Sheb Wooley, Actor, Star of Rawhide and High Noon

Posted on Mar 23, 2012 under ARCHIVES | 5 Comments

April 10, 1921 – Sept 16, 2003

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.

High Noon 1952

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.

His Death:

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.

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5 Responses to “Sheb Wooley, Actor, Star of Rawhide and High Noon”

  1. Lotti Patoni Says:

    I decided to watch the Rawhide Series thru netflic. I had been watching Rawhide reruns on Dish, but the shows skipped around and were not in order. I like the character Pete Nolan and wanted to know why did he leave the Rawhide series? I also liked the characters, Mushy,Will Scarlet,and Jesus who took care of the horses in Rawhide and I wanted to know what happened to them. If you can throw me some insight as to what happen to these characters, please let me know.
    Thank you,

  2. ellent Says:

    Hi Lotti,

    Sheb Wooley, Paul Brinegar (Wishbone), James Murdock (Mushy) Steve Raines (Jim Quince), Rocky Shahan (Joe Scarlet) and Robert Cabal (Hey Soos – which is actually how they spelled it) all remained on the show from 1959 until 1965, which was the last year the show ran an entire season. With the removal of Eric Fleming the show just fell apart, so 1966 did not fare well. The producers felt Eastwood could carry the show and they proved to be totally wrong. The viewing audience wanted Fleming and so they just stopped watching the show. Many of these people appeared in other westerns, including Gunsmoke as that show ran longer than all the others. After the Gunsmoke years, James Murdock kind of fell off the map. There’s little to no information regarding him beyond those years. Paul Brinegar continued for many years in westerns and other shows. He was very popular in the comedic westerns that surfaced in the 70′s. Some of the actors, such as Sheb Wooley had started off with western music and continued doing that for a number of years.

    I hope this answers some of your questions, I will try and get more info on these guys and if I do I will be more than happy to add them on this blog. Thank you so much for your comment and I hope you continue to enjoy my postings. The Golden Age of Westerns was an amazing time!


  3. Cherie Goldberg Says:

    I had been enjoying the reruns of Rawhide and had wondered what had become of Eric Fleming, not realizing that he had died tragically do
    to drowning. About two weeks ago, they stopped running episodes on Direct TV on encore western channel. I miss viewing those episodes so much, it was great tv, much better than today’s programming. It went for 7 years, so there should be plenty of episodes that could still be aired, Rawhide fans need to write into the station that presents
    these great western shows, maybe we can get them back on for everyone to enjoy. True western fan.

  4. Cherie Goldberg Says:

    I did not realize that Eric Fleming had died, but recently found out that information. Direct TV had run reruns of Rawhide on the Encore western channel and looked forward to seeing them every day, but about two weeks ago they stopped showing Rawhide. It was much better programming than what is on today. Maybe we can all write to the Encore folks and ask them to air Rawhide again. Seems Wyatt Earp has taken its place along with Bonanza, which are good too, but not the same as Rawhide. Cint Eastwood had not reached his real stardom yet,
    until after he did all of the spaghetti westerns in Spain, too bad, or Rawhide would have continued for a long time.

  5. ellent Says:

    Hi Cherie, I couldn’t agree more. I was very disappointed to see Encore make some of the changes they have made. I’m not a huge Wyatt fan so really didn’t like seeing Rawhide go away. The upside is, these stations keep changing their lineup so hopefully Rawhide will be back soon. Eric was a wonderful actor who constantly showed his skills from years in theater.

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