|Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.|
William Eugene Nestell
1893 - 1966
Bill Nestell often portrayed a blacksmith or miner. Interestingly, he did both of those jobs prior to Hollywood. And he continued mining and searching for gold in his later years. Nestell was big and burly, and his World War II draft registration has him at 290 pounds and 6 feet 1 1/2 inches tall.
He was born March 3, 1893 in San Francisco, California to Edward 'Ned' Nestell and Kitty / Kittie / Katharine Drake Nestell. Father Edward was an entertainer as well as a manager / owner of entertainment venues in California. Born circa 1844, Edward was a military veteran (musician) and passed away November, 1895 in San Francisco. His wife Kitty was 20+ years younger and was also an entertainer. They had three children: Edward Homan Nestell (born 1887), Gertrude Nellie Nestell (born about 1889), and Eugene Nestell (born 1893). San Francisco and Bakersfield, California newspapers had many articles on the family, father Ned, and Ned's death. A couple mentions follow:
Lots of turmoil during the years 1896 - 1905. As noted above, Edward Nestell left little or no money to care for his family. Plus, he didn't want the children to live with wife Kitty / Kittie but to remain with a "Mrs. Rogers" who had been caring for the three children. There were legal efforts by Kitty to gain custody. And she married an Alfred Connors (occupation "blacksmith"). In the 1900 census, the three kids were identified as children of Kitty and Alfred Connors and living in Bakersfield, California. Less than two weeks later, the census was taken at a San Francisco home for boys and Eugene and Edward were "inmates" of that facility. And Ancestry.com had Kern County, California court documents from 1903 - 1905 which awarded custody of the three children to Kittie Connors.
Bill Nestell's occupation is a blacksmith or miner in the 1910 and 1920 census as well as World War I draft registration and two marriage licenses. Unsure how he connected with the movie business - he may have been a local hired by companies filming in the Kern Valley.
His early film appearances include silents with Tom Tyler at FBO, at Universal with Jack Perrin and Rex, the Wonder Horse, and a few Ted Wells and Al Hoxie oaters for bottom-of-the barrel producer / director Robert J. Horner.
Appears that Nestell developed a close relationship with producer Harry 'Pop' Sherman - or people on Sherman's team. During the years 1936 - 1944, he did twenty two Sherman productions (a couple with Richard Dix, one starring Russell Hayden, and many Hopalong Cassidy adventures).
You can also spot him at Republic Pictures with Roy Rogers (8 films), Gene Autry (8 films), and some with Wild Bill Elliott, the Three Mesquiteers, others. He did seven of Tom Keene's RKO oaters; three of Monogram's Rough Riders with Jones, McCoy and Hatton; a couple of Tom Mix's Universal talkies as well as Mix's MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935) serial; and several early 1930s Columbias starring Buck Jones.
In addition to mining, blacksmithing, and acting, trade publications indicate that Nestell was a western music singer:
From the June 21, 1930 Motion Picture News: Bill Nestell, Everett Cheetham, Drew Stanfield and Peewee Holmes, known to radio fans as the 'Trail Herd,' will be heard in Big 4's 'Bar L Ranch,' their first picture." (BAR L RANCH (1930) starred Jay Wilsey / Buffalo Bill Jr. and is among the lost / missing westerns.)
(Courtesy of Phil Arnold)
Above is an autographed photo of Nestell to actor and henchman Jim Mason. The autograph reads:
"To Jimmie Mason
with my best regards
California's Singing Cowboy"
My only recollection of "Bill Nestell, California's Singing Cowboy" doing tunes is in the Three Mesquiteers SHADOW ON THE SAGE (Republic, 1942). At about 7-8 minutes into the film, he's the drunk and cantankerous 'Cherokee Bill'. And while being carted off to jail, Bill sings (yells, screams) the tune "Oh Susanna". Wanting to know more about Nestell's singing, I e-mailed western music researcher / author Kevin Coffey. Kevin was familiar with Everett Cheetham, but had no information on Nestell ... or a 1930s radio group called the "Trail Herd".
Bill Nestell's Hollywood career consisted of about 125 pictures scattered over a twenty five year period from the mid 1920s through about 1950. And most of his roles were uncredited ... which didn't generate a lot of income. Good probability that movie jobs were a lower priority vs. serious gold mining ... or perhaps he had additional occupation(s) that we haven't discovered. As to gold, Bill and western movie vet Fred Burns filed a 1933 claim on the "Helen Galvin" mine ... which happened to be the maiden name of Fred's wife Helen Galvin Burns.
There were four marriages. In 1911, Bill tied the knot with Sophie M. Prewitt (1893 - 1922) and they had two children, Jean Arleigh Nestell (1913 - 2010) and Robert Edward Nestell (1915 - 1975). Sophie passed away in 1922. Then came a 1923 marriage to Clara Butterbredt and there's a newspaper obituary from 1953 for Alice Mildred Nestell (1903 - 1953). Family trees on Ancestry.com have Bill's last wife as Gladys Pearl Kashishian (1908 - 1996).
Bill Nestell passed away on October 18, 1966 in Bishop, Inyo County, California.
His son Bob Nestell (1915 - 1975) won the Golden Gloves and Pacific coast boxing championships in 1935 and became a professional boxer. He played a prizefighter vs. Wayne Morris in KID GALAHAD (Warners, 1937) which starred Edward G. Robinson and Morris.
Bill's older brother, Edward Homan Nestell (1887 - 1923) was a busy actor and manager in vaudeville and traveling repertory companies. Nicknamed "Ted", he and his wife formed the Nestell Stock Company / Nestell Players circa 1913.
Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Bill Nestell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0626525
As mentioned, Nestell did about two dozen films produced by Harry 'Pop' Sherman, most of which were Hopalong Cassidy adventures:
Nestell in 22 films produced by Harry 'Pop' Sherman: http://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0626525,nm0792458
Nestell in 18 Hoppy films with William Boyd: http://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0626525,nm0101955
Above - Bill Nestell in an unbilled role as the local blacksmith in HOPALONG CASSIDY RETURNS (Paramount, 1936).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
From left to right are Cliff Nazarro, Sarah Padden and Bill Nestell in a scene from the Hopalong Cassidy oater IN OLD COLORADO (Harry Sherman Prod./Paramount, 1941). Nestell had an uncredited role as wagon repairman "Lafe".
(Courtesy of Fabian Cepeda)
Above from left to right are Kit Guard, William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Bob Burns, Bill Nestell, and Jack Casey in the Hopalong Cassidy LEATHER BURNERS (United Artists, 1943). Nestell had an unbilled role as a bartender.
Bill Nestell's movie work from 1926 - 1950.There's several years with little or no film appearances ... which would indicate his main employment / work was somewhere else ... probably mining for gold. I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database so the results may be a little skewed. Total films in the chart below = 129.
On the trail of Bill Nestell.
There's three common threads in the information below:
Tidbits from newspapers, trade publications, and other sources. Appears that Nestell was (very) serious about mining for gold.
Find A Grave website has interment info on:
Bill Eugene Nestell (1893 - 1966) is interred at East Line Street Cemetery, Bishop, Inyo County, California: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15355125/eugene-nestell
Bill Nestell's son, Robert Edward Nestell (1915 - 1975).
Bob Nestell was a heavyweight boxer with a record of 27 wins and 15 losses and his first professional fight was in 1936. The Boxing Record and BoxingTreasures websites have more on his career along with photos:
Bill Nestell's brother, Edward Homan Nestell (1887 - 1923).
Bill's older brother Edward Homan Nestell worked in vaudeville and traveling stock companies as an actor and manager. Around 1911, "Ted" Nestell and future wife Edyth La Nora were headlining for the Burgess Stock Company. Circa 1913, they went out on their own and formed the Nestell Stock Company which became the Nestell Players. They married in 1914 and their home base was Rockaway Beach on Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Missouri.
Trade ad from 1913 for a comedian for the Nestell Stock
Company at the Airdome outdoor theater in Albion, Michigan.
1916 ad for E. Homan Nestell's Nestell Players in Kansas.
Lots of mentions of E. Homan Nestell and wife Edyth La Nora in Billboard, Variety, and Clipper tradepapers. Here's a couple later articles:
Bill Nestell's sister, Gertrude Nellie Nestell (1894 - 1966).
Gertrude Nellie Nestell (1894 - 1966) was married to a man with a last name of Breen, and they had a son, Alfred H. Breen. She later married U. S. Navy officer James W. Coghlin (1894 - 1972) and Gertrude and James are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
To view their grave markers, go the Arlington National Cemetery website at: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Find-a-Grave
|More on Nestell and Fred Burns ... Fred's son Forest Burns ... and mining for gold.|
Fred Burns, late 1930s
Forest Burns, late 1930s
|In the information above, there are mentions of Bill Nestell being a miner ... owning a mine ... and partnering with prolific silent and sound western actor Fred Burns on some mining interest.|
And on Bill's World War II draft registration, his contact is Forest Burns, the son of Fred Burns.
Fred's brother Bob Burns was also a prolific silent and sound western player. Hoping to learn more about Nestell and mining, I jotted off an e-mail to May Bopp, Bob Burns' daughter. Below are Nestell remembrances from May:
Yes, they shared mining interests. They all seemed to get along just fine. Fred's son Forest Burns built a nice cabin up on the Kern River where they were looking into the mines. This was in the late 1930s after they were spending a lot of time up there. As you know, the companies used the Kern River for a lot of pictures. Democrat Hot Springs was the name of the resort that was close by. As far as I know they were just playing around at mining. At least I never heard of them making any money at it. About Bill - he had a beautiful voice and even sang in at least one picture that I saw.
May sent some photos of Fred Burns, Forest Burns and Bill Nestell and the Helen Galvin mining claim, and those are on the next webpage.