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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

BIG BOY
Guinn "Big Boy" Williams

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

We talk mostly about the "stars" of movies, but we know that character actors can help a film succeed or cause it to fail. One of the best was Guinn Williams, known to generations of filmgoers-especially devotees of Westerns-as Guinn "Big Boy" Williams.

Williams was not an East Texan—he was born in Decatur-but he played one in several movies, and since I want to write about him, he qualifies.

Big and brawny, Williams was the son of a congressman and rancher. He attended public schools and tried to play professional baseball before moving to Hollywood. He received a contract with Goldwyn Studios in 1919 and appeared in several Westerns starring Tom Mix, Harry Carey, and Will Rogers. Williams' horsemanship, learned on a Texas ranch, was an essential skill for the parts he played.

Rogers gave Williams his nickname, "Big Boy," because of his size. Williams appeared in Rogers' Wild West Show on several tours and they remained close friends until Rogers' death in 1935.

Williams made the transition from silent to sound, or "talkie," movies easily because he had a pleasant enough voice, and his heavy Texas accent became an important part of his screen persona. Williams appeared in such non-Westerns as "A Star Is Born" (1937), and "Thirty-Seconds Over Tokyo" (1943), but playing in Westerns gave his career longevity. His final films, "The Alamo" (1960), and "Comancheros" (1962), give evidence of his long association with John Wayne.


A Star Is Born
John Wayne Collection
"The Alamo"

Williams' portrayed characters who were long on muscle and short on brains and grace, and he often emphasized their comedic aspects. In truth, he was a skillful equestrian and an accomplished polo player.

Williams was cast in a new television series in 1962 titled "Buttons and Bows," but he passed away after filming the pilot episode.

"Big Boy" Williams lived most of his life in California, but every time you heard him speak, he sounded pure Texan.
Archie P. McDonald, PhD
All Things Historical
August 28, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.
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