Wills in 1941
|Born||Theodore Childress Wills
July 18, 1902
Seagoville, Dallas County
|Died||December 15, 1978
Encino, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cancer|
|Resting place||Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California|
|Spouse(s)||Hattie Elizabeth "Bettie" Chappelle
(1928–1971, her death)
Novadeen Googe (1973–1978, his death)
Wills was born in 1902 in Seagoville, Dallas County, Texas. He was a performer from early childhood, forming and leading the Avalon Boys singing group in the 1930s. After appearing in a few westerns, he disbanded the group in 1938 and struck out on a solo acting career.
One of his more memorable roles was that of the distinctive voice of Francis the Mule in a series of popular films. Wills' deep, rough voice and Western twang were matched to the personality of the cynical, sardonic mule. As was customary at the time, Wills was given no billing for his vocal work, though he was featured prominently on-screen as blustery General Ben Kaye in the fourth entry, Francis Joins the WACS. He provided the deep voice for Stan Laurel's performance of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" in Way Out West (1937), in which the Avalon Boys Quartet appeared.
Wills was cast in numerous serious film roles, including that of Uncle Bawley in Giant (1956), which also features Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Wills was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1960 for his role as Davy Crockett's companion "Beekeeper" in the film The Alamo. However, his aggressive campaign for the award was considered tasteless by many, including the film's star/director/producer, John Wayne, who publicly apologized for Wills. Wills' publicity agent, W.S. "Bow-Wow" Wojciechowicz, accepted blame for the ill-advised effort, claiming that Wills had known nothing about it. The Oscar was instead won by Peter Ustinov for his role as Lentulus Batiatus in Spartacus.
Wills was a poker player and a close friend of Benny Binion, the founder of the World Series of Poker and former owner of Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wills participated in the first World Series, held in 1970, and is seated in the center of the famous picture with a number of legendary players.
From 1961 to 1962, Wills starred in the short-run series Frontier Circus which aired for only one season on CBS. In 1966, Wills was cast in the role of a shady Texas rancher, Jim Ed Love, in the short-lived ABC comedy/western series The Rounders (reprising his role in the 1965 film The Rounders), with co-stars Ron Hayes, Patrick Wayne and Walker Edmiston.
In 1963-64, Wills joined William Lundigan, Walter Brennan and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in making appearances on behalf of U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the campaign against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1968 Wills refused to support Richard M. Nixon for the presidency and served as master of ceremonies for George C. Wallace, former governor of Alabama, for the California campaign stops in Wallace's presidential campaign. With Walter Brennan, Wills was among the few Hollywood celebrities to endorse Wallace's bid against Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey.
In 1968, he starred in Gunsmoke episode "A Noose for Dobie Price". where he played Elihu Gorman, a former outlaw who joins forces with Marshal Matt Dillon, played by James Arness, to track down a member of his former gang who has escaped jail.
- It's a Gift (1934)
- Bar 20 Rides Again (1935)
- Way Out West (1937) as himself
- Allegheny Uprising (1939) as John M'Cammon
- Boom Town (1940)
- The Westerner (1940)
- Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940)
- Western Union (1941) as Homer Kettle
- The Bad Man (1941)
- Belle Starr (1941)
- The Bugle Sounds (1942)
- Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)
- Stand by for Action (1942)
- A Stranger in Town (1943)
- Best Foot Forward (1943)
- Barbary Coast Gent (1944)
- Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
- Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944)
- I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
- See Here, Private Hargrove (1944)
- Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
- The Harvey Girls (1946)
- The Yearling (1946)
- The Saxon Charm (1948)
- Red Canyon (1949) as Brackton
- Tulsa (1949) as Pinky Jimpson
- Family Honeymoon (1949)
- Francis (1950) (voice)
- High Lonesome (1950)
- Rio Grande (1950) as Dr. Wilkins
- Francis Goes to the Races (1951) (voice)
- Cattle Drive (1951)
- Francis Goes to West Point (1952) (voice)
- Francis Covers the Big Town (1953) (voice)
- City That Never Sleeps (1953)
- Francis Joins the WACS (1954) as General Benjamin Kaye and voice of Francis
- Francis in the Navy (1955) (voice)
- Kentucky Rifle (1956) as Tobias
- Giant (1956) as Uncle Bawley
- Gun Glory (1957)
- Gun for a Coward (1957) as Loving
- From Hell to Texas (1958) as Amos Bradley
- The Sad Horse (1959)
- The Alamo (1960) Beekeeper
- Where the Boys Are (1960)
- Gold of the Seven Saints (1961)
- The Deadly Companions (1961) as "a half-crazed card shark"
- Gunsmoke (1962) as Abe Blocker
- The Cardinal (1963) as Monsignor Whittle
- McLintock! (1963) as Drago
- The Wheeler Dealers (1963) as Jay Ray
- The Rounders (1965)
- The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) as George Asque, retired Texas Ranger
- Big Daddy (1969)
- The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again (1970) as George Asque
- The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) as Mr. Ike
- The Steagle (1971)
- Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) as Lemuel
- Mr. Billion (1977)
- Poco... Little Dog Lost (1977)
- Ancestry.com info
- Clark, Donald, & Christopher P. Andersen. John Wayne's The Alamo: The Making of the Epic Film, Carol: 1995.
- "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- "The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party". ashbrook.org. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
- The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, by Dan T. Carter (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995, 2000), pg. 314; ISBN 0-8071-2597-0
- Kehr, Dave, "Early Salvos From ‘Bloody Sam’", New York Times, May 12, 2013; retrieved 2013-05-14.
- Weiler, A. H. (September 16, 1971). "The Steagle (1971) A Brazilian Youth's Joys and Shocks:' Plantation Boy' Opens at 5th Ave. Cinema Benjamin Proves Deft Comic in 'The Steagle'". The New York Times.
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