William Farnum was a major movie actor. One of three brothers, Farnum grew up in a family of actors. He made his acting debut at the age of ten in Richmond, Virginia in a production of Julius Caesar, with Edwin Booth playing the title character. His first major success was as the title character of Ben-Hur in 1900 though replacing the original actor Edward Morgan who premiered the character in 1899. Later plays Farnum appeared in were the costume epic The Prince of India, The White Sister starring Viola Allen, The Littlest Rebel co-starring his brother Dustin and a child actress named Mary Miles Minter & Arizona with Dustin and stage beauty Elsie Ferguson.
In The Spoilers in 1914, Farnum and Tom Santschi staged the classic movie fight of all time. The fight lasted for a full reel and looked as genuine as a filmed fight can possibly look. Every movie fight since has been compared unfavorably to this one. In 1930, Farnum and Stantschi coached Gary Cooper and William Boyd in the fight scene for the 1930 version of The Spoilers. The other two pairs of actors who tried without success to match the first fight were Milton Sills and Noah Beery in 1922 and Randolph Scott and John Wayne in 1942.
From 1915 to 1925, Farnum devoted his life to motion pictures. When becoming one of the biggest sensations in Hollywood, he also became one of the highest-paid actors, earning $10,000 a week. Farnum’s silent pictures the western Drag Harlan and the drama-adventure If I Were King survive from his years contracted to Fox Films.