunts, often as a career. These performers usually appear in films or on television, as opposed to a daredevil, who performs for a live audience. When they take the place of another actor, they are known as stunt doubles.

Acting Career in Silent Films

Jesse Goldburg, liking Cody, signed him to an eight series film deal for the 1924-1925 season. Golburg's company, Independent Pictures, although known for being made for as little money as possible, had gained a good reputation for having good casting and locations for their films. The first of the series starring Cody was Dangerous Days, directed by J.P. McGowan. That was followed by The Fighting Sheriff, with the rest of the series out over the next six months.

The Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP) was a motion picture studio and production company founded in 1909 by Carl Laemmle. The company was based in New York City, with production facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In 1912, IMP was one of the independent film companies absorbed into the newly incorporated Universal Film Manufacturing Company, with Laemmle as president.

Following the Independent Pictures series, Cody starred in two films for Associated Exhibitors, The Galloping Cowboy and King of the Saddle, both released in 1926. That same year he starred in Arizona Whirlwind released through Pathé. In 1927 he starred in Born to Battle, which gave him an opportunity to exhibit his horse riding skills and to use a bull whip on screen, and two more Bill Cody Productions boasting stories supposedly concocted by Cody himself: Gold From Weepah and Laddie, Be Good. Agile and pleasant in appearance, Cody ended his silent film career by starring in a group of action pictures released by Universal which temporarily removed him from the western milieu: The Price of Fear, Wolves of the City, The Tip-Off, Slim Fingers and Eyes of the Underworld. [3]

Associated Exhibitors

Associated Exhibitors was an American film distribution company active during the silent era. The company did not produce its own pictures but released productions by independent producers, handling a mixture of low-budget and more prestigious films during the 1920s. Established in 1920, it had a close association with Pathe Exchange, another medium-sized American company.

The Galloping Cowboy is a 1926 American silent western film directed by William James Craft and starring Bill Cody and Edmund Cobb.

His first talking feature was Under Texas Skies , starring Bob Custer, in 1930. Many former silent film stars failed to be accepted by the public with the advent of sound pictures, and many could not make a successful transition. However, Cody's pace never lessened, and he was in demand immediately following his first "talky", despite his well-known difficulty with the memorization of dialogue. [4]

Under Texas Skies is a 1930 American film directed by J.P. McGowan.

Bob Custer American actor

Bob Custer was an American film actor who appeared in over 50 films, mostly Westerns, between 1924-37, including The Fighting Hombre, Arizona Days, The Last Roundup, The Oklahoma Kid, Law of the Rio Grande, The Law of the Wild and Ambush Valley. Using his original name Raymond Glenn, he also appeared in non-Western movies, including the 1927 film The Return of Boston Blackie as the title character.

Silent film Film with no synchronized recorded dialogue

A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound. In silent films for entertainment, the plot may be conveyed by the use of title cards, written indications of the plot and key dialogue lines. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as film itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, the introduction of synchronized dialogue became practical only in the late 1920s with the perfection of the Audion amplifier tube and the advent of the Vitaphone system. The term "silent film" is a misnomer, as these films were almost always accompanied by live sounds. During the silent-film era that existed from the mid-1890s to the late 1920s, a pianist, theater organist—or even, in large cities, a small orchestra—would often play music to accompany the films. Pianists and organists would play either from sheet music, or improvisation. Sometimes a person would even narrate the intertitle cards for the audience. Though at the time the technology to synchronize sound with the video did not exist, music was seen as an essential part of the viewing experience.

Monogram Pictures

Monogram Pictures signed Cody to an eight-film western series, co-starring with child actor Andy Shuford, which was called "the Bill and Andy series". The first Monogram Cody film to be released was Dugan of the Badlands, directed by Robert Bradbury. Harry Fraser replaced Bradbury as director of The Montana Kid , Oklahoma Jim (a somber story in which Cody, as a gambler, becomes involved in an Indian uprising), Mason of the Mounted (featuring Cody as a Mountie and Shuford as a runaway youngster), the atmospheric Ghost City, Land of Wanted Men, Law of the North and Texas Pioneers. The films were well-received, but Monogram opted not to continue the series.

Cody did not film anything in 1933, instead working for a traveling wild west show as its star attraction. He returned in 1934, starring in Border Menace, an extremely low-budgeted film released by Aywon Pictures, which received terrible reviews. Aywon followed that with Border Guns and Western Racketeers, which did somewhat better. Cody then worked for a time in the Downie Bros. Circus, replacing Jack Hoxie as the star attraction.

Ray Kirkwood Productions

Frontier Days lobby card Frontier Days lobby card 2.jpg
Frontier Days lobby card

Late in 1934, producer Ray Kirkwood signed Cody to a contract, to make a series of cowboy thrillers for release through Spectrum Pictures. Kirkwood, a native of Pennsylvania who had once been a production manager for Thomas Ince and later a film distributor in South America, turned producer with the release of Frontier Days , a lively and entertaining feature which opened to exceptionally good reviews. Cody and his pinto, Chico, were joined by leading lady Ada Ince, silent film veterans Franklyn Farnum and William Desmond, one-time leading man Wheeler Oakman, and Cody's 9-year-old son, billed simply as Billy, Jr.. As the first father-and-son team starring together in B Westerns, both Cody, Sr. and Billy showed considerable promise in the first film of the series. It was followed by Six Gun Justice, The Cyclone Ranger (a tale of mistaken identity from the pen of prolific western writer Oliver Drake), The Texas Rambler (another Oliver Drake screenplay, this one with a strong element of mystery), and The Vanishing Riders (in which Cody and his son masquerade as ghosts to demoralize a gang of despicable, superstitious rustlers). The Codys went on tour with a wild west show and circus. When they returned to Hollywood, Kirkwood – experiencing a financial squeeze – replaced writer Drake with his own wife, Zara Tazil, who wrote the remaining screenplays for the series. Director J. P. McCarthy succeeded in getting from Cody one of his best performances in The Lawless Border, featuring Molly O'Day as leading lady. Blazing Justice and Outlaws of the Range concluded the Spectrum series on a pleasant but less-ambitious note. [5]

Cody was the star attraction with the Downie Brothers Circus when it opened its 1935 season in Macon, Ga. on April 17, to a capacity house. "With all equipment resplendent in new red paint the show opened with the Cavalcade of Splendor. Bill Cody was then introduced by Harry Mack," Downie's press agent. Cody was replacing Jack Hoxie, who had headlined the 1933-34 seasons. In May 1935 Billboard reported that Cody and "the new seal act were going over big." In August, two of Cody's sons joined him from their school vacations, and one report said that Cody was at work on a circus film, which was to be one of eight he made for Spectrum Pictures. The September 28, 1935 Billboard reported that Cody "closed several weeks ago" but does not give a date or reason for his leaving. [6]

Prior to joining Downie, Cody was a feature on the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch show in 1929 and the Bostock Wild Animal Circus in 1934, the year he starred in The Border Menace, called by some "the worst B-Western ever made." [7]

The Reckless Buckaroo

Ray Kirkwood's widow recalled in later years that Kirkwood was very fond of Cody. He planned another series of eight features, co-starring Cody, Sr. and Cody, Jr. for the 1936-37 season, and this was announced in the trade papers. With finances strained, the first film - scripted by Zara Tazil and entitled The Reckless Buckaroo - went into production. During production, Kirkwood's backer, Monarch Laboratories, removed him as producer and ordered him to leave the set, placing director Harry Fraser in charge. By the first of March, 1936, Fraser had finished the picture, but Kirkwood was unable to secure financing for any additional films in the proposed series. The Cody series concluded abruptly, and Kirkwood left Hollywood. [8] Released in 1937 by Crescent Pictures, this proved to be Cody's final starring role.

Later years

Cody's career slowed for a time, and his roles became less, but he still had success throughout his lifetime. Oliver Drake wrote the part of "Sheriff Warren" for him in the RKO film The Fighting Gringo, starring George O'Brien in 1939, and that same year he played a small role in what has been called John Wayne's breakout role, Stagecoach , directed by the legendary John Ford. He is said to have had bit roles in two cliffhangers, G-Men vs the Black Dragon and The Masked Marvel, both in 1943, and in Joan of Arc, released in 1948.

Cody died at age 57 in 1948, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. A funeral Mass was celebrated at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, and Cody was survived by his wife, Victoria Regina, and his sons, Bill, Jr. and Henry.

Partial filmography


  2. Katchmer, George A. Katchmer. A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses, 2009, McFarland, 66-67.
  3. Truitt, Evelyn Mack. Who Was Who On Screen, 1977, Bowker.
  4. Fraser, Harry. I Went That-a-Way, 1990, Scarecrow Press, New York.
  5. Adams, Les, and Buck Rainey. Shoot 'em Ups, 1978, Arlingtom House, New Rochelle, New York.
  6. Bradbury, Joseph T. "Downie Bro's Circus: Part IV--the 1934 and 1935 Seasons." Bandwagon May–June 1976: 15-26.
  7. Hopwood, Jon. “Bill Cody. IMDb Biography. Web. 8 Mar. 2015
  8. Hollywood Reporter, 27 February 1936

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