The Unfamous of Hollywood — Billy Hill — He Wrote “The Last Roundup” (1934) 🇺🇸

Billy Hill |

February 02, 2022

Billy Hill — Yankee cowboy from Roxbury, Massachusetts. Name’s no gaggy nom de plume suggesting Hill Billy. It’s the way he was christened, back in 1899. That is, to be more exact — William Joseph Hill is the monicker.

by Irene Thirer

You know him as composer of the song which has captivated continents — “The Last Roundup.” Paramount Pictures Corporation thought so much of the musical number that they have purchased the right to use this title on their Zane Grey, super-special “The Lone Cowboy.” And, with the picture’s name changed, Billy Hill will share credits with the Western writer of prominence.

Three years ago, Billy Hill didn’t have much more than a buck to his name. He quit home at the age of eighteen and trekked westward, spending several years in California’s Death Valley on a cattle ranch. He’s six feet three, weighs 195 pounds, is powerfully strong and sings a fine baritone.

Although he hailed from New England, he took to ranching with fervor. Loved it — but found it no way to make money — until publication date of “The Last Roundup.” So, he quit the mountains for the studios of Hollywood. And some four years ago he peddled his musical wares to independent companies in the cinema city — earning as much as fifteen or twenty dollars for a song. If he netted twenty-five bucks it was a dandy day.

And there came to the land of the fillums one certain gentleman named Louis Bernstein, of Shapiro-Bernstein, Broadway music publishers. That was about three years back. Later on, through an agent, Mr. Bernstein heard a number of Hill’s tunes — words and music by Billy.

Said Louis B. to Billy H.: “You haven’t got anything I can use now. But you’ve got style. And any time you figure on quitting Hollywood and coming to Broadway, you can have a job with my firm. I’ll even send you your fare to New York.”

The months elapsed. Eventually Bernstein heard from Hill. Bernstein immediately wired him seventy-five dollars. Hill bought a fifth-hand Ford for forty dollars, a marriage license for two dollars, said “I do” to Didette Lee, erstwhile film actress. And they started eastward for the big- town. The automobile lasted until they reached the Bronx where they presented it as a gift to a garage man, and took the subway downtown to the Shapiro-Bernstein offices.

Billy went to work. He’s a prolific writer — could turn out a song a day but doesn’t because his employers want him to take his time and write only hits. They hail him as the Berlin of today; feel that his music — especially “The Last Roundup” — will last. This one, they believe, will become an American folk song in the manner of “Swanee River,” “Yankee Doodle” and such. Maybe they’re right, too!

In the past three years, Hill has given the song world “Cuttin’ Down the Old Pine Tree,” “There’s a Cabin in the Pines,” “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” “Louisville Lady,” “Old Man in the Mountain,” “The Last Roundup,” “There’s a Home in Wyoming,” and most recently Rudy Vallee’s new signature song “When the Leaves Turn to Silver.” He wrote “The Last Roundup” last January. From that time on, his life has changed completely.

Source: New Movie MagazineFebruary 1934


This article is part of our Unfamous of Hollywood series: Gilmor BrownNatalie BucknellBebe Daniels & Pauline GallagherHoward DietzElmer DyerGeorge HurrellBilly HillSally RandMurray SpivackGeorge E. Stone