Wills in 1941
Theodore Childress Wills
July 18, 1902
Seagoville, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 15, 1978 (aged 76)|
Encino, California, U.S.
|Resting place||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.
Wills starred in the short-run series Frontier Circus which aired for only one season (1961–62) 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.
in 1963-64, Wills joined William Lundigan, Walter Brennan and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. 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.
Apache Trail is a 1942 American Western film directed by Richard Thorpe, written by Maurice Geraghty, and starring Lloyd Nolan, Donna Reed, William Lundigan, Ann Ayars, Connie Gilchrist, and Chill Wills. The picture was released on June 24, 1942, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive is a 1951 Technicolor Western film directed by Kurt Neumann starring Joel McCrea, Dean Stockwell and Chill Wills. Much of the film was shot in the Death Valley National Park, California and Paria, Utah.Francis Joins the WACS
Francis Joins the WACS is a 1954 American black-and-white comedy film from Universal-International, produced by Ted Richmond, directed by Arthur Lubin, that stars Donald O'Connor, Julie Adams, ZaSu Pitts, Mamie Van Doren, and Chill Wills in two roles, including the distinctive voice of Francis in voice-over.
This is the fifth film in Universal-International Francis the Talking Mule series.Gold of the Seven Saints
Gold of the Seven Saints is a western film adaptation of a 1957 Steve Frazee novel titled Desert Guns. Released by Warner Brothers in 1961, the 88-minute film starred Clint Walker, Roger Moore, Letícia Román, Robert Middleton, and Chill Wills. It was directed by Gordon Douglas, who had earlier directed Walker in 1958's Fort Dobbs and 1959's Yellowstone Kelly. Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay and Joseph F. Biroc provided the black-and-white photography, most of which was shot in and around Arches National Park in Utah. The film did not do notably well at the box office.Hell's Outpost
Hell's Outpost is a 1954 American action film directed by Joseph Kane and written by Kenneth Gamet. It is based on the 1953 novel Silver Rock by Luke Short. The film stars Rod Cameron, Joan Leslie, John Russell, Chill Wills, Ben Cooper and Kristine Miller. The film was released on December 15, 1954, by Republic Pictures.Oh! Susanna (film)
Oh! Susanna is a 1951 American Western film directed by Joseph Kane and written by Charles Marquis Warren. The film stars Rod Cameron, Lorna Gray, Forrest Tucker, Chill Wills, William Ching, Jim Davis, and Wally Cassell. The film was released on March 3, 1951, by Republic Pictures.Racketeers of the Range
Racketeers of the Range is a 1939 American western film directed by D. Ross Lederman from a screenplay by Oliver Drake, based on Bernard McConville's story. Produced and distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, the film was released on May 26, 1939. and stars George O'Brien, Chill Wills, and Marjorie Reynolds.Ride the Man Down
Ride the Man Down is a 1952 American Western film directed by Joseph Kane, written by Mary C. McCall, Jr., and starring Brian Donlevy, Rod Cameron, Ella Raines, Forrest Tucker, Barbara Britton, Chill Wills and J. Carrol Naish. The film was released on November 25, 1952, by Republic Pictures.Rock Island Trail (film)
Rock Island Trail is a 1950 American Western film directed by Joseph Kane and written by James Edward Grant. The film stars Forrest Tucker, Adele Mara, Lorna Gray, Bruce Cabot, Chill Wills and Barbra Fuller. The film was released on May 18, 1950, by Republic Pictures.The Avalon Boys
The Avalon Boys were a quartet of singers popular in the 1930s. They appeared in a number of comedy films and had a memorable role in Laurel and Hardy's Way Out West.The Bad Man (1941 film)
The Bad Man is a 1941 American Western film starring Wallace Beery and featuring Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, and Ronald Reagan. The movie was written by Wells Root from the Porter Emerson Browne play, and directed by Richard Thorpe. The film is a remake of the 1923 silent version and the 1930 remake. The supporting cast features Tom Conway and Chill Wills.The Bugle Sounds
The Bugle Sounds is a 1942 World War II movie starring Wallace Beery as a cavalry sergeant resistant to replacing horses with tanks. The supporting cast includes Marjorie Main, Lewis Stone, George Bancroft, Donna Reed, and Chill Wills, and the film was directed by S. Sylvan Simon.The Man from the Alamo
For other films about the Alamo, see Alamo (disambiguation)#Films.The Man from the Alamo is a 1953 American Technicolor Western film directed by Budd Boetticher starring Glenn Ford, Julie Adams and Chill Wills.The Over-the-Hill Gang
The Over-the-Hill Gang is a 1969 American made-for-television western comedy film about aging Texas Rangers starring Walter Brennan and Pat O'Brien. Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, and Jack Elam play supporting roles. The film was written by Richard Carr and directed by Jean Yarbrough.The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again
The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again starring Walter Brennan and Fred Astaire is a 1970 ABC Movie of the Week sequel to the Western comedy The Over-the-Hill Gang. The supporting cast includes Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, Chill Wills, Lana Wood, and Burt Mustin (all of whom, except Wood, were in The Over-the-Hill Gang). Like the 1969 original, the sequel involves aging Texas Rangers and was written by Richard Carr and directed by George McCowan.
Pat O'Brien had played the second lead in the first film but his character was left out of the sequel and he was effectively replaced by Astaire, who was not in the original film.Richard Widmark played O'Brien's character in a quasi-remake two decades later entitled Once Upon a Texas Train, in which the Over-the-Hill Gang, with an entirely new cast including Stuart Whitman, played supporting roles to Willie Nelson's train robber.
This was the final film for three-time winner Academy Award-winner Walter Brennan.The Sea Hornet
The Sea Hornet is a 1951 American adventure film directed by Joseph Kane and written by Gerald Drayson Adams. The film stars Rod Cameron, Adele Mara, Lorna Gray, Chill Wills, Jim Davis and Richard Jaeckel. The film was released on November 6, 1951, by Republic Pictures.Tulsa (film)
Tulsa is a 1949 American Technicolor Western action film directed by Stuart Heisler and starring Susan Hayward and Robert Preston, and featured Lloyd Gough, Chill Wills (as the narrator), and Ed Begley in one of his earliest film roles, billed as Edward Begley.
The film's plot revolved around greed, conservation, and romance. It was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects in 1950.Tumbleweed (film)
Tumbleweed is a 1953 Technicolor Western film directed by Nathan Juran and starring Audie Murphy, Lori Nelson, and Chill Wills. It was also known by the alternative title of Three Were Renegades; the title of the 1937 novel Three Were Thoroughbreds by Kenneth Taylor Perkins the film was based on which had been previously filmed as the 1948 film Relentless.Young Guns of Texas
Young Guns of Texas is a 1962 CinemaScope DeLuxe Color Western directed by Maury Dexter, starring James Mitchum, Alana Ladd, Jody McCrea and Chill Wills.It is known for featuring the offspring of Robert Mitchum, Alan Ladd, Joel McCrea and Chill Wills, the last also appearing in the film.