(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
William "Billy" Bletcher
1894 - 1979
Photo left is of Bletcher with a 'stache during his 1930s shorts with Billy Gilbert.
William "Billy" Bletcher stood just a tad over five feet tall - some biographies mention he was 5 feet, 2 inches in height. He is best remembered as the voice behind many hilarious cartoon characters for Disney and Warner Bros. And that voice was in a bunch of films - for example, while Charles Becker played the Munchkin Mayor in WIZARD OF OZ (MGM, 1939), it was Bletcher's voice. Billy also worked in front of the camera and his roles included the Police Chief in the Laurel and Hardy BABES IN TOYLAND (Hal Roach/MGM, 1934).
His Hollywood career spanned nearly 60 years, from roughly 1914 through the early 1970s, and the Internet Movie Database has him doing voice work, bit parts, etc. in about 340 films. Included are early Vitagraph roles, his teaming with Billy Gilbert in the "Schmaltz Brothers" shorts for Hal Roach, and various roles in some of the 1930s Our Gang comedies including a few portrayals of Spanky McFarland's father.
Wanta see Bletcher in one of the best of the Our Gang series? Check out DIVOT DIGGERS (Hal Roach/MGM, 1936) where the youngsters - and their pet chimpanzee - replace the regular golf course caddies. And the golfing foursome includes Bletcher who loses his golf ball to the chimp.
Bletcher didn't do a whole lot of oaters and cliffhangers - his western and serial movie count amounts to about two dozen films. An example is Billy as the alcoholic bellhop in Buck Jones' CALIFORNIA FRONTIER (Columbia, 1938). But scattered among those couple dozen westerns and serials, Billy Bletcher was the deep and booming voice of some of our favorite villains and heroes.
William "Billy" Bletcher was:
Republic Pictures expert Jack Mathis identified Bletcher's work at that studio in several of his books, and I've included two references below:
Need help recalling Bletcher's booming bass voice? Take a look at this great video clip of Walt Disney and Bletcher doing the voices of Mickey Mouse and Pegleg Pete for the cartoon MR. MOUSE TAKES A TRIP (1940). I'm sure most of you will smile and/or chuckle when viewing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1OziHxAl_A
As to his cliffhanger roles, there were a few. He had a meaty role as "Gorzo", the hunch-backed assistant to William "Stage" Boyd, in THE LOST CITY (Sherman S. Krellberg, 1935). And he was "Zeno the magician" in THE DESERT HAWK (Columbia, 1944).
Bletcher was married to actress Arline Roberts (1893-1992).
Rick Albright checked the census information and found the following on the Bletcher family:
1900: William Bletcher, age 5, born Sepember, 1894 in Pennsylvania, at home with parents Harry and Dora, and brother Donald, residing at 466 Poplar, Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His father's occupation is listed as printer.
1910: William Bletcher is 15 and a newspaper agent. His dad Harry is 40, married 18 years, printer. Mom, Dora, is 42, married 18 years, no occupation. Brother Donald is 17 and a hat salesman. They are living at 635 High St., Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
1920: J. William Bletcher is 25, married, and occupation is actor. His wife Arline is 26, and occupation is actress. They are living with his parents, Harry and Dora, at 1721 Winona Blvd., in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California. His dad is still a printer.
1930: William Bletcher, 35, married at age 20, is renting at $40 a month and his occupation is artist/motion picture studio. Arline is also 35, married at age 20, occupation artist/motion picture studio. There is a daughter, Barbara A., age 4 and three months, born California, and William's parents are in the same household at 1532 N. Kingsley Drive., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California.
You may want to go to the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then to the California Death Records database. There you will find a record for: William Bletcher, born September 20, 1894 in Pennsylvania, passed away on January 5, 1979 in the Los Angeles area. There is a corresponding record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Billy Bletcher: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0088285/
As of May, 2007, the IMDb had a record for Billy Bletcher's wife and she was listed as Arlyn (Arline) Roberts. But whomever prepared this input had mixed two different people together. Bletcher was married to ARLINE Roberts. ARLYN Roberts was a (blonde) actress who worked in about two dozen movies, and eighteen of those films were circa 1944-45 at Republic Pictures where her roles were often a dancer, showgirl, etc. Again referencing Jack Mathis' Republic Confidential, Volume 2, The Players (Jack Mathis Advertising, 1992) - you'll find a photo of Arlyn Roberts on page 49, film listing on page 249, and info that Arlyn Roberts was under a Term Players Contract(s) from 7-22-44 through 1-23-45. May 27, 2007 update: the IMDb record has been fixed to reflect the Republic Pictures starlet Arlyn Roberts: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0730833/
A bunch of us continue to search for any film credits - be they silents or sound - for Bletcher's wife Arline Roberts (who doesn't have a record on the IMDb). If anyone has film info credits on Arline, please shoot an e-mail to ye Old Corral webmaster.
(Image courtesy of Les Adams)
Above, Bletcher as ranch hand "Stubby" watches as Hoot Gibson ties up an unidentified player in THE BOILING POINT (Allied, 1932).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - Tom Keene gives first aid to Betty Compson while Billy Bletcher, as the local blacksmith, looks on in this lobby card from GOD'S COUNTRY AND THE MAN (Monogram, 1937).
Some additional examples of Bletcher western roles where he worked in front of the camera: he was Ken Maynard's sidekick "Half-a-rod" in BRANDED MEN (Tiffany, 1931); he was a stage driver in the Jack Randall starrer THE MEXICALI KID (Monogram, 1938); Bletcher, Dan White and Guy Wilkerson did a terrible blackface minstrel routine in the Texas Rangers entry BOSS OF RAWHIDE (PRC, 1943); and he had bit parts in TEXAS RANGER (Columbia, 1931) and CALIFORNIA FRONTIER (Columbia, 1938), both of which starred Buck Jones.
Les Adams adds a footnote: "in CALIFORNIA FRONTIER, Bletcher has a nice little role as the bellhop who hangs out in the bar and likes a triple shot of rye now and again. His voice here is not the heroic dubbing/narration voice that he was most noted."
|Cartoon and voice expert and author Hames Ware was the founding co-editor of The Who's Who of American Comic Books, co-authored "The Cartoon Speaks" for Funnyworld, and authored the biography on Billy Bletcher in Films In Review. He is currently working with cartoon voice expert and writer Keith Scott on the definitive history of animated cartoon voice people of the 1930s and 1940s. Hames knew Billy and Arline Bletcher and we thank him for his insight and remembrances. The following has been summarized from several May, 2007 e-mails between Hames Ware and ye Old Corral webmaster.|
I hope I can bring some weight to what I am about to say:
Billy Bletcher is NOT the voice of Don Del Oro. He may have auditioned for it ... he may actually have recorded for it but the voice in the actual serial is NOT Billy. And yes - I know the late Jack Mathis had access to all the files of Republic and tho I went round and round with Jack about this ... even asking other voice experts to weigh in to try and convince Jack that regardless of what the files said, Billy Bletcher simply is not the voice heard in the serial. Jack refused to budge. So who am I to take issue with the printed word or Jack Mathis?
Billy Bletcher and his incredbile career! That greatest of all cartoon villain voices ... all those comedy shorts and feature films ... all those childrens' records I'd had as a child featuring Billy's basso voice and his pal Pinto Colvig's as well. Billy was also the voice of the Mayor of the Munchkins in the WIZARD OF OZ (again along with Colvig doing other voices). And he was "Black Pete" and the "Big Bad Wolf" and countless other cartoon voices for Disney, Warner Bros, MGM (The Captain and the Kids, et al).
I spent several Summers in Hollywood back when Billy was still a spry and happy to be remembered, mostly retired, character actor.
I was invited by Billy and Arline over several times to visit and sat between the two of them as they shared Billy's memories and voluminous photo albums. There he was with Laurel and Hardy ... and with WC Fields (who used to walk past their porch with cans of film under his arm and holler "millions of laughs in these cans, Billy", "millions of laughs").
Billy regaled me with many wonderful stories, and I was pleased and privileged when he invited me along on one of his many visits to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital. It was during one of my Hollywood Summers - Billy called and asked me to ride with him out to the Hospital. Of course I was excited ... excitement tempered just a bit when I arrived and Billy was dusting off what appeared to be a seldom driven '48 Studebaker (tho I can't swear to the year and make). The drive we proceeded to take let me know quickly that Billy had not been on the Hollywood Freeway in a good long while. Several times I offered to drive, but he wasn't about to hear of it ... I was his guest and he'd get us there. At one point - and I don't think I am exaggerating here - Billy had traffic behind him that seemed to be trailing for miles. Eventually a police car pulled us over and a very understanding trooper asked Billy if he realized he'd been going well under the minimum speed limit. Billy's booming basso never failing, he assured the officer that he'd find a more remote route to traverse. And so, with great relief, we did.
He asked me to be the one to accompany his granddaughter to a cartoon screening of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, attended by Frank Tashlin, et al. And he also tapped me to be the one to write his bio in Films In Review.
And I say all this simply to try to lend credence to a fact that I just felt obligated to share.
I have sat for hours with Billy Bletcher, listening to his marvelous rumbling basso voice, and for close to 40 years I have made my own living providing voice overs (PBS, et al), so I hope that somehow if enough others who truly know Billy's voice also write, that the Old Corral will be the place where this matter is at last set straight.
Whoever the voice of Don Del Oro is (Gayne Whitman, or whomever), it is not the voice of the wonderful Billy Bletcher.
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website lists Bletcher in only a handful of radio shows (though I would speculate that he did a bunch more). When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select B, then scroll down for Bletcher radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/
The Keyframe website is dedicated to animated productions. Bletcher did a lot of cartoons including the voice of "The Big Bad Wolf" in the 1933 Disney cartoon THREE LITTLE PIGS: http://www.keyframeonline.com/CastCrew/Billy_Bletcher/4375/
Wendy's Wonderful Wizard Of Oz website notes that Bletcher's remains were scattered: http://www.wendyswizardofoz.com/memorial.htm