Guinn (Big Boy) Williams, Jr., screen actor, the son of Minnie (Leatherwood) and Guinn Terrell Williams, was born on April 26, 1899, at Decatur, Texas. Named for his father, a congressman and successful stockman and banker, Williams was educated in the public school system of Decatur. Following his graduation from high school, he attempted to turn his boyhood love, baseball, into a profession. In 1919, however, he arrived in Hollywood and was attracted by the energy and uniqueness of the young motion picture business. His good looks and horsemanship resulted in a film contract with the Goldwyn movie studio. After serving as a bit player in a number of films in 1919–20, Williams became a successful character actor in a series of westerns during the 1920s. He performed with such silent screen stars as Thomas Edwin (Tom) Mix, Harry Carey, and Will Rogers. It was Rogers who dubbed the Texan "Big Boy," a nickname that stayed with him throughout his life. Rogers and Williams became close friends, in part because of their love of horses. Throughout the 1920s Williams was a featured performer in the Will Rogers rodeo shows that traveled throughout the country. The 1930s brought a close to the first era of the film industry. Unlike many of his colleagues, Williams easily made the transition from the silent screen to the "talkies." Although he continued to be cast in westerns, "Big Boy" also had supporting roles in comedies such as Bachelor Father (1931) and dramas such as The Glass Key (1935), A Star Is Born (1937), and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1943). Playing the cowboy, however, enabled him to act in six straight decades. His last two films, The Alamo (1960) and The Comancheros (1962) found the veteran character actor in support of the modern Tom Mix, John Wayne. Throughout his career the trademark of "Big Boy" was the puzzled squint of the slow-witted cowhand who attempts to understand an involved situation or the amicable tough guy who is too kind-hearted to be mean. His ability to bring a freshness to these two stock character roles provided over forty years of continuous employment in a business not noted for job security. His successful acting career enabled him to own a home in Van Nuys, California, and a 5,500 acres ranch near Spofford, Texas. Films also allowed him to pursue his hobby, polo. At one time he owned 125 polo ponies. An accomplished player, Williams was called the Babe Ruth of polo because of the distance he could hit the ball. In 1962 Williams was scheduled to star in a new television series, "Buttons and Bows." Shortly after the pilot for the show was filmed, however, he died in Van Nuys on June 6, 1962. He was survived by his wife Dorothy and their son, Tyler. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
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New York Times, June 7, 1962. John T. Weaver, Twenty Years of Silents, 1908–1928 (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1971).
Sports and Recreation
Sports (Horse Racing and Polo)
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Williams, Guinn, Jr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 02, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
March 19, 2019