The child of vaudeville performers, Bill Thompson’s destiny was show business. At 21, he started singing and doing voices on The Breakfast Club, a popular national morning radio show originating in Chicago. He developed a slow-speaking, mush-mouth character he dubbed “Mr. Wimple.” Bill would nurture this voice for the rest of his career.
In 1936, Bill joined the cast of Fibber McGee and Molly, employing his roster of voices. He played a variety of characters, unknown to the listening audience that it was just one actor. Bill voiced boisterous conman “Horatio K. Boomer” (a parody of W.C. Fields), as well as “Nick Depopulis,” the Greek restaurant owner and “Wallace Wimple,” his mush-mouthed old favorite.
Animation whiz Tex Avery began to build a character around Bill’s distinctive voice. He created a sad-faced dog named “Droopy,” making his screen debut in 1943, although he was not given his official name until his fifth cartoon appearance. Droopy’s slow, lethargic demeanor was contrasted by his shrewd ability to outwit his adversaries and his Bill Thompson-provided voice was perfect for the character. His jowly greeting of “Hell-o all you happy people” became an instantly-imitated catchphrase.
Bill was soon in demand by other studios including Disney, where he provided the voice of “Mr. Smee,” Captain Hook’s loyal sidekick in Peter Pan, as well as “J. Audubon Woodlore,” the befuddled forest ranger bothered by goofy Humphrey Bear and a variety of characters in Lady and the Tramp. Disney loved Bill and cast his vocal skills for years. (My favorite is the beleaguered pet owner “Flannery” in Disney’s 1954 short Pigs is Pigs.)
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera originally nabbed Bill for the role of Fred Flintstone, but recast Alan Reed before the series premiered. All of Bill’s lines were re-dubbed, although Bill delivered a single line in a Season One episode. Hanna and Barbera did use Bill’s talents in other animated shows, including Touché Turtle and Dum Dum.
After completing voice work for the 1970 Disney animated feature The Aristocats, Bill suffered septic shock and passed away a week after his 58th birthday.
It’s week number two of Inktober (the JPiC version) and prolific character actor Lionel Atwill is the featured star.
While Lionel Atwill appeared in a slew of films in all genres, including romance and comedy, he is best remembered for his supporting work in a number of Universal horror films. Beginning with 1932’s Dr. X, Lionel was cast in various roles in pictures in Universal’s ongoing Frankenstein saga, mostly as representatives of the law. He played one-armed “Inspector Krogh” in Son of Frankenstein, a part that was famously parodied by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
In 1942’s Ghost of Frankenstein, he played a colleague of the good doctor. (This was the first film featuring Lon Chaney Jr as the Monster.) that same year, Lionel was indicted for perjury for testimony related to the alleged occurrence of a sex orgy at his home. He was given five years probation, but Hollywood producers and other executives blacklisted him for minor criminal activity. Lionel had difficulty getting work and was relegated to small roles in small pictures until his death in 1946 at the age of 61.
What if the Sanderson sisters returned to Salem a few decades earlier?
A chance audition for the role of “Joe Hardy” on a serialized version of The Hardy Boys was Tommy Kirk’s ticket to stardom. The show, broadcast as part of the popular Mickey Mouse Club, was the first installment in Tommy’s long, productive and lucrative association with the Walt Disney Company.
1957 saw Tommy star in the perennial heartbreaker OId Yeller. Next he was cast in hits like The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent-Minded Professor, Babes in Toyland, as well as a couple of clunkers like Moon Pilot and Bon Voyage, which was his second pairing with Fred MacMurray. Tommy revealed that he didn’t get along well with MacMurray. He also butt heads with Jane Wyatt, who played his mother in the film. He suspected that her dislike of Tommy was her apparent homophobia.
Tommy kept his homosexuality a guarded secret throughout his youth. But, while filming the comedy The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, 22-year old Tommy began a relationship with a 15 year old boy he met at a Burbank swimming pool. The boy’s mother discovered the affair contacted the Disney Studios. Upon hearing this information, Tommy’s contract was not renewed and Walt himself fired the young actor. Tommy was picked up by AIP Pictures and was cast opposite Annette Funicello in Pajama Party. The film was a box-office hit, as was Merlin Jones when it was released. Disney humbly contacted Tommy to appear in the sequel.
A 1964 arrest for drug and barbiturates charges. He was replaced in a number of proposed roles including How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and The Sons of Katy Elder. Tommy’s career was beginning to spiral downward. He took roles wherever he could, including a few nearly plotless headscratchers like Mars Needs Women costarring Yvonne Craig. His drug use increased and it affected his career. Roles dried up and soon Tommy found himself working as a busboy.
In the early 70s, he finally kicked his drug addiction. He also said “goodbye” to his acting career, taking jobs as a waiter, a chauffer and eventually opening a carpet cleaning business that he ran for two decades. He frequently appeared at fan conventions to tell stories and sign autographs.
Tommy only blamed himself for the highs and lows in his life. And he seemed to be okay with that. He passed away in September 2021 at his home in Las Vegas. Tommy was just shy of 80 years old.
Here we are again! October! And Inktober is once again upon us. That means it’s time for hundreds of talented artists worldwide… and me…. to create special works daily just for October, based on a set of suggestions from the official Inktober website. And once again, I’ll be making up my own rules of participation. I will be posting a new, black & white drawing (and a little bit of red) each week for the entire month – in addition to my participation in the regular Inktober 52 and a Dead Celebrity Spotlight plus a “retro movie poster that never was“…and, if I feel like it, another random drawing here and there. Every year, I choose a theme in keeping with the “spirit” of the Hallowe’en season. This year, my drawings will be a tribute to a few of Hollywood’s unsung character actors that made notable supporting appearances in horror movies.
The first for the 2021 series is J. Carroll Naish. The son of Irish immigrants, Carroll was a nominated twice for “Best Supporting Actor” Oscars. He was often cast as slimy, menacing villains of undetermined ethnic decent — usually Italian, Hispanic or Eastern European — even Native American… but never Irish. He is remembered for his role in 1944’s House of Frankenstein as Boris Karloff‘s assistant Daniel. He is rebuffed by the lovely Elena Verdugo and is eventually tossed out a window by the Frankenstein monster. Carroll was a versatile actor, appearing different genres as needed. He starred in musicals, gangster pictures, serials, mysteries, anywhere his talents were required. He eventually retired in 1971 and passed away two years later, just three days after his 77th birthday.
What if James Cagney was just another guy named “Jake?”
Minnie and Clara Bagelman began their singing career on a New York radio show called “Uncle Norman,” which was geared towards children. This led to the sisters making some recordings for RCA Records in the early 1930s. Their records, which were recorded in Yiddish, had limited appeal and sold mostly to the fans of New York’s Yiddish Theater. However, in 1937, the renowned Andrews Sisters had a hit with the Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bistu Shein.” Musician and impresario Dick Manning (born Sam Medoff) latched on to the song’s popularity and featured The Bagelman Sisters on his “Yiddish Melodies in Swing” radio program — except he changed their names to “Merna and Claire” and altered their last name to “Barry.”
For over a decade, the Barry Sisters performed on Manning’s show. They also toured the country, singing Yiddish interpretations of jazz standards and popular songs. Their style was a noted departure from other acts cultivated in the Yiddish theater. The Barry Sisters were glamourous and showy, wearing evening gowns and sporting current hair-dos. The Barry Sisters appeared on The Jack Paar Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show. They were regular performers at resorts in the Catskill Mountains, usually accompanying bandleader Mickey Katz. They entertained American troops and were one of the few American acts allowed to tour the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. Their popularity even brought them to entertain Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Merna and Claire released their final album in 1973 and soon after, Merna developed a brain tumor. The pair ceased performing. Merna passed away in 1976 at the age of 53. Claire cut back on her singing after her sister’s death. She made rare appearances over the years, including taking the stage at Carnegie Hall with singer Neil Sedaka. Despite suffering from declining health, specifically macular degeneration, she sang with the power and grace of her earlier performances. Claire passed away in 2014 and the age of 94. She survived her younger sister by 38 years.