If you’re thinking, wait a minute, Sheb Wooley is a western TV and movie star, you would be right. However, no one can make it thru a Halloween season without hearing, “Purple People Eater” at least once.
Shelby Francis Wooley was born in 1921 in Erick Oklahoma. Growing up on a farm, Sheb learned to ride horses, became a working cowboy and an accomplished rodeo rider, even as a teen. At 15, he found he had a talent of music and formed a country-western band, “Plainview Melody Boys.” Sheb married a cousin of Roger Miller, who would become a songwriter and musical star himself. They became friends. Sheb even showed Miller how to play the guitar.
When World War II started, Sheb tried to enlist, but was reject due to numerous injuries he had sustained in rodeos, so he became a welder in the oil industry in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1950, Sheb and his second wife moved to Hollywood, hoping to establish himself as an actor and singer in movies and TV, which was brand new. His dream came true and he went on to act in dozens of westerns from the 50s to the 90s, including ‘High Noon.’ He would also go on to write and direct, as well as act, in numerous TV shows.
In the late 50s, Sheb recorded a quirky little novelty tune, “The Purple People Eater.” It soared to #1 on the Pop chart and is still a huge Halloween hit, even today. Other songs he recorded include, “That’s My Pa,” in 1962. Later that same year, he had intended to record, “Don’t Go Near the Indians,” but was delayed due to filming a movie, so it was recorded by Rex Allen. She decided to record a ‘sequel’ or parody called, “Don’t Go Near the Eskimos,” using the name ‘Ben Colder’ (for I’ve never been colder). The song was so popular that Sheb decided to record more parodies under this name, but also decided to do it as a slightly inebriated individual. Several parodies followed.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Sheb became a semi-regular on the television series, “Hee-Haw.” He even wrote the show’s theme song. Sometimes, he would appear as Ben Colder and other times as himself.
Sheb is also credited with recording the Wilhelm Scream which is a short stock recording of a man screaming that has been used in over 360 movies. beginning in 1951 for the film ‘Distant Drums,’ which also co-starred Wooley. The sound is named after Private Wilhelm, a character in, ‘The Charge at Feather River,’ a 1953 Western in which the character gets shot in the thigh with an arrow.
Sheb Wooly died in 2003 after a long illness.
That’s My Pa – Sheb Wooley
Don’t Go Near The Eskimos – Ben Colder
The Wilhelm Scream sound effect