Wills in 1941
Theodore Childress Wills|
July 18, 1902
Seagoville, Texas, U.S.
December 15, 1978 (aged 76)|
Encino, California, U.S.
Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery|
Glendale, California, U.S.
(m. 1928; her death 1971)
(m. 1973; his death 1978)
Wills was born in Seagoville, Texas on July 18, 1902.
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, with its Western twang, was 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 as "the city of Chicago" as personified by a phantom police sergeant in the film noir City That Never Sleeps (1953), and 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, for his role as Davy Crockett's companion "Beekeeper" in the film The Alamo (1960). 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, he 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, starring Henry Fonda), with co-stars Ron Hayes, Patrick Wayne and Walker Edmiston.
Wills joined William Lundigan, Walter Brennan and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in 1963-64, in making appearances on behalf of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the campaign against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1968, Wills refused to support Richard 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. Wills was among the few Hollywood celebrities to endorse Wallace's bid against Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey; another was Walter Brennan.
Also in 1968, he starred in the 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. His last role was in 1978, as a janitor in Stubby Pringle's Christmas.
- It's a Gift (1934) as Campfire Singer (uncredited)
- Bar 20 Rides Again (1935) as Background Singer / Henchman
- Anything Goes (1936) as Member of The Avalon Boys (uncredited)
- Call of the Prairie (1936) as singing cowhand
- Hideaway Girl (1936) as Lead Singer of Avalon Boys
- Way Out West (1937) as Lead Singer of the Avalon Boys / Stan's Bass Singing (uncredited)
- Nobody's Baby (1937) as Amateur Hour Lead Quartet Singer
- Block-Heads (1938) as Midget in Elevator (voice, uncredited)
- Lawless Valley (1938) as Deputy Speedy McGow
- Arizona Legion (1939) as Whopper Hatch
- Trouble in Sundown (1939) as Whopper
- Sorority House (1939) as Mr. Johnson
- Racketeers of the Range (1939) as Whopper Hatch
- Timber Stampede (1939) as Whopper Hatch
- The Day the Bookies Wept (1939) as Man on Bus (uncredited)
- Allegheny Uprising (1939) as John M'Cammon
- Arizona Legion (1939) as Whooper Hatch
- Boom Town (1940) as Deputy Harmony Jones
- Wyoming (1940) as Lafe (uncredited)
- The Westerner (1940) as Southeast
- Sky Murder (1940) as Sheriff Beckwith
- Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940) as Shiftless
- Western Union (1941) as Homer Kettle
- The Bad Man (1941) as 'Red' Giddings
- Billy the Kid (1941) as Tom Patterson
- Belle Starr (1941) as Blue Duck
- Honky Tonk (1941) as The Sniper
- The Bugle Sounds (1942) as Sgt. Larry Dillon
- Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) as Manchester Montford
- Her Cardboard Lover (1942) as Judge
- The Omaha Trail (1942) as Henry Hawkins
- Apache Trail (1942) as 'Pike' Skelton
- Stand by for Action (1942) as Chief Boatswain's Mate Jenks
- A Stranger in Town (1943) as Charles Craig
- Best Foot Forward (1943) as Chester Short
- See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) as First Sgt. Cramp
- Rationing (1944) as Bus Driver (scenes deleted)
- Barbary Coast Gent (1944) as Sheriff Hightower
- Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) as Mr. Neely
- I'll Be Seeing You (1944) as Swanson
- Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944) as Mr. York
- What Next, Corporal Hargrove? (1945) as Sgt. Cramp
- Leave Her to Heaven (1945) as Leick Thome
- The Harvey Girls (1946) as H.H. Hartsey
- Gallant Bess (1946) as Chief Petty Officer
- The Yearling (1946) as Buck Forrester
- High Barbaree (1947) as Lars (uncredited)
- Heartaches (1947) as 'Breezie' Mann
- The Sainted Sisters (1948) as Will Twitchell
- Northwest Stampede (1948) as Mileaway
- The Saxon Charm (1948) as Captain Chatham
- That Wonderful Urge (1948) as Homer Beggs - Justice of the Peace - Monroe Township
- Family Honeymoon (1948) as Fred
- Loaded Pistols (1948) as Sheriff Cramer
- Tulsa (1949) as Pinky Jimpson (Narrator)
- Red Canyon (1949) as Brackton
- Francis (1950) as Francis the Talking Mule (voice, uncredited)
- The Sundowners (1950) as Sam Beers
- Rock Island Trail (1950) as Hogger McCoy
- Stella (1950) as Chief Clark (uncredited)
- High Lonesome (1950) as Boatwhistle, Ranch Cook
- Rio Grande (1950) as Dr. Wilkins (regimental surgeon)
- Oh! Susanna (1951) as Sergeant Barhydt
- Francis Goes to the Races (1951) as Francis the Talking Mule (voice, uncredited)
- Cattle Drive (1951) as Dallas
- The Sea Hornet (1951) as Swede
- Bronco Buster (1952) as Dan Bream
- Francis Goes to West Point (1952) as Francis the Talking Mule (voice, uncredited)
- Ride the Man Down (1952) as Ike Adams
- Small Town Girl (1953) as 'Happy', Jailer (uncredited)
- Francis Covers the Big Town (1953) as Francis the Talking Mule (voice, uncredited)
- City That Never Sleeps (1953) as Sgt. Joe, the 'Voice of Chicago'
- The Man from the Alamo (1953) as John Gage
- Tumbleweed (1953) as Sheriff Murchoree
- Francis Joins the WACS (1954) as Gen. Benjamin Kaye / Francis the Talking Mule (voice)
- Ricochet Romance (1954) as Tom Williams
- Hell's Outpost (1954) as Kevin Russel
- Timberjack (1955) as Steve Riika
- Kentucky Rifle (1955) as Tobias Taylor
- Francis in the Navy (1955) as Francis the Talking Mule (voice, uncredited)
- Santiago (1956) as Captain 'Sidewheel' Jones
- Giant (1956) as Uncle Bawley
- Gun for a Coward (1957) as Loving
- Gun Glory (1957) as Preacher
- From Hell to Texas (1958) as Amos Bradley
- The Sad Horse (1959) as Capt Connors
- The Alamo (1960) as Beekeeper
- Where the Boys Are (1960) as Police Captain
- Gold of the Seven Saints (1961) as Doc Wilson Gates, MD
- The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1961) as Major Buford
- The Deadly Companions (1961) as Turk, "a half-crazed card shark"
- Gunsmoke (1962) as Abe Blocker
- Young Guns of Texas (1962) as Preacher Sam Shelby
- McLintock! (1963) as Drago
- The Wheeler Dealers (1963) as Jay Ray Spinelby
- The Cardinal (1963) as Monsignor Whittle
- The Rounders (1965) as Jim Ed Love
- Fireball 500 (1966) as Big Jaw Harris
- Big Daddy (1969)
- The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) as George Asque, retired Texas Ranger
- The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) as Mr. Ike
- The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again (1970) as George Asque
- Night Gallery (1970) as Heppelwhite (segment "The Little Black Bag")
- The Steagle (1971) as Tall-Guy McCoy
- Guns of a Stranger (1973) as Tom Duncan
- Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) as Lemuel
- Mr. Billion (1977) as Col. Clayton T. Winkle
- Poco... Little Dog Lost (1977) as Big Burt
- 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. Archived from the original on March 3, 2001. 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.