Tom Willett

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Tom Willett
Willett as a cowboy in the 1980s
Thomas Willett

1938 (age 85–86)
Other namesHerman Schmerdley
Occupation(s)Actor, singer-songwriter, YouTuber
Years active1956–present
Known forThe Featureman YouTube Channel
Notable workDear John
YouTube information
Years active2006–present
Subscribers400,000 Edit this at Wikidata[1]
(May 2023)
100,000 subscribers2019

Thomas Willett (born 1938)[2] is an American television and film actor, record producer, singer-songwriter, and YouTuber. Called the "modern-day silent screen star", Willett is best known for playing non-speaking roles, such as the character Tom on the sitcom television series Dear John which ran on NBC from 1988 to 1992.[2]


In April 1956 at age 17, Willett moved to Los Angeles. He produced country music records in the evenings, while working at a furniture warehouse during the day. His label was called Freeway Records and boasted releases by musicians such as Greg Penny; as well as Willett's own piano-playing alter-ego, "Herman Schmerdley".[3] One of his songs, a rockabilly tune called "Mona Lisa", received significant airplay and allowed Willett the opportunity to perform on such shows as The Gong Show. For several years, Willett produced numerous records under his pseudonym, mostly covers and original tunes;[4] until the market for country music singles began to dwindle. "The country singles market is somewhat limited," he once said in an interview, "and that's going to hurt us because we're putting out country singles."[4] Following his recording career, Willett toured for a short period of time, performing in piano bars[3] and honky-tonks throughout the south.[4] By 1962, Willett moved to Las Vegas where he took up writing material for second rate comedy acts.[2] In addition to writing comedic routines, he also wrote country tunes for various rising stars, including Roy Clark.

After a short stint as a disc jockey at KENO radio, Willett began landing bit parts in films and television shows. "I've been in some dreadful movies," Willett once said.[2] One of his first gigs was as an extra in the 1975 American comedy-drama film Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins.[citation needed] More notable roles include playing opposite Mary Steenburgen in the film Melvin and Howard, along with television spots in shows such as Happy Days, The Drew Carey Show and Dear John.

Willett wearing a police uniform

On the series Dear John, Willett played a character that never spoke. For the auditions, Willett recalls that he beat out the other applicants by wearing a suit with wide lapels and a "behind-the-times" tie. "They told me the guy should be well-dressed," Willett said, "and he should be immaculate, but there's got to be something wrong about him. So I made him 15 years behind the times."[2] When it came to auditions, Willett said, "You're not supposed to crash auditions, but I crashed auditions."[3] Standing 6-foot 5 inches tall,[4] Willett invested small amounts of money in audition attire. "One of the things I did, I got an Abe Lincoln beard and hat and everything. I was Abe Lincoln in a lot of productions ... I could be a cowboy, I could be a prisoner, I could be a detective."

According to Willett, he has had "over 800 jobs in front of the camera", including over 100 films, 80 television movies and more than 145 TV programs; mostly uncredited and non-speaking roles.[2][5]

YouTube channel

Willett made his first YouTube video in 2006;[3] but it was not until August 2012 that his YouTube work was noted in media with a 10-minute video tutorial entitled "How to Eat a Watermelon". The Huffington Post called him "the Bob Ross of watermelon eating".[6][7]

Called a "YouTube sensation" in the Nashville Scene,[3] Willett's channel is titled Featureman. Online food reviewer Clayton Trutor commented in 2021 that Willett has a "refreshing appreciation for the ordinary" and "the ability to make the seemingly mundane seem awfully interesting".[7]

Legal issues

In the mid-1970s, Willett received three life sentences from a Nevada court on the grounds of "infamous crime against nature". He was placed on probation after the sentences were suspended. In 2023, he spoke of the ruling in a YouTube video which he later deleted.[3]


(partial listing of notable television and film appearances)

Year Title Role Note
1979–1980 Vega$ Gambler / Coroner 3 episodes
1977–1982 The Incredible Hulk Match Spectator Episode: "Half Nelson"
1980 Melvin and Howard Kissing Cowboy Uncredited
1982 Happy Days Abe Lincoln Episode: "Poobah Doo Dah"
1980–1982 Quincy M.E. Various 3 episodes
1982 Grease 2 Bowling Alley Manager Uncredited
1982 Little House on the Prairie Cowboy Uncredited
1982 Airplane II: The Sequel Hospital Dipstick Patient Uncredited
1981–1983 Dynasty Hotel Guest / Man at Station 2 episodes
1983 Psycho II Grave Digger Uncredited
1981–1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie K.K.K. Episode: "Time Out"
1984 Dukes of Hazzard Deputy Episode: "Cool Hands, Luke & Bo"
1985 The New Mike Hammer Funeral Director Episode: "Deadly Reunion"
1985 Hill Street Blues Arts Council / Police Official 2 episodes
1985 Murder, She Wrote Doctor Episode: "Keep the Homes Fries Burning"
1985–1986 Amazing Stories Various 3 episodes
1985–1986 L.A. Law Courtroom / Lawyer 2 episodes
1988–1992 Dear John Tom 90 episodes
1997 Bringing up Jack Abe Lincoln Episode: "The Beeper"
1997 George & Leo Mayor Episode: "The Cameo Episode"
1998 The Drew Carey Show Abe Lincoln Episode: "What’s Wrong with This Episode?"
2018–2020 The Andy Due Show Various 6 episodes
2020 Bigtop Burger Customer / Panelist 2 episodes


  • Willett, Tom (April 5, 2017). How To Become a Movie Extra: How to Get Into Movies for Beginners. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1544827629.
  • Willett, Tom (June 27, 2017). Earthquake, The Big One, Before, During, After. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1544939100.


  1. ^ "About Featureman". YouTube.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Modern-Day Silent Screen Star : Actor: Tom Willett has made a career of playing non-speaking roles, including his latest on TV's 'Dear John.'". Los Angeles Times. November 23, 1990. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rodgers, D. Patrick (March 5, 2020). "People Issue 2020: YouTube Sensation Tom Willett". Nashville Scene. Archived from the original on May 28, 2023. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "Would-Be Stars Lay Hope, Money on Line for Fame : Small Recording Studios Offer Singers Chance to Seek Big Time on the Cheap". Los Angeles Times. July 8, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  5. ^ Some of My Movie & TV Appearances, retrieved June 24, 2021
  6. ^ "WATCH: 'How To Eat A Watermelon' Tutorial Destined For History Books". HuffPost. August 16, 2012. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Trutor, Clayton (July 26, 2020). "Let's Hear it for Tom Willett". Down The Drive. Retrieved June 24, 2021.

External links