Monday, May 24, 2010

Chill Wills, Famous Singer!

Chill Wills has a great voice.  His is right up there with Basil Rathbone, John Caradine, and Andy Devine for great acting voices.  More about great voices in later blogs.

Chill Wills (1903-1978) got his start as a singer in vaudeville.  He was the bass in a quartet he formed called the Avalon Boys and they were popular in the 1930s.  I saw him first in It's a Gift, with W. C. Fields, and his voice and face were instantly recognizable.  The Avalon Boys were singing at a campfire and Fields wandered over to add his voice to theirs.  It's a Gift from 1934 is one of my favorite Fields movies.

The Avalon Boys went on to work with Bing Crosby in Anything Goes, and then with Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West.  The group apparently disbanded in 1938, according to the Turner Classic Movie web site.  That year, Chill Wills did the voice of a midget in an elevator in another L&H film, Blockheads.  The Midget, played by Karl 'Karchy' Kosiczky, would be one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz the next year.

Wills became a great western character actor, which is his real claim to fame.  It is probably tough to be saddled with a voice that is so unusual, but he always made the best of it.  It must be like having Rondo Hatton's face.  Nothing can be done, so take the great parts you are offered.

Wills played cowboys and soldiers for quite a few years, then in 1950 be became a mule.  Yes, he was the voice of Francis the Talking Mule in that series of movies.  I don't remember those movies well, but I have seen some of them.  Something I must add to the Netflix list!

He continued in movies and also had quite a career in television.  Westerns, dramas, comedies, voice-overs...whatever came along.  I can remember him showing up everywhere.  Burke's Law, The Rounders, Gunsmoke...he was also in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958, and I bet he held the chilling part up to an Emmy standard, even though he never won any awards.  He came close with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Alamo.

I don't know if you can qualify Chill Wills as a superstar, but I sure would.  His acting made an impression on me, and probably inspired later actors to work in a niche as a character actor as well.  I guess that's what it was supposed to do!

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