Born: 1896 Passed: 1961
Wilbert Jay Wilsey was born in Clark County, Missouri, in 1896. He learned to ride a horse at a very young age, and when he got older he began appearing on the rodeo circuit. In 1924 he found himself in Hollywood and, hearing that producers were looking for good horsemen for western movies, went looking for work and wound up under contract to producer Lester F. Scott Jr. and his Action Pictures, a low-budget company that produced mostly westerns. The company gave him the stage name “Buffalo Bill Jr.”, although he had no connection whatsoever with the real William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill. Wilsey worked steadily during the silent era, mostly for Scott. He also appeared in a couple of non-westerns for Universal, the serials A Final Reckoning (1928) and The Pirate of Panama (1929).
When sound came along Wilsey didn’t have any trouble making the transition, and along with former colleagues at Action Pictures Buddy Roosevelt and Hal Taliaferro (aka Wally Wales) worked in westerns on a regular basis for a succession of low-budget–VERY low-budget–production companies, such as Big 4, Syndicate, West Coast Pictures and Cosmos Pictures. Wilsey worked for notorious micro-budget producer Victor Adamson (aka Denver Dixon and the father of 1960s schlock director/producer Al Adamson) in a string of ultra-cheap westerns that are considered among the worst pictures–let alone westerns–ever made. Inept and shoddy in every conceivable aspect of filmmaking–the budget on the 1934 Adamson western “Lightning Bill” was so low that its title card was misspelled as Lighting Bill (1934) and Adamson couldn’t afford to have the card redone–they nevertheless made money because the budgets were so rock-bottom they didn’t have to sell all that many tickets in order to make a profit.
Wilsey stayed mired at the bottom of the Hollywood food chain, churning out not only cheap features but also even cheaper two-reelers for such quickie producers as William M. Pizor of Imperial Pictures. He also ground out several “Z” westerns for infamous fly-by-night schlockmeister Robert J. Horner, whose “epics” made the bottom-of-the-barrel films Wilsey turned out for Adamson look like Gone with the Wind (1939) by comparison. Wilsey was paid a pittance for the independent westerns he made–his colleague Buddy Roosevelt is known to have gotten $250 for each three-day wonder he made for Victor Adamson, so Wilsey’s pay was most likely about the same–and as starring roles in the independent “B” westerns dried up he took to accepting supporting parts and stunt work in other cowboy stars’ westerns and personal appearances at rodeos and “wild west” shows. His last film role was in the John Wayne Cold War propaganda piece Big Jim McLain (1952), in which Wayne, as an investigator ferreting out Communist subversives, travels to Hawaii to root out Commies plotting to take over the islands. Wilsey, unbilled, has a one-line role as a Communist labor organizer.
After Wilsey retired, he and his wife, actress Genee Boutell, spent much time on board their 42-foot-long saiboat, the “Ruana”, which Wilsey had built himself, and sailed all over the Pacific Ocean, to such places as Mexico, Hawaii and Tahiti. Jay Wilsey died of lung cancer on October 25, 1961, in Los Angeles.