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RG4672.AM:  Pierce Lyden, 1908-1998

Papers:  1927-1997

Franklin County, Nebraska, and Hollywood, California:  Actor

Size:  0.5 cu.ft.; 1 box


Pierce Lyden was born in a sod house on a ranch near Hildreth in rural Franklin County, Nebraska, on January 8, 1908. Son of a horse buyer for the U.S. Army cavalry, he acquired as a youngster riding skills that later made it possible for him to do his own stunts as an actor in Hollywood westerns. He attended the Naponee, Nebraska, High School, and acted in several plays there; he graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Music and Fine Arts in 1927 and later studied at the Emerson College of Oratory in Boston. Lyden supported himself in these early years by playing romantic leads in stock company productions in Lincoln and on the road; he appeared in a few Chautauqua presentations.

When talking movies eclipsed live theater presentations in small towns, Pierce Lyden went on to Hollywood in 1932. There he played villains’ roles in B Western films, quickly becoming typecast as a “bad guy,” specializing in fight scenes. He appeared in Saturday serials called “cliffhangers” as well as in feature films and television series. The number of his movie roles has been estimated at between 300 and 400 (actors who did not have major parts were not listed in film credits); he also appeared in about 150 episodes of “The Cisco Kid,” “Wild Bill Hickok,” “The Lone Ranger,” and other television series. He worked with the most famous Western movie actors, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. He was Photo Press Fan Poll “Villain of the Year” in 1944.

In 1962, as the popularity of Westerns lessened, Lyden retired in Orange, California, where he had lived throughout his acting career. He wrote “Action Shots” about film personalities for the Orange County, California, Register, and the film industry magazine Classic Images; he published five books about his career and the making of films in his era. In his later years he was regularly invited to film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Honors awarded him included membership in the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Heritage Foundation (1979) and the Golden Boot Award (1992). In 1989 Naponee, Nebraska, named a street for him and held a Pierce Lyden film festival; in 1997 he received Nebraska’s Buffalo Bill Award. He died on October 10, 1998, at his California home.


The Pierce Lyden Collection consists of two series. Series 1 houses materials related to Lyden’s career as a stage, movie, and television actor: programs from plays performed in Lincoln, Nebraska, and elsewhere in the late 1920s; publicity stills (primarily copies) and plot summaries of some of his Hollywood films and television work; publicity for and accounts of his appearances after retirement at film festivals; descriptions of awards presented to him. An inventory of the University of Wyoming’s Pierce Lyden Collection is included. Lyden’s writings make up Series 2. Along with miscellaneous letters from fans and editors there is an interesting exchange between the actor and his son Donald, a lawyer, regarding a request from the University of Wyoming for Lyden to donate his materials to its archive on the history of twentieth century theatre, radio, cinema, and television. The series also includes selections from the series of “Action Shots” written by Lyden in the 1980s for the Orange County, California Register.

Note:  See the photo component [RG4672.PH] for related photographs. See the NSHS Library Catalog for books written by/about Pierce Lyden.


Series 1 – Acting career

Box 1


  1. Clippings and publicity sketches, 1978-1994

  2. Scrapbook 1: Orange County, California, Register articles regarding Pierce Lyden, 1978-1979

  3. Inventory of Pierce Lyden Collection at the University of Wyoming

  4. Theater performances, 1927-1930

  5. Hollywood career, 1941-1962

  6. Appearances at film festivals, 1986-1995

  7. Awards, 1989-1997

Series 2 – Writings

  1. Correspondence, 1981-1989

  2. Scrapbook 2: “Action Shots,” 1979-1980

  3. Scrapbook 3: “Action Shots” and clippings regarding Pierce Lyden, 1981-1984

  4. Clippings of articles by Pierce Lyden regarding himself and others, 1980-1994



Actors — Nebraska

Lyden, Pierce, 1908-1998


BQ/tmm   10-2005

Encoded TMM   06-16-2010