Shelby F. Wooley aka “Sheb”, was born on April 10, 1921 in Erick, Oklahoma. Best known for his portrayal as Pete Nolan on the television western series Rawhide. He was brought up on a farm and learned to ride horses at a very young age. He worked as a cowboy and rodeo rider and played in a country and western band. Music was a major interest of Sheb’s so his father bought him his first guitar. The Wooleys saw some bad times during the depression and the dust bowl. During World War II, he tried to enlist but was turned down due to his various rodeo injuries. In 1946 he moved to Fort Worth, TX, becoming a country and western musician.
Western Films and Shows:
In 1949 he moved to Hollywood and appeared in dozens of western films from the 1950s through 1970s. In 1952, he was cast in his most notable movie High Noon, starring Gary Cooper.
High Noon Scenario:
Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), sentenced to hang, was pardoned on a legal technicality. He vowed to get revenge on Will Kane (Gary Cooper). Miller’s three gang members were Sheb Wooley as younger brother Ben, Lee Van Cleef as Jack Colby and Robert Wilke as Pierce. High Noon, to this date, is considered one of the finest westerns ever made.
In 1954, he played the outlaw Jim Younger in the western series Stories of the Century, starring Jim Davis who went on to portray patriarch Jock Ewing in the hugely popular television series Dallas. He played Carl five times the western series The Adventures of Kit Carson (1951-1955). He appeared in the role of Bill Bronson in the television series The Cisco Kid and guest starred as Harry Runyon in The Unmasking episode on My Friend Flicka. In 1958 he played Baxter in the movie Terror in a Texas Town.
In 1959 he was cast as his best known television character, Pete Nolan in the very popular western Rawhide (1959 – 1966).
Singer, Song Writer, Musician:
In 1958, Sheb embarked on a recording career with a novelty song that was number one on the US Charts “Purple People Eater”. This song tells the story of a creature: one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater, who descends to earth because he wants to be in a rock’n roll band!
After hearing a joke told by a good friend’s child, Sheb finished composing the song in under one hour. He went on to record various other novelty hits, but none that matched the popularity of Purple People Eater.
Want a Little Humor? Here’s Purple People Eater!
He had a string of country hits, including That’s My Pa which reached No. 1. He was a regular on the popular television show Hee Haw, which he had written the theme song for. He also recorded various songs using the name Ben Colder. He got the name from a song recorded Don’t Go Near the Eskimos. The song was about an Alaskan boy named Ben Colder. The song was so successful, he continued using the name for 40 years.
On a special note: In the 1940s, Sheb took an interest in his wife’s cousin; composer singer, musician — Roger Miller. He purchased Roger a fiddle and taught him how to play chords.
He was also credited as the voice actor for Wilhelm Scream, having appeared on a memo as a voice extra for Distant Drums. Wilhelm Scream is a film and television stock sound effect, first used in 1951 for the film Distant Drums. This effect gained popularity after it was used in Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Disney cartoons. It has been used in many television programs and video games. This scream was usually used when someone was shot, falling off great heights or from explosions.
Sheb was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998, spending the following years in and out of hospitals. On September 16, 2003 Sheb Wooley passed away at 82 years of age. He was buried in Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
He contributed a great deal of fine work to the television and motion picture industry and will be sadly missed. Like many of his fellow actors, he was a member of the greatest generation this country has ever seen.