Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sheb Wooley (1921 - 2003)

I guess everyone over the age of fifty or so remembers the 1958 hit song The Purple People Eater.  It was recorded by Sheb Wooley.  In addition to being a country musician, Wooley was also an actor.

Born Shelby F. Wooley, he started out as a musician, and that led to radio and then movies.  His first film was Rocky Mountain in 1950 with Errol Flynn

Here's an interesting tidbit.  It is suggested that Wooley recorded the famous Wilhelm scream, a sound effect that has been used in over 150 movies, including Star Wars IV: A New Hope and Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.  The scream was originally recorded for a 1951 film, Distant Drums, starring Gary Cooper, and Wolley had a small part in it.  It was found during the making of Star Wars on a reel labeled "Man being eaten by an alligator."

A better role was given to him in 1952's High Noon.  He played Ben Miller and tried to gun down Gary Cooper.  1955 brought him Man Without a Star starring Kirk Douglas, and in 1956 he was in Giant with giants Liz Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.

I think Wooley must have preferred westerns, because that was basically what he did.  There were quite a few TV westerns as well, including all the popular ones from the 1950s and 1960s.  He played Pete Nolan in "Rawhide," working with Clint Eastwood.

He made a few more good movies.  1967 The War Wagon with Kirk Douglas and John Wayne.  1976 The Outlaw Josie Wales working with Clint Eastwood again.  And in 1985, Silverado with Kevin Costner and Kevin Kline.  All westerns.

You know the saying, "what goes around, comes around?"  In 1988 Purple People Eater was made into a movie.  It starred Neil Patrick Harris who played "Doogie Howser" starting the next year on TV; was the first film for a six year old Thora Birch who was later in two Tom Clancy films, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), and was the teenage temptress in American Beauty in 1999; plus Ned Beatty, Chubby Checker and Little Richard (The Original Georgia Peach).

It looks like Sheb Wooley had quite a career on screen for a guy who is known for a comedy recording in 1958!  BTW, it sold 3 million copies and was #1 for six weeks.

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