Chill Wills

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Chill Wills
Wills in 1941
Theodore Childress Wills

(1902-07-18)July 18, 1902
DiedDecember 15, 1978(1978-12-15) (aged 76)
Resting placeGrand View Memorial Park Cemetery
Glendale, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Actor, singer
Years active1934–1978
Hattie Chappelle
(m. 1928; died 1971)
Novadeen Googe
(m. 1973)

Theodore Childress "Chill" Wills (July 18, 1902 – December 15, 1978)[1] was an American actor and a singer in the Avalon Boys quartet.

Early life[edit]

Wills was born in Seagoville, Texas, on July 18, 1902.


Wills 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 Talking 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.

Jack Kruschen, John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Wills in McLintock! (1963)

During the 1940s, Wills was a contract player for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Although he appeared in many Westerns, Wills was cast in a number of 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. His publicity agent, Wojciechowicz "Bow Wow" Wojtkiewicz (former husband of gossip columnist Sheilah Graham),[2] accepted blame for the ill-advised effort, claiming that Wills knew nothing about it. The Oscar was won by Peter Ustinov for his role as Lentulus Batiatus in Spartacus.[3]

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.[4]

In 1959, he starred as Bije Wilcox in "The Bije Wilcox Story" on Wagon Train.

In Rory Calhoun's Western series The Texan, Wills appeared in the lead role in the 1960 episode titled "The Eyes of Captain Wylie".[5]

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 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 1962 he guest-starred on Gunsmoke, as a deranged mountain man, and old friend of Matt Dillon, preying on homesteaders. His murderous rampage results in his violent death.

In 1963–1964, 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.[6] Later, 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.[7] 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. In 1971, he appeared as Pat Reedy on The Men from Shiloh (rebranded name of the TV Western The Virginian) in the episode titled "The Angus Killer".

His last role was in 1978, as a janitor in Stubby Pringle's Christmas.


On December 15, 1978, Wills died of cancer in Encino, California, aged 76. He was cremated[8] and interred at Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[9]

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ info
  2. ^ "Just Goes to Show It’s Dog-Meet-Dog World Out There" Los Angeles Times (November 12, 1997); retrieved June 2, 2021
  3. ^ Clark, Donald, & Christopher P. Andersen. John Wayne's The Alamo: The Making of the Epic Film, Carol: 1995.
  4. ^ "1st World Series of Poker Event Photo".
  5. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Archived from the original on April 8, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  6. ^ "The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party". Archived from the original on March 3, 2001. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ "Private Rites Set Today for Chill Wills". The Los Angeles Times. December 18, 1978. p. B5.
  9. ^ Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company. p. 104. ISBN 9780786409839.
  10. ^ Kehr, Dave, "Early Salvos From ‘Bloody Sam’", New York Times, May 12, 2013; retrieved May 14, 2013.
  11. ^ 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.

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