Thompson circa 1939
William H. Thompson
July 8, 1913
Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||July 15, 1971 (aged 58)|
Culver City, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Voice actor, radio comedian, actor|
|Droopy theatrical shorts (1943–1958)|
Alice in Wonderland
Mary Margaret McBride
(m. 1950; his death 1971)
William H. Thompson (July 8, 1913 – July 15, 1971) was an American voice actor, radio comedian and actor, whose career stretched from the 1930s until his death. He was a featured comedian playing multiple roles on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio series, and was the voice of Droopy in most of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrical cartoons from 1943 to 1958.
Thompson was born to vaudevillian parents and was of Scottish ancestry. He 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. On Fibber McGee and Molly, Thompson brought back the Wimple voice in 1941, and 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 dropped in and listened to McGee's rambling stories and jokes. He inexplicably referred to McGee as "Johnny", as in: "That's pretty good, Johnny, but that ain't the way I heerd it!" This soon became a national catchphrase and surfaced in Warner Bros. cartoon shorts, notably Tortoise Wins by a Hare in which Bugs Bunny disguises himself as a bearded old man and tries to trick the tortoise into telling him "how he beat that wabbit!")
Wallace Wimple, an expansion of Thompson's Breakfast Club role, was his most enduring character. Wimple was a timid birdwatcher, appropriately nicknamed "Wimp" by McGee, who lived in constant terror of his "big old wife", nicknamed "Sweetie Face", who was often mentioned but never heard. (The term wimp for an unmanly character was in common usage already, as with the cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy). 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, was also voiced by Thompson in most of his appearances. Thompson also played the title role, an Adolf Hitler take-off, in Avery's Academy Award-nominated short Blitz Wolf.
World War II
Around 1943, however, Thompson's thriving career was interrupted when he joined the US Navy during World War II, 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. On February 21, 1950, he married Mary Margaret McBride. Thompson continued to work on radio until the late 1950s, notably in several episodes of CBS Radio Workshop, and his animation voice-over career also began to build steam during the 1950s. At MGM, he returned as Droopy and also played Droopy's recurring bulldog nemesis Spike, known as Butch in his appearances that were produced after Avery's departure from MGM, and many other characters in the studio's cartoon shorts (he used the Wimple/Droopy voice for the titular Native American caricature in Big Heel-Watha and for Tom's lookalike cousin George in a 1957 Tom and Jerry entry Timid Tabby, for two examples).
Walt Disney Studios
For Walt Disney Studios, 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. Many of the characters he played in Disney productions are now voiced by Corey Burton and Jeff Bennett.
His best showcase may well have been in Lady and the Tramp (1955), where he was heard in no less than five dialect parts, as Jock the Scottish Terrier, Bull the Cockney bulldog, Dachsie the German dachshund, Joe the Italian cook, and the Irish policeman in the zoo. In shorts, he was heard as Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in several "Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear" entries and as Professor Owl in two music related shorts, Melody and 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). Another prominent role is that of Irish station manager Flannery in Pigs Is Pigs (directed by Jack Kinney), and the voice of Uncle Waldo from The Aristocats.
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. He also had several guest roles on the first couple of episodes of The Flintstones (This was probably because he had initially been cast as Fred Flintstone before Hanna-Barbera settled on Alan Reed).
During this period, around 1958, Thompson appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show To Tell the Truth.
Thompson's final role was as Uncle Waldo in The Aristocats, released shortly before his sudden death from septic shock on July 15, 1971, just a week after his 58th birthday. His wife, Mary Margaret McBride, was the daughter of cartoonist Clifford McBride and not the Mary Margaret McBride of radio fame.
A selection of his filmography
- 1936: Custer's Last Stand - Renegade (uncredited)
- 1940: Comin' Round the Mountain - Barney Smoot
- 1941: Look Who's Laughing - Veteran (uncredited)
- 1942: Here We Go Again - Wallace Wimple
- 1951: Alice in Wonderland - White Rabbit / Dodo (voice)
- 1953: Peter Pan - Mr. Smee / Pirates (voice)
- 1953: Ben and Me - Governor Keith / Human Tour Guide / Miscellaneous Men (voice)
- 1955: Lady and the Tramp (1955) - Jock / Bull - the Bull Terrier / Policeman at Zoo / Dachsie / Joe / Jim's Friend (voice)
- 1959: Sleeping Beauty - King Hubert (voice)
- 1960: The Flintstones The Engagement Ring - Mister Slate
- 1960: Nature's Better Built Homes - J. Audubon Woodlore
- 1961: The Yogi Bear Show
- 1962-1963: The New Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series - Touché Turtle
- 1967: Scrooge McDuck and Money - Scrooge McDuck
- 1957-1969: The Magical World Of Disney - Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore / Oldtimer / Professor Owl /Ajax Employment Agency Proprietor
- 1969: Hell's Belles - L.G.
- 1970: The Aristocats - Uncle Waldo (voice)
- "An Interview with Alan Young". December 4, 2010. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
- "Smee". Archived from the original on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2010-03-04.
- "Mike Wallace interview with McBride, June 16, 1957". Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
- "Hollywood Walk of Fame-Bill Thompson". LA Times. Retrieved 6 March 2011.