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Bill Thompson

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Bill Thompson publicity photo
Bill Thompson publicity photo

Bill Thompson (July 8, 1913 – July 15, 1971) was an American radio actor and voice actor whose career stretched from the 1930s until his death. In addition to providing the voice of Smee in the 1953 Disney film Peter Pan, Thompson was famous for his roles in the radio series Fibber McGee and Molly and Droopy Dog in MGM cartoons.

Contents

Early career

Born to vaudevillian parents, Thompson began his career in Chicago radio, where his early appearances included appearances as a regular on Don McNeill's morning variety series The Breakfast Club in 1934 and a stint as a choir member on the musical variety series The Sinclair Weiner Minstrels around 1937. While on the former series, Thompson originated a meek, mush-mouthed character occasionally referred to in publicity as Mr. Wimple.

Thompson soon achieved his greatest fame after he joined the cast of the radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly around 1936 and brought back the Wimple voice in 1941. On Fibber McGee and Molly, Thompson essayed a variety of roles, including a boisterous conman with a W. C. Fields voice, originally named Widdicomb Blotto but soon re-christened Horatio K. Boomer, and Nick Depopulis, the Greek restaurant owner. His two most famous roles on the series, however, were as the Old Timer and Wallace Wimple. The Old Timer, introduced in 1937 was a garrulous old gent who would drop in and listen to McGee's rambling stories and jokes.

Wallace Wimple, an expansion of Thompson's Breakfast Club role, would prove to be his most enduring character, however. Wimple was a timid birdwatcher, appropriately nicknamed "Wimp" by McGee, who lived in constant terror of his "big old wife," ironically named "Sweetie Face", who was often mentioned but never heard. The character, whose greeting was a mild "Hello, folks", became very popular, and inspired animation director Tex Avery to build a dog character around the voice. This character, eventually named Droopy Dog, was also voiced by Thompson in most of his appearances. Thompson also played the title role, an Adolf Hitler parody, in Avery's Oscar-nominated short The Blitz Wolf.

World War II

Around 1943, however, Thompson joined the US Navy, and all of his radio characters were temporarily dropped. He returned to Fibber McGee full-time in 1946, however, and also became a semi-regular on Edgar Bergen's radio series as lecturer "Professor" Thompson, and continued to work on radio until the late 1950s, notably in several episodes of CBS Radio Workshop.

Upon his return to civilian life, Thompson's animation voice-over career also began to build steam. At MGM, he returned as Droopy and also played Droopy's recurring bulldog nemesis Spike, and many other characters in the studio's cartoon shorts.

Disney

Disney's Smee, voiced by Bill Thompson
Disney's Smee, voiced by Bill Thompson

For Walt Disney, he was heard in many shorts and features, often in either dialect parts or a variation of his Wimple/Droopy voice. His animated feature film credits included the parts of the White Rabbit and the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Smee (and the other pirates) in Peter Pan (reprising his roles in radio adaptations for Lux Radio Theater), and King Hubert in Sleeping Beauty.

His best showcase may well have been in Lady and the Tramp, where he was heard in no less than four dialect parts, as Bull the Cockney bulldog, Dachsie the German dachshund, Joe the Italian cook, and the Irish policeman in the park. In shorts, he was heard as Ranger J. Audobon Woodlore in several Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear entries and as Professor Owl in two music related shorts, including the Oscar-winning Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (directed by Ward Kimball), amongst many others. He reprised both of these roles in Disney's various television series, and was the first actor to voice the comic book character Scrooge McDuck (the theatrical featurette Scrooge McDuck and Money).

Union Oil

In 1957, Thompson joined the Los Angeles branch of Union Oil as an executive, working in community relations and occasionally reprising his radio characters. He remained sporadically active in animation, however, going on to play King Hubert in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, and as Touché Turtle for Hanna-Barbera's Touché Turtle and Dum Dum (plus a guest role in an early episode of The Flintstones).

During this period, around 1958, Thompson appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show To Tell the Truth.

Death

Thompson's final role was as Uncle Waldo in The Aristocats, released shortly before his sudden death from acute septic shock on July 15, 1971, at 58 years old.

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