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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.

Nelson McDowell

Full name:
James Nelson McDowell
Nelson James McDowell

187? - 1947


Missouri born Nelson McDowell was tall and lanky - and based on e-mails I've received over the years, some people confuse him with Tex Ritter's later sidekick Lloyd 'Arkansas Slim' Andrews. McDowell seemed to specialize in playing undertakers, preachers, lawyers, etc.

He also portrayed an occasional sidekick ... and he did saddle pal duties with Buffalo Bill Jr., Bob Custer, Tex Ritter, Jack Randall, Jack Perrin and Tom Tyler.

In his early years, he was a dentist. His movie career began circa 1917 and over an approximate thirty year period, he appeared in about 200 silent and sound films. Les Adams has McDowell identified in about 106 sound films, of which 68 are westerns and 6 are serials.

Suffering from cancer, McDowell committed suicide, shooting himself on November 3, 1947 at his home.

The Newspaper Archive had articles on McDowell's suicide which were published in the November 3, 1947 Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram and the November 4, 1947 Oakland (California) Tribune. Excerpts: "James Nelson McDowell, 72, one-time movie actor, was found dead today, clutching a frontier .45-caliber pistol he once used as a prop in his pictures."; "James Nelson McDowell, 77, movie bit player committed suicide yesterday, the coroner reported ... "

Rick Albright was able to locate various information on McDowell. Rick adds: although his age jumps around a bit, I think these listings are for the same person. There is no sign of his wife after the travel plans of 1910 and I did not find her in the voter rolls when he appeared there. They may have divorced and he may have been in constant motion looking for acting work/on location and thereby missed by the census takers.

The death certificate on McDowell provides more on the man and his tragic ending - James Nelson McDowell was born August 14, 1870 in Greenfield, Missouri to Nelson Vurdine McDowell and Anna Hampton. He lived at 5302 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; was not a military veteran; and was divorced from Sophia McDowell. He died on November 3, 1947 at his home from a gunshot wound to the head. There was a coroner's investigation and his death was ruled a suicide. Death certificate informant was "Harry S. Burger, Friend". Utter-McKinley was the funeral director and burial at Valhalla.

The California Death Index mirrors the death certificate - James Nelson McDowell was born 8/14/1870 in Missouri, Mother's maiden name of Hampton, and he passed away in the Los Angeles area on 11/3/1947.

Find A Grave has a photo of the marker for James Nelson McDowell who is interred at Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California:

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

Left is a screen capture of McDowell as "preacher David Gamut" from the 1920 silent THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1920) with Wallace Beery as "Magua, War Chief of the Hurons".

A dozen years later, McDowell reprised that same role in the serial THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932) which starred Harry Carey and featured Bob Kortman as "Magua".

McDowell also played the same role in the silent and sound versions of the Charles Dickens novel "Oliver Twist". He was "Sowerberry" in OLIVER TWIST (Coogan Productions, 1922) starring Jackie Coogan and OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) with Dickie Moore.

(Courtesy of Joe Tufano)

Left to right are William Desmond, Nelson McDowell (with moustache) and an unidentified player in one of Desmond's silent starring westerns or serials for Universal (might be from the lost/missing cliffhanger THE VANISHING RIDER (Universal, 1928)). The unidentified actor reminds me of a youngish Budd Buster.

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

Above are Buffalo Bill Jr. (Jay Wilsey) and his saddle pal Nelson McDowell in LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above top from L-to-R are Frank Yaconelli, Jack Randall and Nelson McDowell getting ready to surprise Bud Osborne (with the Winchester) and Robert Walker in Randall's PIONEER DAYS (Monogram, 1940).

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

Above is a cast and crew shot from LIGHTNING BILL (Superior, 1934), and in the background is the National Recording Co. sound truck. Most of the crew members are unidentified, but the performers include Nelson McDowell, Eva McKenzie, William 'Bill' McCall, heroine Alma Rayford, Jay Wilsey (Buffalo Bill Jr.), Denver Dixon (Victor Adamson), Bud Osborne and Black Jack Ward, Below is a crop/blowup from that cast and crew shot with names added on some of the faces.

Tidbit about Eva McKenzie (upper left in the photo): her husband Bob McKenzie did a bunch of westerns, and their pretty daughter Fay McKenzie was a heroine to Bob Baker, Ken Maynard, others. To western film fans, Fay is probably best remembered as the female lead in five 1941 - 1942 Gene Autry Republic oaters.

Above and below - Bill McCall circa 1935

William "Bill" McCall

1870 - 1938

Illinois born William McCall worked in about 230 films during a twenty year film career that spanned from about 1918 through his passing in 1938. Some of his silent screen appearances were in Mack Sennett comedies. Note that 1918 start year - if correct, McCall would have been in his late forties when he began doing movies.

There are a few traces of his early life prior to Hollywood. We do know that he married Catherine Schomer on February 7, 1900 in Denver, Colorado. And according to the 1900 census, both Bill and Catherine were working in traveling repertory companies and their occupations were Variety - Actor and Actress, respectively.

Les Adams has McCall identified in about 80 sound films, of which 56 are westerns and 6 are serials. He did sound era westerns with Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill Jr. (Jay Wilsey), Reb Russell, Jack Hoxie, Bob Steele, others. In these, he was generally unbilled/uncredited as a townsman, saloon patron, lawman, etc. On a few occasions, he portrayed the kindly old father of the heroine. He also did a few 1930s Columbia shorts with Charley Chase, Shemp Howard, Andy Clyde and the Three Stooges.

William C. McCall suffered a heart attack and passed away at his home on January 10, 1938.

The Family Search website, California Death Index, ProQuest obituaries, and the death certificate provide more on Bill McCall:

  • Colorado Marriage Index (not the marriage license) - Wm. McCall and Catherine Schomer were married February 7, 1900 in Denver, Colorado:
  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - 30 year old William McCall (born Illinois) and 24 year old wife Katharine [sic] S. (born Wisconsin) were lodgers residing in Telluride, San Miguel County, Colorado. They've been married for three years and occupations were "Variety - Actor and Actress":
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - 48 year old William McCall (born Illinois), his 43 year old wife Catherine (born Wisconsin) and 39 year old sister-in-law Josephine Schomer (born Illinois) were renting at 447 1/2 Flower Street, Los Angeles. McCall's occupation was "Actor - Picture Studio":
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 59 year old William McCall (born Illinois), his 54 year old wife Catherine (born Wisconsin) and 50 year old sister-in-law Josephine Schomer (born Illinois) were renting at 9043 Lloyd Place, Beverly Hills, California. McCall was not a military veteran and his occupation was "Actor - Motion Pict Studio":
  • Death certificate - 67 year old William McCall, occupation "Actor - Motion Pictures", was born in Illinois on May 19, 1870 to William McCall and mother's name was unknown. He and wife Catherine McCall lived at 9043 Lloyd Place, Hollywood, California, and McCall passed away at his home on January 10, 1938. Cause of death was coronary thrombosis and arteriosclerosis. Cremation at Hollywood Crematory.
  • California Death Index for 1905-1939 has a record for William C. McCall who passed away on January 10, 1938.
  • ProQuest obituaries had a (brief) funeral notice in the January 11, 1938 Los Angeles (California) Times newspaper. Excerpt: "William McCall, beloved husband of Catherine McCall. Services Wednesday ..."

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

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Jack Rockwell, H. B. Warner, Ken Maynard, Evalyn Knapp and Kenneth Thomson. The face between Maynard and H. B. Warner is William (Bill) McCall. Lobby card from IN OLD SANTA FE (Mascot, 1934).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above are Bill Cody, Bill Cody Jr. and Catherine Cotter looking over the prone William 'Bill' McCall in a scene from OUTLAWS OF THE RANGE (Spectrum, 1936) which marked the end of Bill Cody's career as a western leading man. McCall played a kindly ol' rancher and Catherine Cotter was his daughter. Cotter made about a half-dozen mid 1930s oaters with Cody, Bob Steele and Fred Scott ... and then disappeared.

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