Gordon A. Nance was born Oct. 16, 1904, on a farm near Pattonsburg, MO. In 1946, he was rated as the No. 2 Western movie star in America, topped only by Roy Rogers.
Gordon was the son of Leroy Nance and Maude Auldridge Nance. He loved horses and was proficient at roping, bulldogging and bronco busting. At age 16, Gordon won first place at the American Royal as a rodeo rider.
In 1925 at age 21, Gordon used the stage name “Elliott” and appeared in his first film with Clara Bow, Gilbert Roland and Clark Gable. In 1927 he was in John Wayne’s first picture. That same year he married Helen Meyers. In 1935, Gordon was in 22 films, his busiest year.
In 1938 he changed his name to Bill Elliott and played Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Kit Carson. In 1939 he was joined by sidekick Dub “Cannonball” Taylor. Gordon was in the Top 5 Western stars for 10 years during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1943 he stared a series as Wild Bill Elliott and in 1944 played in the popular Red Ryder series with 16 installments, some with Bobby Blake as Little Beaver. Gordon also played in a series on the radio in the early 1950s. He made his last movie in 1957, a detective story named “Footsteps in the Night.”
Gordon retired at age 53 and moved to a ranch near Las Vegas. He remarried in 1961 to Dolly Moore. He died of cancer in 1965 at age 61 and was buried at Las Vegas.
The touch that set Bill Elliott apart from other “B Western” gunslingers was the way he wore his guns and by the way he not always made it a fair fight. Elliott wore his two guns backwards and high at the belt line. After the cross draw, he would move his guns, giving the impression of throwing bullets. Elliott sometimes used a bull whip and was known to kick a villain when he was down or to beat the truth out of a villain while holding a gun on him.
Gordon was slender with a hawk-like nose and flashing eyes. He had a distinctive, clipped speech and deep resonant voice. He didn’t wear flashy clothing as other movie stars did, but did begin to wear “the tall hat with a good roll” in later years.
Gordon was a true rodeo champion that became a western movie star. He had his own ideas about what and how a cowboy should act in the movies.
Written by David Stark, Gallatin, in August, 1993. Loren and Rose Clay of Pattonsburg supplied pictures, assisted by Forest Meadows.